What We Want, Not What We Can Win

I’m currently reading a book by The CR10 Publications Collective (CR10 referring to Critical Resistance‘s 10th anniversary of its first conference in 1998); it’s called Abolition Now!: Ten Years of Strategy and Struggle Against the Prison Industrial Complex, and it’s really fascinating reading. I haven’t added it to my book recommendation list yet because I haven’t actually finished it, but it’s been really great so far.

Rachel Herzing, the CR10 Project Director at Critical Resistance, is quoted as saying

Prison industrial complex abolition is dreaming wildly and having that be okay. It’s genuinely asking for want we want, rather than what we think we can win [emphasis added]. Why should I not want to be completely liberated and have my people around me and feel healthy and stable and be able to engage with people, to be able to hold people accountable? (11)

I think that idea of asking for what we want, rather than focusing only on what seems politically feasible, is so important. Too many movements get so caught up in what they think they can win (whether they can pass the bill in Congress, whether they can get mainstream America behind them, whether they can do everything without ruffling too many feathers) that they lose sight of the larger goal. If we’re only working within the others’ parameters (those of the government or mainstream society, for example), we cannot change the system itself. If a system, or institutional, itself is broken, there needs to be a larger goal than patching things up here or there. As Einstein said, “We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.”

Social change starts with people having radical ideas. Only by having a greater vision can we attempt to recreate the world. Imagine if the Civil Rights movement had only been asking for the African-Americans’ quality of life to be a little nicer — still a second-class citizenship, but one not quite as awful. For that matter, imagine if there were no slavery abolition movement — if people had only campaigned for less harsh punishments or work conditions for slaves. Imagine if the feminist movement ended after asking to be regarded with a little more respect. Imagine if the early colonists had just wanted taxes that were a little lower: the United States might never have come to be.

Life would be so incredibly different if people throughout our history had settled for what they thought they could win. We need to be willing to work for what we genuinely want, not merely what we think we can win.


The CR10 Publications Collective. Abolition Now!: Ten Years of Strategy and Struggle Against the Prison Industrial Complex. Oakland, CA: AK Press, 2008.

One response to “What We Want, Not What We Can Win

  1. Pingback: How I Was Introduced To Prison Abolition | Beyond Bryn Mawr

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