A new wave of Black Lives Matter protests is upon us, giving righteous rage, riot and rebellion, and the firstfruits of revolutionary fervor. Everyone is alot more critical of the police. Conversations about abolition have gotten mainstream attention in a unique way.
As one of our sibs put it, “we are living in an abolitionist moment, [but] we are [also] noticing the cooptation of abolitionist language especially if we are working toward it as part of a decolonial project.” While calls for defunding police are being made, people are still sidestepping the issue with other institutions in our society under capitalism (prisons, courts, the government, non-profits, the nuclear family, and more). Pressure on individual cops is at the fore of many demonstrations, all while critiques of the system as a whole, and its untenability for Black disabled folk, queer folk, Black women especially get overlooked. Many are using this moment to gain clout or a political career and even capital off of Black oppression and frustration.
Mariame Kaba teaches us that abolition is not just about absence (ex. police are gone), but about presence: the establishment of a society where police is not needed. Abolition is a political stance that understands that the government uses the police and prisons and the courts as tools of oppression to protect the interests of the capitalist and colonial land-stealing, property-owning slavemaster class. In protecting property and stolen land and capital, police are fundamentally anti-black and serve to keep the exploited in our place. This is why, for example, in the US the earliest police forces were slave patrols in the south. The media likes to say this isn’t true, and say that cops are here to protect us. But study the work of Angela Davis, Ruth Wilson Gilmore, Mariame Kaba, Cece McDonald, Marsha P Johnson, Miss Major—and you will quickly learn that the police do not exist to solve crime and violence. They exist to protect the system of haves and have nots that create crime and poverty and violence. Abolition means we not only destroy prisons, police, and every cage and plantation—but abolition is also about creating a new society, a decolonized society, an anti-capitalist society, that has no need for these violent institutions. Abolition is therefore about Black autonomy: the belief that only we can do the things that guarantee our safety.
How do we build toward abolition and Black autonomy? The Afrofuturist Abolitionists of the Americas are inviting anyone who celebrated Juneteenth for the first time this year or protested against July 4th for the first time this year—to celebrate Black August and begin working through that question with us. Black August is a time to honor Black revolutionary struggle. During Black August, radicals commemorate the struggles of our incarcerated (and formerly incarcerated) community members, family, friends, and kin. First organized in the prisons of California in the 70s to honor fallen Freedom Fighters, Jonathan Jackson, George Jackson, William Christmas, James McClain, and Khatari Gaulden, the “Black August” tradition aims to honor Black political prisoners and the ongoing legacy of resistance against slavery.
Says Shaka At-Thinnin, Black August Organizing Committee in “THE ROOTS OF BLACK AUGUST”:
“Each year officially since 1979 [when it was launched] we have used the month of August to focus on the oppressive treatment of our brothers and sisters disappeared inside the state run gulags and concentration camps America calls prisons. It is during this time that we concentrate our efforts to free our mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, uncles, aunts, and all other captive family and friends who have been held in isolation for decade after decade.”
The Black August tradition has involved political education or study of Black history, fasting or ritual, training for struggle (often through exercise) and solidarity or prisoner support. Each day during August, these activities are taken up in different ways. August was chosen because it holds significance for many important dates in Black struggle on this side of the planet: from the death of Michael Brown which launched the Ferguson Uprising, to the Bois Cayiman ceremony in Haiti that pre-figured the Haitian Revolution. Bilal Ali describes it this way:
“Underground Railroad was started on August 2, 1850.
The March on Washington occurred in August of 1963.
Gabriel Prosser’s 1800 slave rebellion occurred on August 30.
Nat Turner planned and executed a slave rebellion that commenced on August 21, 1831.
The Watts rebellions were in August of 1965.
On August 18, 1971 the Provisional Government of the Republic of New Afrika (RNA) was raided by Mississippi police and FBI agents.
The MOVE family was bombed by Philadelphia police on August 8, 1978.”
Through study, solidarity, struggle, and a spiritual focus, Black August practitioners have worked to align themselves with a cumulative legacy of Black resistance stretching back centuries.
But, historically speaking, Black August has often put focus on the contributions and struggles of cis/het and abled Black men, overshadowing the lives and liberatory contributions of Black and disabled women and other maGes. We know for a fact, however that it is Black trans and disabled folk on the front lines of anti-black criminalization and State/capitalist violence. Since 2019, the Afrofuturist Abolitionists of the Americas has been working to redefine Black August intersectionally, through a series of Kritical Kickbacks framed around Black Anarchic Radical politic. As one of our sibs recently put it: “[we] want to move Black August away from centering cis men, but [we] want to retain its practical and concrete features: the focus on study, on spirit, and on solidarity and struggle… Collective study helps us all continue to grow so that nothing about radicalism becomes associated with one person and their image; spirit helps us nurture a cultural and ancestral kinship and find forms of wellness among each other; solidarity means we actively commit to mutual aid and other ways to concretely support one another’s needs; and struggle means we train one another and ourselves for when it’s time to start throwing bricks at the pigs again… Marsha P. Johnson’s birthday is during Black August, by the way, and so her spirit and power is a perfect touchstone for what [we’re] thinking about.”
This year, we are inviting others to come do Black August with us, through our ‘Anarkata Freedom School.’ The Anarkata Freedom School is a huge, month-long Kritical Kickback series, where we, other Anarkatas, and all interested Black folk will be learning and thinking together about Black liberation and Black History from all kinds of angles. Our vision is to coordinate an online and offline set of experiences where we can all learn about abolition and Black radicalism, and push against the cooption of Black struggle by clout chasers, bag chasers, entreprenegroes, liberals, white folk, cis men and all others who are not aligned with liberation for all Black lives. We therefore invite you to use this month to dive into a deep, and real vision of Black freedom struggle that centers the most marginal.
Follow us on Instagram (Afrofuturist Abolitionists of the Americas), Twitter (@AbolitionF_ists), and Facebook (Afrofuturist Abolitionists of the Americas) to get graphics and information about the platforms we are hosting these Kickbacks at! Pop in, ask questions, offer insights. Host a Kickback or study group or film screening of your own. Do a ring shout or pour some libations if fasting is not for you. Find a way to get connected to Black revolutionary organizations and communities that are moving along these and other lines. Study so that we can grow; honor spirit so we can heal/connect together; practice solidarity so that we can provide aid to one another; and struggle so we can consolidate our cultures of opposition into a revolutionary proposition.
“We do this for all our niggas: for the nomads, the ungoverned, the refugees, the lil friends, the kinfolk, the robbers, the runaways, the maroons, the insurgents, the gworls, the spiritual leaders, the guerrilla warriors, the maGes, the street queens, the rioters. And all the wild things Man cannot house.
And we do this for all those who are forgotten and unprotected
All those who aren’t allowed to love or live as themselves freely
All those who fought and died for our freedom
For all our people wherever they are, and for our homeland, and for our planet
For all beings, even those who are not human, and for all the people everyone says are less than human
And for all people whose brains work different or whose bodies work different
And for all those in prison or on the street
For all who need to be given power. Asé.”
(A Black August libationary, based on Anarkata Tradition, in Anarkata: A Statement)