Books for changing the world
Conversations Toward Abolition

A collection of illuminating interviews with leading abolitionist organizers and thinkers, reflecting on the uprisings of summer 2020, the rise of #defund, and the work ahead of bridging the divide between reform and abolition. 

The 2020 uprisings against police violence launched a nation conversation about defunding the police and prisons, propelling the #defund movement into the spotlight. The backlash has been swift, beating back efforts to reallocate public funds away from police and other punitive carceral systems and into social welfare programs that provide care, stability, and community. 

But as Calvin John Smiley reveals through pointed conversations with academics, activists, and system-impacted individuals, #defund was always more than a brief moment; it is part of an ongoing struggle against white supremacy, capitalism, police state-sanctioned violence, and mass incarceration.

Through interviews with Marisol LeBrón, Dan Berger, Zellie Imani, and Olayemi Olurin, among others, Smiley considers how #defund can bridge the divide between reform and abolition, becoming a catalyst to help organizers realize abolitionist visions. Along the way, these rich conversations illuminate the long histories of systems of repression and protests against them; how policing serves as a colonial project in Puerto Rico and beyond; why creativity and music-making are essential to movement-building; and much more. 

Giving voice to those committed to abolitionist praxis, Defund is an essential tool for organizers as we imagine how defund goes from a hashtag to a movement to a reality. 

  • “This is the book we’ve been waiting for! Bringing together some of the most brilliant minds and courageous voices in the world—from university scholars to grassroots activists, political organizers to political prisoners—Smiley uses the power of dialogue to help us teach, dream, plan, and struggle toward an abolitionist future. Read Defund and prepare to be challenged, educated, and inspired.” 
    —Mumia Abu Jamal, author of Beneath the Mountain

    Defund is a rich and valuable contribution to the abolitionist canon. Through impressively wide-ranging and refreshingly radical conversations, Smiley and his comrades dare us to bravely imagine a world beyond prisons, policing, and other state-sanctioned systems of violence, repression, and exploitation. They also provide us with the practical tools and actionable strategies necessary to bring such a world into existence.” 
    —Marc Lamont Hill, author of We Still Here: Pandemic, Policing, Protest, and Possibility

    “These conversations offer us an opportunity to interrogate the promise and process of defunding the police from a variety of perspectives. A new world is possible, but this volume reminds us that we have a lot of thinking and organizing to do to achieve it.”
    —Alex S. Vitale, author of The End of Policing

    “Enacting deep conversation and abolitionist imagination, Defund exemplifies the centrality of dynamic study to the ongoing work of radical collectives, organizations, and movements. Smiley builds on his scholarly activist experience to catalyze dialogue with a group of abolition practitioners who understand that the defund mandate “does not refer to some police but rather all police.” This book makes a vital contribution to post-2020 abolitionist debates around state power, autonomous infrastructure, and insurgent futurity.”
    —Dylan Rodríguez, author of the Frantz Fanon Award-winning White Reconstruction: Domestic Warfare and the Logics of Genocide

    “This deeply engaging book puts scholars, activists, and criminal justice survivors in conversation with Calvin John Smiley as together they explore the possibilities of defunding and disempowering state violence. The book’s collaborative structure models the very dynamic needed for confronting the prison and the police: an interplay of inclusive, community-based movements working along a continuum from reformist defunding to radical abolition. In this battle, Smiley argues for hope; his book delivers it.”
    —Jeff Ferrell, author of Drift: Illicit Mobility and Uncertain Knowledge

    “The discussions in Defund are provocative and inspiring. Smiley, in dialogue with other abolitionist scholar/activists, presents a vision of a collaborative, caring future where harm-reduction and life-affirming communities are possible.” 
    —Lori Gruen, Professor of Philosophy, Wesleyan University, and co-editor of Carceral Logics: Human Incarceration and Animal Captivity

    “Once again, Smiley tackles a complex topic fraught with racism in our criminal legal system and unpacks it with flawless writing and a bright light. Defunding the police is often misunderstood and simplified. Defund offers the most insightful explanation of what it means and how it intersects with class/poverty, cultural stereotypes, incarceration, abolition, and colonialism, particularly colonial capitalism. In addition to detailing the terrific historical events that brought us to the #Defund movement, Smiley’s interviews are astute and gripping. Despite the resistance to the #Defund movement (and even idea), Smiley provides examples of concrete and often successful inspirational activism in the face of major opposition. This is a must-read for criminologists and would be a great book to assign to students.” 
    —Joanne Belknap, Professor Emerita of Ethnic Studies, University of Colorado-Boulder, and past president and fellow of the American Society of Criminology 

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