The rustbelt specifies a geographic region tied together by a history of what industrial capital left behind: precarious lives and rusting factories. We highlight these histories and geographies because the State (that is, the police, judges, prosecutors, legislators, governors, city council people, etc.) attempted to provide a “spatial fix” to the crisis of industrial capital by locking up those who were “redundant” people to the needs of capital. Capital made “useless” a broad section of the rustbelt population (ie made them “redundant”) and the State dealt with these precarious lives by locking them up. As such, the crisis of mass incarceration is a crisis of our society—capitalism.
So why did industrial capital leave rustbelt cities like Detroit to rust? Because in order for capitalism to function capitalists must keep profit rates high. Capitalism is a global system that puts profit over everything. This profit, however, is produced by the labor of workers who only get part of the value they produce. That is, wages make up only a part of the total value produced by workers—how else do capitalists make a profit if not by robbing workers of their labor? As such, exploitation is a fundamental part of capitalist profit. In the mid 20th century, as workers organized to increase their wages (think of the Detroit-based League of Revolutionary Black Workers for example), capital no longer found it profitable to exploit Amerikan workers—so it went to exploit workers elsewhere – where profits were higher because workers were more intensely exploited (that is, where workers were not as organized and were forced to work longer hours and so on).
But under capitalism, not all lives are equally precarious. Not all lives bear the brunt of State violence in the same way. The legacies of the geographies and histories of colonialism and slavery make capitalist exploitation intimately racial. Class exploitation and racial domination go hand in hand. As radical intellectual and longtime prison abolitionist Ruth Wilson Gilmore writes in her book Golden Gulag – “Racism, specifically, is the state-sanctioned or extralegal production and exploitation of group-differentiated vulnerability to premature death.”. As such, the crisis of mass incarceration is a crisis of racial capitalism.
One response to the crisis of racial capitalism, to the crisis of mass incarceration, is to abolish prisons, police and private property. After all, why do we need to work? Why do we need to compete with workers half-way across the world—with which we have much more in common than we are made to imagine—just for a pay increase of one dollar (or two) per hour? Because the means for us to reproduce our lives, that is, the means for us to eat, to clothe ourselves, to provide for a roof over our heads, is mediated by the wages we get. That is, we survive with the breadcrumbs capitalists pay us for our labor. The State, in turn, enforces this by upholding the social relations engendered by private property. That is, both the guns of the police and other forms of State supervision (such as surveillance, prisons and ankle shackles) enforce private property relations and white supremacy. Our society, one in which a small percentage of the global population lives off the rest of us, is able to reproduce itself through racial inequality and capitalist exploitation. As such, our emphasis on abolishing the triad of prisons-private property-police allows us to imagine a world without capitalist exploitation and without racial domination.
What does that world – without prisons police and property – look like or feel like? What kind of social relations are engendered when we solve our problems not by dialing the magic number – 911 – but by resolving problems ourselves? What kind of relations do we create when we no longer have to worry about having to work to pay rent and have safe drinking water? These are the kinds of questions we ask as abolitionists. As such, prison abolition is not simply about finally letting go of an old form of solving problems – putting people in cages – abolition also entails restructuring the ways in which we relate with one another in all scales.
Community radio has the power to amplify social movements and counter the social death sentences imposed on our communities. It affirms that none of us are disposable and that the production of ideas in our homes and streets matter. Our radio project relies on a careful ear, an eagerness to learn and be challenged, and the ability to weave together a bigger picture for the benefit—not only of the audience—but of those whose stories and struggles are being voiced. By providing a platform to share in-depth analysis informed by neighborhood expertise, Rustbelt Abolition Radio underpins self-determination and directly counters the normative narratives that muffle the needs and dreams of our communities.