Our Abolition Talk at the State Harm Reduction Conference

Hawaii State Harm Reduction Conference

Last week, my brilliant comrade Laurel and I hosted a webinar for the Hawaiʻi State Harm Reduction Conference where we discussed Abolition and Abundance: Living Beyond Punishment on behalf of Hawaiʻi Peace and Justice (we’re on the board) and the Hawaiʻi Abolition Collective (we’re co-foundersread about our most recent direct action here). Laurel was originally scheduled to present with one of our other comrades, but they had a personal issue and were unable to join that day. I’ve never spoken in front of more than 30 people briefly before, so I was extremely nervous as soon as Laurel asked me to speak with her two days before the Harm Reduction Conference. Thankfully because the two of us work so well together, we were able to finalize our talking points an hour before the webinar took place.

Approximately 100 people registered for our webinar and 85 ish showed up (virtually of course), which was terrifying to think about! I have intense stage fright to the point where I got an F in my first high school speech class after I couldn’t recite the lyrics to one of my favorite songs (thankfully my kumu was incredible and never gave up on me and I ended up with an A in my second semester of her class!), so I thought this webinar could end up disastrous on my part. Our discussion was separated into two parts—Abolition and Abundance—where I spoke about the first topic and Laurel took the second. For transparency and as an easier summary, here are the notes from the outline I had for my half of the talk:

Why bringing this conversation to Hawai‘i is important (Noelle)

  1. Incarceration stats – DPS COVID Info and Resources page (updated 1/6); DPS has maliciously ignored the inevitability of COVID entering the facilities and they’re still not taking action to get people out and safe
    1. HCF – 495 with 259 active positives out of 2,712, 5.48% positivity
    2. OCCC – 456 positives out of 5,681, 0.08% positivity
    3. WCF – 213 positives out of 877, 24.2% positivity
    4. SAG – 657 positives out of 3,012, 21.8% positivity
    5. Hawaii total positivity rate currently 3.5%
    6. We know of at least 5 Hawaii people who have died in incarceration facilities
  2. The glorification of this practice of law and order (term most well known from Richard Nixon, but was actually made more prominent in society by Lyndon Johnson after establishing the Office of Law Enforcement Assistance in 1965 which gave funding to law enforcement and prisons, created bureaucracy needed to wage War on Crime; Terry v. Ohio 1968 SC case gave police unlimited power to stop and frisk people without probable cause) – can be shown in pop culture through shows like Hawai’i 5-0, Dog the Bounty Hunter, Magnum PI, even Law and Order SVU has been on for 22 years
    1. Law and order can be traced back to slavery, indigenous genocide, oppression of workers and other marginalized people
    2. Militarism, occupation, and colonialism define Hawai‘i’s politics
      1. Militarism, like incarceration and policing, disproportionately harms Black and Brown people for the benefit of racial capitalism and imperialism
      2. Native Hawaiians most targeted by incarceration, majority kanaka – according to 2010 study by Prison Policy Initiative, 1,615 kanaka maoli per 100,000 locked up compared to 412 white people. 2010 Census shows 45.1%  of HCF population was kanaka.
  1. 1:00 – Define abolition (Noelle)
    1. Critical Resistance defines the Prison Industrial Complex as “the overlapping interests of government and industry that use surveillance, policing, and imprisonment as solutions to economic, social and political problems.”
    2. PIC abolition imagines and works toward a world beyond punishment, encompassing efforts to transform the conditions that allow society to cast certain lives as disposable.
    3. We work toward a world that supports abundance, reconciliation, healing, and the well-being of all without the existence of prisons and policing.
    4. We dream of a world where prisons no longer exist because we’ve collectively decided to use non-punitive methods of community accountability and everyone has their needs met and is valued.
    5. Abolitionist reforms as steps toward abolition because the carceral system was built as a mode of social control, embedded in racism, colonialism, capitalism. Prisons themselves were reforms of corporal punishment.
    6. Additional definitions from participants? (Can write in chat)
      1. Ask participants: How is harm reduction abolitionist?

Laurel’s section was about the connections we make with each other, our world, and spirituality (should one be interested in that) and how abundance can only prosper when people are in community with one another and their homelands. Abolition directly upholds a life of abundance, which is why demolishing the carceral state is so crucial to our health, wellbeing, and happiness. Toward the end of the harm reduction webinar, we talked about our HAC group and the work we’re doing moving forward before we answered questions some of the attendees had regarding defunding the police in Hawaiʻi and how we can address justice without cages. The overwhelming responses from our Abolition and Abundance webinar showed that people are interested in learning about and practicing abolition in Hawaiʻi and that there’s a greater need for political education around the topic. Abolition isn’t scary if people understand what it fully means and why it’s important.

After an hour and a half, we were pau speaking and I completed my first ever webinar in front of such a large group of people. Laurel was incredible as always and she kept me going when I felt too nervous to start speaking. Our abolition speech was recorded and should be available for sharing eventually, so I’ll update this post with the video when it’s done! I’m thankful for every opportunity I’ve recently had to practice sharing my thoughts on the topic I’m most passionate about and that our Hawaiʻi Abolition Collective is attracting such attention from members of our community. Abolition is harm reduction, is safety, is liberation, and Hawaiʻi is ready for it!