Gender Stories

Abolition as everyday practice: a conversation with Deana Ayers

July 13, 2020 Alex Iantaffi Season 3 Episode 39
Gender Stories
Abolition as everyday practice: a conversation with Deana Ayers
Show Notes Transcript

Alex Iantaffi discusses prison abolition with Deana Ayers, a 21 years old Black, nonbinary organizer. They graduated in May 2020 with a Bachelor of Social Work degree from the University of North Texas. As a college student Deana was involved with student government, reproductive justice organizing, and a push for transformative justice and police abolition. They are currently living in Minneapolis, MN with their girlfriend, where they are interning for an economic justice organization and writing articles about prison industrial complex abolition, political education, and the social work profession. You can check out their published articles in their portfolio at deanajayers.journoportfolio.com and follow them on Twitter @deanajayers. 

Deana's call to action is to support a working class Latinx community in their journey to getting clean water: https://www.gofundme.com/f/green-tree-estates-water-relief?fbclid=IwAR34nStg63fv9Lg3T2z9FNIk17G_wEV6zH5vPjN2_yJSwkRnzOGN-QYOZ40

If you want to find out more about prison abolition in Minneapolis, check out the following websites: MPD 150 https://www.mpd150.com/ and Black Visions Collective https://www.blackvisionsmn.org/

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Hosted by Alex Iantaffi
Music by Maxwell von Raven
Logo by Lior Allen

Intro:

Everyone has a relationship with gender. What's your story? Hello, and welcome to Gender Stories with your host, Dr. Alex Iantaffi.

Alex Iantaffi:

Hello, and welcome to another episode of gender stories. I know I always say I'm excited, but I am I'm excited every time listeners and today I'm excited because I'm bringing you a conversation with Deana Ayers, who is a 21 year old black non binary organizer. They've been in Minneapolis about two weeks, but they graduated this May with a Bachelor of Social Work degree from the University of North Texas. As a college student, they were involved with student government, reproductive justice organizing, and a push for transformative justice and police abolition. Like I said, they've been in Minneapolis a couple of weeks with their girlfriend, and they're interning for an economic justice organization, and writing articles about prison industrial complex abolition, political education, and the social work profession. You can check out their published articles in their portfolio and I'll put the website in the episode description and also follow them on Twitter @deanaayers and I'll put that in the episode description as well. So welcome, Deana. I'm so glad to have you on the show. Thank you so much for responding to my tweet of like, who wants to talk prison abolition gender and race with me? And you're like, I do. And I was like great! And so tell me a little bit about what made you say, Yes, I want to talk about that with you, when I send that tweet out in on the internet.

Deana Ayers:

Um, actually, I had one of the a social worker send it to me. So there's an organization called Social Work Cares, which is like Social Work coalition for free anti racist education. So they have kind of connected to them. And so one of the organizers for that send me the tweet and was like, oh, like you would be a really good fit to like talk about this and especially like the relationship between like social work and prison abolition. So I thought I was really grateful for that and I'm super excited to kind of talk to you about some of my passions.

Alex Iantaffi:

Wonderful. I'm really excited to talk to you about those passions, and what a time to be in Minneapolis. I, as the listeners know, I'm not originally from the states are Minneapolis, but I lived here for 12 years, and actually live right in South Minneapolis. So you know, my practices by the cars across the street, where the Mr. George Floyd was brutally murdered and then I live not very far from there. And it's been a very intense time during the uprising in Minneapolis and I wonder what it's been like to come from Texas, into the Twin Cities in this particular moment in time for you.

Deana Ayers:

It's definitely been an experience just to see like the amount of like community like actual community organizing that happens here. And it's kind of like the uprisings and like the organizing and the like very principled demands, like in Texas, like that's what we were looking at, because it's like, we've had multiple people buy from John, our town, Jefferson, like, all these people in Texas, like there's a lot of police brutality here. And yet, we don't have I don't think like the organizing structure and like as many people who are like, trained to like do, like police abolition work and respond. So it was really, it made me like mentally sad, and like, I had a lot of feelings about it. But their reaction of like people taking action and actually getting what they need in their communities as a result has been like really powerful coming from Texas, where we don't really see a lot of like, wins like this.

Alex Iantaffi:

Absolutely. And that's the thing, right that the murder of Mr. George Floyd was a tipping point, you know, the, this waves, unfortunately, of systemic violence against black and brown body and especially against black bodies. Is is a national pandemic, really it is a it is a public health crisis here in the US and many people locally have said, it's really hard to talk about what's happening in Minneapolis outside with people who are outside of this place, right? And I wonder what it has been like for you to come in, come in as an outsider into this moment of organizing and how easy it was for you to plug in and to get connected because like you said, there's a lot of already existing organizations and organizing that was happening and how did you manage to connect on the ground? Because I know a lot of people have also said, it's been really hard to figure out how to plug in. And so I wonder, are you plugged in, in the to this moment?

Deana Ayers:

So I'm just trying to like figure out where I fit into everything both like trying to use what I know, in my experience to help as well as being humble and recognizing, you know, it might seem a little sketchy to people that I just pulled up from a different state two weeks ago. And now like, oh, yeah, I also hate the police. Like, I definitely know, like, understand how it looks. I will say that organizing in Minneapolis seems a little insular. And that, like, it's hard to even find the like, get involved or like Join button on a website. And so I'm still trying to, like figure out where my places and like, who I can get connected to. And it's also like, I think a lot of works everywhere, not just Minneapolis struggle with, there's something that happens like something that starts to fire, like a bunch of people want to be involved and so you both have to try to do the work of whatever has like inspired a push for change, and like capitalize that and like change the world into a better place. While also like plugging people into these movements and I think people don't realize that that can be really hard. And so like, I definitely recognize it, like, you know, if it takes a couple of like days or a week or so to get back to me for an email, like, I understand that, because where I'm like, I might see it as like, oh, well, you know, they should be lucky that I want to be involved and that's, like, that's not really the case. Because they have to train me they have to, like educate me on like, what they're actually doing and make sure that like I'm a good fit or that I'm not like the feds. And so there's a lot, I think behind the scenes, that can make it a little harder to get involved in organizing. And so that's been frustrating for me, but because I like have been in their shoes, and I understand it. I'm trying to be patient and understanding and just like, you know, I'm in somebody else's, like hometown and not be really full of myself and just like understand if it takes time it takes time.

Alex Iantaffi:

Absolutely. And I love the way you're I feel like what you're really speaking to is their relationship building. Right. And the relationship building is a really good area maybe to move on for a moment, because a lot of white folks are waking up to this idea of prison abolition, right. And I say specifically white folks, because, you know, I really feel like the black and brown folks have been working for this for a long time. That city of Minneapolis council vote, you know, to define the police didn't come out of nowhere, they've been organizers, especially black femmes, you know, working for this for a long time. I don't think it's an accident that we have two amazing out kind of black trans city councilors on our council, there's just been so much organizing, and so much work. And and, you know, now we see, you know, not that some white folks have been part of this work too but on a much bigger scale, we're seeing white people waking up to this idea of prison abolition. And then really missing this relationship piece, right, really missing how community organizing needs to be rooted in relationship and something a lot of people even struggle with this idea of how do I build relationship with my neighbors? How do I plug into this, this idea of reimagining community safety? Right. And, and I feel like that relationship building is a fundamental, I don't know, it's foundational, I would say to this prison abolition where it can I don't know if you feel similarly but I was curious about what you think relationship has to do with prison abolition? Yeah.

Deana Ayers:

I think relationships are kind of like the building block of like, the idea of us having like safe and healthy communities that don't have policing or like, have any form of like surveillance and like state induced harm. And I think especially in like the like white supremacist capitalist society that we're in, where we are like, okay, you know, I go from my house, to a job, back to my friends, I don't interact with the people who live around me, I don't like, there's like, there's whole books. I think there's one called Bowling Alone that I read, and it talks about like the decline and like people being involved in like, community organization is just like bowling clubs, let alone organizing for like, radical social change. And so I think a lot of like, it is a majority white people, but there are also like other people who have people of other races, who just like, it isn't really clicking about just like the basics of, you know, like, prison abolition is your relationship with like, one other person and then like, spiraling out from there. And so you can see it kind of I've seen it on Twitter, where white people are just, like, explain prison abolition to me, like, just explain it to me, and it's like, these are people's like, these are our personal stories. These are our whole like lives that created us into like prison abolitionists and to just be like, Okay, give me a reading list. Like it's not about just you know, reading the material and like understanding the theory, it's like, okay, but how are you like practicing what you've learned and like practicing healthy relationships and knowing how to apologize and like, understanding that you harm people and other people harm you. And I just think that that's like really missing, especially for like, white people who don't like white Americans who don't have like a lot of like community ties, or any culture that like, relates to like, larger families or like, any kind of like, community socialization, they're just like, continuously, like, not understanding the building blocks of like, how to talk to another person. And then it's like, okay, if you can't even like, ask me for resources in a way that humanizes me, how are we going to like, transform society together, like, you have to work on like, being able to talk to other people before we can even get to that point.

Alex Iantaffi:

Absolutely. I often talk about how, you know, whiteness is so built on anti blackness and for me, it feels like this disease, right, white supremacy and part of this diseases like the lack of relationship. I was really struck, you know, when I first moved to the UK, I was 22. And then 15 years later, I moved here to the US, one of the things that I keep noticing, again and again, is this, you know, people who have been assimilated into whiteness, have really lost this capacity for relationship have really lost the capacity for connection, you know, and that is such a deep one. And maybe it's because I'm a family therapist, and I'm relating to systems and relational system. But that's really, you know, like you said, it's such a building block of prison abolition. And I definitely don't want to go into definitions or reading less than if listeners if you're interested in finding out more MPD150.org has got it all reports specifically about Minneapolis Police, you know, because this is where I am. And this is where this uprising that rippled across the country kind of started. And it's even on Spotify as an audio. So go listen to the MPD150 report. There's also some other wonderful resources on their website. For our conversations, I really want to go back to this idea of relationship, but also how when we're in relationship that is so different than policing right? Not just kind of police in the official police. But I just want to go into this idea of like, policing each other's bodies, policing who belongs in which space, based on our bodies are being read, you know, how we're gendered how we're racialized. You know, this happens all the time. You know, we walk around our neighborhood, and we look at people and we're making judgments about who belongs and what doesn't belong, right? All the time, and especially when the relationship is missing. What does policing means in that context? Sorry, I went on a long ramble. It was about a week. I don't know if I'm making sense, but...

Deana Ayers:

You know, I think we talked about kind of like the whiteness of like, not having like not knowing how to build those relationships. But there's also like, the says hetero patriarchal part of our society, where it's like...

Alex Iantaffi:

Yes.

Deana Ayers:

It's normal to police people's gender, and to make a personal decision about whether you'll respect to those pronouns or whether or not like, I'm deciding that non binary is or isn't a thing. Like, it's normalized to us to, like, punish people for being different to both stick our noses in others people's business and make judgment calls, but also not build relationships with those people and just to kind of like, watch others and like, survey them and see like, if something is wrong with them. And so I think, especially for like, the relationship between like gender and prison abolition, like there's just so many different parts of our society that are just like, specifically for punishing people who are not like cis men. So like, if you try to defend yourself against an abuser, and you are not cis man, like, you know, if you're defending yourself, like, you're probably going to jail, and then you're going to, and like, you're going to be going to if you're, if they perceive you or decide that you fit into their category of the state, as a woman, they're going to send you to a woman's prison where like, the conditions are terrible, and like there's a bunch of other people who are victims of abuse, so been hurt by other people. But the state said, you fit into this box of like, what harm is unacceptable, like what counts is a crime. And so it doesn't really like help anyone or fix anything. And then when you go further into it in instances of like, well, who is being criminalized by the state, you know, who is whose business is being policed? And it's like, sex workers, like, just automatically like you're a bad person, you're criminalized, like people seeing what you do on a daily basis. As your existing is policed, like, there's just so many ways, even taking out like the prison aspect of it. I think it was a couple years back, they were a bunch of men who were like doxing sex workers and like putting all of their information and sending that information to the IRS, because they didn't like that they weren't paying taxes. And it's like, one that's none of your business. Two it's not hurting anyone what they're doing, and it's not helping you to report, you've just decided like it vigilante justice, justice is like the way for you to get to tell people like this is what's okay in society and this is what's not. Like, there's just so many instances of that of just society saying, you know, here's what's okay, here's what's not, it's in the hands of like the most privileged, and the people who benefit from the systems of oppression, to just like, step on other people and say, like, 'Okay, like, Oh, if the state's not going to police, you, if the state's not going to punish you for existing in a way that is not the same as me, then I'll do it on an interpersonal level, like, I will continue all of these systems of oppression, just interpersonally, one to one, because I can and because society has said that's what I'm supposed to be doing'.

Alex Iantaffi:

Absolutely, and in a lot of ways, the police, we could also talk about the military, but I feel like that's a whole other conversation. But you know, the police industrial complex is really like, almost like the apex of that policing, right? Or we can do all the policing interpersonally and actually, policing is really about control, right? Controlling bodies, controlling borders, and the roots of the police were very much around controlling property that was stolen, you know, from indigenous people, controlling bodies in terms of, you know, slaves running away from plantation, those are the roots of the police in the United States, as I understand them. So the police was never meant to protect communities as we think about communities right now. But it was really meant to protect the interests of like settler colonial cis hetero white patriarchy, really, that's who the police has been kind of. That's what they were born to protect, in some ways and because lots of people talk about, you know, why can't we just reform the police? And I think it's important to talk about the roots, because that's one of the reasons why so many folks, and you know, and black folks really say we can't reform the police, we need to abolish and I don't know if you want to say a little bit more about that but I know that's something that people really go to a lot. Well, can we just reform and defund and abolish? Like such a strong word, you know? And I mean, of course, usually that's white

Deana Ayers:

There's been a lot of, I'll start off with, like, folks. there's been a lot of people who are saying defund, and they're not saying it in an abolitionist way. They're saying like, 'Okay, cut, like half of their budget, and then do a bunch of trainings and community policing and all of these things'. It's like, no, like, we're asking, like, we're not asking, we're demanding that the budget keeps on being cut that these people stopped being hired or being fired. Like, we're trying to get to like zero state police, like as it really is an entity, no police and then go from there. Like, that's the energy that we have and I think a lot of people who are calling for reforms don't realize that they're saying, like, this system can be safe. They're saying, like, oh, we can just like reimagine the police. And it's like, at the end of the day, like police are always going to protect the state, police are going to protect property. And like, that's not really the you can't get away from the roots of that, as well as these reforms that people are calling for are usually so ineffective. It's like, oh, do paperwork before you shoot someone and it's like, we've literally time and time again seen police officers, break the rules, break the laws, and have no punishment. So why are we still asking pretty please don't break these new rules, like they're gonna do it just because they can because there are no consequences like between the other like people on the police force, the courts and like the public opinion of the most powerful people in the country, like, there's no incentive to, like taking these reforms seriously. And even if they claim to like the states who are saying like, Oh, listen, they're the department. Oh, we check off all of the policies, and it's like, okay, but like you still have so much like, police brutality and killing of people. And it's like, that's, it's obviously not like, reducing harm. It's just putting more paperwork and more, you know, like, oh, well, we have a rule that says so you must have listened to it on top of the lack of accountability, it's like okay, like, Yeah, we're gonna believe that they did the paperwork. We're gonna believe what the police say because that's like, there's no accountability. There's no incentive for them to, like, tell the truth or like be honest about the people that they hurt and harm, like, these reforms are asking for something that can't happen. They're asking for like, a more abolition, they're asking for, like, abolitionist policing, which doesn't make sense. Like you're not going to get policing that cares about like, harm and like centering survivors, and cares right, like transformative justice. Like, that's not how that works like police departments and prisons have been like, oh, yeah, like we're doing restorative justice practices now, but it's like, there's still carcerality of people being arrested and people being incarcerated and like, being dehumanized, separated from their families, like abused. And so we're asking these people who are continuously like, murdering and abusing oppressed people, will you pretty pleased, act nice just this once, otherwise, what? Like, what power do we have, besides getting rid of them completely, like, we have no control over this like entity of violence. So it's like, if we have the momentum and the drive to do something, we should just get rid of it altogether. And like reimagine how our society looks rather than this urge to stick with the status quo and stay with what we've known our entire lives and has also been ineffective our entire lives.

Alex Iantaffi:

Absolutely. And I think it's it's no accident, right? That the police also has a very kind of patriarchal, sexist kind of structure by the police is just so deeply rooted in this idea of kind of who gets to be who gets to be watched, as you said, and surveyed, you know, and who gets to be monitored. And yeah this idea that, you know, often people are like, wow, you're always had both hand and nondepolarizing person, you know, when I'm having conversation with folks on my, yes, this is actually one of those cases where it cannot be both hand. Because when it comes to people's humanity, because basically like the police is the way that it's rooted the way that it's been built in the way it's manifested. It's just inherently does not recognize the humanity of the large parts of the population. And sure, there are kind of women police officers, and I'm sure there's probably trans identify police officers, I don't know I've never come across them. But the culture is predominantly white supremacist, predominantly patriarchal, predominantly queer phobic, and all of those things don't happen by by accident. And in all of those things, don't don't lead to justice. You talked about justice. And what does justice mean? Right? What is it that people mean when they say justice, and that idea that even when folks like this man were doxing sex workers lay when they feel like, wow, the state is not doing their job. So we will do this job of policing sex workers income, right? We will do this, we will bring justice in our mind to an unjust situation. It's always fascinating to me to who feels wronged by the current system and I don't know, am I making sense, but just...

Deana Ayers:

Yeah definitely. Justice is such an interesting topic to talk about when we like in like, abolitionist conversations, because a lot of us, like, don't really experience like any kind of like, justice, when we see the harm or wrongs done here, like, the way that we framed justice in the United States is, someone hurt you. So you tell the police, the police arrest them, and then they go to jail, pay a bunch of money or like stuck in jail, if they can't pay that money, go through a court system that's like stacked against them, and then if they're found guilty of that harm, are inprisoned. And it's like, okay, but I'm hurt, like, someone hurt me. Whereas, you know, where's the process for me not feeling hurt, or like repairing that harm? And it's just not there, because it's not about you were hurt. It's about the state said, you're not allowed to hurt people, and you broke the state's rule. And so now you're going through this entire, like, carceral punishment process that's supposed to deter more people, but really just like dehumanizes and abuses mostly like black people. And so a big thing I've been thinking about about like, what does justice look like is for the police officers who are murdering people. So like, there have been a lot of calls to action and petitions around Breanna Taylor specific center like arrest of the officers that murdered Breanna Taylor. And I'm like, no, like, if we're saying to arrest them, like, that's not getting justice for her, because it's saying like, Oh, yeah, the system that ultimately, like murdered you that like took this person off of the face of the earth, we're gonna double down on that and say, oh, yeah, we can find good in that we can believe that that is a good determinate of like who's good and who's bad. It just like reaffirming a system that if we're saying that, like, these things are happening, and they're wrong, the prison industrial complex is like, an inherently like, bad and vile system, and then saying, Okay, we want to put more people into that system, it just kind of ignores like, all of the ripples of that, like good people who are going to be incarcerated with that person who are going to be treated worse, you know, like a cop in prison, like, they're gonna be protected by correction officers are going to be, you know, treated better. And the people who are surrounding them, like these, like black and brown people are gonna be treated worse, and are gonna, like be hurt. And like, you know, they're like, oh, that person looking at me that they can get, like the crap beat out of them just because there's a white cop who's being treated like royalty in this prison. And so if like, is that justice to us, like hurting other people who are incarcerated, because we're doubling down in the system? I also thinking about that, that this idea of like justice and prison abolition is can we get justice for someone who we've lost? And that's really hard, especially when we see a lot of like trans people were killed by the police, or like people in their lives, and it's like, get justice for this person. It's like, I don't know that we can't get justice for them. Like, we've already failed this person. Like, we've allowed a society to foster that, like, perpetuates transphobia, and sexism, and misogyny, that results in all of these people dying. And it's like, to me, the only thing that comes close to like justice is making sure that it doesn't happen to more people and creating a society that is free of transphobia. That is, like safe for like most oppressed people in our society. As you know, we should, we should make sure that the people who are perpetuating harm, especially these police officers are going through transformative justice processes, you know, losing their jobs, not being allowed to join another police force, like paying some form of restitution. Like speaking honestly, about what kind of harms they perpetuated, and like, what was allowed to be swept under the rug. But to me, just like giving, like an eye for an eye isn't justice here. Like we're not getting any closer to a more liberated world, or just saying, okay, as long as we're in this world, we're just gonna keep on using the systems that we have and it's like, the end of the day with the systems that we have, even if we're using them to get like, a little bit of like, what we perceive as justice, which is more likely, like, vengeance is like, okay, it might make you feel better now, but like, look at all the people in your community are going to be negatively impacted by the way that you reacted to this. And like, I don't think that you're a bad person, if you're asking for Breanna Taylor's murderers to be arrested. But I do think that it requires really sitting with what you are calling for and and the systems that you're choosing to uphold and digging. For me, it's been like digging really deep to figure out for the community surrounding her and surrounding like all of these murders by police, like, what can we do to make sure that there is accountability for the people who perpetuate this harm, but also that we're not, in turn perpetuating systems that we've said are rotten to the core.

Alex Iantaffi:

And that's one of the trickiest thing, right? And I really found that heartbreak when you're like, we've already failed this people, you know, all the black and brown and trans bodies are, like, impacted by violence, and especially police brutality, you know, the murder of black trans women that continue to sweep the country and you know, black trans folks, especially, and, and I love what you said about, you know, vengeance and liberation. And I think that's so important, right? What is justice? Is justice, vengeance, which is understandable, right? We're human. It's like if somebody hurts, you know, somebody is like your family and your community. It's very human to feel the desire for vengeance. It's very human, to feel like this desire for even a life for a life, right, that brings to the death penalty and things like that. And that is vengeance that is life for a life and I for an I and, and this idea of prison abolition is really ultimately about liberation, and relationships that I don't even know some folks can even imagine living in a community where there is a degree of relationship and deep accountability that can bring on that. That liberated justice, let's call it for one of a better word rather than that vengeful justice. I think most people tend to associate with the word justice.

Deana Ayers:

And it's to me, it's thinking about, like, you know, like, people have hurt me interpersonally. And it's like, you know, I was like, Oh, well, I wish that they would, you know, feel how I felt. And it's like, no, like, I wish that I didn't feel bad. Like, I wish that this person hadn't, like, hurt me or turned their back on me or made me feel all of these ways that I felt like, it's like, society has said, the only way that you can perceive justice is another person being hurt. And it's like, well, why can't we turn it around and say, like, I want this person, like, instead of, like, wanting another person to be hurt it feel hard to be honest. And say, like, I want this person to like, understand what they did that hurt me to explain why they did this thing that hurt me, so I can try to understand my side of it. And to also like, do things to write that, like, hurt really tried to repair that harm, whether with me or without me, and also not perpetuate it again. But that kind of thing is so unheard of, like, I've never experienced that kind of like that transformative justice process where like, all of those steps happen, as well as like, getting to the root of what caused it and understanding that, like, that's never happened for me. And so, it's easy to just go, Well, I felt this way. So you should feel this way because, you know, when have we ever seen these processes, like, happen, you know, like, it feels impossible, but it's like, once we start, you know, doing our homework, doing our research, like understanding that other people have made this work, I feel like the next time that like, somebody really hurts me in and organizing work, I'll be more able to ask for a transformative justice process. And I feel like that's, it's a result of grappling with really difficult ideas and I don't think anybody is saying, like, abolition is like, really easy. But I do think that we're saying, like, when you look at the facts of the matter, when you look at history, when you look at all these different components, and you think of like the end result, you know, we don't want to live in a carceral society, we want transformative justice, and we want like abolition of all forms, and like prisons and policing. And for that to happen, we're all going to do a lot of really hard work like interpersonally and in our communities and I feel like that's really hard to say, it's like, yeah, the path to liberation is a whole bunch of work and learning how to apologize. And it's like, it is, and I think it's, it can be a hard sell versus, you know, a very easy just arrest the people who do harm. Right? There's work to be done in terms of just thinking through the ideas.

Alex Iantaffi:

Absolutely, there is so much work to be done. And I think that's why, you know, I think that prison abolition is, it is what we need, if were to break away from the cycle of violence that the whole country was based on, right? It's like, it's really saying we would no longer want to do this. And you know, and I think that black communities have been doing this work for a long time, and a lot of white folks are waking up to this work. And, and it is not an easy sell, like you said, you know, but I feel like that about trauma healing, right, as a trauma therapist, and as somebody who's a survivor, myself, I know that the path of healing hasn't been easy the path will be healing is also knowing my own agency, you know, in my own power that was taken away, right, and recognizing that and, and being in relationship with myself and other people. And, and what, what I'm really interested in talking about is all these different layers, right? prison abolition happens on a community organizing level, on a political level, on this macro level, but also happens, or like really local community levels, street by street organizing neighbor to neighbor, and then our own inner work right? Our own, I would almost dare say spiritual work around what we truly believe about humanity and what we truly believe about liberation and what we truly believe about justice. And there are so many layers to this work, and it is so nuanced in a lot of ways. Yeah, and I've just and you know, you've done that work a lot, obviously. And that just I don't know if you have anything that you want to share with the listeners who are interested in doing this work. How can they be present in all these different levels or maybe even where it's a good place to start for folks who are newer to this work?

Deana Ayers:

I think it's always best to start where you are and I feel like that's hard in organizing because it's like, oh, I want to do all this like big world changing stuff. So I need to go like join an org and like all of these things. And it's like, yes, you do need to have like, a political home base or like you, there's accountability and like a shared like goal and vision for the world and where you're like doing your work. And so I think joining an organization, or at least some organized kind of political home is really important. But I think for myself, it's been really equally important to be practicing that kind of stuff in your own day to day life. So for me, I was doing last year, I guess, this spring before everything kind of hit the fan with COVID-19 did a presentation on my campus about community alternatives to call the police. And it was really, you know, I did the research for it, I looked in all of these things, I vetted it all my sources. And then one of the first things in my presentation was you need to talk to your neighbors. And I was like, okay, and I was living in like a little duplex at the time where me and two roommates were upstairs, and they were two girls living downstairs. And I was like, I've been living here for three months, I've never talked to the people living downstairs. And it's kind of like, it's really easy. Like, technically, even though it's really complicated to get to, like, understand these, like political, like prison abolition as a theory in relation to your life. And like, get to that point where you like, understand it and like are like, I'm an abolitionist, like, the point where it really matters is like your actual, like, life and interactions with others. So for me, it was like living up to like those values of like, oh, like prison abolition was important and like community is really important. And that's like, Okay, talk to your neighbor. So made me really anxious but I went down there and I was like, hey, like, my name is Deana, here's your phone number. If anything's ever wrong, we need anything like, call me. And then I was honest, and I was like, and then like, instead of calling the police, please call me I don't want police in the apartment. And for me, and one of my close friends who was living with at the time that I was organizing with, that was really important of like, you know, I'm not going to tell people go talk to your neighbors when I haven't done it. And so I think, of course, like find your political home and do your organizing work there and get plugged into the work that's happening. And of course, like, read about these ideas, really sit with them, and grapple with them. But also, like, this idea of being an abolitionist, is part of personal life as well. So like interpersonally, like, do you know your neighbors, and if you don't, like figure out a process of like, how you can meet at least a few of them. Like, do you know how to give a good apology. There's a lot of resources out there about how to give a good apology, because a lot of us don't know how to do that, you know, we sit with a lot of feelings of guilt and shame when it comes to hurting someone else. And, you know, we're asking for a liberated world where, you know, there's so much less harm, but we don't even know the processes of like, Oh, what do I do when I harm someone else? And so I think there's a lot, at least for me, this, this journey has been a lot of like, internal and interpersonal work of like, how do I like talk to people that I'm close with? How do I interact when I hurt their feelings, or they hurt my feelings, even if it's something really small, and just making sure that like, if you're calling yourself an abolitionist, if you've put it in your bio, if you're saying, Yeah, prison abolition is great. Yes, like, okay, like, you also have to do the work in your interpersonal life. And I think that's one of the hardest things about prison abolition, for me, but also one of the most important, and I feel like that sometimes, like, when we aren't learning and community, and you just like reading books, and like listening to podcasts individually can get swept under the rug. But I just see that as like, really important, because we're not going to get to a society without prisons if we don't know how to apologize and like interact with the people around us.

Alex Iantaffi:

Absolutely and that is the hardest part, right? Is that relationship prior to even, you know, when? Because we were organizing, you know, to do some fire patrols when we're worried about fires, you know, and white supremacist being in our communities and, and talking to, you know, there was obviously not enough relationship there with some of the neighbors. And then when I was like, Hey, I think we don't have enough relationships and you seem like really suspicious or what other white person of me also white skin. I'm like, I'm really not, you know, there was one of the neighbors who was like, who called the police, you know, when our texts read, and I got to the point where I was like, do you really think that like the trans disabled queer immigrant with all the rainbows like outside the house called the police? We obviously need to talk and not get to know each other and then there was this backing away, you know of like, oh, yeah, I didn't mean that. I was like, no, let's talk like it's okay for suspicious of each other but let's build this relationship. Who are you and who am I. I think one thing that witness, at least on on our block is that a lot of white folks wanted to show up in the moment of crisis, but then staying in relationship through those moments of conflict through those moments of suspicions. For those moments that we don't know each other was was really hard, you know? And that the work like how do we stay connected? How do we have the hard conversation of who are you? And who am I? And what do you believe in? What do I believe? And are we on the same page or on different pages? Because if we don't do that work, we can have all the values we want about not calling the police and even all the values, we want on abolition, but we're not gonna get anywhere. And I think that's I don't know, sorry, that was a long rant. Personal rant, obviously, I'm still processing a lot of what happened in the last month or so. But I want to talk about this piece, because I think for some people, it feels like a simple as well, you know, we defend the police and we give all the money to social workers, right? I don't have to do it is the sense of like, I can show up in a moment of crisis and do a little piece of work but it's really this idea of white comfort. And I would say also white delegation of the work of relationship that, you know, that rather than showing up and having all this hard conversations with one another is oh, now we give money to somebody else who's gonna do this work of relationship for us. And those people who do the work of relationship are social workers is not new with my neighbor's money. Am I making sense?

Deana Ayers:

Yeah, yeah, I think there's a big push for, like the care work to be the responsibility of like an other, but like, an authority figure either, like it's not supposed to, like, Okay, I am supposed to care about my girlfriend, and my dog, right. But I like as an individual and not supposed to care for my neighbors. And, like, that's how society is structured right now. And like we were saying, like when people are saying, okay, defund the police, and then give them money to all of these, like state organizations and departments, and all of these like, very, like, centralized like, state run organizations like it's kind of missing the point, because especially for social work, I have a very complicated relationship with my profession, because there are some really great theories. And there are some very few really great social workers in history. But overall, like, social work a lot of the time has been the soft arm of the state. And so like, the soft arm of policing, and you're saying, oh, yeah, just give all that money to CPS and not addressing the attitudes that are there, you know, like the way that we're taught to, like, carry out these tasks. They're supposed to be like caring for community members, you know, there's just a lot of, I guess, like neglectful care work that the state does, especially around like taking kids away from parents, institutionalizing people and it's like, all of these, like institutions that are supposed to care for us, like social workers, and like nurses and doctors, all these people, like, yes, they deserve more funding, teachers deserve more funding, but it's like, if they've previously had a relationship with like, an entity of policing through the state, and you're taking away the policing, and then not addressing, like the relationship, at least for social work, I can see it as them saying, Oh, well, I just like there's no police. So I'm the police without gun. You know, and I've even seen some social workers advocating for us to be armed. And it's ridiculous to me, because it's like, if we're trying to get to a point where there's like a very like, minimized harm, and especially no link, state sanction harm, like, we can't just, you know, throw money at the problem, like we're talking about, like a complete restructuring of our society. And that's what I was saying earlier, when, like some of the people who are calling for defunding the police are not saying it in an abolitionist way. Like, it's still it may not be police reform, because they want to, like defund the police, but it is prison industrial complex reform. Like they're not trying to, like minimize the effects of this and ultimately get rid of it. They're just saying like, Okay, well, maybe I won't have police officers, but there will still be like, people who do policing, you know, I still want to be able to, like, call someone if my neighbors are being sketchy with I just want it to be someone without a gun. And it's like, but you still want the state to like, be surveying people and ultimately, like, you know, black people, trans people, undocumented people sounds like they're gonna get the brunt of that policing, no matter who is doing the policing. I think there needs to be, I guess a more nuanced and serious conversation about like, whether you're asking for like more social workers, because you really let social worker know about the profession and our history, or people are just asking for more social workers because it's just soft policing and they still want the community to be policed.

Alex Iantaffi:

Absolutely and I love that you talked about like, it is a restructuring of our society, because it's not just the police. It's also the educational industrial complex, we know, and also how the educational industrial complex feeds into the military industrial complex for a lot of poor black and brown Latino folks, you know, it's no accident that the military recruits in high schools with high percentages of the BIPOC you know, black, indigenous people of color, students, like, all of the things are connected and the way the medical industrial complex, supresses the same bodies, they're getting policed by the police, you know, and it's, it is so complex, and it you know, all these scenarios are going around people are so well meaning and again, white folks are so well meaning and they put the scenarios of like imagine, this person is like looking like they're talking to themselves. And they're really upset, and you press something on it on an app and a social worker shows up and they know this person, and I was like that is still delegating care work. Why can you just be like, hey, and imagine you were adding the skills of descalating somebody or imagine you having the skills to be able to talk to somebody and be like, Hey, how are you doing? What do you need, you seem upset, what's going on, and actually having skills and I think that's why, you know, there cannot be, I don't know, it just feels like white supremacy, is so deeply rooted in this country, that for white folks, it's even hard to imagine not delegating that kind of work, and really doing it for them. You know, for ourselves, it's like, it's really hard for white Americans to imagine that to this. It's, you know, I don't know, if you've seen all the stuff going around the internet, imagine this. And it's always like, just magically, those people come and survey this body and figure out where this body belongs. But also, this body does not belong to your neighborhood. I've noticed in all the scenarios, like the person goes back to the group home or some other places, like group homes are also part of the state system. This is problematic.

Deana Ayers:

A lot of it is very much like, reform instead of like I feel like sometimes people get to a point where they're just like, I've gotten it, I get prison industrial complex abolition, and it's like we don't like there's never a point where you like completely understand it. Because it's like, an like evolving everyday practice, like interpersonally, like, on the government, political level, like all of these things. And I think, especially like those, those calls for someone else to come and do it. It's like we're asking for police to learn how to deescalate a situation. And we're asking for, like police to do all these things when people call for reform? And it's like, okay, well, you know, if we're saying we're defending the police, and using all that funding for other things, right, we can train people on how to deescalate a situation like just people like not social workers, not doctors, not EMTs, not police officers. We're like, there's nothing that inherently makes social workers better people than like an average day person Like I did not become this like amazing, like healer when I got my social work degree, like...

Alex Iantaffi:

What you're not a superhero of care you're telling

Deana Ayers:

Yeah! And I think a lot of people just get into the me. mindset of like, oh, yeah, like this random social worker. And I'm like, sometimes I interact with someone online or like, Okay, I have a social work degree. So you're saying like, yeah, just throw me into this scenario and it'll magically be fixed. Like, no, these are people, they're fallible, they have flaws. And honestly, if we didn't put social worker on this pedestal, like, Yeah, they'll just save the world when we don't have police. Like, no, like, the reason that we trust social workers to like, do our care work is because we believe that we're giving them the skills and knowledge to handle these, like issues that we see. And like police these people that we believe we policing. So like, we need to get rid of the attitude of like, yeah, we need to like police people, like tell people what they can and can't do and like controlling people's, like everyday life, but also there's so much power in like knowing how to deescalate a situation like knowing all of these different skills, how to communicate with someone how to listen, like that was a whole a whole class in college about like, interviewing and basically like listening to another person when they talk and it's like, they have the ability to like, democratize that knowledge and make it available to everyone and like go into communities and like, you know, emphasize like you're already doing this. Here's just adding like more skills and more like awareness of the phrases of what you're already doing. But instead of that people want to spend money on different forms of policing without the police and so like like prisons, like the phrase police abolition, I think kind of lends itself to all of these like misconceptions about what it looks like and like over reliance on like other members of the state for policing, because like, I don't want to just abolish the police, I want to abolish the prison industrial complex and all forms of policing and surveillance. I think we have, like, there's a lot of excitement around police abolition which is really cool. And I love to see that and like, it's going to make the world a better place but I don't want that to be a stopping point for anyone, because there's so much work that needs to be done, like, attitude wise, interpersonally, like how we handle care work, and like the delegation of like, who handled these, these people, and where did these people go at the end of the day, and like, meeting people's basic needs, and I think just abolishing the police doesn't do that, like, you need a drastic restructuring of like, everything. And so this, like radical energy around abolishing the police is like, just really good. And I want people to know that to really good, like yes, abolish the police. And, like, let's keep going, there's so much more that we can do. And we everybody, like hands on deck to get to like our liberated future and so I just want people to kind of be aware, like, I get why the energy is where it's at. But like, let's keep going, you know, this is like, a pit stop on the road to liberate the world.

Alex Iantaffi:

Absolutely. And I love that abolish the police and right because otherwise it is substituting this kind of more, let's call it from a gender lens, right? Harsh, masculine policing of the police to for the soft policing of like, a predominantly cis white women's profession, which is social work. And I know that's been changing, but it's, it's still policing, right? And I feel like there could be all that a conversation about like, care work and gendered care work, and was it you know, and how care work can still be about control of bodies and I feel like I could talk to you forever. And I want to be respectful of your time. So for now, and I definitely am open to having more conversations. But for now is there anything that we haven't talked about or haven't asked you about that you would really like to add or throw in the mix for this episode, or anything that we've missed?

Deana Ayers:

I want to touch a little bit on what you just said about like how like police are seen as like, masculine, and then the social worker is seen as like more than feminine. And I think that is really like a lot of what I've been trying to like emphasize is that like, why are you okay with like social workers policing, and not the police. Like there's a lot of relationships between like, who you see as threatening and who you see as harmful, but like, women are just as capable of like perpetuating harm as men like trans people are just as capable of perpetuating harm to cis people. Often when we put like oppressed and marginalized people in these like positions of power, when they're, it's not saying like, Oh, you know, you're equal to everybody, and you're like, liberated and you have more freedom. Like, often that's just saying, like, we just need a more diverse space to continue, like harm in these in this like, community. And so like, community policing, where you know, you have like, a trans police officer, or like a black police officer, like doesn't matter because you're still harming people, you're still killing people. And so like it that no, no aspect of your identity, like keeps you from perpetuating harm. But when we look at the politic of being black and trans, or just being trans or like, the identity that we hold and look at like the Columbia River collectives idea of identity politics, which is that like, your identity affects like how you move through the world, and like how your politics is developed. I think gender can be a good kind of starting point of like, you know, how is your gender been policed direct your life are people like controlled, like how you were allowed to tracks and present yourself and like, whether or not they respect like, who you are and what you're asking for. I think that can be a good like springboard into a larger conversation about, not even a conversation, but just like internally like understanding those relationships between policing and like, personal identity, and then like, the politic that you develop, and like how you're trying to live your life. So I think prison abolition really brings all of those together, and you can like.... I encourage everyone who's listening to kind of like, think about the identities that you hold and then think about the ways that the state perpetuates, like policing and violence against those specific identities just on the basis of they can and they don't want you to have power, and then thinking about like, the relationships that you've had with people who share those identities and politic with and how you can kind of like shake off that idea of policing interpersonally if you do the work and have the community to do so.

Alex Iantaffi:

Absolutely and hopefully, that's how we become really accomplices. As you know, those indigenous organizers have been making that beautiful distinctions between allies and accomplices, you know, and accomplices are the folks who are not just gonna stand there when it's convenient, but they're gonna, like put their bodies on the line and have skin in the game. And as people understand more and more, this idea that like policing bodies is impacting them, too. It's not just about other people, these people over there, they're being the systems of violence, but actually we are impacted by systems of violence and a lot in very different ways. And definitely, you know, some communities are really bearing the brand, you know, black and brown and indigenous bodies and Trans and Queer bodies in those communities are bearing the brunt of the systemic violence. But it's systemic violence that needs to be really undone at all levels. And, and that can feel overwhelming. But I love that you've given people a lot of really amazing starting points started, let's start from ourselves. Right, let's start here and see what what's happening here when we're listening to all of those ideas. And, and let's start from talking to our neighbors, which is much harder than one my thing, right. And I go from there. Like I said, I feel like I could have another hour of conversation with you, Deana, and my brain is passing with, like 150 ideas. And so I'm probably it's a good time to pause before I become like incoherent because I have so many ideas buzzing in my brain. But one of the things I always ask is, if you have a call to action, or something that you want to highlight at the end of the episode, or something that you'd like our listeners to kind of rally behind or anything like that.

Deana Ayers:

Yeah, so there's a fundraiser in my college town of Denton, Texas, and it's for this community of green tree states. And it's mostly like a working class like Latinx community that had their water cut off and the city refuses to pay for it. So they've reached one fundraising goal, but they're trying to raise more money so that they can get like the all of the installations done, as opposed to just like paying for the service. And so it would be really great if anybody could donate to them. There's been a lot of money flying around and they've like reached one of their goals. But there's always more to do and they were Denton as a city has been very supportive of my organizing efforts. So I would love to give back a little bit.

Alex Iantaffi:

That sounds awesome. I will put that link in the episode description. And I mean, and what's, what's more foundational than water, and people having access to like safe water, right? It's yes, so let's, you know, if you can listeners, please either share the fundraiser, if you can donate or donate to the fundraiser, or even better donate and share. You know, when we do this as a community, even if you can't donate very much it does all add up. Deana, thank you so much for this conversation. This has been amazing and like I said, I could keep talking with you but any last words for our listeners or anything you want to say in closing.

Deana Ayers:

Just be comfortable with the discomfort that comes with engaging with like prison industrial complex abolition, it's not going to be easy, but it can be. It can help you find a community that you didn't know is around you and it can help you learned some things about yourself that you didn't know. So just be patient with yourself as you engage with these ideas and be proud of yourself for wanting to be part of this like movement and push for like a liberated world.

Alex Iantaffi:

That's so beautiful. And thank you gender stories listeners for listening to another episode. Check out the episode description for links and thank you so much, Deana. This has been wonderful and you're welcome on gender stories anytime you want to talk about any of those subjects or other subjects again, thank you so much.

Deana Ayers:

Thank you. It's great talking to you.