[News] Abolitionist Fantasies - Revisiting the Fictional 2020 of My Novel

Anti-Imperialist News news at freedomarchives.org
Thu Oct 22 16:13:41 EDT 2020


https://abolitionjournal.org/abolitionist-fantasies/ 
<https://abolitionjournal.org/abolitionist-fantasies/>


  Abolitionist Fantasies: Revisiting the Fictional 2020 of My Novel

October 21, 2020 <https://abolitionjournal.org/abolitionist-fantasies/> 
by abolitionjournal <https://abolitionjournal.org/author/eli/>


    By: Diana Block

In mid-2020, my friend Nina Serrano, an author/poet/activist who hosts a 
radio show about books, Cover-to-Cover 
<https://kpfa.org/program/cover-to-cover-with-jack-foley-nina-serrano/> on 
KPFA, asked me to do an update of an interview I did with her in 2015 
about my novel, Clandestine Occupations – An Imaginary History 
<https://www.pmpress.org/index.php?l=product_detail&p=738>. She wanted 
me to comment on how the futuristic last chapter of my book, which was 
set in 2020, compared with the unfolding, seemingly fictional reality.

I had been caught up, like most others, in the urgent demands of the 
pandemic moment.  For me that meant ramping up support for the people I 
work with inside California women’s prisons. They, like other 
incarcerated people, were trapped inside the most dangerous incubators 
for the coronavirus without cleaning supplies, options to socially 
distance, or visits from family and loved ones. Our collective demands 
to immediately release elders and medically vulnerable people were being 
ignored by Governor Newsom and other state officials under the guise of 
protecting public safety, and the people in prison who tested positive 
for COVID were being placed in an isolated, punitive version of 
quarantine.  I was constantly worried and enraged. I hadn’t remembered 
that I had dared to imagine the liberatory possibilities of 2020 in my 
novel. The radio interview with Nina didn’t happen for logistical 
reasons, but Nina’s question pushed me to look back at what I had 
invented and hold it up against a present that was exploding in multiple 
dystopian and visionary directions.

My novel was rooted in stories from my own life, and those of many other 
people whom I have been close to, about confrontations with the heavy 
hand of the carceral state. Each character plays out fantasies of escape 
– from the FBI, state informers, the courts, parole boards and prisons – 
with mixed success, as they come to grips with the limits of real-life 
circumstances. I set the last chapter in 2020 to suggest possibilities 
which conceivably might be enacted within a foreseeable future. Besides, 
the number 2020 embodied  numerological balance and farsighted 
metaphors, appropriate for the scenarios I wanted to create.

In my imaginary 2020, a clandestine hacktivist group (inspired by the 
real group Anonymous 
<https://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2020/08/hacker-group-anonymous-returns/615058/> which 
was particularly active between 2011-2015) hacks into the systems 
controlling electronic monitoring “bracelets” in San Francisco and 
renders them inoperable. People who had been forced to wear these 
oppressive devices begin to cut their e-shackles off, inspiring a new 
hashtag- *#breakthebracelet*– which then goes viral. The formerly 
incarcerated people, newly liberated from their electronic confinement, 
begin to gather in different community spaces to collectively defend 
their newfound freedom and create sustainable ways of surviving 
together. These community spaces are dubbed urban maroons , referencing 
the history of escaped slaves who created maroon 
<https://www.culturalsurvival.org/publications/cultural-survival-quarterly/maroons-americas-heroic-pasts-ambiguous-presents-uncertain> communities, 
with a shout out to real-life political prisoner Russell ‘Maroon’ Shoatz 
<https://russellmaroonshoats.wordpress.com/>, who had earned his middle 
name after escaping from prison twice.

The hacking project takes off around the country with more and more 
people released from their electronic bondage, and the urban maroon 
communities become a model of mutual aid and self -organization. With 
mounting public support for these self-governing communities, police and 
sheriffs hold back from invading and taking them over. At the end of the 
book, the future of the urban maroons is unpredictable. It isn’t clear 
how long the communities will survive, whether they will be invaded by 
the police or if they will be able to overcome the type of internal 
implosions which doomed  the Occupy movement and other such radical 
efforts in the past.  Still, a fire has been lit, and this new 
abolitionist tactic is spreading across the country.

Fast forward to the real 2020. My novel certainly didn’t prefigure the 
emergence of the novel coronavirus – though both scientists and science 
fiction writers have foreseen the emergence of such a virus. And 
contrary to my hacktivist fantasy, the prevalence of electronic 
monitoring has only expanded. Currently, e-shackles are increasingly 
offered as an alternative to cages in the era of COVID; the state uses 
the pandemic to extend its electronic surveillance of communities across 
the country, and Zoom, Facebook and YouTube exert unfettered control 
over educational and movement communication (note the recent 
unprecedented shut down 
<https://electronicintifada.net/blogs/nora-barrows-friedman/youtube-zoom-and-facebook-censor-leila-khaled-israel> of 
a forum on gender justice narratives because it included Palestinian 
icon Leila Khaled 
<https://electronicintifada.net/content/injustice-every-day-interview-leila-khaled/7285>) 
.

But my novel did insist that the seemingly solid walls erected between 
prison and community are infinitely permeable and are breached in 
multiple routine ways every day. From the beginning of the 2020 
pandemic, the penetrability of prison walls has been exposed as never 
before by an invisible virus that has entered and exited jails, prisons 
and detention centers without permission, on a daily basis. Prisons 
quickly became part of the public conversation regarding COVID because 
they were identified as petri dishes for the virus that would act as 
hyper-transmission vectors between cage and community.

Incarcerated people, their loved ones, activists and public health 
experts across the country immediately sounded the alarm with 
unprecedented unity, in car caravans, organized phone zaps 
<https://twitter.com/oaklandabosol/status/1239618283503943680?lang=en>, 
open-air demonstrations 
<https://www.kqed.org/news/11830634/protesters-chain-themselves-to-front-gate-of-newsoms-home-demanding-mass-inmate-releases>, 
and through campaigns to #FreeThemAll 
<https://www.afsc.org/FreeThemAll>. We all made it indisputably clear 
that decarceration was the only way to prevent widespread infection and 
death within prisons, a genocidal prospect. In the context of a prison 
infection rate that is five times higher and a death rate that is three 
times higher than that of the U.S. population as a whole, radical 
decarceration does not seem like a fantasy demand. But tragically, all 
across the country state and Federal officials have shown ruthless 
disregard for incarcerated lives, shutting down most demands to release 
even the most medically vulnerable people in order not to threaten 
“public safety” and the sanctity of a punishment system designed to 
crush lives and spirits.

The characters in my novel repeatedly dream of breaking through this 
matrix of normalized carceral control. They plot escape because the 
“legitimate” avenues for freedom require decades of plodding through 
legal/political quagmires to prove to a vengeful state their innocence, 
illness, remorse, and redemption. When release is finally offered, 
following the stringent paths dictated by the rules of law, it often 
comes too late for more than a fleeting celebration of freedom before 
death. Enter my hacktivist fantasy, an insurgent counterpoint to the 
legislated paths to freedom. Hacking through the shackles of electronic 
monitoring requires imagination and skill. Building urban maroon 
communities demands vision and collective care. These are some of the 
elements needed to turn abolitionist fantasies into realities.

    *Hacking through the shackles of electronic monitoring requires
    imagination and skill. Building urban maroon communities demands
    vision and collective care. These are some of the elements needed to
    turn abolitionist fantasies into realities.*

In the last chapter of my book, the characters respond to “a 
cross-continent death squad of police drilling holes in Black and Brown 
bodies” (227): the 2014 wave of police violence that brutally took the 
lives of Mike Brown, Eric Garner, Tamir Rice, Alex Nieto, Aura Rain 
Rosser, Ezell Ford and many more.  “A tipping point had been reached and 
the orange bubble of rage that had been simmering for years barely below 
the surface exploded in the streets”(228). Now, in the real 2020, that 
tipping point has again been reached as Black-led uprisings against 
police terror and the entire racist apparatus  sweep across the country. 
In response to the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud 
Arbery, Tony McDade, Rayshard Brooks, Dejon Kizzee, and Daniel Prude, 
#Abolish the Police, #Abolish ICE, #Abolish Prisons,and  #FreeThemAll 
are no longer just hashtags or fringe fantasies, but have become the 
people’s mandates that are shouted in the streets, broadcast on network 
TV, projected on the walls of corporate skyscrapers, painted on 
sidewalks and storefronts in Minneapolis, Atlanta, Los Angeles, Oakland, 
Louisville, Rochester, Kenosha.

The moment is ripe with insurgent possibility and racked with portents 
of uncontrollable cataclysm. In a mounting backlash, white supremacist 
groups are stoking their festering base with racist cyber-ops, 
performative demonstrations of armed might, and acts of brutal violence 
as they are egged on from the pinnacle of the U.S. power pyramid. It 
will take extraordinary strategic thinking, steadfast commitment  and 
militant imagination to topple the tilting, but still tall, towers of 
the U.S. empire.

In one of 2020’s fantastical realities, former Black Panther Jalil 
Muntaqim <https://www.freedomarchives.org/Jalil.html> walked out of 
prison to freedom on October 7th after surviving COVID and nearly fifty 
years of continuous incarceration. /Clandestine Occupations /was 
dedicated to Jalil and to Marilyn Buck 
<http://marilynbuck.com/about.html>, a white anti-imperialist, political 
prisoner who died ten years ago on August 3, 2010, 19 days after she 
received a compassionate release from prison. Marilyn and Jalil ‘s 
stories were woven into the fabric of my book.  Their histories of 
struggle are part of the freedom fighting legacy being carried forward 
in 2020’s incendiary uprisings.

With appreciation to Nina Serrano who sparked these reflections.

/Diana Block is a founding and active member of the /California 
Coalition for Women Prisoners <https://womenprisoners.org/>/, an 
abolitionist organization that is celebrating its 25th anniversary in 
2020. / /She is the author of a memoir, /Arm the Spirit – A Woman’s 
Journey Underground and Back 
<https://www.akpress.org/armthespiritakpress.html>/, and a novel, 
/Clandestine Occupations – An Imaginary History 
<https://www.pmpress.org/blog/authors-artists-comrades/diana-block/>. 
<https://abolitionjournal.org/abolitionist-fantasies/blank>/   She 
writes for various online journals about Cuba, Palestine, political 
prisoners and other interconnected global subjects./



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