We Do This 'Til We Free Us: Abolitionist Organizing and Transforming Justice
"Organizing is both science and art. It is thinking through a vision, a strategy, and then figuring out who your targets are, always being concerned about power, always being concerned about how you're going to actually build power in order to be able to push your issues, in order to be able to get the target to actually move in the way that you want to."
What if social transformation and liberation isn't about waiting for someone else to come along and save us? What if ordinary people have the power to collectively free ourselves? In this timely collection of essays and interviews, Mariame Kaba reflects on the deep work of abolition and transformative political struggle.
With chapters on seeking justice beyond the punishment system, transforming how we deal with harm and accountability, and finding hope in collective struggle for abolition, Kaba's work is deeply rooted in the relentless belief that we can fundamentally change the world. As Kaba writes, "Nothing that we do that is worthwhile is done alone."
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About the Author
Mariame Kaba is an organizer, educator and curator who is active in movements for racial, gender, and transformative justice. She is the founder and director of Project NIA, a grassroots organization with a vision to end youth incarceration. Mariame is currently a researcher at Interrupting Criminalization: Research in Action at the Barnard Center for Research on Women, a project she co-founded with Andrea Ritchie in 2018.
Mariame has co-founded multiple other organizations and projects over the years including We Charge Genocide, the Chicago Freedom School, the Chicago Taskforce on Violence against Girls and Young Women, Love & Protect, the Just Practice Collaborative and Survived & Punished. Mariame serves on the advisory boards of the Chicago Torture Justice Memorials, Critical Resistance and the Chicago Community Bond Fund.
Her writing has appeared in numerous publications including The New York Times, The Nation Magazine, The Guardian, The Washington Post, In These Times, Teen Vogue, The New Inquiry and more. She co-authored the guidebook Lifting As They Climbed and published a children's book titled Missing Daddy about the impacts of incarceration on children and families.
"Mariame Kaba is a humble phenom in the most important of traditions - abolition. What we have in these pages is a wide ranging account of abolitionist theory in action - and that is no easy feat. Through Kaba's rigorous commitment to humanity, we are reminded that another future is possible. We are fortunate that Kaba's praxis is accounted for in this compelling and incisive text. For those of us who are eager to bring about a world where Black lives matter, this is required reading."-- Opal Tometi, Co-Founder #BlackLivesMatter and founder Diaspora Rising
"I want to say this is a 'generation-defining' book, but that feels wrong because I know it will be shaping political imaginations for a century or more. It's generations-defining. This is a classic in the vein of Sister Outsider, a book that will spark countless radical imaginations." -- Eve L. Ewing, author, 1919
"Mariame Kaba's clarity, firm-but-gentle guidance, embracing spirit, deep creativity, and love of laughter, demonstrate how abolition is, in deed, presence. Thank goodness for this urgent book." --Ruth Wilson Gilmore, author, Change Everything
"One of the most fascinating developments during this age of Black Lives Matter is how 'abolition' has been integrated into mainstream debates on how to change the United States. Yet there is still so much not known or understood about the history, politics and practice of abolition-informed politics. Longtime organizer and educator, Mariame Kaba, is one of the most important voices in the emergent abolitionist movement. We have all been waiting on this book! Kaba and her collaborators write with urgency, while imbuing critical insights with clarifying analyses into what it means to demand an end to the reflexive impulse toward punishment that defines much of our society." --Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor, author, From #BlackLivesMatter to Black Liberation
"Much of the vast living archive that is Mariame Kaba's amazing career as an abolitionist-feminist organizer, people's intellectual, movement strategist, and Black freedom fighter, is not in written form. It is inscribed in her praxis: the many campaigns she has crafted, the young people she has mentored, and the organizations she has founded. But in this unique collection of essays, interviews and transcribed speeches, we get a glimpse of that brilliant and powerful body of work, and it is awe-inspiring and instructive: a must-read for anyone serious about the struggle for freedom and justice in the 21st century."-- Barbara Ransby, historian, author, activist
"This book writes a political genealogy of one of our movement era's most significant intellectuals and community organizers and her people into the record of a feminist and abolitionist Black Radical Tradition. Kaba invites us all into a 500-year clock through reflection, assessment, and celebration of the people who dedicate their lives to social change. Yet again, she teaches us to praise the choir, appreciate vulnerability and be disciplined in service of transforming ourselves and the world in which we live."-- Charlene A. Carruthers, author, Unapologetic: A Black, Queer, and Feminist Mandate for Radical Movements
"This is a long awaited book. For the throngs of people who have been inspired by Mariame Kaba's work, we now have - in one place - her words, her keen analysis of criminalization, her relentless critique of the carceral state and seemingly limitless optimism about the possibilities of social transformation. For anyone who has not yet been moved by her work, the search for a serious discussion of abolitionists organizing is over. At once an urgent call to action, a step-by-step guide to the practice of transformative justice, a collection of inspirational interviews and a few lighthearted reflections, this book will significantly advance radical justice work. We Do This 'Til We Free Us is just what we need and it has arrived right on time." -- Beth Richie, author, Arrested Justice: Black Women, Violence, and America's Prison Nation
"Mariame Kaba isn't trying to save the world. Instead, this collection of liberatory practice serves as a building block for a new kind of existance, filled with the hum only evolved humanity can sound. Kaba returns questions unanswered; Kaba spirits the flame untethered; Kaba is the water well in the middle of a thirsty town. And in her unyielding abolition work, Mariame Kaba reveals our reflection's purpose. She is generous in offering us a blueprint to save ourselves."--Mahogany L. Browne, author, Chlorine Sky, Woke: A Young Poet's Call to Justice and an Art for Justice Bearing Witness Fellow
"So many of us have been introduced to abolition - or invited into a deeper understanding and practice of abolitionist politics - through Mariame Kaba's words, work, and vision, as well as her brilliant sense of humor, skillful use of Twitter, love of poetry, practice of hope, and appreciation of art. For those of us new to abolition, this book is the primer we need. For those of us who have been on an abolitionist journey, it is full of the reminders we need. No matter where and how you enter the conversation, We Do This 'Til We Free Us brings all of us infinitely closer to creating a world premised on genuine and lasting safety, justice, and peace." -- Andrea J. Ritchie, author, Invisible No More: Police Violence Against Black Women and Women of Color
"Mariame's book is a treasure. Beginning with a tribute to her father and her family's revolutionary roots in the struggle for the liberation of Guinea to the countless organizing campaigns that mark the small and large victories of the contemporary abolitionist movement in the U.S. - Mariame demonstrates the importance of history, the urgent need for abolition, and, most importantly, the possibilities for abolition in the here and now. This collection of articles and interviews educates, inspires, and sets the course for future abolitionist collective action. In page after page, Mariame offers her unique and brilliant combination of unrelenting realism and optimism, calling all of us to join in common struggle - one, she constantly reminds us, that we can and must win." --Mimi Kim
"Anyone and everyone who has had the privilege of learning from Mariame Kaba has been transformed into a better thinker, organizer, artist, and human. What Kaba does is light the path to abolition and liberation with equal parts intelligence and compassion, experience and hope. This book brings together the scattered pieces of her wisdom she has shared publicly in different venues so that those who don't have the pleasure of sitting and learning with her can absorb a small part of what makes Kaba one of the most impressive and important thinkers and organizers of our time. Let this work fortify those who are already engaged in the struggle and be an energetic spark for those just starting out on this path to freedom." --Mychal Denzel Smith, author, Stakes is High: Life After the American Dream
"Mariame has the rarest of gifts: the ability to imagine a better future, the skills to help construct it, and the courage to demand it. For years, Mariame has been thinking through some of the toughest questions about society's addiction to punishment, and We Do This Til We Free Us showcases the extraordinary depths of her knowledge about our criminal legal system. This book could not arrive at a better time -as more people become familiar with abolition, Mariame's words are especially critical. But it is not just a book about systems. It's a book about people, the powerful and the struggling. And, ultimately it is a book about each of us-- the values we possess and the choices we make. Mariame has the uncanny ability to illuminate the murky and complicated elements of who we are and give them voice. As an abolitionist, Mariame is not just calling for the destruction of old systems, but the creation of a new world. This book will change the way you think about your community, your relationships, and yourself." -- Josie Duffy Rice, writer
"Mariame Kaba is a people's historian, an ultra-practical problem solver, and a visionary prophet whose work dreams and builds a world made by collaboration and healing where putting people in cages is unimaginable. We Do This 'Til We Free Us is packed with Kaba's brilliant insights and detailed examples of how the work of abolition is put into practice in grassroots campaigns. Kaba's boundless creativity is rooted in her rigorous study of resistance and inspiration, and the wisdom of her words is woven through with poetry, literature, history and music, so that her offerings are both grounded in practical discernment and inclined toward our most robust imagination of what freedom could mean. This book will be both a practical tool and a source of comfort in hard times for change-makers and world-builders."-- Dean Spade, author, Mutual Aid: Building Solidarity During This Crisis (and the Next)
"This suite of essays and interviews blends the verve, insight, skill, and generosity of one of the most brilliant abolitionist thinkers, curators, and organizers of our time. Marked by lush imagination, care, and strategic acumen, We Do This 'Til We Free Us is a manual for all those who want to create new collectivities and new futures from the ashes of entire systems of carcerality, racism, sexism, and capitalism. Always teaching us how to 'have each other, ' there is no wiser or more inspirational figure in the fight for justice than Mariame Kaba."-- Sarah Haley, author, No Mercy Here: Gender, Punishment, and the Making of Jim Crow Modernity
"We Do This 'Til We Free Us is an organizer's gift: a vision of abolition that is also a practice of it and a roadmap. Essay by essay, Mariame Kaba guides us through the abolitionist futures she has created in real time by turning questions into experiments, learning from failures as much as successes, and doing everything with other people. Let her words radicalize you, let them unlock your imagination, let them teach you how to practice hope, and let them show you why the everyday is the terrain of our greatest abolitionist creations. We Do This 'Til We Free Us is not a book to be read; it is a portal to a collective project of liberation that literally requires every last one of us." -- Laura McTighe, Front Porch Research Strategies and Assistant Professor, Florida State University
"In her new book, We Do This 'Til We Free Us Mariame Kaba demonstrates the ways that discipline--in intellect, in practice, in relationship--leads not to despair, but to hope. The far-ranging series of essays and interviews draws on her deep practice as a seasoned organizer who persistently distills the questions surrounding abolition to basic human decisions about the world we want to inhabit and how we will go about building it. Abolition, as Mariame sees and practices, is fundamentally both generous and pragmatic and her writing will move both seasoned abolitionists and those just now asking these questions for the first time to join in her conclusion that 'your cynicism is unrealistic."--Danielle Sered, author, Until We Reckon: Violence, Mass Incarceration, and a Road to Repair
"Mariame's wisdom trues my restorative justice compass. The restorative justice movement has much to learn from Mariame's steadfast commitment to protecting our approaches to harm and healing from state cooptation and control. Her unwavering belief in 'we got us' offers powerful inspiration to imagine, ground, and elevate our practice. What a gift!" -- sujatha baliga, Restorative Justice Practitioner
"The intertwined analysis and collective organizing archived in this invaluable collection provides crucial entry points in the everyday work of abolition. Engaging the most pressing questions of our time with clarity and commitment, as always, Mariame makes abolition irresistible, and as imperatively, doable."-- Erica R. Meiners, author, For the Children: Protecting Innocence in a Carceral State
"Working through a range of concepts and struggles - from the criminalization of self-defense to what is needed to inspire our imaginations toward abolition - We Do This 'Til We Free Us truly demonstrates Mariame Kaba's teachings that 'hope is a discipline.' With this book Kaba brings with her a community of organizers, workers and writers to show us how abolition is a practice and to guide our actions for liberation." --Simone Browne, author, Dark Matters: On the Surveillance of Blackness
"For the last 25 years, prison abolitionists have been treated like the Don Quixote's of social justice movements, chasing an impossibly unrealistic vision. In We Do This 'Til We Free Us, Kaba demonstrates through her work as an organizer and scholar, that putting an end to the carceral state is not only necessary but possible. This collection offers a remarkable history of abolitionist organizing, and a roadmap for the work we must do to make a new world and transform ourselves in the process." -- Kenyon Farrow, Co-Executive Director, Partners for Dignity & Rights
"We Do This 'Til We Free Us is a beacon, a watch fire, a guidepost for all of us who are seeking transformational and life-giving change in a death-dealing society, Mariame Kaba is a force of nature, unafraid to step into great storms of violence. As this long-awaited collection of abolitionist essays, interviews, and conversations demonstrates, Kaba knows that relationships are at the center of everything; that new possibilities and insights arise from the organized efforts of ordinary people; that only collective endeavor can move us forward. This isn't simply a book. It's a portal." -- Kay Whitlock, co-author Queer (In)Justice: The Criminalization of LGBT People in the United States
"Mariame Kaba's We Do This 'Til We Free Us exudes her brilliance as an organizer, educator, and visionary. A primer in abolition as an organizing vision, strategy and practice, this collection of essays is rooted in a structural analysis of policing, incarceration, and surveillance while uplifting collective strategies, actions, and practices that lend themselves toward ending these systems. The collection shares some of the amazing abolitionist projects she's initiated, organized, and nurtured, and is a testament to the power of collectivity and community. This is a book for those who have never thought about abolition and for those who have thought about it for years. Through the lens Mariame Kaba offers, the possibilities for abolition become quite tangible, possible, even inevitable."-- Ann Russo, author, Feminist Accountability: Disrupting Violence and Transforming Power
"If ever there was a time we needed Mariame Kaba's words and insights all in one place, it is now! Principled, pragmatic and, most of all, visionary, We Do This 'Til We Free Us not only casts an unflinching light on our violent carceral system, but illuminates real pathways towards justice and freedom. This book should be read, studied, and acted upon by everyone committed to seeding new worlds amidst the ruins of the old." -- Ruha Benjamin, Princeton University
"We Do This Til We Free Us'' is a series of essays that operate as gifts, reflections, and political interventions from the humbly prolific organizer Mariame Kaba. Whether contending with abolitionist organizing, the application of transformative justice, or relationships as survival, she creates necessary guideposts for all of us. This is a deliciously nuanced read, one that you will pick up multiple times, and receive something new each time. And, this is a book designed to accompany your political endeavors, inspiring you to deepen your activism and organizing, and insisting that you, alongside Mariame, have a place in the creation of a more liberatory society."-- Ejeris Dixon, organizer, strategist, facilitator, and co-editor of Beyond Survival: Stories and Strategies of the Transformative Justice Movement
"Brimming with organizing insights and burning questions, this collection is a must-read for those engaged in or looking to learn more about the movement to abolish the prison-industrial complex. We Do This 'Til We Free Us so clearly and beautifully shows us that the road to abolition is paved in collective struggle, solidarity, accountability, love, and 'a million different little experiments.'" -- Emily Thuma, author, All Our Trials: Prisons, Policing, and the Feminist Fight to End Violence
"This long-awaited collection of the works of Mariame Kaba is what the movement for abolition needs right now. Kaba blends radical critique, historical analysis, ground theory and practical application to help guide organizers building an abolitionist future. There are very few scholars and/or organizers who are able to seamlessly bring abolitionist and transformative justice theory with practical organizing strategies as Kaba so successfully does. Kaba's essays also demonstrate the transformation our movements need to make so that they are guided by principles of love and care that can sustain our communities into a different world. She teaches how to build the discipline necessary so that we can be guided by hope rather than despair. Kaba's work is a true gift to the movement." -- Andrea Smith, Professor of Ethnic Studies, University of California, Riverside
"Mariame Kaba is a political genius and truth-teller for our times, as an abolitionist, political organizer, educator, and writer, she is audacious in her dreams for our Black future freedoms. This book says what needs to be said in this political moment as we reckon with abolition in response to police brutality, white supremacy, and a pandemic that is disproportionately killing People of Color globally. Each chapter is a beautiful and archival testimonial to the lineage of Black organizing, especially Black feminists, that have led us to this political and cultural moment of mass uprisings creating resilient, abolitionist, and transformative strategies in the face of police brutality, massive incarceration, and the genocidal state response to COVID19. We Do This 'Til We Free Us is a remedy for our collective survival, and a manifesto for responding to harms and violence for our future." -- Cara Page, founder of Changing Frequencies
"Mariame Kaba's We Do This 'Til We Free Us is a treasure trove of essays and interviews which shares her knowledge, insights, and wisdom developed over decades of organizing against the prison industrial complex and supporting survivors of violence. In this book, Kaba recounts scores of campaigns, projects, collaborations, and activists that brought us to historic moments in 2020 and beyond, and provides concrete steps people can take on the path to abolition. A brilliant organizer, educator, political theorist, and preeminent abolitionist of the 21st century, Kaba succinctly breaks down the anti-Black foundations of the U.S. criminal legal system and makes the case for abolition and transformative justice. This book is a must read for anyone striving for more peace and justice in this world." -- Joey Mogul, co-author, Queer (In)Justice: The Criminalization of LGBT People in the United States
"This collection of writings embodies Mariame's gifts to the abolitionist movement, not only in content but in format. As readers, we are invited into the conversations Kaba has been having for decades as she lifts up countless stories that belong to the larger movement of which she is an essential leader. We are offered Mariame's personal and also collaborative writing that highlights a central message running throughout the book; we will not achieve liberation alone. While there are no blueprints for abolition, this text is a guiding light that offers crucial answers and an expansive invitation for all to join in the work."-- Rev. Jason Lydon, Second Unitarian Church of Chicago
"We Do This 'Til We Free Us outlines an approach to transformative politics that we have been hungry for: brilliant strategies that are at once practical and prophetic. For decades, Mariame Kaba's pathbreaking leadership has steered us towards a horizon of radical freedom that, as she has repeatedly demonstrated, is within our reach. This remarkable collection is a powerful map for anyone who longs for a future built on safety, community, and joy, and an intellectual home for those who are creating new pathways to get us there."-- Alisa Bierria, co-founder and co-organizer, Survived and Punished
"Mariame Kaba's living example continuously teaches me that accountability and abolition are daily internal and external practices. We Do This 'Til We Free Us is both timely and timeless. This compelling collection is an offering of Kaba's thoughtful experiential perspectives and insights about the strenuous, compassionate, and rewarding work to not harm in response to witnessing and/or experiencing harm. Kaba's words are a sacred roadmap for an embodied praxis that invites all of us to imagine, envision, and work collectively to co-create a society without violence." -- Aishah Shahidah Simmons, creator, NO! The Rape Documentary and author, Love WITH Accountability
"We Do This 'Til We Free Us has so much wisdom to offer, particularly at this unprecedented moment. Kaba not only challenges the corrosive notions that only policing and prisons keep us safe, but invites us to see abolition not as a far-away goal, but an everyday adventure that we can embark upon in our daily lives. Mariame Kaba is a galactic treasure. Her passion, dedication and commitment to abolition, safety and accountability are unparalleled. Read this book."-- Victoria Law, author, Prison by Any Other Name
"Mariame Kaba is one of the foremost grassroots intellectuals of our time. She is a strategic, brilliant and practical genius whose intellectual and on-the-ground-work is foundational to the past twenty years of transformative justice and abolitionist theory and practice. She's someone whose work I urge anyone to read who is curious about exactly why and how we are going to dismantle prisons and build the different future we need. I am so happy to have this book in the world, collecting so many of my favorite pieces, to give to new and old comrades alike."-- Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha, author, Care Work: Dreaming Disability Justice
"The miracle is Mariame's collaborative, accountable, future-facing, legacy-bearing presence in our movements and her intentional practice of evaluating how she can contribute to our collective future. This book, which documents some of Kaba's most important interventions, crucial conversations and paradigm shifting ideas makes this ongoing miracle shareable, teachable, and available for study in community. We Do This 'Til We Free Us is a necessary offering towards the possibility of our intentional participation in the actions that will create a more loving and live-able world. Read this book, hold this archive, share this journey, to nurture your own presence, practice and collaborations towards the freedom we already deserve." -- Alexis Pauline Gumbs, author, Dub: Finding Ceremony
"Beautiful and timely, We Do This 'Til We Free Us is more than a book. It is a gathering: a conversation, a coming together, a call to be not only our best selves, but together in struggle. It is a how-to gift for all who believe in freedom from violence. In a wide ranging series of essays, interviews, and speeches, inveterate organizer Mariame Kaba shares strategic wisdom from the abolitionist frontlines. Read it, pass it on, and get to work!"-- Dan Berger, author, Rethinking the American Prison Movement