The historical formation of INCITE! Women of Color Against Violence is a key place whereby we can study continuity and discontinuity in the imprisoned Black radical traditions paradigms, methodologies, and accepted strategies and tactics, its convergences and divergences with larger (and emergent) social and political forms. Here we can begin to delineate the distinct approaches and interventions conceptualized and implemented by cadre members of INCITE! in the first decade of the twenty-first century, whose core ideals revolve around the desire for an abolitionist movement that centers violence against women, and gender-based violence more broadly. INCITE!’s influence is foundational for a myriad of grassroots formations that are operating today, from collectives fighting the criminalization of sexual assault survivors and survivors of domestic abuse to youth empowerment and transformative justice education projects. INCITE! has provided a key reservoir of theories, strategies, and resources for the movement to abolish the prison industrial complex as it coheres at the intersections of other autonomous movements challenging what Black feminists have historically called “interlocking systems of oppression.” I believe INCITE! make the deep structural/epistemic ruptures during this phase in terms of rethinking the cartographies of struggle that are determinate of PIC abolition as a discourse and praxis.
The stakes of INCITE!’s first gathering was organized “primarily for a small group of impassioned women of color activists who were fed up with existing organizations that couldn’t (or wouldn’t) address violence faced by women of color. They wanted to understand and actively confront violence while placing women of color at the center.” Two more conferences Color of Violence 2: Building A Movement held in Chicago (2002) & Color of Violence 3: Stopping the War on Women of Color in New Orleans (2005) were to follow, and in the organization’s nascent years published various anthologies included in Color of Violence: An INCITE! Anthology (2006). Each conference held by this national organization of mostly Black, Brown, and Indigenous women was framed by obstinately abolitionist anti-violence objectives in transforming conditions of systemic state and interpersonal harm, bringing more abolitionist activists into the fight against interpersonal gender-based violence and an influx of anti-violence organizers into the movement for PIC abolition.
Forcing a reckoning with the underlying urgency of reinvigorating and prioritizing political education on anticapitalist principles in the movement for PIC abolition, INCITE! Women of Color Against Violence chapters appear, throughout the early 2000s record of counter-carceral revolt, to maintain an anti-capitalist political line and exemplary anarchic redistributive impulse. In 2004, INCITE! leads an effort to organize another landmark conference: The Revolution Will Not Be Funded: Beyond the Non-Profit Industrial Complex at UC Santa Barbara. This conference brought activists together to discuss the effects of the non-profitization of the U.S. Left and “global North” progressive movements more generally, producing an analysis how organizations since the 1970s—parallel to the prison industrial complex’s late 20th century expansion—have become increasingly entangled in the economic and legal machinery of capital, corporate governance, and private philanthropy.
Informed by this principled anti-capitalist orientation to movement and attempts to communize relationships scaffolded by organized processes of “community accountability” in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, INCITE! New Orleans famously writes:
The marginalization and invisibility of the analysis and political strategies of women of color has weakened the potential response of anti–domestic violence services to support survivors before and after the hurricane. Nationally, policy makers and government funders prioritize battered women’s shelters over longer-term strategies, often recommended by radical women of color, such as community organizing and community-based accountability. However, after a disaster like this one, when shelters are destroyed through floods, and when there are no crisis lines to call, and when the police are perpetrating sexual violence themselves, we see that these longer-term strategies are urgently needed now. Community organizing and community-based accountability are the things we have left when the systems have collapsed. Further, these strategies often integrate a plan to address the institutional conditions that fortify domestic violence. (INCITE! 2006: 37, my italics).
Community organizing and community-based accountability are the things we have left when the systems have collapsed. Of particular importance for properly theorizing the formative and cohering self-making narratives of INCITE! Women of Color Against Violence at the nexus of a burgeoning historical constellation of grassroots organizations and media collectives whose efforts push discussion regarding PIC abolition movement-building during this conjuncture is to always emphasize their urgent desire to push PIC abolitionism toward an emphasis on the internal work of transforming the self and tending toward our most intimate interpersonal relations as a guiding philosophical principle and defining aspect of (PIC) abolition praxis.
INCITE! can be understood as galvanizing a shift in the practice (as much as “theory”) of abolition praxis toward the internal processes of transformation, addressing power relations within the spaces that revolutionary community organizing takes place, as they materialize in the very conceptual models that abolitionists inherit and innovate. Such turns inward compel political discourses, activists, and embodied collectives to model an abolitionist ecosystem within their already-existing organizational and interpersonal homes. In 2006, far after the group’s originary formation, cofounding members remark:
There are many organizations that address violence directed at communities (e.g., police brutality, racism, economic exploitation, colonialism, and so on). There are also many organizations that address violence within communities (e.g., sexual/domestic violence). But there are very few organizations that address violence on both fronts simultaneously. The challenge women of color face in combatting personal and state violence is to develop strategies for ending violence that do assure safety for survivors of sexual/domestic violence and do not strengthen our oppressive criminal justice apparatus. Our approaches must always challenge the violence perpetrated through multinational capitalism and the state. (Andrea Smith, Beth Richie, Julia Chinyere Oparah, Janelle White, and the INCITE! Anthology Co-editors, 2006)
It is quite easy to illustrate a general pattern of migrating the priorities of theorizing abolition toward the “interpersonal,” at the level of our most immediate relationships, and of what anti-violence/non-punitive sociality looks like in the reproduction of everyday life. Practicing interpersonal antiviolence is therefore seen as a daily ethics of collective living and ensuring the future well-being and spatial production of lifeways for those most vulnerable to systemic state and interpersonal violence, abuse, harm, and group-determined premature death. Abolitionist counter-carceral insurgency must be not only multi-sited but multiply-scaled in its strategies and tactics, but radically decentralized, non-competitive, and anti-hierarchical in its desired social structures and geographies, as Davis makes clear: “[R]ather than try to imagine one single alternative to the existing system of incarceration, we might envision an array of alternatives that will require radical transformations of many aspects of our society. Alternatives that fail to address racisms, male dominance, homophobia, class bias, and other structures of domination will not, in the final analysis, lead to decarceration and will not advance the goal of abolition.” (108) Gendered racial violence is thus at the crux of carceral power’s world-making and world-breaking capacities.
The specific importance of the joint statement written in 2003 by INCITE! and Critical Resistance furthermore intends not only to hold the mainstream anti-violence movement accountable for its reliance on the prison industrial complex on the one hand; while on the other also challenging also what was then a prevalent erasure of gender-based violence as a core concern of abolitionist, counter-carceral praxis. INCITE! writes:
To live violence free lives, we must develop holistic strategies for addressing violence that speak to the intersection of all forms of oppression. The anti-violence movement has been critically important in breaking the silence around violence against women and providing much-needed services to survivors. However, the mainstream anti-violence movement has increasingly relied on the criminal justice system as the front-line approach toward ending violence against women of color. It is important to assess the impact of this strategy…In recent years, the mainstream anti-prison movement has called important attention to the negative impact of criminalization and the build-up of the prison industrial complex. Because activists who seek to reverse the tide of mass incarceration and criminalization of poor communities and communities of color have not always centered gender and sexuality in their analysis or organizing, we have not always responded adequately to the needs of survivors of domestic and sexual violence….We seek to build movements that not only end violence, but that create a society based on radical freedom, mutual accountability, and passionate reciprocity. In this society, safety and security will not be premised on violence or the threat of violence; it will be based on a collective commitment to guaranteeing the survival and care of all peoples. (Critical Resistance-INCITE! Women of Color Against Violence, Gender Violence & the Prison Industrial Complex, 2001)
When properly theorized, any effort to map the CR-INCITE! Statement’s transits in the public discourse should illumine the disparate pockets of insurgency and multiple and overlapping communities of struggle that form between nearly every tendency of counter-carceral revolt in the age of the prison industrial complex. It is a “movement text” par excellence that appears or is ubiquitously referenced in the archives of various organizations, the source material of activist scholars, and certainly in the intellectual formation Black artistic and culture workers. The CR-INCITE! statement on Gender-Violence and the Prison Industrial Complex is useful for the purposes of this chapter because of its widespread circulation as a “movement text.” By tracing the transits of the statement, we are further able to map the multiple scales, formal contexts of convergence and divergence, and mediums that facilitate the transmission of knowledge throughout a crystalizing movement to abolish the prison industrial complex. The principles of community organizing blueprinted by INCITE! and Critical Resistance force us to ask: How do we practically mobilize strategies that center the most marginalized of criminalized populations without appealing to or reifying the sanctity of splitting innocence from guilt? How do we begin addressing gender-based violence, misogyny, intimate-partner abuse, and harm without policing and incarceration on an everyday level and as reality/potential in our activist groups, households, and other interpersonal settings? The prison industrial complex is therefore an inextricably gendered constellations of historical forces and institutionality.