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Systems, Individuals, Abolition

So much of this writing is rooted in what I’ve learned from the writings and teachings of Resmaa Menakem, adrienne maree brown, Susan Raffo, Rowen White, Toi Smith, and Jen Lemen. All of these brilliant writers & teachers draw us back to our bodies, to the ways that systemic trauma and domination live in bodies and lineages in particular ways.

(And any errors in thinking are definitely mine.)

I became an abolitionist after working at a public charter high school. Watching the culture of that institution absorb my individual intentions to support students revealed something to me about the ways systems work on us, the ways systems show up in us. Over the two years I was there, my orientation toward and treatment of young people shifted from radical to more and more carceral. By the end of my time at that school my responses to students were dismissive, coercive, focused on obedience and domination as markers of success.

This shift didn’t come from nowhere, though. My experiences of growing up in a culture of domination in my white, class-ascending family, and attending a church and school whose cultures aligned neatly with capitalism shaped me deeply. So that no matter how many books I read, how many radical teaching tools I learned & practiced, those patterns that stretch in my lineages and in the lineages of this country, made (and make) it easier to fall back into domination as a practice. Particularly when I’m enmeshed in a system that practices domination as the status quo.

In the years since I left that school and wondered, “what happened to me there?” I’ve noticed the cultural script we have about individuals shaping systems, how we reach for individual choices, individual actions, individual intentions.


Systems are made up of individuals. But they are also broader, creating (and sustained by) cultures, and in the case of oppressive systems, enforced by hierarchies of domination and violence sustained by long histories of trauma.


And so, I want to say, to my younger self, who believed so deeply in my own intelligence and intentions, and to you, if you need to hear it, that your intentions cannot change a system. If you go it alone, the system will beat you, every time.


What we need, if we are interested in the abolition of institutions and systems, is not more well-read, better-intentioned, individuals, but ways of relating to each other that create a different pattern besides domination and coercion in our bodies. We need people, and spaces, to learn with and practice together, messy, slow ways of untangling the stories and histories of domination in our families and identities.

It’s the opposite of easy, or quick. So many of the stories we knew, our ancestors knew, about how to do this have been lost. But I think, more than anything, that this is work worth doing together.

If you’re interested in learning more about my coaching, or know someone who might want to work with me (angst about your job or what the heck you should be doing with your life is a good indicator), there’s lots of ways to connect with me - I send out bi-weekly email notes, have sliding scale monthly check-ins through Patreon, and offer 1:1 coaching work for people leaving their jobs, seeking career changes, working on writing or other creative projects, or who feel stuck around work or purpose under capitalism.

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