This is a lightly edited transcript of a presentation by Woods Ervin, Mohamed Shekh of Critical Resistance, and Andrea J. Ritchie of Interrupting Criminalization. For more resources on abolitionist organizing from Critical Resistance, please visit For more information on No More Police: A Case for Abolition, please visit


Mohamed: We are going to be going over our Dismantle, Change, Build framework in the context of broader organizing but wanted to do a little bit of an introduction here into some frameworks and tools that Critical Resistance has developed and uses when we go about developing organizing campaigns to make sure that we are doing so in a strong abolitionist manner: Dismantle, Change, Build, Seven Easy Steps, and a framework we call Shrink and Starve, which is very much connected to the distinctions between reformist reforms and abolitionist reforms. 

Seven Easy Steps

Starting with the Seven Easy Steps, these are seven questions or steps that we run through when developing abolitionist campaigns to make sure that our campaign work is in line with our values. 

Number one is, are we looking to make the [Prison Industrial Complex or] PIC a less workable solution to problems and to limit its power over our lives? Are we looking to reduce to shrink the life and scope of the PIC?

Number two, where are we working? Are we looking to take on the most harmful aspects of the PIC?  Are we working to fight forms of harm like white supremacy, heterosexism, and classism, both as part of the campaign, but also internally, in how we're going about doing the organizing?

Coalitions. Are we working in coalitions with abolitionist goals? Are we working to help spread abolition within the coalitions themselves, knowing that when we're building coalitions, we are looking to build with folks that aren't just thinking like us.

No to NIMBY. We want to make sure that we're saying no to the PIC everywhere and not just in our backyards (NIMBY, for those that might not be familiar with that acronym, is Not In My Backyard). As in, we don't want this jail in my backyard, but it's okay to build it somewhere else. We want to reject that logic. 

Healthy solutions. Does our work suggest workable ways to maintain self-determination, meaningful safety, and collective health? Are we working to build up healthy solutions to the problems in our community space? 

Language justice is really important for us too. Whose words are we using? We want to make sure to challenge the language of the PIC and the oppressive notions of safety that come along with connections to systems of punishment. 

Lastly, short to long-term. Does our work make future challenges to the PIC possible? Are we only working to address what's immediately in front of us, or are we also keeping the long game in mind, the long-term struggle?


Shrink and Starve

Shrink and Starve is another framework that we use, referring to what we want to do to the PIC. We want to grow and nourish our communities, but we want to shrink and starve the Prison Industrial Complex. 

There's a fabulous tool that the conveners of this network gathering shared [So Is This an Abolitionist Tool or Strategy?] that gathers the different tools that have been developed to help folks assess whether certain reforms or demands are abolitionist. These are four basic questions that we ask ourselves in considering whether something is shrinking and starving the PIC:

  • Are we going after things that reduce funding to the systems that we're up against? 

  • Are we reducing the tools, the tactics, the technologies and other resources that policing, imprisonment, surveillance, and other systems of control have at their disposal? 

  • Are we challenging the idea that these systems increase safety? 

  • Are we reducing the scale of policing imprisonment and surveillance in our lives and in our society?

That is our abolitionist reforms versus reformist reforms.

This is a framework and a structure that we often use when developing our campaigns and coalitions. We break them out into a three-pronged approach: 

  • legislative or legal strategy;

  • media communications and narrative; and

  • grassroots outreach or base-building prong.

This is not unique to Critical Resistance. A lot of different coalitions and campaigns might use something very similar. We have developed this based out of our first campaign, which was fighting against a new prison in California called the Delano II prison back in the late 1990s to early to mid-2000s.


Dismantle, Change, Build

This is a framework that we use to think about our organizing in a holistic fashion. The thing to really note here is that the Dismantle, Change, and Build aspects of our organizing, or any campaign that we're engaged in, are not meant to be approached in a linear fashion, and they're also not meant to be approached in isolation. These should all be in conversation with one another,


When talking about Dismantle, we're talking about tearing down the systems, the tools, the structures of the Prison Industrial Complex. The primary way that we go about doing this is through developing long-term campaigns and sustained projects as absolute necessity. As we've heard from the storytelling about the really powerful examples of organizing yesterday, is that these efforts take a really long time. We’re talking about years of building and fighting and strategizing. The focus of our campaign should be really targeted while also keeping the broader analysis and the whole of the PIC in mind. While the PIC is very large and very complex, we should target particular parts of the PIC because we know we can't take it all at once, but with the understanding how all of the pieces are working together. When we’re identifying strategic parts of the PIC to attack, if we can imagine the PIC as a big machine, a very complicated machine, a network of cogs that are all working together, distinct, yet connected. The question that we ask ourselves is, which cog, which part of the PIC if we were able to successfully break it down would make the rest of the machine less able to function. That's what we want as much as possible to go after.


Woods: Moving into the “change” part of Dismantle, Change, Build, the first part here involves changing the common sense of how we think about safety, health, and well-being.

Folks have been talking about this already, but we do this through grassroots media and earned and formal media.  Many campaigns said yesterday that it's necessary to have a media strategy that makes sense of policing and imprisonment from an abolitionist perspective, both as part of mobilizing community members in your campaign, but also as part of changing the narrative in the media landscape more broadly. The media strategy needs to include both the grassroots and the formal media as well. We also engage in changing common sense as part of our outreach prong and outreach strategy. A lot of folks yesterday talked about how some of the best outreach is done in person, is consistent, and is accountable in terms of follow-through. Oftentimes, some of our best work is done when we build with formations of people who are already organized, whether that be base-building orgs that don't already work around policing and imprisonment or the PIC more broadly, church groups, social clubs, et cetera. Then also the result is often that as we shift the common sense in the landscape and with the groups who are organizing, that brings them closer to us and PIC abolition for future work which goes into the next point, which is changing conditions to make wins more possible.

CR engages in projects in relationship to our campaign work in order to highlight the power and danger of the PIC and to build our capacity to resist and take care of each other, but also to materially drive a stronger wedge between everyday people and the PIC and making them more willing to engage in fighting to dismantle the PIC, and for abolition more broadly.

This focus on changing conditions to make wins more possible is rooted in building capacities, skills, and for access to things like housing, food resources, education, clean air and water, land, et cetera for everyday people and communities to both increase their well-being in the immediate, but also to struggle against the PIC and for PIC abolition.

Then lastly, changing the relations of power. When talking specifically about targeting decision makers, one way we do this is to shift who is considered an expert. This can include something for example like a report or report card because historically, police, prisons, Sheriffs have not had to justify their increasing resources and power, and so are oftentimes not prepared to do so in the context of a campaign. Leveraging that data can shift who is considered an expert. 

Part of why we organize a coalition, whether we're fighting a policing project jail or prison, is because we want to make sure that we're in partnership with communities that are impacted by that particular and specific part of the PIC, so that as we advance our campaigns, we’re strengthening and supporting those communities' leadership as integral to our campaign work. This can start with shifting who is considered an expert on the PIC, from cops, prison guards, and courts, to people who have been caged and harmed by policing and criminalization. 

Power is the ability to get what you want and build the world we want. As part of the work of fighting for and winning the victories of the campaigns that we wage, we're able to leverage people power via decision-makers and against our opponents, the PIC, in order to push them to yield to our community's demands, structures, and self-determination. This requires that we consistently test our power by pushing the farthest edge of our politics in our campaigns, demanding what we want in a materialist way in the ongoing push towards abolition, and not just what we think we can get.


Build. I'll really quickly go through Build. We're familiar with what it means to build outside of the state, things like community safety, accountability practice, survival supports, et cetera.

One thing to lift up is also the necessity to build more organization: to build with organizations that exist who maybe are not the usual suspects, to invite people into abolitionist organizations that already exist, and to bring more and more of your communities and the peoples along. Strong organizations help build strong movements and we need to continue to grow our movement. 

Then last is building the power to compel the state to give us what we want and need. Just to be straight to the point, this is our money, our shared capacity that we are demanding to be restructured and put to use on behalf of us. As we test our power, as we grow our power, we'll be able to continue to do that in ways that allow for less compromise. 

Mohamed: In this framework the different components all need to happen in tandem with one another for us to approach Dismantle, Change, Build in a holistic fashion. 

Now for a couple of notes that Woods and I put our minds together to share based on our experience over the years. First, we can't build our way out of the PIC. Dismantle, Change, Build starts with Dismantle. We say this because there's been, I think, for good reason, a lot of really exciting and really amazing energies put into the “build” work, but we want to make sure that that remains in tandem with and in conversation with dismantling the existing structures. The “build” work is ever crucial and we also must be dismantling, defunding, tearing down.

Again, Dismantle, Change, Build is not linear. We don't just start with Dismantle and wait to move on to the changing and building. We need to be building as we go. 

We can't and shouldn't be doing all of Dismantle, Change, Build ourselves. Any one organization should not try to do it all. When we're building coalitions as part of campaign work, we want to be doing so with Dismantle, Change, Build also as a framework for building our coalitions. There are organizations and groups that are really focused and good at doing the changing and building work. There are some groups that are going to be really good and focused on doing the dismantling work. When we're building across our coalitions, we want to be thinking expansively about these things. Any one group can't just be doing all of this at once, or all of it alone, rather.

The next point is that there's nothing inherently abolitionist or non-abolitionist about any particular strategies and tactics. This relates to something Woods was saying earlier about really pushing the bounds and the edges of our abolitionist organizing, and we shouldn't be, I'd say, romanticizing any particular strategies or tactics. We should be exploring and be creative in how we're going about our work. Doing a large-scale, really awesome militant direct action is no more abolitionist than, say, going to a city council meeting and building up folks to give public comment. It all depends on how the strategy and the tactics fit into the conditions that you're operating in and what is going to really push the work forward.

Then lastly here, there has been some conversation around this, but we want to offer this little snippet from Ruth Wilson Gilmore and Craig Gilmore in a piece they wrote called Restating the Obvious. They write, "We have to go deeply into the state in all its aspects, its legitimacy, the ideological apparatuses it wields to normalize the everyday horror of mass incarceration, its budget process, its inner contradictions, its intrastate antagonisms, and frictions." The thing I really love about this quote is that we often talk about the state like we're against the state or against the carceral state violence.

What this quote really shows, this last line, "intrastate antagonisms and frictions," is that it points to the fact that the state is not one thing. It's not a monolith. It's not like there is a department building called The State, but it is made up of different institutions and interests that we should dig into and exploit their contradictions, find wedges that we can exploit. All the sharpness from the Gilmores.

Woods: One question we need to ask ourselves when building our campaign and moving forward our coalitions we're building and working in is “are we comfortable?” There is a quote by civil rights activist Bernice Johnson Reagon around prickly coalitions. "If you're comfortable, you're not in a coalition." We should always be pushing our politic further and further into the community or organizations and with people who maybe are unlikely allies, growing our ability to leverage our power and win campaign victories.

The next question is how are we working toward achieving our campaign goals while simultaneously working to build up the leadership of our community members and those closest to the issue? I think this toggling of needing to build up and grow our capacities more broadly with the constant fight back or struggle that we have to engage in against death-making institutions is a tricky balance that we have to keep maintaining and really keep our eye on both at the same time.

Are we regularly engaging in an assessment of our work? What's working, what's not, and how we might need to pivot? The nodes of the PIC are in coordination with each other. The parts of the state are not all one uniform thing, but as they're moving along their strategy, are we pivoting our work to meet the conditions of the moment to wield our politics at its sharpest edge? How are we assessing our ability, our power to be able to do so effectively?

Lastly, are we choosing strategies and tactics that are responsive to our conditions? This includes both the assessment of our tactics and strategies and then based on the power that we built and the ways our enemies are moving, are we choosing strategies and tactics that meet the moment in its sharpest way?

I think that that is unfortunately, all the time that we have, but I'll make sure to share the website for our Stop the Injunctions campaign, which was a campaign we started back in 2010 that led us into our Oakland Power Projects work which was a project we did starting in 2015 after we won the campaign against the gang injunctions to build up everyday Oakland community members' capacity to fight and resist policing. As we moved into our fight to Stop Urban Shield, that allowed us to bring in some of the work that we had done with Oakland Power Projects, some of the work that we were building on from our fight against policing the gang injunctions into victory against international war games that was happening in the Bay Area so that we also were able to win that fight in 2018.


Principles of Abolitionist Organizing

Andrea: The carceral state is always trying to resolve crises of its own making as Ruth Wilson Gilmore reminds us, and the violence of policing often generates crises that it tries to resolve by steering us into a path that brings us back to carcerality. The So Is This an Abolitionist Binder or Strategy? binder is chock full of charts which operate as maps to help you not get sent down the wrong path by the carceral state. We encourage you to use them in lots of settings, not just around policing, but around bail reform, migration, prison abolition. In this moment, there's a lot of desire for lawmaking to respond to the criminalization of abortion or the decision in Dobbs. There's a lot of ways that we could go down the wrong path there too. The binder includes an insert around criminalization and reproductive autonomy and paths to avoid there. We can also go down the wrong path in trying to hold the cops accountable. There's a piece the binder that shares some thoughts on that. 

In No More Police: A Case for Abolition Mariame Kaba and I gathered some principles of abolitionist organizing that are based a lot on those that Critical Resistance has come up with over the years. You all are going to go into breakouts to talk about how you are embodying these principles well in your current organizing and where you face challenges to them. You're not going to go through all of the principles, you're going to pick the one that you feel like as a group to discuss that you embody well, or that you feel challenged by. We have some suggestions of things that often challenge you around these principles that you can also use for discussion. 

The first principle is that we oppose surveillance, policing, or incarceration in any form, including in response to state and white supremacist violence. Rachel Herzing taught me that if your response to things that you find most heinous is carceral, then you are not moving in an abolitionist way. You have to think about the things you find most heinous and dream other ways forward in order to lean into your abolitionist politics. Obviously, calls for police prosecutions and prosecutions in these mass shootings that we're seeing are things that take us away from our abolitionist center.

Second, policing is beyond reform. The changes we're working towards have to divest power and resources and weaponry and legitimacy from police, and reinvest them in the things that we need to survive. We can't focus only on one or the other, and when we are ensuring access to resources and healing, we have to ensure that we’re not pushing folks into other systems of policing, like many of the ones that we're aware of. For instance, we can't say we don't want cops to respond to unmet mental health needs or different mental health needs by sending folks to forced incarceration or policing through the medical system. We need to meet those needs as needs, and not just rename the ways we meet them in ways that continue to police. I just want to lift up Dustin Gibson and TL Lewis - I think this language comes from something that we collectively worked on for the Vision for Black Lives. 

We need 1,000 solutions, not just one, so we need experimentation and innovation to build greater well-being, and that looks different for each community. There's no one size fits all solution, and I think a lot of us got pressured to come up with one in 2020, and we have to resist that and slow down. 

We need to be committed to dismantling all interlocking systems of oppression, and recognize that they all fuel each other. We can't just be focused on one in our abolitionist struggle. Disability justice, Black feminism,  Queer Black Feminism are a few of many frameworks that offer this intersectional perspective and that offer more on how these principles can be embodied in practice, including through communities of care and practices of collective governance.


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