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An interview with CeCe McDonald / by Andrea Abi-Karam

State violence is in our bodies, buried deep inside our bones. It flares up in moments of tension in flashes in shaking in a motel courtyard with no way out. State violence is in between our bones, separating our bodies from ourselves floating above the weight of bodies in the street. Against the vast state that imposes this state of violence in our bones in our bodies between ourselves and this state of.

It would be impossible to talk about CeCe McDonald's case without talking about Michael Brown and Eric Garner; without talking about the systematic targeting, imprisoning, and killing of people of color by the police; without talking about how state violence lives in the bodies of QTPOC folks from their first breath, long before any freeways were taken. CeCe's prison sentence -- which came after after she acted in self-defense against a transphobic attack -- was dealt by the same hands that took Michael Brown and Eric Garner's lives.

California prison abolition group Critical Resistance brought CeCe McDonald to the Bay Area earlier this fall for a panel discussion with Ruth Wilson Gilmore, a prison abolitionist, City University of New York professor, and author of Golden Gulag.

Following the discussion, I spoke with McDonald about activism beyond hashtags, prison abolition strategies, and how to fight back against systemic QTPOC oppression. She called out performative activism, or social media activism, and pressed people to push beyond privileged passivity, to engage the power of cis-white privilege for activism, allyship, and advocacy. She emphasized the importance of prison abolition over reform. She highlighted the culture of hate that we live in, the failure of allies to understand that they cannot speak for the black body, or for the trans body walking down the street. She explained that we have to resist this culture of hate and remember our connectedness as humans, as creators, fighting not to just survive but to thrive.

AK: Can you talk more about how in the prison abolition movement it's important to not do any reformist work?

CeCe: I feel like true reform would be the actual ending of that and dismantling the prison system. There is no such thing as saying we can fix it and end it. We can only have it one or the other way. A true abolitionist, while thinking of reform, would think of ways to, 1. free prisoners,

2. dismantle the prison industrial complex, and 3. find alternative solutions and other ways to deal with crime and punishment and justice. The word reform needs to reform, needs to reshape itself.

We don't want to make it different. We want to make it end. And I'm definitely agreeing with Dr. Ruth Gilmore, author of Golden Gulag, on that one only because for me as a person who really doesn't believe in reform, what she said was in itself true and correct. In my opinion, there is no such thing as reform.

You talked about people being passive players in this framework of resisting capitalism, racism, and all the other terrible things. What are your suggestions on how people cannot play that game, or resist that game?

I feel like a lot of times people don't speak up, or you know, talk about these things. They're so comfortable with their privilege, comfortable with the things they are used to. I can't go day-to-day and do the same things as a cis-gendered white woman because she has more privilege than me and can get away with stuff. So I'm going to have to speak up about . . .


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