By Emily L. Thuma Original article found here.
All Our Trials: Prisons, Policing and the Feminist Fight Against Violence By Emily L. Thuma University of Illinois Press, 2019, 246 pages, $24.95 paperback.THE DEMAND THAT no one be caged is an old one. Decades before the U.S. prison population hit two million and the concept of “mass incarceration” entered the public lexicon, anti-racist feminist organizers called for the end of criminalization and confinement. In the new book All Our Trials: Prisons, Policing and the Feminist Fight Against Violence, Emily Thuma traces the “history of activism by, for, and about incarcerated domestic violence survivors, criminalized rape resisters, and dissident women prisoners in the 1970s and early 1980s” (2) Focusing on how grassroots organizations contested gendered and racial carceral violence, All Our Trials offers a vital history for contemporary prison abolitionists seeking to make the world anew. The author is assistant professor of politics, philosophy, and public affairs at the University of Washington – Tacoma. At the heart of the book is Thuma’s examination of how everyday activism sought to win material victories against the widening net of criminalization and reframe discussion and debates on gender-based violence. Anti-carceral feminism, as Thuma elucidates, reveals that punitive power is anchored in patriarchal approaches to safety and violence — hence the necessity of rerouting responses to state and interpersonal violence from the carceral state to the transformative potential of community-based responses rooted in care. In tracing a multitude of abolitionist feminist projects across the United States — from campaigns to close carceral psychiatric units, to Black feminist anti-rape work, to mass defense campaigns for criminalized sexual assault survivors, to radical feminist anti-prison newsletters — Thuma highlights the breadth of this activist current. Their organizing surpassed any single strategy or tactic, reminding us that there is no silver bullet for undoing mass criminalization and the carceral state. Thuma’s book is also notable for her thick description of not just what these various groups and coalitions organized but how they organized — from the structures of their meetings to their handling of internal political disagreements. One of many strengths of All Our Trials is Thuma’s keen attention to how through political struggle, grassroots organizers sharpened their analysis of and produced new knowledge about the operations and logics of the carceral state. Significantly, much of this work was led by radical women of color and anti-racist white women — many of whom identified as lesbians — who took what we would now describe as an intersectional approach to questions of gender violence. Socialist and anti-capitalist politics also played a key role as anti-carceral feminists located the expansion of punitive state power as entwined with the contradictions of racial capitalism. In centering the experiences of criminalized and incarcerated women, this feminist formation revealed how the disciplining of racialized gender and sexuality was crucial in the production of carceral power — pushing the burgeoning prison abolitionist movement to integrate feminist politics. At the same time, anti-prison and anti-policing feminists challenged the liberal tendencies of the mainstream feminist movement, which failed to interrogate not only how patriarchy was intertwined with other systems of oppression but also how interpersonal gender violence was situated within structures of state violence. The abolitionist feminist organizing that Thuma details fundamentally counters the logics and practices of “carceral feminism” — the strand of feminist politics contending that the best strategy for remedying sexual violence and other forms of interpersonal gender violence is through increasing punitive state power. In recent years, contemporary activists with organizations such as INCITE! Women of Color Against Violence have rightfully tied the rise of carceral feminism to the state’s co-optation of the early domestic violence movement through attaching funding streams to collaboration with law enforcement. Yet Thuma reminds us that this co-optation was never totalizing. Although the collectives, organizations and coalitions she documents were never the mainstream of the feminist movement, they still provided an anti-racist, left edge to debates on dismantling patriarchal power and offered more expansive visions of liberation.