Abolition Rally – Brandon Edward Mitchell

Brandon Edward Mitchell
Abolition Rally – Brandon Edward Mitchell

On April 20th, organizers with Detroit Will Breathe, the Michigan Environmental Justice Coalition, the movement to Stop the Expansion of Camp Grayling, the School of Environment and Sustainability, and Defend Affordable Ypsi, joined with striking members of the Graduate Employees Organization (GEO) at the University of Michigan to host a Rally for Abolition on the University of Michigan central campus diag. 

What follows is a transcript of the speech that was supposed to be given by Brandon Edward Mitchell–a local experimental rapper and vocalist who has been making excellent consciousness-raising music in Washtenaw County for the better part of 20 years. 

Those of us who–for whatever set of reasons–can’t be blind to the unjustifiable inequality, oppression, and violence (usually against the most vulnerable) around us often see parallels and self-similarities across the intersecting terrain of harm we’re forced to confront. 

We see parallels between the struggle of the most essential workers in almost every field and subfield of work, to attain a livable and/or respectable wage, and the more general decoupling of wages and productivity across the whole of the economy.

We see parallels between these struggles and the historical struggle for gender equity across different spheres of domestic and professional life: Certain forms of (practically useless) professional work are oftentimes absurdly well-compensated, while at the same time much of the most important domestic labor is completely unpaid and disproportionately heaped on top of women’s oftentimes already grueling professional labor grind.

Brandon Edward Mitchell

When we dare to see through critical eyes–we see this subjective valuation, and devaluing of certain groups by others, everywhere we look. But if we want a world without these types of injustice and oppression, we have to understand and never lose sight of the larger reality: that these forms of unfairness and the violence that accompanies them (the same that we see reflected in other related phenomena such as white supremacist eugenics, classism, misogyny, compulsory cisheterosexism, imperialism, and ecocide) are all manifestations of the same system of dominance and submission. They exist to enforce the current property-based order. 

Without retreading the entire history of the world in one statement, I can simply say that what we need is a radical analysis. We need a way of looking at the world that keeps us focused on the core of the problem… the core of what ties oppression and the destruction of the earth together. 

For our purposes, that means we need to understand that when we are fighting for change we are not fighting to fix something that is broken, we are fighting to create a world that is not built around people dominating each other. We are not fighting to fix broken institutions, we are fighting to create a humane and sustainable way of life.

“Every single progressive shift in the history of this country has been the result of bottom-up social movements and we must resist the attempts of both liberals and reactionaries to rewrite the history of social change.”

Worsening income, wealth, and broader socioeconomic inequality are a rational result of a system designed to entrench and protect social class distinctions. So is the imbalanced distribution of authority and workload. They are not accidental irrational outcomes. 

The same is true of racial and class disparities in criminological and health outcomes. The same is true of these differences between entire nations and regions of the Earth, as when we speak about the global North and the global South. This is what it means to look at the world with a radical analysis.

The unprecedented, interlocking ecological crises we are faced with (biodiversity loss, pollution, deforestation, and climate change) are an extension of the same property-based value system.

We are encouraged to see ourselves as separate from and above the living systems we are embedded within because we are encouraged to normalize the idea of owning people and other living beings as property. When we normalize the idea that a very small group of people have the right to increase their power and privilege at the expense of the majority of humanity and the Earth, we shouldn’t be shocked that we are faced with these crises.

This is why we are seeing the Biden administration pursuing massive fossil fuel projects that are extending beyond the deadline by which we need to be carbon-neutral or -negative.

We have to understand why fighting for a humane and sustainable way of life will always be dangerous and will often be, at least initially, unpopular. It will be dangerous because inequality and oppression can only be maintained through violence, and therefore any genuinely threatening resistance will be met with violence–whether that resistance is violent or nonviolent. It will often be unpopular because we are socialized from childhood onward to normalize oppressive violence and stratifying class distinctions.

It is crucial that we remember that real change always comes from bottom-up pressure. Change has never been the result of powerful and privileged people suddenly growing a heart and caring about the plight of the people they built their power on the backs of. Every single progressive shift in the history of this country has been the result of bottom-up social movements and we must resist the attempts of both liberals and reactionaries to rewrite the history of social change. 

“…when we are fighting for change we are not fighting to fix something that is broken, we are fighting to create a world that is not built around people dominating each other”

Through the exercise of collective power we can achieve anything we want, and this is why we are constantly encouraged to act as individuals and to ignore or dismiss the power of organization. It’s why so much media is committed to either naturalizing the oppressive and unsustainable social processes we live under, or convincing us that we’ve already reached the end of history and that there is no reason to fight anymore. Indeed there is evidence that that is the reason that college-level education has become increasingly unaffordable for working-class and other oppressed people.

People who could become radicalized by simple exposure to certain subjects within the humanities and social sciences are priced out of access to them. Indeed this was an openly stated reason for defunding college during the beginning of the neoliberal era we’re living through now.

What ties together both Atlanta’s Cop City and Michigan’s Camp Grayling is an awareness, however dim, on the part of the privileged classes that given how unprecedented and unstable the period of history we’re living through is, increased militarization, both internal and external, will be needed if they have any chance of holding on to their crumbling base of power and privilege. It’s an awareness of our likely unstoppable collective power. 

For those that don’t know, this is the bulk of the reason why modern policing exists to begin with.

This is why we have to remember that it’s not a mistake that public money goes to increased militarization and expansion of police and security forces. It’s not an accidental misallocation. Our collective power frightens the privileged classes, as it should. 

I say all of that just to say this: given the times we are living in it’s more important now than ever that we use every campaign that we have as an opportunity to engage in broader political discourse. That we use every opportunity we have to educate ourselves and each other through our activism about the power of collective action, the nature of social change, and the stakes involved in the fight for a more livable world during this period of history.

It’s important for us to remember that as long as we keep our eyes on the bigger picture, every victory is a step toward building more collective power, and collective power is the key to ALL change. THERE’S NOTHING WE CAN’T ACHIEVE IF WE BUILD ENOUGH OF IT! 

“Rally for Abolition” flyer