by Bridget Liang
“We need to challenge the systemic racism and ableism that the PIC [Prison Industrial Complex] is fueled on in order to understand what is happening within carceral spaces. We need to recognize the violences of psychiatric detention, and support what psychiatric survivors have been advocating for decades, an end to forced confinement.” – Syrus Marcus Ware
In this interview with Bridget Liang, Syrus Marcus Ware connects the goals of PIC abolition and disability justice, citing contemporary activism in Toronto and pointing to resources on how we can “live abolition” in everyday life. Syrus Marcus Ware is an artist, activist, Vanier scholar, core member of Black Lives Matter-Toronto, co-editor of the recent anthology, “Until We are Free: Reflections on Black Lives Matter in Canada” and co-editor to the books Marvellous Grounds and Queering Urban Justice.
1) Based on your extensive history with resisting the PIC (Prison Industrial Complex), why do you believe it is important for you to talk about race, disability and their relationship to resisting incarceration?
Mad and disabled people are overrepresented in the PIC. In particular, black and Indigenous folks are also overrepresented, and when these identities intersect with Madness and/or disability, the chances of experiencing targeted policing, police brutality or worse, fatalities at the hands of the PIC increase dramatically. We need to challenge the systemic racism and ableism that the PIC is fueled on in order to understand what is happening within carceral spaces. We need to recognize the violences of psychiatric detention, and support what psychiatric survivors have been advocating for decades, an end to forced confinement.
2) What are current, local sites of activism that are addressing the context disabled and racialized folks who are criminalized or incarcerated?
There’s some amazing work happening in this city/place. In particular people are organizing ways to live abolition every day. A couple of years ago, Kyisha Williams, Chanelle Gallant, Giselle Dias and I worked with Isaac Lev Szmonko, from Critical Resistance, to do an intro to abolition workshop in the city. Building on this, I have sat on several community accountability circles aimed at addressing harm without the PIC. I have been interviewed on Everyday Abolition, an incredible blog resource aimed at showing how you can live abolition every day in your life.
It has been amazing watching Aanya Wood develop the Justice for Moka Dawkins campaign, to make Moka a household name, and into someone we are all fighting for. Her campaign strategies made Moka’s case central to QTBIPOC organizing over the better part of a year in Toronto.
3) A common thread that I notice is how disabled and racialized folks are treated as less than human. We fight to just to have basic human dignity, self determination, and have violence against us addressed. What do you think would you like to see changed so we can be treated as human beings?
We would need to have the self determination of all people. I have been working towards this for decades – trying to help create a world rooted in social justice wherein we are all free. I think the closer we get to that reality, the more we will get to embody our full humanity.
4) Who have been your greatest teachers?
I have learned tremendously from working with prisoners and confined people themselves. I used to go inside to federal and provincial prisons through my work at PASAN and my activism, and had the chance to work with people inside and when they got out. I also have been fortunate enough to work with long-time abolitionists like Giselle Dias (Niigaanii Zhaawshko Giizhigokwe), Chinyere Oparah and Sean Lee Popham. Together, we built an abolitionist organization called PJAC (Prisoners’ Justice Action Committee) that ran in the city for about ten years. Together we organized the 81 Reasons campaign and others aimed at dismantling the PIC.
I also learned from my grandparents that creating human suffering – something the PIC is predicated on – was something we had to fight against. I picked up the fight where they left off.
5) Can you name some folks who are doing relevant radical work in the realm of QTBIPOC crip abolition?
I’ve been incredibly moved by the work of Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha, Giselle Dias (Niigaanii Zhaawshko Giizhigokwe), Chinyere Oparah, Rachel Gorman and Kyisha Williams.
Bridget Liang is a mixed race, queer, transfeminine, autistic, disabled, fat fangirl. They’re a PhD candidate in the Gender, Feminist, and Women’s Studies Program at York University, a community researcher, workshop and group facilitator, performance artist, and fiction writer. Much of their work revolves around the intersections of autistic, trans, and BIPOC experiences, and storytelling research methods.
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