Towards a Prisonless Society: NYC-DSA Abolition Action

By Emmy H

Abolition Action is a new group within NYC-DSA committed to organizing around prison abolition, both inside and outside of our chapter. We emerged out of a series of reading groups organized by the Socialist Feminist working group last winter on the topic of prison abolition in which participants explored what abolition meant and how it related to anti-capitalism, feminism, anti-imperialism, and many other issues. 

Abolition remains something that many comrades struggle to wrap their head around. They find it difficult to understand what abolitionist praxis looks like on the daily level – and that’s understandable, given how deeply ingrained the prison-industrial complex, policing and prisons are in our contemporary culture and politics, not only but especially in the United States. Like racism or sexism, the hold that prisons and policing have on our culture and our minds is something we have to actively unlearn; and like socialism itself, abolition is something we have to creatively and boldly imagine. 

The work of prison abolition is the work of building a world in which we make prisons and police obsolete. As Fred Moten and Stefano Harney put it, the goal is “Not so much the abolition of prisons but the abolition of a society that could have prisons, that could have slavery, that could have the wage, and therefore not abolition as the elimination of anything but abolition as the founding of a new society.” In that way I would claim that almost all of the work that our organization in all its chaotic glory is doing, from universal healthcare to open borders, is indirectly the work of prison abolition. We are already doing the work to address the root causes and harms that society has turned away from and that the state has contained and perpetuated through the prisons and police. 

But what about the work of abolition most directly? In its first few months, the Abolition Action group is already doing a number of things:

  • Launching a brand new monthly newsletter, Jailbreak! This newsletter will include abolitionist actions, meetings, and events happening around the city; news, commentary and art related to abolition; and updates and ways to plug into the work of the group itself. Sections include “Abolitionist Spotlight” highlighting someone whose work we can learn from (like abolitionist icon Mariame Kaba!) and “Soundbites for Skeptics” featuring quotes from your comrades responding to predictable questions like “What do we do with all the murderers and rapists?” The first issue of Jailbreak! is included here, and you can look for future issues to be linked in Red Letter or join the mailing list directly here. If you are interested in submitting an event or piece you can do so using this form, and if you want to get involved with the newsletter, please e-mail us

  • Mobilizing DSA members to actions with extant abolitionist groups such as No New Jails, Decrim, Survived and Punished, Black and Pink, Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee, etc.

  • Developing a Prison Abolition 101 interactive workshop, in multiple versions, to facilitate in different spaces: DSA, other leftist groups, public spaces, and eventually even for kids! 

  • Undertaking an intensive study of the Creative Interventions Toolkit, which provides readings and tools for non-carceral community interventions to address interpersonal harm without involving the state. We plan to continue building and sharing education and skills by replicating the study with other groups, participating in the upcoming Socialist Feminist Working Group 8-week transformative justice reading group, taking part in events with the Transformative Justice Hub, and strengthening our relationships around transformative justice within and outside of our organizing communities. 

  • Soon to come, monthly or bimonthly potlucks to include discussion about transformative justice tools as well as good food and general comradeship! We will work to make these as accessible as possible and rotate locations. 

It is imperative that we understand abolition, and the transformative justice it requires, as not only a horizon we organize towards, but also a principle and practice to inform our daily organizing together. Our group hopes to help ground NYC-DSA members in an understanding of what abolitionist praxis can look and feel like, and help bring transformative justice into our own organizing spaces. 

We are also, of course, looking resolutely outward. Just last week, the City Council voted to approve the mayor’s jail expansion plan, which ostensibly closes Rikers Island after years of organizing and pressure to do so (ostensibly because, in fact, the plan contains no legal commitment to close the jail at all, and only proposes a laughable ten-year plan to do so). Yet, the plan would earmark billions of public dollars to build and expand jails in every borough except Staten Island. It is a critical moment here in New York City to organize for and through abolition, and we will be fighting alongside comrades of all stripes to make that a reality.