Critical Resistance is a national, member-based grassroots organization that works to build a mass movement to dismantle the prison-industrial complex. Critical Resistance's national office is in Oakland, California, with three additional chapters in New York City, Los Angeles, and Portland, Oregon.
Critical Resistance popularized the idea of challenging the prison industrial complex after their first conference in 1998, which drew thousands of former prisoners, family members, activists, academics and community members. Critical Resistance understood the prison industrial complex as a response to societal issues such as: homelessness, immigration, and gender non-conformity. It is considered to have re-invigorated anti-prison activism in the United States.
Critical Resistance was founded by Angela Davis, Rose Braz, Ruth Wilson Gilmore, and others in 1997. The organization is primarily volunteer member-based, with three staff members based in Oakland.
Each chapter determines its own work independently. Projects included:
- Contributing to stopping California's prison building boom
- Coalition-building and participation in the Community in Unity Coalition to stop construction of a 2,000-bed jail in the South Bronx.
- Facilitating education within prisons and the creation of political media by, for, and with prisoners and former prisoners
- Political education and leadership development
- Building a mass movement for creating genuine safety that does not rely on incarceration and control to address social, economic and political problems
As of 2017, the Oakland chapter has three main campaigns/projects.
- Stop Urban Shield
- No San Francisco Jail Coalition
- Oakland Power Project
Critical Resistance takes an abolition stance against the prison industrial complex; it draws from the legacy of the slavery abolition movement in the 1800s. CR abolitionists view the current prison system as not "broken" as many reformists do, but as working effectively at its true purpose: to contain, control, and kill those people that the state sees as threats, including people of color, immigrants, and members of the LGBT community. CR's goal is not to reform the prison system but to dismantle it completely. The three key dimensions of Critical Resistance, as identified by the organization co-founder Angela Davis, are public policy, community organizing, and academic research. CR strives to bridge academic work, legislative and other policy interventions, and grassroots campaigns to reverse the expansion of prisons and to call for the decriminalization of drugs and prostitution. Part of CR's mission statement is that providing basic necessities such as food, shelter, and freedom, and not incarceration and punishment, are what will make communities safe and secure.
Critical Resistance (CR) was formed in 1997 to challenge the idea that incarceration can solve all social problems. Angela Davis, Rose Braz, Ruth Wilson Gilmore and other activists founded CR to challenge the issue of mass incarceration and policing. On September 25–27, 1998, Critical Resistance held its first conference at the University of California, Berkeley. This conference challenged the phenomenon now known as the prison industrial complex (PIC). Critical Resistance says that the government has commodified prisons as desirable and, in return, gained public support to expand prisons. As certain groups of people are criminalized, such as racial minorities, the working class, and immigrants, they are incarcerated and become disenfranchised. CR’s initial international conference put the term “prison-industrial complex” on the national agenda with the goal of re-informing and re-educating the American public to stop mass incarceration. CR’s mission statement supports abolishing the PIC and the idea that capitalism profits from incarceration, a reason for the dramatic increase in the incarceration of people of color, women, and the poor.
"Critical Resistance: Beyond the Prison Industrial Complex"
"Critical Resistance: Beyond the Prison Industrial Complex" was the first conference held by CR at the University of California, Berkeley, in 1998. Over 3,500 participants attended, including former and current prisoners and their families, activists, academics, religious leaders, the homeless, policymakers, and the LGBT community. The conference brought a large amount of attention to mass incarceration issues, which they now call the "prison industrial complex". The conference became a starting point in the opposition against the PIC, causing different organizations to engage in activism. In particular, the "Schools Not Jails" initiative and the Youthforce Coalition began to combat the criminalization of youth of color after the conference. CR was lauded for being the first organization that moved towards a more "rational and community-oriented" approach that called for the need to protect human rights whether they are of legal or illegal status. CR holds conferences as a strategy to open discussion about the PIC, gain insight from different activists and participants, and spread awareness of the PIC to different parts of the United States. CR hosted more conferences through Critical Resistance South and Critical Resistance East in New Orleans and New York.
Campaigns and projects
Critical Resistance has been working on numerous campaigns and projects to abolish prisons locally, nationally, and worldwide. These projects are to spread awareness of the prison industrial complex to the public from an insider perspective, to eradicate prison laws and institutions, and to fight for prisoner rights.
The Prisoner Mail Working Group in CR receives letters from prisoners regularly in order to stay connected to them and understand what is happening in prisons. CR believes it is crucial that the voices of diverse communities are heard, especially prisoners, in order to create a collective dialogue that can expose the reality of the prison industrial complex.
CR has been working on a campaign to defeat California's Juvenile Crime Initiative (California Proposition 21) to stop the California Department of Corrections from building a 5160-bed occupancy prison with the cost of $335 million in Central Valley. In 2001, CR filed a lawsuit against the CDC that generated a lot of important media coverage around "the irrationality and rank opportunism of prison construction". CR worked with the California Prison Moratorium Project and brought together an unprecedented coalition of environmentalists, farm workers unions, Latino and immigrant advocates, and prison abolition activists. The law has since delayed construction of the prison.
CR has also worked closely with The San Francisco Jail Fight Coalition (also known as the "No New SF Jail Coalition") and successfully stopped a proposal for a $456 million prison building project. CR proposed that the costs of building a new jail system was too high and wasteful because there was already a lot of jail space in the county. Instead, they believed that the funds could be used in welfare, public health, and affordable housing in the community.
Beyond Attica: Close Prisons-Build Communities is an ongoing campaign that demands the closure of the notorious Attica Prison in New York state. CR works to collect data, pictures, and interview records of former prisoners to reveal inhuman punishments and human rights violations that have been occurring inside the prison since the year of its construction in the 1930s. It plans to use this evidence to gain public support and make a case for the closure of the prison.
The Abolitionist Educators support campaign works with educators and scholars to inform students and the imprisoned about the PIC through writing abolitionist issues in The Abolitionist newspaper, inviting CR to do guest presentations in universities and K-12 systems, and teaching these issues in their own classrooms. In particular, The Abolitionist newspaper is a formal and ad hoc publication that does not involve police or state intervention. According to CR's 2014 annual report, the purpose of the paper is to "share political analysis with imprisoned people, increase inside-outside communication, and augment organizing capacity inside prison walls."  Not only does CR work to inform the public outside of prison, but it remains connected to those inside the prison and reminds them that they are not forgotten. CR is actively seeking help from abolitionist educators to expand their vision.
CR Film Festival and Video Series works to create documentaries to "recognize the importance of cultural work in the fight against the PIC." CR is planning their First Annual CR Film Festival that will screen their films and share a visual documentation of its history and the work it does as an organization. Visions of Abolition is a sub-project of Critical Resistance, Los Angeles (also part of the LEAD project), that screens its documentary "Visions of Abolition" portraying video interviews of those who experience the PIC.
CR collaborates with the organization A New Way of Life on the Leadership, Education, Action and Dialogue Project (LEAD) to open workshops that share experiences of formerly incarcerated women and educate the participants about the PIC. Speakers include Cece McDonald and Ruthie Wilson Gilmore.
The Oakland Power Projects Launched March 11, 2015, as an initiative to educate and train community members on how to properly handle safety issues without the involvement of the police by expanding access to various resources including techniques on how to properly address emergencies and thus reduce the impact of institutionalized police force in neighborhood streets.
Critical Resistance developed the Oakland Power Projects to combat the negative effects of the Oakland Police Department, it was found that many community members would resort to calling 911, which most definitely involved the arrival of the Police, when faced under pressures of immediate harm. Many community members would report concerns of safety and discomfort when faced with undesired police presence.
Oakland Power Projects demonstrates how when properly trained and informed community members take care of an emergency without police involvement, cases of death, physical harm and arrests diminish dramatically. It has been recorded that police forces, by a great majority are not properly trained.
The project consists of several workshops taught by instructors ranging from doctors, nurses, healthcare specialist and healers that discuss the impact of how to properly address people that are found in states of distress due to minor physical harm and mental disorder.
Stop Urban Shield is a project initiated by the Oakland Chapter. Established in 2007, Urban Shield is a Bay Area expo that further trains to further militarize law enforcement. There, law enforcement can go under SWAT and tactical trainings in order respond to emergencies. Critical Resistance works to stop Urban Shield in Alameda County by means of protesting and defunding the expo through the county.
The women’s anti-violence group INCITE! and Critical Resistance partnered to create this statement on gender violence and its connection to the PIC. This partnership was formed because the lack of attention paid to violence within communities and ignoring the experiences of survivors of domestic abuse and other gender crimes in the 1970s caused tensions with the feminist movement, which limited the overall success of Critical Resistance. The statement was published in 2001 and declares that the prison abolition movement must address gender violence and that social movements must not work in isolation, but rather in inter-sectional coalition. The publication emphasized that both organizations share common struggles and common goals in working to deconstructing the sexism, racism, classism and homophobia that exists in criminal justice system. The statement analyzes ways women are disproportionately targeted by the justice system and identifies strategies for combating these injustices.
- 1998 - "Critical Resistance to the Prison Industrial Complex" conference in Berkeley, California. In September 1998, Critical Resistance held its first conference that challenged the phenomenon now called the prison industrial complex (PIC).
- 1998 - Formation of Critical Resistance Youth Force, a coalition of Bay Area youth organizations that united to fight the criminalization & detention of youth of color. The coalition was co-directed by Anita Miralle De Asis & Rory Caygill, and at its height had 40 plus organizations in membership. The coalition was able to mobilize thousands of youth to organize against the infamous Prop 21 legislation and to run the Books Not Bars ("fund schools, not jails.") campaign. It mobilized hundreds of Bay Area youth to protest the democratic national conventions in Los Angeles and the world trade organization meeting in Washington, DC.
- 1998 - Several thousand high school students staged a walkout to demand “Schools Not Jails."
- 2001 - Critical Resistance East Conference in New York City.
- 2001 - Publication of INCITE! Critical Resistance Statement on Gender violence and the Prison Industrial Complex.
- 2001- In spring 2001, CR filed an environment lawsuit against the California Department of Corrections that has since prevented the construction of a 5160-bed prison in California's Central Valley.
- 2003 - Critical Resistance South Conference in Tremé, New Orleans. It targeted problems in women prisons and held workshops that dealt with issues such as personal violence, drug addiction for pregnant women, prison conditions for the LGBTQ community.
- 2005 - Helped bring about the end of California's prison building boom; featured in Christian Science Monitor, Los Angeles Times, and others. Launched amnesty campaign for people accused of looting post-Hurricane Katrina across the country.
- 2008 - On September 26–28, 2008, Critical Resistance held its 10th Anniversary (CR10) conference in Oakland, CA. The 3-day conference focused on strategizing, collaborating, and organizing for abolishing the prison industrial complex. CR10 exemplified Critical Resistance's multifaceted approach to activism by including hundreds of workshops, film showings, cultural art performances, strategy sessions, and meetings. A large number of youth, people of color and members of the LGBT community attended and participated in conference activities.
- 2013 - CR worked with the No New SF Jail Coalition to stop the proposal for a $456 million jail project.
- 2014 - CR distributed 12,000 issues of The Abolitionist paper that includes stories of those who are imprisoned and raises awareness of the PIC.
- "'Dismantle, Change, Build.'"
- '"One day there were no prisons. That day will come again."'
- '"A wall is just a wall and nothing more at all. It can be broken down"' --Assata Shakur
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