Prison Abolition Panel: Direct Action Software Development – SFLOKRC 2015

This year’s Students for Liberty Oklahoma Regional Conference (SFLOKRC) held a panel discussion and Q&A session focusing on prison abolition. On the panel were Cory Massimino, Nathan Goodman, and Rebecca Crane. The panel was also the first conference at which the newest project I’ve been working on, Better Angels/Buoy, was introduced to an audience of left libertarians and left-leaning anarchists. I’m glad there’s interest in an alternative to the state-sponsored, government-controlled, horribly centralized emergency dispatch infrastructure known as 9-1-1.

I recorded Rebecca’s introductory presentation to the Q&A and panel. Below is a video of the presentation and a transcript. As usual, please share and republish to your heart’s content.

Rebecca Crane: I’m assuming that everybody here is convinced that we should abolish prisons. And so I’m going to talk a little bit about how we as individual people can get involved in that work on the ground. I am not a Libertarian and I’ve heard that there are a lot of people at this conference that also don’t identify as Libertarians, so I’m in good company. I actually came to activism through social justice. I was a teenage social justice warrior way back before there was such a thing as Tumblr.

Audience: [laughter]

Rebecca Crane: And as a social justice warrior, I have to point out that we are a panel of three white people up here talking about prison abolition, and so there’s some really important perspectives about this conversation that isn’t being represented. But I just want to take a moment to hold some space to acknowledge who’s not here in this conversation.

So, y’know, throughout my life I have gotten involved in a bunch of different movements. Restorative Justice is similar to Transformative Justice [discussed earlier in the panel], it’s ways of thinking about ways we might preempt the way that the sentencing process works. Anti-racist activist, queer liberation work, social anarchism. Ultimately, all of these things lead to prison abolition.

It was a bit of a hard concept for me to grasp when I was starting out. I mean, it feels very intense. Like, “Uhhh, what do we do if we don’t have prisons? What do we do with the rapists and the murderers and the pedophiles and all of this?”

And I really appreciated Per Bylund’s talk this morning because even though there’s been some great suggestions about what are things that could replace the prison system, the real issue is that the thing we’re doing now doesn’t work. It’s not preventing crime. It’s not making communities safer. It’s only making things worse and it’s not solving the problems that it claims to solve. And so I feel like the question that when people ask, y’know, “Well how could we get rid of prisons? What else would we do?” Well, the answer is, “We may not know, but we’re doing now isn’t working. So we have try something else.” And we’ve all been immersed in this context of state violence all our lives, so it’s hard for us to look outside of this context and imagine what it might be like to live in a world where state violence is not the solution to crime or to interpersonal violence, but we’re not going to be able to come up with a solution just by sitting around talking about it until we find this perfect utopian ideal. We have to just try some stuff.

So one of the things that I’ve been trying over the past couple of years with some other collaborators, one of them being maymay who’s here today, is try to use new technologies to build some non-state alternatives for community justice and crisis response. So, just as a couple of examples of these, the one that’s gotten the most press—you can’t actually see the whole slide here, um—this is the Predator Alert Tool. It’s a software that exists for a bunch of different social networking sites.

The two ones that I most primarily want to talk about here is the one that exists for Facebook and there’s also a Predator Alert Tool for a site called FetLife, which is kind of a BDSM/fetish social network dating site. And these are tools that allow people who have been victims of sexual violence to communicate with other people in their communities about their experiences. The one that was built for FetLife is specifically—because it’s a small community that uses the site anyway, it’s a way for people to be able to, like, let the whole website know, “Hey, this is this experience I had with this person at this time.” The one that exists for Facebook, because Facebook tends to be more lots of these atomic social networks that are connected to each other, it allows people to say, I, as a survivor, had an experience and I want to be able to connect with other people of my social community who had an experience with the same person. So I can say, “I went to this party, this person put a drug in my drink. I don’t want to talk about this publicly, but I do want to talk to anybody else who has had a similar experience with that same person.” So I can post a little thing and it’ll only be shown to other people who made a similar comment about that person. It just takes advantage of Facebook’s granular privacy settings in some various ways.

And again, these are all experiments. They’re very beta. They’re very proof-of-concept. But they’re ways for people to sort of think about how might we talk about our experiences of sexual violence and building community support and resourcing around preventing and recovering from sexual violence in ways that don’t involve calling the police, which is typically not a system that’s very helpful to survivors of sexual violence anyway.

The tool that we’re working on right now is called Better Angels, and the specific packaging of Better Angels, Buoy, is built for a domestic violence use case. But this is a community-based emergency crisis response app. And so the idea is that I, as a user, would have this on my phone. I set up the people that I want voluntarily on my crisis response team. So I say, if I’m in an emergency situation I don’t want to call 9-1-1. I want to call my brother, my best friend, this friend of mine who lives down the street who’s like a Black Belt in karate, and somebody I know who’s really trained in medical care, and the advocate I know that works at the local shelter. So I set up my own team, and then if I’m in a crisis situation, I just have one click, I hit the button. This alert goes out to all the people in my network. They get an alert saying, y’know, Rebecca’s in crisis. I [Rebecca] can put a little message to say, “My house is on fire!” Or, like, “I’m being harassed by the cops!” They get a message, it shows them where I am, a map of where they are in relation to me, where any other responders are in relation to them, and it drops everybody into a little chat room so that people can coordinate a response. So they can say, “Okay, I see on the map that you’re the closest person to Rebecca. Why don’t you go over there and see what she needs. I’m going to go to the school to pick up her kids.” Y’know, this [other responder] can go to the hospital, or this person can go to the Walgreens and get some band-aids, or whatever else is needed.

So, again, this is just an experiment. This one is in development right now. But these are both examples of a larger concept—which, I also can’t show you the whole slide for?—this idea we’ve been playing with of software development as a form of direct action. So, we’ve probably all heard a lot about hacktivism and Anonymous, going around and leaking things, and breaking into the FBI website or whatever. And, y’know, there’s a very anarchic element to this kind of, like, burn and destroy hacktivist ethic. But there’s also, I think an anarchic element an idea of using technology as a way to build alternative community mechanisms and so these are just a couple of experiments that we’ve done. And there’s a lot more out there!

I wish there was a way to…like, how do I? Is there a way to show you the whole thing?

Nathan Goodman: I can write the URL [of your blog] on the board if you want.

Rebecca Crane: Yeah, yeah, just do that. Thanks. How do I go back to the slideshow?

Audience member: I think you can press ESCape.

Rebecca Crane: Okay. Oh, there we go.

Nathan Goodman: Oh, cool. I guess I don’t need to write it down on the board.

Rebecca Crane: Okay! So, this blog post, the “Software Development as Direct Action” is on my blog there [at unquietpirate.wordpress.com]. I think if you just to that URL the top post right now is about Relationship Anarchy, but you can scroll down and I think this is the second post on my blog right now.

So, if you’re interested, and we can always use people who are technologically inclined, people who want to write code, people who want to test code, or just have ideas, people want to get involved, this is one way you can get involved. Like, say hi, I’m doing some projects, you wanna get involved, you can hit me up and work on some projects with me. Alternatively, there are many other—how do I switch to the slides?

Cory Massimino: There’s an option in the menu….

Rebecca Crane: There we go. So there’s lots of other organizations of various sizes and distributions that you can look up. Here’s a bunch of websites. Black and Pink [BlackAndPink.org] is a prison abolitionist organization that works specifically with LGBTQ prisoners and they have a prison abolition sort of, like, bent and also they just do prisoner support. Critical Resistance [criticalresistance.org] is also just a broad-based prison abolition organization. They’re more based on the coasts, but they’re always looking for people who want to start chapters in their town. INCITE! Women of Color Against Violence [incite-national.org] is a group of women of color who have a just, kind of, anti-carceral, anti-violence, and they’ve got some good anthologies, they’ve done a lot of writing. The Anarchist Black Cross [abcf.net], of course, they do prisoner support for people who they consider to be political prisoners. And then there’s some discussion about whether all prisoners are considered to be political prisoners. No One Is Illegal [NoOneIsIllegal.org], which ties into the talk that we’re going to see later today [on Open Borders]. And the Sylvia Rivera Law Project [SRLP.org], as Nathan mentioned, is Dean Spade’s organization. They mostly work on supporting transgender, gender non-conforming prisoners and they also have a prison abolition base. And then just a shout out to, ’cause I know there’s some other people from New Mexico here, Free Spook [FreeSpook.org] is a little prison abolition that’s based out of Albuquerque that’s doing just some really, really, like, hands-on work. They have a specific person they’re trying to get a retrial for and they’re just trying to do education about prison abolition and the prison system and solitary confinement specifically in New Mexico area. The picture I showed earlier of the little ofrenda [English: offering/altar] that was something that they put together for the Day of the Dead celebration and they just do some outreach and education. So if you’re in Albuquerque or anywhere in New Mexico and you want to get involved, look at their website.

And that’s about it. Thanks very much. Feel free to drop me an email [at foxtale@riseup.net with PGP key ID: 7E0021BA] if you want to contact me or if there’s anything you want more information about.

Audience: [applause]