Episode 1 - The Hypothesis with Mariame Kaba




Daniel Kisslinger: Welcome to One Million Experiments.

Damon Williams: I'm Damon.

Daniel: I'm Kiss.

Damon: One Million Experiments is a podcast showcasing and exploring how we define and create wellness and protection in a world without prisons and police.

Daniel: We're two Chicago-based podcast hosts and movement workers, and we're so excited to be jumping into this brand new project. Talking with movement workers from all over this land about the work they're doing to enact different versions of what our world can look like. How do we take care of each other, how do we build systems of care, wellness and protection, and how do we make the violent structures that we live under obsolete?

Damon: In this time where abolition is becoming much more popular in discussion and in discourse, it's important that we move it from the abstract and theoretical and move towards concrete practice as a grounding to explore and to continue to imagine. We are excited to be in conversation and in relationship with folks all over this land who are working to create new possibilities today. In much of the work we do, we've been in conversation about a world without prisons or police. So often people ask what is the other thing we are going to have.

The truth is, we don't need one new thing. We need a million experiments in which we will practice and learn to create the systems and the world that we want.

Daniel: Damn, I love that. That's awesome. I love that idea. Did you come up with that?

Damon: No, big borrowing over here.

Daniel: [laughs].

Damon: Stole it from the big homie.


We are excited to be in partnership and collaboration, and actually to be experimenting ourselves, and we want to do that in collaboration as all of our experiments must be. We are excited to be partnering with One Million Experiments as a project created by Interrupting C`riminalization.

Daniel: We have one of the masterminds behind the project here who's going to be our thought partner and collaborator throughout this podcast. We're joined here on this first episode, let's set the table with Eva Nagao. Let's maybe start with how you understand, podcast aside, this One Million Experiments project. What is it and what's it been up until now?

Eva Nagao: Well, thank you, Damon and Daniel for inviting us to the table. We're happy to be here. I'm happy to be here. One Million Experiments is an experiment. It's one of Mariame Kaba's latest experiments, but One Million Experiments really started as a Google Doc, as so many abolitionist projects did. They started as a Google Doc of Mariame Kaba's. A long list of just things that she was picking up, seeing in the news, talking to people about ways that people were creating safety and wellness in their communities.

How they were answering the question of how do we create safety in our community, all over the United States and all over the world, really. Periodically, Mariame would tell me about these Google Docs that she has. It was sitting around last year when organizers and activists and folks were coming to Interrupting Criminalization amidst the 2020 uprising saying, "Well, you guys do this stuff. You've been thinking about this stuff for a while. What are the "alternatives" to the police for these organizers who are clamoring to defund police?"

We really try to step away from the word alternatives and we really don't want to put forth the idea that there is any one-size-fits-all alternative to these death-making institutions that we're trying to replace as abolitionists. We did have this Google Doc full of damn good ideas, so we wanted to share it with folks. That took the form of a website, that's a little bit of an encyclopedia of the projects that we've been collecting over time, and also a Zoom series. That's going to go in-depth to projects that shows really the nuts and bolts of how people get community-based safety strategies off the ground and running where they are.

The idea is that people can come to the site and share their projects and ideas. Really all are welcome to do that, and also that people can come there for inspiration and ideas about what they can enact in their own communities. That usually isn't going to mean a replica of an exact project somewhere else but there are a lot of ideas that are replicable from within these, hopefully, someday actually one million projects that we're collecting. We're not anywhere near that number but we're hitting the ground running in October of this year featuring a lot of projects in Minneapolis and we're going to be adding, I hope, for years to come.

Damon: I was blown away the first time I saw the site by what an amazing resource it was. That existed before, I think, either of us had any idea of turning this into a podcast, because like you said, so many of us were confronted with those questions. Sometimes in good faith and sometimes in bad faith of like, "Well, what do you want?" Here was not an abstract answer. It was here are things that already exist and what we want is for those things, as you'll hear later in the episode, to be supported, funded, and looked to as viable systems of communities taking care of each other.

Like you mentioned, between the website and the zine, you get the nuts and bolts of what these projects are, where they exist, who are the players behind them. Then with this podcast, we're really excited to get into the how and why of the work that people are doing. On each episode, we're going to be talking with a different experiment and getting into where the ideas came from, how they see it fitting in to the environment around them, and what they're envisioning this experiment to shape toward.

What are their hypotheses, what are their findings, what do they hope they'll be learning and being able to pass on to other people doing this movement work across the land and around the world? Does that sound right?

Eva: That sounds just about right. I'll add something that's been emerging in conversation with thought partners like Erica or like yourselves, is that part of this is really making work more transparent. Making the labor behind these things that we're creating, this world that we're building together more transparent. I think too, making these conversations more public. It's the conversations we have to have if we're going to build the One Million Experiments that we need.

Daniel: As we go in and listen to this conversation, and so many more, we want to encourage folks to be courageous to make room for their selves to experiment and fail. Not only do we want to replicate what has already been in experiment and practice, but if I'm not mistaken, last I looked at the website, we're not quite at a million yet. We don't just have to be excited about the practices that are already emerging. If nothing else, be encouraged to imagine and to create yourselves your own experiments going forward because that is the culture and that is the ecosystem that we need to build.

With no further ado, welcome to One Million Experiments.

Damon: We're kicking off the podcast with an interview with Mariame Kaba. Mariame goes deeper into where this framing of experiments comes from, some of the patterns and misunderstandings, and misconceptions that she's seeing in the ways that this work is being framed and what she hopes this documentation and exploration of these experiments will offer to both us as practitioners and to listeners all over the place. Let's get into it with Mariame Kaba.


Let's start with the same two-part question that for years we've been making people answer. Mariame, how's the world treating you and how are you treating the world?

Mariame Kaba: Well, I think the world is about to treat me great because I am taking my first real break in over a year. I'm really looking forward to that. I'm super exhausted so it'll be a good time, I think, to have a break. How am I treating the world? I think right now I'm trying to hold it in with some grace as I'm dealing with back-to-back meetings and being pulled in a million different directions since people know I'm taking a significant break. Everybody's asking for something right now so I'm trying to stay graceful through that process.

Damon: You mentioned it's the first break in a year. I'd imagine it's been quite a year, and I'm thinking about the last time that we had the chance to talk was almost exactly a year ago. Over the last year, how has your response to that question of what are we going to replace policing with changed, if it has?

Mariame Kaba: Maybe I should start with my complete antipathy for the use of the term alternatives to policing. For a very long time, I've been asked, of course, because I'm an abolitionist. People will say, "Well, what do we replace the prisons with and what do we replace police with?" It's a question that I know is coming from a good place and a place where people are trying to grasp and understand ideas. What it suggests is that there's going to be one thing that's created that will replace death-making institutions.

I always say to folks when they ask me that question, I say, "Well, nothing will. No one thing will." Part of why we're in the situation we're in right now is because we offer a one-size-fits-all response to every single possible kind of harm in the world through this criminal punishment system which we're told is actually synonymous with justice. Instead of using a term for example, like so-called alternatives, let's actually say what we mean.

I think what people are asking, in my opinion, is what community-based safety strategies or what community-based responses to harm are we going to employ? If that's true, I want to say that community-based safety responses and strategies are already the mainstream. That's already what we use. The vast majority of people don't actually use the current criminal punishment system as their response when they are harmed or when harm occurs in their communities. The issue is that community-based safety strategies and responses are unfunded.

We should be calling it just the unfunded responses. All the energy, all the resources are being put into a system that very few people actually use, and when people do use it, their satisfaction rates are abysmal.

Damon: Just the Yelp reviews are abysmal.


Mariame: The Yelp reviews for the criminal punishment system are horrendous. They're horrendous on the side of the people who are harmed and they're horrendous on the side of the people who are being supposedly "held accountable". That's why I don't like terms like alternative to prison or alternative to police or replacement, because oftentimes what it also does is it conditions us to keep prison and police constant in our minds. Adding the word alternative in front of death-making institutions means that people will start from the question of "Don't we need police to be safe?"

Then what you think to yourself is what do we currently use prisons and police for that we now need to replace their use for. When we use prisons and police for a bunch of things that we shouldn't even bother to address, and we don't use them for other things that we should probably address. I like to really start with the question of what is safety for our communities? What are the conditions that will increase safety for everyone? The abolitionists are always trying to ask generative questions that don't actually foreclose possibility and imagination.

I think if we don't start here, it's hard to go to "experiments". It's really hard to think outside of your current structures because those structures are what you're used to. That's the norm, then to have to rethink everything when people use those terms? Well, how do you do that when you're swimming in the toxicity of the current systems? I think that's why I want us to try to figure out if we can not hold the things constant that we actually want to destroy. These words have so much cultural meaning and so much social meaning.

The cops are in our heads and hearts like Paula Rojas says. It's very hard. I want us especially for this project to start at the much more expansive level of what is safety for our communities, then go from there.

Daniel: I am amazed by how simple and comforting that is, but how also discomforting that is for people's sometimes that are struggling or have not yet had the space to operate in this realm of idea. What I hear you saying is that we just need to build more structure for what is, and what has been which is actually a much less daunting task than the Jetsons create some new machinery that humans have not yet fathomed. A language that's been coming more, it might just be where things are nationally is around infrastructure.

The ways in which human beings relate to each other already have healthy established patterns that we can build from. We just don't have an investment in the infrastructure to maintain and sustain those connections. Yes, I'm comforted by that. I'm tickled when you try to explain that to some people who are struggling how disorienting that can be. We're going to do this a couple of times through this conversation and throughout this show. I have to be transparent. I'm big on metaphors, and we're about to be talking about experiments.

I'm going to be trying my best to use a bunch of metaphors, but I cheated on all my science homework from about age ninth grade. [chuckles] I'm going to be Googling and making sure I'm not loose and sloppy with my metaphors. What I hear you saying is when we use the language of alternative, we are re-centering or stabilizing the carceral state as the center or the norm or the control. In hearing that, I'm hearing cops aren't the control for how we want to evaluate the ways in which human beings interact and engage with each other.

Mariame: Absolutely yes.

Daniel: Feel free to fact-check my metaphors...that you're...but that's where I'm starting off cops aren't the control. [laughs]

Mariame: That's right. Also it's like everything that we do can't just be an opposition to the thing we're trying to dismantle and destroy. Trust me for the last 20 years, I hear the question again, "But don't we need police to be safe?" Well, you've already answered the question for yourself. You've already foreclosed any other possibility to actually exist. This is part of the put alternative in front of something like a death-making institution. No, we don't want that.

Damon: Here's an odd metaphor that I might cut out if it doesn't land. You're ready?

Mariame: Yes. Go for it.

Damon: When you get frozen yogurt-


-you have what is framed as the base flavor. The yogurt flavor. Then all the alternatives are just the pieces that get added on on top. What we're saying is that base flavor tastes like trash which is honestly how I feel about frozen yogurt also.


I don't like the tart yogurt flavor. I'll go with vanilla and strawberry any day of the week. What we're saying is that it's not building off of the structure we already have, and it's not how do we add pieces to that central disgusting flavor basically.

Mariame: Yes, we're questioning the frozen yogurt, because actually the frozen yogurt when you eat it, that base, it makes you sick.

Damon: Which has happened to me with frozen yogurt.

Mariame: I know.


Shout out my ProYo heads out there. All right.

Mariame: Shout out to your ProYo heads. Yes, you've gone to the store because there's only in this place where you're looking for things. The only thing that's on offer is the frozen yogurt store. You go to the frozen yogurt store thinking to yourself like, "I'm trying to get my sweet tooth on." The only store that's available within a hundred trillion miles of your home is the frozen yogurt store. When you go there to get the base frozen yogurt it always makes you sick, because you're actually lactose intolerant.

You go in and you take your chance, you put that frozen yogurt into your bowl, then because you get sick you're like, "In order to mask the taste and all of the things that are happening, I'm going to put in all the toppings. I'mma cover that shit out with everything, and then I'm going to eat it, and I'm going to see if I can handle it. If I can tolerate my lactose intolerance in spite of the fact that I have this frozen yogurt base that's killing me." That's the extension of the analogy.

Damon: This is a great example of our new game. It says-- The metaphor says-- The metapor says-- The metapor-- I want to go back to something that you said before we started talking about frozen yogurt. You talked about Paula Rojas quote of police live in our hearts and minds. We're talking about abolishing policing from process in every space. I'm curious as you've started learning from gathering, exploring these experiments that we're going to be talking to the practitioners of.

What strategies have either you employed, or have you seen other people employing to really directly acknowledge the ways that we internalize these processes and try to account for those as they're building their experiments?

Mariame: I think that when we're talking about the experiments or trying to write about them in a zine, the questions we ask is how is this particular experiment connecting to, or interacting with law enforcement? What's that particular project's theory of the case, or theory of why they exist and what they're trying to accomplish, and what they're trying to do. We want to take people for what they're actually trying to do. Ask them what they think they're doing and the context within which they're located.

A lot of these are hyper-local experiments they're happening in particular contexts. We don't want to decontextualize them. I think that will be helpful for other people who are listening and thinking about their own context, and which parts might apply, and which parts they can leave behind.

Daniel: Yes. That really I think situates the time that we're taking together. I want to get a little bit into the narrative from that place, so we can set the table because this is a privilege to share this space. Not only because you're one of the most important thinkers of our time, but also because he will accommodate our metaphors more importantly.

Mariame: That's...I will put up with your metaphor.

Damon: Robin Kelly wasn't having none of this shit.


Daniel: Yes, he was getting out of business.

Mariame: ...says he'll get any sort of metaphors about frozen yogurt and I was just like that.

Daniel: We are specifically having this conversation because we are partnering in this project with Interrupting Criminalization and One Million Experiments. We're using this conversation with you to set us up for conversations with folks all over this land that are doing really exciting work. Before we get into that, I would like folks to just have a little kernel of what IC is and some of your perspective and narrative on how these spaces came to exist and where they are now relative to this project.

Mariame: Sure. Thanks for asking. Interrupting Criminalization is actually my latest of a long line of my own projects, formations, my own experiments that I've been engaged in for most of my adult life. Since I was a teenager, really, I was invited to be a researcher in residence at Barnard Center for Research on Women back in, I think it was 2017 or something like that. My friend, Andrea Richie was already there as a researcher in residence, Andrea and I have known each other for a while.

Met through the work of INCITE! Women and Trans people of Color Against Violence in the mid-2000s, We were talking about, what do we want to be doing at this particular stage in our lives? We've both been organizing for decades at that point. We had been part of many different kinds of formations and we've been doing work that overlaps and was different in other ways. We just thought like, hey, you know how Sean puffy Combs had that so-called Making the Band. Do y'all remember that?

Damon: Deeply remember. I can't believe that you're the one who brought him up but go on.

Mariame: I know I'm sorry, again, but I'm just saying.

Damon: This is a simple, specific metaphor. This is not an opportunity for extension.

Mariame: We're like, hey, we could bring together people we respect to actually focus on the part of criminalization that we want to interrupt. In particular that is centered on racialized to gendered violence. We can bring together our various interests into a formation that doesn't have to be long-standing. Doesn't have to have all this rigamarole. Neither of us were interested in creating a space where we would be like EDs or supervising other people. We just wanted to do our work and combine our forces.

That's how Interrupting Criminalization started. Then long story short, One Million Experiments starting last summer as the uprisings were in full swing. Probably around the time that I talked with you all, and defund police became the central demand of many of those uprisings. I started getting e-mails and calls from organizers who were feeling pressured to offer these "alternatives" to policing. My response to them was that they shouldn't feel pressured by the artificial urgency of these demands to offer so-called solutions or models or alternatives.

The people with power asking we're not promising significant resources. To me, the questions were empty ones. I was cautioning our folks not to be rushed or pushed into offering so-called alternatives. It was perfectly acceptable to call for funding, education, libraries, healthcare, parks, or to give people living wages. That's the " friggin" alternative. Actually fund the comments, that's the demand. I don't know why you're all freaking out that you don't have the perfect program already laid out when you've gotten lite rally $0 to make programs for the last 50 years.

I was just like, okay, I hear the urgency, but the urgency is actually fake and we don't have to be on their capitalist timeline. That was my first response to the so-called alternative questions. [laughs]

Daniel: I love that. What I hear and what I felt from folks who ask those questions not in good faith and not with sincerity, is that it is a setting us up to fail.

Mariame: It is. Not just to fail actually, it's to try to say, there's no other thing. It's a ratification of the hegemonic supposed bohemoth of these institutions, like there can be no alternative. If you imagine some TV show where they have that tagline. That was what I felt was happening to organizers. They were being put into this thing, like "Give us some stuff then. You all want this, then you have to do this--" I was like, "Don't go there. Don't fall for that." The second aspect was that I have long been part of efforts to create community-based safety strategies and community-based responses to harms.

I knew that examples existed in every city and town around the country and frankly, around the world. I decided to start tracking the ones that I found most interesting in a Google doc. Our dreaded Google docs that came out of that period where everybody was putting everything in a Google doc. Except that my Google doc was not going to be public. It was just going to be, I would see an article or I would hear something and I would just look it up and maybe they had a website and I would keep track of it.

I was just cataloging examples so that I could share them with other organizers in the trainings and workshops and meetings that I was part of in those months and in the months since. It was just going to be a compendium. I started talking with Andrea and Eva from Interrupting Criminalization. At some point, somebody was like, "I don't know, what's the replacement?" I was like, "You know what? We need a million different experiments. Stop talking about the replacement. There's not one replacement. There have to be a million experiments that we're trying all the time, every day."

I think it might've been Eva who said something like, "Oh, I know you're keeping track of a bunch of this stuff. Maybe we should put them in a place." Eva's a genius, just a real creative genius. I've known Eva for like maybe 15 years ago, I don't even remember. We've been working together ever since in multiple kinds of configurations, but this is the first time we're actually working together in a job work sense. We've always just collaborated on various projects that we've not been getting paid for. Anyways, so long story short is that that's the background of how it came to be.

Eva took these particular examples and made a website, putting all those things together. We talked about and came up with because I'm obsessed with zines. That's another show at another time, but I was like, "Let's make a series of zines that would take one of these particular examples and do a little deep dive. How did these folks do what they are doing? How are they seeing their work? Yes, so that's the background on IC and the background on Million Experiments.

Damon: As the receiver of that work, it was so exciting to come across it. I'm curious, are there particular questions, themes, ideas that you would love to hear us talk about with the folks doing this work in all these different, very specific contexts?

Mariame: I think I always have the same questions, no matter what. I want to know how people started. What's their origin story. I always want to hear about what was a surprise to them, what they're hoping to continue to do. Then what are they going to stop doing? What happened that was like, "We thought we were going to do this stuff, and boy, were we wrong? We needed to pivot and keep it moving." I know every single person who has ever started any sort of initiative, program, organization has had those moments where you have your theory of change.

You're like, "This is how everything's going to go." Then you practice. You're like, "No." I always think about, when I started Project NIA in 2009, I came to the idea initially that we were going to be a site of diversion. We would create a space in my community that I lived in in Rogers Park, where instead of the cops sending young people and children to juvenile court, we would be a site where they could divert those young people instead. That was always the thing. There are no other places to send people.

I was very excited about that experiment to see what might happen. What do you think happened? What's your thought about what happened when we opened up as that kind of offer to the community and specifically to the cops?

Damon: Wow. I haven't, this is so much like school.

Mariame: [laughs] Sorry. I'm a teacher.

Daniel: No, I love it because I want to be right.

Mariame: No, you don't want to be right. You want to be open to your response.

Daniel: I have a feeling that somehow not just the cops of a state, but seemingly well-intended community members intervened in a way that reaffirmed that the state and punishment incarcerality needed to be central or not disconnected from the processes being built. I feel like I cheated, but that's--

Mariame: No, you didn't cheat. In fact, it's a good conjecture, right? That might be the case. Well, what ended up happening is that in my hopes that it would be a place to have young people come instead of going through these other steps of the system and getting further entrenched into those systems. What we ended up doing was actually widening the net because what ended up happening was that before the cops were in a position where if they picked up some kid, rather than go through a whole rigmarole, they would maybe arrest that kid and release them right away.

This is just no way they're going to go through a whole process of charging that child, holding that child, putting that child back into the system. They have other things they're trying to do. It's not worth their time. They're just going to let you go with the warning, and instead, now that there was this community "resource", a bunch of kids who probably would never have been stopped in the first place, or maybe would have been released with no record or being informally charged. Now the cops are like, "You are close to delinquent," or, "We think you might become delinquent.

Here's predictive policing. "You need to go to this program to be able to co-intervene before you get to the part of being a real hardcore criminal, young black kid." We ended up increasing a kid's contact with the system inadvertently by being there as a community resource for diversion. The complete opposite of what we were trying to do, we widened the net. Of course, I had to stop that.


Of course. I had great intentions when I started, I had ideas. I had all my theories down of what was going to happen. Then a couple years in, we noticed this increase in informal station adjustments were like-- which also suggests that you should keep track of data. Data's flawed in multiple ways, but you want to be able to have some way to see if what you're doing is actually doing the things that you want to see happen in your community or not. Anyway, I just share that as part of the thing of, I want to hear from people what their initial ideas were about what they were doing.

Whether they think those ideas actually have come to pass or did they actually have the complete opposite effect of what they had hoped for in the beginning. We weren't kicking ourselves that that happened. We just were like, "Oh, we got to notice that it happened, and then we've gotta stop it."

Damon: It actually fits so perfectly with this experiment idea because that's, you don't fail if you don't receive the result that you thought you would. You just note that that's what those components led to and then you try to adjust and do something else to try to see what would happen in a different set of ingredients being added in.

Mariame: To me, I'm a huge fan of failure. It's not a question of if we're going to fail, it's when we fail. If you're taking action, you're going to make mistakes and you're going to fail. Failure is not a bad word. If you're fearful of failing, that often can stop you from taking action but I much prefer taking action over not taking action. Also how glorious is it to fail at something? Then you have an opportunity to learn and move on to making something else informed by the so-called failure. The capitalists are pro-failure.

They create whole special programs for their people about, if you're going to fail, fail big, because it means you're taking big risks. They do that in sometimes very harmful ways but our ways of failure should also be within the same concept of you should take risks. You should try lots of different kinds of things knowing inevitably, that failure is part of that. It's not a negative connotation. It shouldn't be, and it's not a moral thing. It's just that because I tried these ideas that I had in mind for an organization or a group or a formation in my community that I learned from the experience.

We stopped doing what we were doing and we shifted and did some other things that did work much better and were generative in the community.

Daniel: I've been trying to take the framework of biomimicry. Biomimicry is when you use observation of natural biology, usually of other species or other organisms to shape and understand our social processes. That's how I understand it. Adrienne Maree Brown has really done amazing work to help popularize or help people apply it a little bit more. She goes to birds and mushrooms in really beautiful ways. One thing I've been trying to do is human biology, how do we look at the way our actual body works to shape the way our collective bodies work?

To this language of failure, if we're talking about exercise or building literal strength in the body, the failure point is what you have to reach in order to progress, in order to actually grow. If you are not pushing yourself to some type of endurance or load failure, you're actually going to be in spaces. I just thought about that as you were just going back into that idea so that really resonates. I really appreciate that story. One, I don't feel I've ever heard you share that before.

Mariame: No, I haven't. This show, this dastardly show.

Daniel: We get you.

Damon: It's elusive.

Daniel: To hear that reflection back a decade later I think it's just a really important lesson from cooptation, which speaks to a question that I have. Some folks. we even have become a little bit devout in ways that I really appreciate about abolition. As we're looking at experimentation, does any cooperation with the carceral state disqualify as being considered an experiment? Do folks already need to have done somewhat difficult, consciousness struggle, relearning of history that usually is required for folks to be able to accept abolition?

Or is there value in folks that may not be as social movement radical as we like to bolster or center in this notion of experimentation. I want to couple that with the teaching that you've done around abolitionist reform versus reformance reforms because that is coming up to the head. More people are internalizing that framework and get real like dismissive, "Me too," about things that we deem as easily cooptable or even well-intended, but hyper reformist in how they relate to the state.

For example, does a good organization doing a photoshoot or a little softball game with the mayor and the cops disqualify them for being in conversation of what we're about to be researching.

Mariame: Wow. That's just such a good question, man. Here's what I would say about that. How are we going to get from where we are to where we need to go? That's always what is intention. We're always struggling over that. Abolitionists are really interested in generative questions. That's a huge part of our, not just our ethos, but our raison d'être. It's, come up with better questions, come up with better questions, not struggling all the time with, we have to come up with the perfect response.

We're asking questions all the time because those questions are what will lead us forward to figure out what we need to know and what we don't know and all that stuff. I always want to be like, "Are you asking yourself the questions all the time about whether you are trying to make reform your end or abolition your end? That will orient you as to whether or not you're in the right direction of the work. Also actually cooperating with law enforcement, that is not going to actually get us to the point where we're trying to go. Ultimately, we're just trying to dismantle that institution.

How are you going to dismantle that institution when you're giving them legitimacy? It's one of the reasons for why abolitionists shouldn't be on friggin panels with the cops. What are you arguing with them about? Like, "I think you shouldn't make this"? What is the actual point of doing that? I do think there are things that are nos that you are going to do that are pretty strong. That's different from looking at a community organization where some of what they're doing is collaborating with the police.

They may be doing other programs that have abolitionists' possibilities embedded within those. If you're partnering with those particular projects and programs as experiments, because you want to learn from them to see what could be taken from them to apply more broadly. Or taken from them to just apply it more specifically to your context, you can always do that, absolutely. Ultimately, we are trying to abolish these institutions.

Daniel: Period.

Mariame: Yes, period. I don't know what else to tell people. It's like, "Maybe you don't want that, then you're not an abolitionist. You're not a PIC abolitionist, at least." That's not about, "being purity" or whatever, no. If there's anybody, I'm so willing to work with almost anyone to try to figure out how to lessen suffering. Our diversion program was essentially with the cops because we wanted them to not send our kids further along. Then, I learned through the hard way that there was no way forward there.

Their mindset, their values, their reason, depth, all of that was to actually capture our children and put them in programs or put them in the court or put them in jail. Shira Hassan, a brilliant thinker around transformative justice and harm reduction, longtime friend and comrade of mine, always says, "Let's not get trapped in the safety as services paradigm." The first time I heard that, I was like, "What? Oh, my goodness. What is she really talking about here?" I finally figured that out when I was doing this work of the diversion project and program.

It was like, the cops were thinking of us as services, "as safety". Meanwhile, they were capturing these children and forcing them into these spaces. We did not need these kids to be captured at all. They did not need to be in our programs or service that we were providing. Again, we were like, basically their pre-crime division. Is the end goal reform or is the end goal abolition? That should really orient you. You need to make decisions about who you're going to partner "with" and what partnership actually looks like and means within that context. Are you legitimizing the very systems you're trying to destroy?

Damon: It brings me to something that I'm actually really excited to talk about with all of these experiments. If that is your goal, if we're operating from a place of what we're working towards, is abolition, our history says that those institutions won't tolerate that easily and they'll attack these experiments or they'll attack the work you're doing with the intent of destroying it. That's just very clear cut and that can be through direct personal violence, that can be through blacklisting, that can be through coaptation.

All the mechanisms that they have. What are the mechanisms that we have and/or we need to build in order to keep these experiments alive in the face of that repression? Whether it's keeping that particular experiment alive or the lessons learned from it, so that it can be a replicable experiment.

Mariame: Absolutely. The forces that exist to crush us are ever existing. If people aren't seeing that in this moment, they're not paying attention. Look at the massive front lash that has occurred just in the past year to the demand to defund police. Right after the election, who did the trot out immediately in terms of the Democratic Party? They brought Barack Obama and Jim Clyburn out almost immediately to say, "Defund is toxic." Literally, I heard this. This is the equivalent of, "Burn, baby, burn" that "derailed" the black freedom movement in the 1960s.

Those folks are loved and beloved in the black community. Hearing them talk in that way obviously is like, "We shouldn't be pro this." Then, you have yesterday, an article that came out in the paper saying Nancy Pelosi's mid-term strategy is to say that the GOP is defunding the police, which I find hilarious.

Daniel: Wow.


Mariame: It's hilarious, but what it does though, it tells me something that we should take note of on the left. I am hearing people get really freaked out about like, "Oh, my God. We need to change the language. Let's go to reform the police." I'll say, what friggin demand in the last 25 years on the left has had such resonance as defund police has been able to penetrate the zeitgeists of politics so quickly and so searingly? Has been so clear as to what it is asking people to do that people are coming up with all other examples and trying to explain it every other way except defunding the police?"

This is an issue that I think is so deeply really important to keep in mind. This does tie to this concept of repression and cooptation and what are we going to do. Defund police is such a clear demand. It's shaken the rafters. When have we been able to do that in almost anything that has to do with a demand that we have on the left? It's on some part of the left because obviously the left is not a monolith and there are plenty of leftists. You see these socialists people talking about, "We absolutely need the cops and prisons, cops are workers."

The arguments are-- There's no monolith here. PIC abolitionists are definitely not popular. I'm not under any delusions about that.

Damon: We're trying to hang with the popular kids.

Daniel: Yes, we're definitely trying to be popular.

Mariame: I meant it, we are not popular. The vast majority of defund--

Daniel: Thank you for the reminder. [laughs]

Mariame: Let's be clear, people are like, "Oh, it's gotten so po-" I'm like, "You, people, you're not living in reality. You're just not," but I do and I'm paying attention. I'm so happy that our demand is being picked up in this way and that now the Democrats are accusing the Republicans of defunding the police. This belies the point that they don't know what we're asking for. People say this like, "It's not a clear demand." Well, it is. We're asking this. [laughs]

Daniel: It's a complete sentence.

Mariame: Defund the police. It is absolutely clear. The fact that the Democrats and Republicans were fighting each other over it means they perfectly understand what the demand is. What the fight is over is to shape the demand as "We are targeting the cops. You don't love the police enough. We love the police more than you do."

Daniel: "Support Our Troops."

Mariame: Right, "Support Our Troops." This is perfect. Let's support our troops of 2020, 2021. Again, it belies people's point when people say, "Nobody knows what 'Defund police' means." Yes, you do. What you don't want to say is you don't like it. You don't want to do it. You think it's a bad idea, whatever. Just save that, but don't say, "It's hard to understand." No, it isn't, y'all.

Damon: To your point for once, the folks advocating this change are the ones who we get to define the premise.

Mariame: Thank you.

Damon: ...all those examples earlier where at a baseline, this is a premise we reject for the conversation, so why are we even having the conversation?

Mariame: Yes. Everybody's having to respond to us. This is one of the only times where we are not the ones basically having to be running around in a reactionary way. We're just like, "Y'all, here's the demand." Everybody's like, "No," [screams] out loud. Now, literally organizing their "own strategies" around this demand. This is my response to the people on the left who are on the side of like, "We need revolution." Blah, blah. They don't know what the hell they're talking about and they're not on the front lines of shit.

Sitting in their houses, typing and talking about revolution. My response always is to that is, please, take a look around and look at how the landscape is different as a result of the work that came into being around this demand, the groundwork, the years of struggle that brought the demand. "This is just a new liberal demand of like, we're just--" Are you kidding me? Are you watching what is going on around this demand? Literally, people are losing their shit. You can't even say the word. They're saying that crime "is up" because people have said the word defund police.

What kind of power is it in that word that allows for literally crime to increase? They haven't even done it yet. Just this...

Daniel: The entire socio-economic structure has changed because of a hashtag.

Mariame: Just the speaking of the words is enough to shake the foundation of a universe to the point where there's crime 'going up'.

Damon: It's not economic collapse, or the people having support over a year where nobody could work, and everyone's scared for their lives.

Daniel: To the experiment and this point of the counter experiment or the attack, we usually know there has been effect when they start rushing results like that. I've seen three or four platforms that were just like rereading information. It wasn't even like they were the ones originating it, just saying it hasn't worked. The places where there were headlines that look defund a jail. Not just that it's bad, or that crime, that it is already not worked, which was the same thing that happened I think it was by February of 2015 when the FBI started using this language of the Ferguson Effect.

Once they start making claims before, there is literally been enough time to have statistical data, that's just not how data works, or experiments work. I think that is actually a big lesson we can take of like, once they start claiming something doesn't work before it is tried, that's how you know that there is a retreat.

Mariame: That's right, you've gone to the heart of the thing they want to keep in place, and they have come back stronger than ever to relegitimize the institution. That's how you know you've disrupted the situation. Again, they had to bring out their big guns on the Democratic side. Immediately, Obama had to come out and talk about well, we got to have different language than defund. Let's talk about reforming the cops. Black Lives Matter as a movement emerges under Obama. People need to think about that.

Damon: That point is why where we started is so important for this project is, we're not here to talk about alternatives or enter into the fray. On that premise, we're here to talk about people experimenting on what safety in their communities looks like. That that's not about where your position is on a slogan, or whether it's worked or not. That is not what we're here to talk about. We're here to talk about, in these different locations in these very specific contexts, here are the things that people have built. Here's what they've learned.

Not how can you take that and do the same thing where you live but what are the lessons? What are the processes we can learn to do this work in a more full and effective way where we are?

Mariame: Yes, absolutely. The premise of this is, what is safety for our communities? These experiments are trying to answer those questions. What is safety for our community?

Daniel: This is my last one that I have and I know we got to wrap. You get me going every time, I love you so much. To that point of we have it, we're doing it, it is under-resourced.

Mariame: No, not under-resourced. It is un resourced. Let's think about how much they're spending on cops a year, $100 billion. Then on caging people another 100 billion and then on the military 800 billion. What on our side of what we're talking about today, who's getting $100,000 for their experiment? Let's be real about the complete lack of resources on the side of the thing that is actually keeping everybody alive. All the resources going into the death-making institution that is critical. If you leave with one thing in this conversation, please leave with that and ask yourself why that is.

Daniel: With that reality and with that need to question why that is, I don't want to put you in the place of explaining this to people, so how you would question or how you would be in conversation with people around this dialectic that I almost with religious fervor believe that we have the collective capacity to do this but the way this unresourced infrastructure organizes us on a personal level. I've experienced and observed the people who show up for this the most and believe this at a lifelong level, are overworked or drained.

I know no more than anybody what it feels like to be pulled in so many different directions. To be functioning at a way that actually can disrupt your ability to show up in that human way. That actually does bring wellness, protection, safety, healing that we're talking about, and there we're ideating about. I want to end with this notion of capacity and how do we question or offer or get people to release. Once you're doing this experiment, once you sign up to be with a doctor or research or whatever the experiment or person is, or abolition of sciences, how should or how do you change your thinking about how to organize an experiment with your own personal capacity because I've seen that disrupted.

Mariame: I haven't figured anything out. I don't know. It's a great question. It is such a good and important question. I want to say what I know is standing in the way of action, but also standing in the way of sustainable action is capitalism and precarity. People are struggling to survive, not a single one of us who does this work is paid for it in the sense of just what we ought to be able to survive and do this kind of work in our communities as well. You're usually doing your job and then doing your work.

You're making money to live and pay your rent on all these other ways and then your work is unpaid. I don't know how to do that differently. I'm not even sure if I want to but capitalism and precarity is real and a real barrier. Capacity is also tied to whether you're demoralized or not. There's a thing that can happen where people will say it is as it always has been, nothing can or will change. It's a deeply seductive thing because it actually gives you a lot of permission to just throw your hands up and keep it moving.

Sometimes people need a reason to throw their hands up and keep it moving. Either because they're overworked, tired, or because they just don't want to try. That's a real thing. You have to take so much more energy to do very basic work that that also can feel exhausting and draining but it's also the other side of that is like feeling super distilled means you ask the question, "What do I actually have to offer?" You feel like you don't have anything to offer so you sit back. I think we also have this thing where we have to be mindful of the fact that a lot of people just don't know how to plug into existing work.

Part of this experiment's project is to be like, there's all this existing work. Maybe if you see something in Detroit, and you're in Detroit, you'll pick it up and be like, "Hey, how can I help? How can I support?" I didn't answer your question about figuring out balance around capacity because I don't have any friggin answers to that. I don't know how to do that.

Daniel: Are you questioning it in new ways?

Mariame: No.

Damon: She's just taking a month off. Just observing Black August, after Black August.

Mariame: You know why you're so funny. I try to take August off every year in some way and I go away for a part of that time, to always stay the same place. The reality is, I just can't plug out of my own life. I don't really talk about myself deeply in these kinds of ways that I don't like to do it. Publicly, that's just not me but I just will say I think for me the exhaustion of even thinking about what is balance would be too much.

Daniel: That would create some imbalance.

Mariame: It would be another labor and I don't want to do more labor on that. I just want to try to figure out how to take more breaks over time. How do I do that sustainably and how do I do that in a way that doesn't mean that other people have to pick up much more of a burden from me for "self-care".


Damon: I love how disgusted you are.

Daniel: Self-care.

Mariame: I said that because people are like, "Oh, well, I'm doing self-care," but you know what they did, they left a whole bunch of shit for their partner to do. We have to be focused on community care. You are interdependent with other people at every single level, huge meet basic tenet of any abolitionist thinking. When we say that somebody else's caging means we are caged too and that other people's freedom is integral to our freedom, we mean that. That's a core tenet of PIC abolitionists' work ambition, vision, and politics.

I don't understand how people are all like, "Well, I need to just care for myself," and that is politics, bullshit. That is not what Audrey Lauren was telling you. Stop it. You're just saying to squeeze all your fucking work onto other people and call it self-care.

Daniel: That's a t-shirt. That's not what Audrey Lauren was telling you.

Mariame: That is not what Audrey Lauren was telling you. Stop it. Especially also dealing with actual cancer...This is the way. She wasn't feeling tired sometimes. This isn't good. We all need to stop being ridiculous.

Damon: If there's one thing that I hope our listeners take it's Mariame says stop being ridiculous. I know that's how you move through the world most is just everyone just stopped being ridiculous.

Mariame: Stop being ridiculous.

Daniel: I I enjoyed that responds on like a personal relief and the humor that you brought to it, but just, what I'll take in asking other folks is like, how are we wrestling against our own individualism when we're showing up in this work. I feel like that's a thread.

Mariame: Yes. If we were more collectivists, each of us would be much more able to sustain our individual lives. I don't think people get that because this is the US. If we actually collectivized care, people will do better individually. Our entire society would be so much more transformed. Again, please don't e-mail or send me a note or tweet me about like romanticizing communities. I am the last person who romanticizes community, stop the madness.

Damon: You've actually been in community.

Mariame: I've been in community, I'm committed to struggling in community with other people. That's the only thing I can guarantee here. What is it that Morgan Jerkins said? The very systems were trying to dismantle live within us. That's why this shit is so hard. The very systems we're trying to dismantle live in our communities, everybody. No, I'm not trying to do that, but I'm saying collective action, collectiveness collectivizing care matters a great deal if we are going to end capitalism, and create worlds that focus on our livingness. Actually, be able to sustain a life that has the meaning and isn't going to kill us.

Damon: All right. I want to just ask you before we go, are there any other threads that you feel like for people stepping into this project, stepping into this podcast, they should know about the framework of One Million Experiments or anything that you want to make sure we ask the experimenters over the next six episodes.

Mariame: Thank you for--

Damon: Oh, sorry, over the next five episodes.

Mariame: Or maybe six we'll go on. If people want to pay Airgo and all their people that do it, then fund us to do this. I got to put that in.

Damon: We're unsourced, people.

Mariame: Thank you, Damon, for pulling that together. Again, not underresourced, people need to stop with that. We're unresourced.

Damon: I'm not broke. I'm unresourced.

Mariame: Exactly we're unresourced. It's an opportunity to actually resource people. I want to say a couple of things about experimentation and creativity and PIC abolition. Experimentation for me and creativity are key to all revolutionary struggles. We have got to lean into that. PIC abolition to me is a vision that we enact through ongoing struggle. It's not actually a blueprint, but it's another world in the making. We're going to make our way collectively through experimentation, organizing and rebellion. We're always dismantling and we're always building.

I've learned so much over the years from Ruthie Gilmore's work. An example, Ruthie has said often that what the world will become already exists in fragments and pieces and experiments and possibilities. That quote of hers is so important, and always resonated with me because I've spent the better part of my life making things. It's not surprising then that I would've found myself attracted to PIC abolition as a vision because abolition ultimately is also about making things. I hope that people who are listening to this podcast suite will remember the part about experimentation and creativity being key to all revolutionary struggles.

I hope that people are going to in their own communities, in their own spaces, in their hypo-local context, make a bunch of things. See what happens, try things out. Don't be afraid to do that. I'm not saying this to you as someone who writes about making things. I'm saying this to you, as somebody who has made a lot of things, including a lot of organization. People will often laugh at me about the fact like we are going to put the list of all the groups that you've been part of or all the-- That it's some indictment somehow. The point is, many containers are needed for different kinds of things.

You shouldn't be afraid to start new containers because new containers are needed. Organizations are dynamic and many of them need to die for new things to come in their place. These experiments are the same way. It doesn't matter if the experiment lasted a year, you learned something in that year. It doesn't matter if that experiment lasts 10 years, you've learned some things, hopefully in those 10 years. This is very important to me. I think the last thing I want to say, Eva had asked a question to me before about why are we using the term experiments and not model?

It's because I've come to despise the word model.


Daniel: Much of your work has come from a new solution because you despise something.

Mariame: That's why I think we have to ask why experiments? Why are you saying a million different experiments rather than a million different models or whatever the deal is? Anyway, it's because I don't like the business speak of it. It brings to mind where it's best practice, which I also hate. The reality is that we're not looking for one-size-fits-all responses, and also I don't happen to care about scale or scaling up. People love to talk about scale and how are we going to scale? I don't care. I've never cared about it. Don't want, I don't care.

This goes back to one of the people who's been on your show a couple of times, Adrienne Maree Brown, that was already mentioned by Damon earlier. A lesson that was mentioned in Adrienne Maree Brown's emergent strategy, that's been echoed by many transformative justice practitioners and organizers for generations is that how we are at the small scale is how we are at the large scale. I always think about Mia Mingus. Who's a disability justice theorist and TJ practitioner. She often shares this story about how so many people who live with other people don't wash the dishes in their homes.

Even after they promise to wash dishes, they just won't do it. She uses it as an example of how we often resist being self-accountable. It's the idea that if we can't be in right relationship at home, we can't be in the broader world. If we're not practicing what we're actually preaching and we're not actually trying to do it, what are we talking about? How are we going to build these experimental models that are going to actually be able to transform our social relationships with each other in a way that allows us to be able to hold harm very differently and to transform that harm ultimately, right?

The small-is-all kind of idea is really appealing to me. It doesn't mean that we should ignore structural and systemic oppressions of course not. It just means that we need to consistently and on a daily basis practice these new social relations that prefigure the world in which we want to live. Long story short, I want people to feel free to try lots of different things.

Daniel: And do the dishes.

Mariame: Yes.

Damon: "I got to go."

Mariame: Do the dishes. I also want people to stop worrying so much about perfect replication of things or following a preset template. That's why experiments really feels more accurate than model to me.

Speaker 1: Mariame, thank you so much for, one, welcoming us into this project that you've been building with some of the folks mentioned and allowing us to have a hand in shaping these conversations and for sharing your perspectives and helping us think about how do we even frame these conversations. Thank you.

Mariame: Oh my goodness. Thank you. All right, bye.


Damon: As always, big thanks to Miriam Kaba for taking the time to chop it up with us. I think it's such a great way to launch the series and give this idea of experimentation, the framing it deserves. I'm curious for you Eva and listening to that, are there any major themes that jumped out that you want to make sure we touch on with each of the experiments that we talk to in the coming months.

Eva: There are some themes that are present throughout all of our work that I think really come to a head in million experiments. Part of this is about collectivity and interdependence which Miriame touched upon. I think is one of the incomplete parts of this project of the site of the zines of the podcast. We are not just doing this for show, we're doing this because people ask for examples of work that's going on. In good faith, we're giving you all these examples that we've spent a lot of time and money to collect and curate for folks who now need to go do something with it.

There's a lot of people who are already doing stuff, and there's a lot of people asking what they should be doing. Mariame has these questions that she posts on her Twitter thread, I think are relevant here. She asks people when there's a crisis or when there's a conflict going on, when there's something in their community that they want to be a part of, she asks what resources exist so I can better educate myself. Who's already doing work around this injustice? Do I have the capacity to offer concrete support and to help them? How can I be constructive?

Part of my hope is that when people listen to these stories of these people who have built amazing things, amazing worlds, amazing experiments, is that they ask, "How can I be constructive?" That they can go back to the site and get a lot of examples and how to do exactly that. All this was already there, we put it a little pretty bow on it for you, and made it easier but like, "Okay. You got it now."

Daniel: Yes. I think that instinct actually mirrors some of the human social dynamics in the dependency on calling the state. I think in the work in general, there is this externalization of response, initiation, risk-taking being the backstop of action that is not only just when conflict is happening. This idea, "I need to call someone else. I need you to do this for me. We need permission." Contribute or take a step.

Damon: Someone should be doing something about this.

Daniel: Yes. I've seen recently folks like commit harm, the harm be named, and they say, "and I want an external mediator." The assumptions is, and someone else is going to go get that person for me, or someone else is going to accommodate that resource. Using that as like an example to hearing, you have to see yourself as a part of world-building, of pyramid building, of cleaning the water, or taking out your garbage, and showing up in a way that is constructive. Everyone needs to have on gloves, and their goggles, and their lab coat.

There is no like passive spectating.

Damon: You mean I can't skip this experiment like I skip my chemistry experiments? That's not a possibility?

Daniel No. The reason why I'm failing with the metaphors is because I cheated through all my science classes, and stopped taking them at age 15 and a half or 16. I haven't been in any formal type of science work outside of the social science. I say with my finger crossed.

Damon: You were saying we need to make more room for failure. We really set ourselves up to fail with this bunch of metaphor. It was not so easy.

Daniel: Talk about failure, let me show you my progress report from chemistry.


Will you be a little meta with me?

Damon: Do we have a choice? Let's do it.

Daniel: Do I have meta consent? Not only this podcast, but I think the project One Million Experiments is itself a piece of abolitionist infrastructure. Not just a platform displaying examples of what could be. In curating it, creating it, making decisions, and seeing people interacting with it isn't teaching you anything, or what is it teaching you about what the resource is aiming to prompt. As you just said, we need people to do something with it. As someone doing something where you're learning about the doing.

Eva: You know what comes to mind is something that I've heard you touch upon in various ways that I really connect with is, there's a lot of personal responsibility in abolition. To bring your labor, to bring your care, your attention to this ethos. I think that what we've learned in gathering this information, and talking to folks on the ground, and really trying to think expansively is something that we say all the time. Is that we just really have to be as imaginative and expansive, and as generative as possible.

One of the things that people ask a lot about presenting their experiments on the site is basically, "Does this meet your abolitionist purity, threshold, bar, et cetera." It's like, "No. We want everyone to come and share their experiments. We want you to share your experiments that fail and why they failed, and what you would do again better." This is media that we're making for ourselves so that we can really get to this world-building. It is suppose to be constructive, and it's suppose to be a little bit messy.

We don't want to put anyone on a pedestal, so you don't have to be afraid of falling off that pedestal. Go big. Try things. That's how we're going to get where we want to go, and that's how people are getting where we want to go right now.

Damon: Go big and be a little messy seems like it should be the tagline for how we podcast, so I feel we're really in the right place here.

Eva: I feel I'm in good company then. [chuckles]

Daniel: Just hearing that and engaging, and embarking on this collaboration, I'm very grateful for your work and for your labor. Obviously, anybody who knows us and our work, knows I'm gushing with gratitude and adoration for all Mariame contributes to how we can think about the world. It's helping me articulate a thing that I've been trying to say that I don't feel has come across clearly is, we only think of abolition usually as again, the alternative. We imagine it only as physically engaging in matters of like combat, or conflict, or physical violence, right?

I am the person who steps in, or we need another person to call only for that. Actually, abolition is how we create all of our things and how are we creating this whole new society. I think so often people think being an abolitionist only means being a counter cop. Some of that work has to be done and redistributed. Really the learning is abolition can and should exist in all of the things that we create and in all of our relations. Not just when we're thinking about calling 911.

Damon: Yes. How we do safety is how we do everything, and how we do everything is how we do safety.

Eva: Surely one of the One Million Experiment someday is going to be how to device a system to do the dishes in your household that actually works.

Daniel: I think we figured that out. We figure out how to--

Damon: I think that's at the corner of it, yes.

Daniel: I think we can trace all scarcity to dishes in some type of way. [chuckles]

Damon: Because what do you do? You buy more forks. Now, that's leading into all kinds of-- Anyway.

Daniel: Labor domination about getting someone to do the dish. All right, we don't need to-- Capitalism, we see you in the room.


Damon: All right. If that's in the room, then we got to get out of here. We're so excited to launch this show together. Eva, thank you so much for being here today, and being such a great partner in this project. I guess the things that we need people to know on your podcast apps, go ahead and subscribe to One Million Experiments. Just type One and then million experiments, and you should be able to find it. You can also subscribe to Airgo, our other show, A-I-R-G-O, wherever you get your podcast. You can check out all of the experiments on the site. Eva, what's the URL for that?

Eva: The URL is millionexperiments.com.

Damon: Then where all should folks follow to learn more about this project, and all the other work of Interrupting Criminalization?

Eva: You can also follow us on Twitter and Instagram @interruptcrim.

Damon: We're at airgoradio on everything, A-I-R-G-O radio, and we'll be back next month with the second episode of this new experiment we're building together.

Daniel: I can't wait to see the results.

Damon Until then-

Daniel: -much love to the people.

Damon: Peace.