Disorientation Guide 2019 (Amherst)

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Disorientation Guide 2019 (Amherst)

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2019

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Amherst, MA

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AMHERST COLLEGE

DISORIENTATION
GUIDE
A Publication by the
Direct Action Coordinating Committee

2019-2020
Copy/Content Editors: Tanya Calvin ’20, Nishant Carr ’21, Huey Hewitt ’19,
Paula Peńa ’19, Isiaha Price ‘21, Nicole Vandal ’21, Aniah Washington ‘22,
Leah Woodbridge ’20
Layout Design: Julia Shea ’21
Cover Design: Cristóbal Silva SanMartin ’20E
Facebook: @acdacc
Instagram: @acdacc
Check out our other work at acdacc.wordpress.com, and go to
amherstdisorientation.wordpress.com to find previous years’ guides, additional
pieces, detailed footnotes, and more recommendations!
If you have questions or comments, or would like to submit a piece to our website,
please email directactioncc@gmail.com.

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IAM LUMINE TERRAS: THE CONTRADICTIONS OF
INCLUSION AT AMHERST

Frank Tavares ’19E

8

ON BEING A RESPECTFUL LEARNER

Charlotte Blackman ’20

11

12 YEARS OLD

15

FROM THE LIGHT SKIN CHICK WHO DOESN’T KNOW
ANYTHING IF SHE DIDN’T READ IT IN A BOOK

Tejia Pavao ’21

Aniah Washington ’22

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CO

S
T
N
E
T
N

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COMING OF AGE ON THE BRINK

Ashwin Ravikumar, Associate Professor of Environmental Sciences

#SAVELUMADSCHOOLS: BUILDING BRIDGES FROM
MASSACHUSETTS TO THE PHILIPPINES
JC, Liyang Western Mass

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26

ON WATCHING THE VAN DYKE SENTENCING

Tanya Calvin ’20

ON RHETORIC, HISTORY, WORDS,
& POLITICAL LITERACY: AKA THE IMPORTANCE OF
POLITICAL EDUCATION
Huey Hewitt ’19

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33
42
46

NAVIGATING AMHERST WITH A DISABILITY

Annika Ariel ’19 & Joshua Ferrer ’18

PRISON ABOLITION: A PRIMER

Direct Action Coordinating Committee

ON BEING ANCESTORS-IN-TRAINING

An Accountability Statement from the Organizers of this Guide

RECOMMENDED READING

IAM

LUMINE
TERRAS:
The Contradictions
of Inclusion at
Amherst
Frank Tavares ’19E
Originally published in
Disorientation Guide 2018

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If you haven’t already, in your first few days
at Amherst, you’ll start to get annoyed by all
the hills. Though many of them are natural,
I regret to inform you that this is at least in
part a self-afflicted obstacle on the part of
the college. Using it as an example of the
philosophy behind much of our school’s
early years, a professor once told me that the
hill on which Johnson Chapel sits is artificial,
made so the central building of the campus
could sit above the rest.
Imagining your version of a better world is,
I think, one of the most important parts of
being in college, and there’s an argument for
physical space being essential to influencing
inner thought. (Just wait until you hit a
Massachusetts winter, you’ll see what I
mean).
But what that better world looks like to me
keeps rubbing up against what that hill
represents. For me, a better world is one
without hierarchy. That’s not something
profound or controversial, it’s clear that
hierarchy is the fundamental force behind
most forms of oppression. But hierarchy is
also at the foundation of Amherst College,
as an institution and a place of education,
and because of that gets wrapped up in
how we see ourselves as students here
as well. So, what does it mean to actively
oppose hierarchy in a place that, even in its
landscaping, is so formed by it–a place that
forms us as students by using it?
After nearly four years at Amherst
College, I am more and more convinced
that the politics and values around ideas

like inclusion, diversity, and access to
education that I’ve developed from my
experience here–my classes, interactions
and conversations with other students,
interactions with the larger Amherst and
Five College Community–in many ways
contradict the fundamental structure of
an “elite” Liberal Arts institution that prides
itself on a low acceptance rate. And I think
that contradiction is, in part, why it can be so
difficult to form genuine community on this
campus.
I should start off by saying I really believe
the emphasis Amherst places on diversity
and inclusion is genuine. Unlike many other
peer institutions, Amherst puts its money
where its mouth is. The failings the school
has (which are many) come from a lack
of diversity in administration and faculty,
issues that the school is tackling as well.
But there’s a larger contradiction in the very
idea of what Amherst College is, and what
the concept of “inclusion” means, perhaps
what “radicalism” means. Amherst is a
premier liberal arts school, where around
2,000 students attend over the course of
four years, and our 14% acceptance rate is
a badge of pride. And every year, that 14%
comes from a wider variety of backgrounds
across all axes than almost any other peer
institution. It’s a necessary step for a school
that didn’t even let women into its ranks
until just over 40 years ago. But I think it’s
worth thinking through how the impulse
behind this is brings out contradictions
deeper than admissions statistics.
The philosophy of inclusion at a place
like Amherst College is that anyone, from
any background or walk of life, deserves

a chance at an education at a place like
Amherst. And since education is a catalyst
for social mobility, these inclusive practices
can ripple out and affect our larger society.
But that’s all it is, a chance at an Amherst
education, if you work hard enough. If you
score well enough on their SAT. If you stand
out.
In some ways, this characterization is unfair.
Most admissions officers here at Amherst
and elsewhere would describe their jobs as
more of an art than a science, modelling a
class they think would be a good fit out of
far more qualified applicants than they can
admit.
But at the end of the day, either you get
in or you don’t, and often it’s hard to tell
why. This “mystery box” leaves swaths of
students confused and feeling inadequate,
as if they’re here by mistake for one reason
or another. It leaves others with a sense of
superiority, that they deservedly made it
through this trial of percentiles and rose to
the top.
Either way, we all buy into the narrative
given to us that we “made it” to this exclusive
place, that our diploma will set us apart,
regardless of where we came from before. In
other words, the project of Amherst College
is to diversify the elite, not to abolish the
elite. And it never can be in favor of such a
project, or even one adjacent to it, because
of the fundamental structure of this school,
this institution.
This isn’t to say diversifying the elite is
necessarily a bad thing, and it’s certainly
not to say that there aren’t objectively
good outcomes to having individuals more
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cognizant of social issues in leadership
positions. But at this point it should be clear
there are deeper systemic issues behind
inequality in the US and across the globe.
There’s been enough written about the
astronomical inequality in the US that I’d
feel redundant repeating those arguments.
But I think it’s enough to say the amount
of concentrated wealth in the highest
echelons of this country’s upper classes is
sickening, and that wealth is able to persist
because of various intersecting institutions
of power in this country.
Higher education is one of the most
powerful of these institutions, and Amherst
College is a part of that. Even as one of the
few colleges that actively makes an effort
to, arguably, redistribute that wealth.
But because of the size of our school, that
can only work on a small scale. It’s giving
deserved opportunity to a few rather than
addressing the fundamental issue at hand.
And all of this is by design, and not a
nefarious design. The hope is that, if
we cultivate a diverse student body
in an elite institution, where students
go on to be leaders in society, then the
leaders of society will have a wider set
of backgrounds, a greater awareness of
society’s inequality, and be better equipped
to fix them.
Let’s say this works. Let’s say that when
our generation is older, and in positions of
power, we genuinely do build the better
world we dream and theorize about, one
where education is a basic right–affordable,
and accessible to all. Where does a place
like Amherst stand in that world?
6

I don’t know if it has one. Fundamentally,
Amherst’s identity is centered around
hierarchy, and superiority. We’re better than
other schools, just look at the rankings! Even
“fun” parts of our identity, like hating on
Williams, come out of this: we (even jokingly)
hate Williams because they’re one peg up on
the ladder than us, and so much of our value
is tied to that ladder.
A truly radical educational system, what I
think a truly equitable educational system
would look like, wouldn’t allow a place like
Amherst College to be recognizable as it
is today. Fully committing to the notion
that everyone deserves the highest level
of education (in whatever their field of
interest may be, whether that’s academic
or vocational) destroys the idea of an
admissions department.
My larger point is this: even as we learn about
the danger of hierarchy in our classes, our
debates, our activism, it’s an inextricable
tenant of the identity of Amherst College,
and, by extension, of us as students of that
institution.

The project of Amherst
College is to diversify the
elite, not to abolish the
elite.
And I think that’s deeply damaging. I think
it erodes us from the inside, without us even
realizing it. Even if our politics and ideals
resist it.
I’m not talking about elitism in an obvious
or recognizable form. Elitism at Amherst
isn’t as pervasive on the surface as one might
expect. It’s certainly there, and if you want

to find it and bask in it, it’s very easy to do
so. But I think even among the majority of
the student body, a sense of intellectual
superiority manifests in ways that can be
difficult to recognize.
It’s hard to find the right words for this,
but it often comes through in snide or
even innocent comments about the other
5 colleges. That’s as small as an overly
hasty clarification that we go to “Amherst
College, not UMass,” or as large as actively
disparaging Hampshire. But the most
damning sign of this is that we are the
only school that barely makes use of the 5
College Consortium at all.
Whether it’s conscious or not, or we want
to admit it, most of us have an underlying
belief that our classes are better, or
professors are better. How can we not? We
all feel like we’ve sacrificed so much to get to
this place, we have to believe it’s better than
any other option.
The idea that we “deserve” to be here–and
with that, the crippling and common
anxiety that we might not–does such a
damage and disservice to our ability to
relate to one another. It’s so easy to let the
fact that we’re here, at “Amherst” color
every bit of interaction we have. We can’t
just be people, trying to learn things, trying
to figure out our lives in this transitional
period. We have to be Amherst students,
either doing the most or suffering the most,
or both at the same time. And everyone has
to know that, lest we be seen as undeserving
of being at this hallowed place. In this way,
Amherst’s reputation gets in the way of our
learning, our ability to form community.

Amherst should not exist, in the way it
exists today. And neither should places
like it. An ethical and equitable system of
higher education should not incentivize
low admission rates that inevitably exclude
by design, or socially and psychologically
damage their student bodies through a false
sense of superiority or rampant imposter
syndromes.
And maybe above all, we should change
our damn motto. Terras Irradient–spread
light onto the lands–gets at the crux of the
philosophy that’s still deeply ingrained
in this institution. We hold knowledge to
spread to the world. We’ve cultivated an
inclusive and diverse microcosm here, and
that, trickling down, will redistribute wealth
to future generations. This philosophy
requires hierarchy, and assumes we are the
keepers of knowledge to be spread, and that
we are somehow separate from the lands we
are spreading that knowledge to.
But the lands don’t need us to bring
illumination. And we are just as much a part
of “the land” as anyplace else. The world is
filled with knowledge. The point of college
is to learn the tools to bask and glow in that
light, not just for these four years, but for a
lifetime. We can’t do that if we go into the
world thinking we have to always teach it
something that only we can spread.
So, instead, let us say Iam Lumine Terras–the
lands are already light. Let’s not allow our
egos and insecurities keep all that hidden,
and instead learn and listen to all the
illumination the world and all the people in
it have to offer.

What I’ve learned at Amherst is that
7

ON

BEING A
T
C
E
P
S
E
R
FUL
LEARNER
Charlotte Blackman ’20

8

One of my favorite things about
Amherst College is our devotion to
the social sciences and humanities:
disciplines designed for learning
deeply and critically about ourselves
and others, with the aspiration that
students will graduate and emerge
into the world as more educated
members of their communities. This,
in my opinion, is the true meaning
of education in the spirit of why so
many of us choose to study at liberal
arts colleges. While this is great in a
lot of ways, it also raises questions
and ethical concerns. Studying other
humans inevitably shapes how we see
them, and how we treat them as well.
Particularly in my History, Black
Studies, and Sociology classes, I find
myself studying groups of people of
which I am not a part, and individuals
with lives vastly different from my
own. I am, as a white US citizen who
will soon have a degree from an elite
college, often in a position of power in
relation to the people I study.
When I am studying people of color
in my classes, I hold power over
them due to white supremacy and
racism. When I am learning about
people without access to education,
I am reminded that education has
so much control over how much
systemic adversity a person faces; for
me, going to Amherst College has
created countless opportunities and

elevated my social class. Especially in my
history classes, a big difference between
myself and the people I’m learning
about is that I hold US citizenship and
a US passport. Within the country–
throughout history and now–citizenship
(particularly citizenship combined with
white privilege) is one safety blanket
from persecution and precarity, and in
the world, holding a US passport makes
travelling freely fairly easy.

I am, as a white US
citizen who will soon
have a degree from an
elite college, often in
a position of power in
relation to the people I
study.
So far in my time at Amherst, with these–
and many other– hierarchies in mind,
I’ve done a lot of thinking about how to
ethically learn about–and learn from–
inspiring and intelligent individuals and
groups of people who have less power
than me, without reinforcing hierarchy
in the way I learn and write about them.
Of course, nobody does this perfectly,
and figuring out how to be a respectful
learner must be an ongoing process. So
far in my own process, I have found some
questions helpful to ask myself in my
classes and when doing readings. This is
by no means a complete list, but rather
a toolbox and a starting place I wish I
had when I came to Amherst. There are
no right answers to these questions.
Instead, they are a way to position
oneself and set intentions in one’s
education:

1. Who is this author?
2. Are they a part of the group (for
example, geographic community,
gender, race, ethnicity, socioeconomic
class, religion, etc.) about whom they are
writing?
3. Might they share some identities with
the person about whom they are writing?
In what ways does that impact how the
author portrays that person’s life?
4. Especially if the author is not a part of
the group they are studying, or if they do
not share many (or any) identities with
the individual they’re studying, are they
relying on stereotypes in their analysis?
5. How much agency did the person
or people being studied have in the
creation of this writing?
6. How do I think the person or people
being studied would think or feel about
this work? What critiques might they
have?
7. Is this work empowering? Is it
dehumanizing?
8. What is being unsaid by the person or
people being studied?
9. Why might it be left unsaid? (This
question I found in an excellent book
called Along the Archival Grain by Ann
Laura Stoler specifically about treating
colonial archival documents, but I think
it’s a widely applicable question)
10. How do I relate to this person or
group of people?
11. Do I share identities with them?
12. Do I have experiences in my own life
that are similar to those of the person
or people about whom I am learning?
How can this aid or hinder my ability to
understand and empathize with them?
13. What do I still not know? What is
unknowable, even with all the resources

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available to me?
14. How can I portray the fullest picture
possible with those resources?
15. What is my goal in what I am
choosing to study?
16. How will my education and writing
contribute to existing scholarship, how
will it impact my readers, and how will it
affirm or challenge hierarchy?
Unfortunately sometimes, our professors
have not adequately asked themselves
these questions, and are openly racist,
sexist, transphobic, or otherwise mean
in class. I don’t say this to scare you--in
moments when this happens, know
you are surrounded by peers and staff
members, as well as some faculty
members, who are here to listen to you
and to share your anger.
From my own personal experience as a
student, I would recommend stopping
in Keefe at one of the resources centers,
as the student and adult staff members
are professionally trained to help you
in these types of situations. I hope you
find these questions helpful as you
embark on this amazing educational
opportunity. Happy reading, writing, and
learning!

12
YEARS
OLD
Tejia Pavao ’21

... I have chosen to
dedicate this page... to all
the children of Palestine,
the children of Aida, and
to all the children born
under occupation, or in
the diaspora, unable to
return home.
10

This summer, I interned at Al-Rowwad, the
culture and arts center of Aida Refugee
Camp, in Bethlehem, Palestine. Every
day, I was surrounded by joyful, loving
Palestinian children every day. They
roasted me constantly for mispronouncing
Arabic words, lied about the simplest
things in English class, and ALWAYS
pretended not to know who I was as soon
as we stepped outside the classroom. And
yet, I love them like my own brothers and
sisters. The hard part is that as much as I
love them, I fear for them too. When I first
started working here, what stressed me out
the most was not knowing what happened
to all the kids after my shift was done,
and I went back to my apartment in Beit
Sahour (outside of Bethlehem). Not only is
Aida Refugee Camp the most tear gassed
refugee camp in the world, but it resides
close to the apartheid wall, and Israeli
sniper towers. At the end of every day, as
I walked toward the Lajee Center to catch
a taxi, I passed the memorial of AbdelRahman Obeidallah– a 13 year old boy
murdered by an Israeli Sniper while playing
with friends– and I was forced to wonder,
when will it be one of the children here at
Lajee or Al-Rowwad, or even in my English
class? The answer is: any day. For this
reason, I have chosen to dedicate this page
in the Disorientation Guide to the children
of Palestine, the children of Aida, and to all
the children born under occupation, or in
diaspora, unable to return home.
In this article, I will focus on the
imprisonment and torture of Palestinian
children. At 12 years old, a Palestinian
child can legally be held responsible for a
crime under Israeli Military Law. Children
younger than 12 can’t be charged but they
can be and are detained and tortured.

11

Every year, about 500-700 Palestinian
children are arrested and prosecuted in
the Israeli Military Court System, which
stands with a conviction rate of 99.74% 1.
The Israeli Military Court maintains this
conviction rate by subjecting children to
torture and manipulation in order to get
confessions, or a plea deal.
Some children are arrested on the streets
at night (about 41%). Others receive letters
from the Israeli Forces ordering their
parents to bring them in for interrogation.
Just this past week, three palestinian
children were summoned by Israeli police.
Mohammad Ilian (8) for throwing rocks
at officers; Qais Obeid (6), a drink . And
Malak, an 8-year-old girl, was summoned
for “harassing the heavily-guarded Israeli
settlers in the occupied part of the city.”
2
There’s also a number of children that
are awoken by Israeli Police breaking into
their home, brutalising them in front of
their families, and then arresting them.
This rang true for Laith K., a 17 year-old boy
who spent 11 hours after his arrest being
transferred to several different locations,
and subsequently spent 10.5 months in
administrative detention, meaning he
could have been indefinitely detained
without charges.3 He was released on
August 6th, 2018.
Unfortunately, his story is not uncommon.
According to the DCIP report, No Way to
Treat a Child, 88% of children arrested
aren’t told what they’ve done or where
they’re going. 97% report that they are
handcuffed, 88.3% are blindfolded and
45.9% placed on the floor of a jeep. About
1 | https://www.dci-palestine.org/children_in_israeli_detention
2 | http://english.wafa.ps/page.aspx?id=BUNUK1a111129535539
aBUNUK1
3 | https://www.dci-palestine.org/israel_s_army_detained_a_
child_for_nearly_a_year_without_trial

12

75% of arrested and detained children
report being subjected to violence at the
hands of Israeli Soldiers during this time
between arrest and interrogation.4 This
violence could be anything ranging from
physical abuse, to being denied the right
to food, water, and bathroom access. There
have also been reports of children being
forced to withstand inclement weather
conditions (i.e.rain and extreme heat/cold)
for long periods of time which becomes
even more deadly when combined with
the denial of basic necessities.
The interrogation process is no easier for
these children. Any tactic from continued
abuse, emotional manipulation, to the
denial of lawyer or parental attendance,
and solitary confinement can be used
to force children into false confessions.
Often times, children sign papers written
in Hebrew (which most Palestinians do
not speak), unknowingly confessing to
crimes they haven’t committed, leading to
their conviction. To evade longer pre-trial
detention sentences and a lengthy legal
process, 99.3% of cases end with a plea
deal. This means that if you’re arrested as
a Palestinian child, whether you’re guilty
or innocent, you will be sentenced to jail
time.5 The average sentence is 6-9 months
There are hundreds of stories like the
ones I’ve described here and there will
be hundreds more. I don’t tell you them
to make you sad, but to make you aware.
This is happening every day in Palestine.
This is happening partly because we, the
international community, are complicit.
4 |https://d3n8a8pro7vhmx.cloudfront.net/dcipalestine/pages/1527/attachments/original/1460665378/DCIP_NWTTAC_Report_Final_April_2016.pdf?1460665378
5 | https://d3n8a8pro7vhmx.cloudfront.net/dcipalestine/pages/1527/attachments/original/1460665378/DCIP_NWTTAC_Report_Final_April_2016.pdf?1460665378

What Israel does to Palestinian children
violates international juvenile justice
standards as expressed in the U.N.
Convention on the Rights of the Child.
Specifically, they are in violation of:
Article 6
1. States Parties recognize that every child
has the inherent right to life.
2. States Parties shall ensure to the
maximum extent possible the survival and
development of the child.
Article 15
1. States Parties recognize the rights of
the child to freedom of association and to
freedom of peaceful assembly
Article 37
State Parties shall ensure that:
(a) No child shall be subjected to torture
or other cruel, inhuman or degrading
treatment or punishment
(b) No child shall be deprived of his or her
liberty unlawfully or arbitrarily. The arrest,
detention or imprisonment of a child shall
be in conformity with the law and shall be
used only as a measure of last resort and for
the shortest appropriate period of time;
(c) Every child deprived of liberty shall be
treated with humanity and respect for the
inherent dignity of the human person, and
in a manner which takes into account the
needs of persons of his or her age.
Article 39
States Parties shall take all appropriate
measures to promote physical and
psychological recovery and social
reintegration of a child victim of: any form

of neglect, exploitation, or abuse; torture
or any other form of cruel, inhuman or
degrading treatment or punishment;
or armed conflicts. Such recovery and
reintegration shall take place in an
environment which fosters the health, selfrespect and dignity of the child.
Article 40
2. To this end, and having regard to the
relevant provisions of international
instruments, States Parties shall, in
particular, ensure that:
(a) No child shall be alleged as, be accused
of, or recognized as having infringed the
penal law by reason of acts or omissions
that were not prohibited by national or
international law at the time they were
committed;
(b) Every child alleged as or accused of
having infringed the penal law has at least
the following guarantees:
(i) To be presumed innocent until proven
guilty according to law;
(ii) To be informed promptly and directly
of the charges against him or her, and, if
appropriate, through his or her parents or
legal guardians, and to have legal or other
appropriate assistance in the preparation
and presentation of his or her defence;
(iii) To have the matter determined without
delay by a competent, independent and
impartial authority or judicial body in a fair
hearing according to law, in the presence of
legal or other appropriate assistance and,
unless it is considered not to be in the best
interest of the child, in particular, taking
into account his or her age or situation, his
or her parents or legal guardians;
(iv) Not to be compelled to give testimony
or to confess guilt; to examine or have
examined adverse witnesses and to
obtain the participation and examination
13

of witnesses on his or her behalf under
conditions of equality;
(v) If considered to have infringed the
penal law, to have this decision and any
measures imposed in consequence
thereof reviewed by a higher competent,
independent and impartial authority or
judicial body according to law;
(vi) To have the free assistance of an
interpreter if the child cannot understand
or speak the language used;
(vii) To have his or her privacy fully
respected at all stages of the proceedings.6
That’s five different articles– 16 individual
clauses– of the Rights of the Child that
the State of Israel continually violates.
There are organizations in Palestine,
like Defense for Children International,
Addameer, and Adalah, that are already
working tirelessly to expose human rights
violations and provide legal support
for Palestinians in need. How can we
support these organizations and end our
unknowing participation in the oppression
of Palestinians? For starters, we can all
contact our representatives and senators.
There are two important things in Congress
right now: HR246 and HR2407.
HR246, which has already passed through
the house, is a resolution that “opposes
the global Boycott, Divest, Sanction
(BDS) Movement”7. BDS defines itself as
“ Palestinian-led movement for freedom,
justice and equality”8, and works to
challege international support of settlercolonialism and apartheid in Israel by
6 | https://www.ohchr.org/en/professionalinterest/pages/crc.aspx
7 | https://www.congress.gov/bill/116th-congress/house-resolution/246
8 | https://bdsmovement.net/what-is-bds
9 | https://www.congress.gov/bill/116th-congress/housebill/2407/text?q=%7B%22search%22%3A%5B%22hr2407%22
%5D%7D&r=1&s=1

14

holding them accountable for their
violations of international law. This helps
prevent the normalization of occupation
and makes it harder for Israel to oppress
Palestinians. Resolution HR246 is one
of the many ways that our government
aids Israel in the supression of Palestinian
resistence to occupation of their lands.
Please, call your senator and tell them to
oppose this resolution.
HR2407 is a bill recently introduced to the
House of Representatives which stands
“to promote human rights for Palestinian
children living under Israeli military
occupation and require that United States
funds do not support military detention,
interrogation, abuse, or ill-treatment
of Palestinian children, and for other
purposes.”9 For this, you can call both your
representative and/or senator and voice
your support.
Additionally, keep an eye out for the
beginnings of the Amherst College
Students for Justice in Palestine. Currently,
we are working towards becoming a
Registered Student Organization (RSO),
and could use help with demonstrated
student interest so please, reach out! And
for more information on the program
I attended, FFIPPm or any other
information, questions, clarifications,
please email acsjp19@gmail.com.
CALL YOUR REPRESENTATIVE
https://www.house.gov/
representatives/find-yourrepresentative, or
call (202) 224-3121 for the U.S. House
switchboard operator

FROM THE LIGHT SKIN CHICK
THAT DOESN’T KNOW

ANYTHING IF SHE DIDN’T

READ IT IN A BOOK.

Aniah Washington ’22
I’ve never known myself.
Known the story of my blood,
or my tears.
I’m not too happy about it either.
Mama doesn’t look like me.
Brother doesn’t either.
They try to tell me I look just like my
daddy,
but I’ve never seen him,
besides in that picture in the hallway.
The one of me and him with our fishing
rods in hand,
A memory I cannot remember. Instead,
my mind floods with slamming doors
and cold stares from strangers.
It’s been a while,
20 years now, and
I still don’t know myself any more than I
did back then.
I know I have this curly hair,
That tangles up Mama and leaves her
defeated
and won’t lay flat no matter how hot the
iron is.
I know I have this melanin coated skin,
that Becky always said was too dark,
and Sarah always said was too light.

This skin has never made anyone happy,
never made anyone respect me, but
it is me and always will be.
So stop talking about it, please.
I don’t know much about me.
I’ll be looking for answers under every
rock,
behind every tree, and in every DNA test,
till my heart grows tired of giving so much
to everyone that won’t give anything back.
I’m never gonna tell you where I’m really
from,
or tell you why my mama is white but I’m
not.
And I sure as hell won’t tell you sorry
For breaking your rules.
For being so damn beautiful you had to
look twice
Had to try and define me, is it because you
hate me?
Or because you don’t really get me?
I’m never gonna know myself,
but I’m never gonna stop loving myself.
So go ahead and throw your punches,
I always thought black and blue looked
good together.
15

COMING
OF
AGE
ON
THE
BRINK
Ashwin Ravikumar
Assistant Professor of
Environmental Studies

I came of age under George W. Bush. He
was elected my first year of high school,
and remained president until the year
after I graduated from college. Those were
difficult times to be an intellectually curious young person with dreams of joyfully
exploring a wondrous world with a community of like-minded people. I’m hoping
to share a little bit of my own experience
of that time with you here because I am
convinced that, as crushing as the politics of our moment may feel, they are in
important ways less isolating than my own
time was. There are more opportunities for
building solidarity with others and taking
organized action now than there were 10 or
15 years ago. Progressive movements have
more mainstream support now than they
did then. Awareness of and political will to
act on issues ranging from climate change,
to systemic racism, to gendered oppressions and economic inequality are
rising. But the stakes are also higher than
ever.
As a student here at Amherst College beginning your adult life as humanity lurches
ever closer to the
chasm of ecological devastation and social
fragmentation, you have a vital opportunity to develop a
muscle memory for the type of collective
action that we badly need to build a better
world.
THE IMPULSE TO APATHY
When I was still in high school, many of my
friends and I participated in an ephemeral
protest movement against the 2003
invasion of Iraq. You may not have even
heard much about our movement because,
of course, we were wildly unsuccessful.
The United States went on to launch a

16

horrifying war that has led to the deaths of
hundreds of thousands of Iraqis, and has
left the region riven with
unthinkable violence to this day.
Upon arriving at college in the shadow of
war, I had largely given up on the idea of
being an agent of transformative change
in the world. I was interested in history,
science, music, and the inner lives of my
fellow humans. But all of my social and
intellectual pursuits were divorced from
politics because there were so few visible
organized venues for political action. It felt
like there was no connective tissue
between anything that I did – whether it
was studying biochemistry, playing music
with friends, enjoying nature, or just
indulgently partying – and the grotesque
political reality that I knew was out there.
It led me, and many others like me, to a
stubborn posture of political apathy.
To some extent, this compartmentalization
was allowed by my own privileges: I
wasn’t personally at risk of death by US
armament, and my family’s economic
safety net put a limit on how personal
the political could become. As an Indian
American, I was certainly privy to emerging
forms of racism in the wake of September
11th , but was buffered from their worst
impacts by my other advantages.
It wasn’t just privilege, though; the social
fabric of our country, and of college
campuses, was fundamentally different.
During my college years, there was no
Black Lives Matter; there was no Sunrise
Movement; no mobilization for abolishing
ICE and mass incarceration; no burgeoning
movement for Democratic Socialism. To
be clear, these movements were built

standing on the shoulders of giants.
Social movements, led by women of
color in the United States and working
people across the global South, have
continued longstanding traditions of
political education, mutual aid, and policy
advocacy, even as politicians ignored them
and the mainstream media denied them
a platform. For me, though, and for many
of us who understood politics through the
lens of what was visible in mainstream
cultural spaces, politics was a drab game
played only by a cynical white elite. My
political life, and the political imaginations
of even my progressive peers, were
largely constrained to hoping for liberal
Democratic electoral victories in the faint
future.
A BETTER WORLD IS POSSIBLE
Our wish was granted in November of 2008
with the election of Barack Obama. His
liberal administration presided over the
expansion of Bush’s war apparatus1 , further
militarization of the border 2 , bailouts
for Wall Street executives3, weak but
positive reforms to the healthcare system3
, disappointing environmental policy4, and
the sustained collapse of Black American
wealth. 5
Frankly, after the rise of Trump in the wake
of Obama’s disappointing presidency, I
feared that young people would retreat
into an even deeper anti-politics of apathy
than my own cohort had under Bush. I
am delighted to report that my fears were
unfounded. Precisely the opposite has
happened, both
among millennials my age who shared
many of my experiences, and those like
you just entering adulthood. New political
formations are demanding transformative
17

changes through electoral6 and other
strategies. Rather than reforms that
maintain an oppressive status quo, the
political demands of our time stand to
build a durably just world. Medicare for All
has a supermajority of popular support.7
The Green New Deal, which can move
the United States in the right direction
for averting climate catastrophe, enjoys
refreshingly wide support.8 Members of
Generation Z even profess to prefer
socialism to capitalism.9

For those of you who feel
alienated by the culture
of this campus, know
that there are others who
feel similarly alienated.
You can find your people
here, and you can work
together to build a better
world.
These are some promising signs – but what
does it mean for you, here, at Amherst
College? I am not in a
position to provide you with prescriptions
on how to live while in college. Each of you
has a different
background, a different personality, and
different interests. But I encourage you to
start by talking to each other, and finding
activities and ways to engage with these
social movements and organizations
together.
You may feel at times like the political
organizing on college campuses is isolated
from the broader world, or somehow not
relevant to the most important struggles
of our time. This is understandable –
18

campus activism can be inwardly focused,
and the popular press does tend to spill
a disproportionate amount of digital ink
on the subject. But colleges have two
important characteristics that I hope you
will remember. First, institutions of higher
education are among the last mainstream
spaces where the dissemination of radical
ideas is still possible (and accessing higher
education should not be a privilege of the
few but a right for all). Second, despite
existing against the backdrop of an
atomizing and individualistic society, while
at Amherst College, you are forced to exist
in community with others, to share space
and to interact – conditions that favor
organizing and building solidarity.
Participating in social movements will
sharpen your analysis of the world, and
breathe deeper meaning
into your social and academic pursuits
here. For those of you who feel alienated by
the culture of this
campus for any number of understandable
reasons, know that there are others who
feel similarly
alienated. You can find your people here,
and you can work together to build a better
world.

1 | https://theintercept.com/2018/06/22/is-it-time-to-reckon-withobamas-foreign-policy-legacy/
2 | https://www.nytimes.com/2019/07/13/opinion/sunday/trumpdeportations-immigration.html
3 | https://theweek.com/articles/743990/great-danger-milquetoastliberalism
4 | https://www.vox.com/the-big-idea/2017/4/28/15472508/obamaclimate-change-legacy-overrated-clean-power
5 | https://www.peoplespolicyproject.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/12/
Foreclosed.pdf
6 | https://www.vox.com/policy-and-politics/2018/6/27/17509604/
alexandria-ocasio-cortez-democratic-socialist-ofamerica
7 | https://thehill.com/hilltv/what-americas-thinking/412545-70percent-of-americans-support-medicare-for-allhealth-care
8 | https://www.dataforprogress.org/the-green-new-deal-is-popular
9 | https://www.axios.com/socialism-capitalism-poll-generation-zpreference-1ffb8800-0ce5-4368-8a6fde3b82662347.html

#SaveLumadSchools
Building Bridges
from Massachusetts to the Philippines
JC, Liyang Western Mass

Liyang Network is a local to global advocacy
network that amplifies the calls to action
of Lumad (indigenous) communities in
Mindanao, Philippines on the frontlines of
environmental protection. We unite people
across the globe in defense of Lumad rights to
land, livelihood and self-determination, and
weave together our diverse experiences, skills
and resources to support their struggle.
Liyang Western Mass will be hosting
its official launch party and fundraiser
on September 19, 2019. Check out the
end of this article for information about
how to get involved with this event and
future organizing efforts, or email us at
liyangwesternmass@gmail.com .

MY STORY
A month into my first semester of college, I
committed to flying across the world with
four upperclassmen I didn’t know to spend
three weeks living in an evacuation center
for displaced Lumad (indigenous) students
and teachers in the Philippines. Some might
call a decision like this reckless, rushed, or
shortsighted. Honestly, it was a huge leap in
the dark, but looking back, I have no regrets.
Since this decision, I have been inspired by
both Lumad and Amherst College students
whose passion and action challenged me to
question my understanding of the US and
its role in the world, my place within it, and
what my responsibilities are as a student
here.
I spent the first month of college similarly
to everyone else. I met new people, pursued
every activity or group I thought would be
fun or look good on my resume, went out
too much, and took my schoolwork far too
seriously. Like all of my classmates I was
trying to figure out what I was supposed to
be doing here. I was enjoying myself, but
after the novelty of college wore off and I
increasingly conformed to my routines, I
felt a lack of purpose in classes, clubs and
sometimes even my relationships. I began
to feel constricted by the bubble of isolation
and complacency that seemed to blanket
the entire campus; I wanted to believe
there was something more to this place, to
19

receiving an education, than that.
I first learned about the Lumad struggle for
land, livelihood and education at a Marsh
Coffee Haus.1 An upperclassman, Mina*,
announced that she was raising funds
for Lumad students whose schools had
been occupied by the Philippine military.
I was curious so I approached her, and she
gave me a basic rundown of the situation:
“Lumad” is the collective term chosen by
the indigenous tribes of Mindanao--the
Philippines’ southernmost island—in their
process of unification and organization
in defense of their ancestral lands. In
the 1990s, Lumad tribes began building
schools based on the three principles
of culturally-responsive education,
sustainable agriculture and holistic
health. These schools serve the needs
of their communities and educate their
children in the face of massive government
neglect. Mina explained how this neglect
has transformed into repression as more
and more Lumad community schools are
forced to close due to military occupations
in their communities and attacks on
students, teachers, and supporters. The
power of their community-based, liberatory
education, which provides students with
the knowledge to defend their tribes’ land
and life, has made the schools targets for
relentless government attacks.
She told me that if I was interested I could
learn more and even go to the Philippines
over interterm to see this reality for myself.
Despite my Filipino heritage, I wasn’t
sure if I’d be able or even willing to visit a
country and people that felt so distant and
1 | This is an event held biweekly at Marsh, the arts
theme house, to showcase student talent and creative
expression, and bring together the community.

20

unknown, but I was intrigued by Mina’s
strength of conviction. I admired the fire
I sensed inside her and was outraged by
the brutal violence she described. I wanted
to feel Mina’s sense of purpose through
meeting the students whose words she
quoted to me, understanding the urgency
of their situation, and feeling the power of
their resistance.

notebook with four classmates, attend
class in a gym split between six grades all
struggling to hear their teachers, or stop
class due to news of a military attack on
my community. What felt truly unique
about these schools, beyond their difficult
material realities, was the students’
investment not only in their education but
also in each other.

So, about a month into my first year at
Amherst I committed to going to the
Philippines with four other Amherst
College students, all of whom were doing
independent archival research in Manila.
With Mina’s help, we arranged to stay at
a Bakwit (evacuation) school in Manila,
where Lumad students continued their
education despite the closure of their
schools by the military in Mindanao,
Southern Philippines. We worked with our
research advisors to incorporate community
based participatory research into our more
traditionally academic projects. Although
we were wary of the issues surrounding
many international volunteer organizations,
as well as around doing academic research
in marginalized communities, we quickly
learned at the Bakwit School that our
purpose was not to save anyone or write
self-serving theories about their lives. We
were there to genuinely learn from Lumad
struggles, build lasting bridges of solidarity
and amplify their calls for justice.

As I participated in daily life -- waking up at
dawn to cook breakfast, washing my clothes
by hand, and participating in classes, I had
time to build relationships with Lumad
students and teachers. Jhong*, a 22-yearold teacher who fled militarization with
his students and continues to teach at the
Bakwit school, explained how the Lumad
curriculum recognizes that every person
contributes something necessary to the
community’s well-being, and rewards
collective rather than individual growth.
As such, students don’t get rewards for
excelling in one particular subject. This
felt very different from my experience in
school, where I’ve only ever experienced
being valued based off my individual skills
and ability. Existing in a “western” (read:
colonized) educational system, I’ve always
competed with my peers to get ahead,
using education as a means toward personal
gain. In the Lumad schools, education is not
used as a tool to be used for individualistic
purposes, but rather as one for collective
liberation. The students grow together, gain
the skills to support each other, and learn
to question and critically understand their
society in order to defend their ancestral
land and transform society.

LIBERATION THROUGH EDUCATION
“When education is not liberatory, the dream of the
oppressed is to be the oppressor.” - Paulo Freire

The first thing I noticed when we got to the
Bakwit school was how different it felt from
any school I’d been in before. Of course,
there was a stark material contrast—in
the United States I never had to share one

The liberatory nature of Lumad schools
and their curriculum poses a threat to
the Philippine government and the
multinational extractive industries that are

vying for access to the resource-rich Lumad
ancestral domain. Unlike mainstream
Filipino schools, which prepare students to

There is nothing so
simultaneously chilling,
outrageous and hopeful
as watching eight 14-yearolds try to fit under one
blanket and perform
a piece, giggling and
elbowing each other, to
recount how their schools
were destroyed and their
lives almost extinguished
mere months ago.
leave the country in order to be low-wage
workers abroad, Lumad schools encourage
students to serve their communities and
assert their rights to their land. Armed with
an acute understanding of their rights under
international law, Lumad students do not
allow their communities to fall prey to the
shady tactics of multinational corporations,
who have historically bribed, manipulated
and otherwise forced Lumad leaders to give
away their rights to their land. At the same
time, they gain the skills to sustain their
communities through organic agriculture
and holistic health practices.
ENVIRONMENTAL DEFENDERS UNDER
ATTACK
This year, the Philippines was deemed
the most dangerous country in the world
for environmental defenders. A majority
of these activists are Lumad people living
under martial law (military rule) in their
21

ancestral land on the island of Mindanao.
Martial law was declared two years ago
under the Duterte regime and allows the
military to act with impunity throughout
Mindanao. Throughout our three weeks
with them, students recounted stories
about their community members who had
been killed by the military under martial
law and relived their personal experiences
of physical and sexual harassment, violence,
and insecurity at the hands of the military
and paramilitary forces.
We felt the extremes of life for the Lumad
under martial law on one of our first nights
there. The students hosted a Solidarity
Night, a night of cultural performances and
solidarity messages from different groups
who stand with the Lumad in their struggle,
to welcome us. One of the performances
was a dramatic retelling, in radio show
format, of an attack by soldiers on one of
their schools, machine gun sound effects
and all. There is nothing so simultaneously
chilling, outrageous, and hopeful as
watching eight 14-year-olds try to fit under
one blanket and perform a piece, giggling
and elbowing each other, to recount how
their schools were destroyed and their lives
almost extinguished mere months ago.
Despite the grief, the moment was hopeful
because in sharing the story, the students
were placing their trust in us to honor that
pain and to act in solidarity with them to
end the brutal violence that caused it.
#SAVEOURSCHOOLS: ORGANIZING IN
WESTERN MASS
For the group of us who visited the Bakwit
school, coming back from Manila into our
spring semester at Amherst is when the
real work began. After creating meaningful
connections with Lumad students and
22

teachers--being exposed to their conditions,
learning about what they were struggling
for--we could not come back to the same
purposeless Amherst existence. The Lumad
struggle was not distant anymore. We
brought it back with us, and joined forces
with other local organizers who had been
working in support of Lumad schools since
at least last year.
From talking with leaders at the schools
we learned that the most pressing need,
beyond exposing the truth of what’s
happening in Mindanao, was financial
support to improve the infrastructure at
the schools. We began to raise money and
awareness through tabling and events to
support the Lumad struggle. Over the course
of the semester, we raised enough money
to fund a water pump for the farm at one of
their schools, and a dorm (being built as you
read this) at another school where Lumad
students had been sleeping on the floor of
their classrooms.
Supporting the Lumad students’ cause has
shown us the importance of defending those
on the frontlines of these struggles, and that
all our struggles are connected even if at first
glance they seem distant. Mika*, a member
of our group who joined in the spring, shares
that as an indigenous woman at Amherst
College, supporting the Lumad struggle is a
way to forge bonds of indigenous solidarity
when she can’t physically travel to sites of
indigenous resistance like Mauna Kea or
Standing Rock. It allows her, and all of us, to
join forces with a broad-based resistance
to government abuses and the widespread
plunder of indigenous land and livelihood.
LIYANG NETWORK: WOVEN GLOBALLY,
CARRIED OUT LOCALLY

Mika’s commitment to supporting
the Lumad sheds light on the often
obscured connection we in the US hold
with the Lumad. Indigenous peoples
across the world, including in the US
and the Philippines, have experienced
dehumanization for the purposes of profit
through all of history. The US has been
responsible for this violence both against
indigenous people within its own borders,
and against the Lumad; the Philippines
was a US colony for half a century (after
being a Spanish colony for four centuries).
During this time its people suffered the
same colonial violence at the hands of our
military, that indigenous and black people
here had suffered—and have continued to
suffer--for centuries. It is unsurprising, then,
that this relationship of imperialist violence
continues into today.
The Philippines is the largest recipient of
US military aid in East and Southeast Asia,
totaling almost $200 million in 2018 (not
including arms sales) . This “aid” is directly
funneled2 into Duterte’s ever-expanding
“War on Drugs”, which is in truth no more
than an excuse to wage war on the poor,
indigenous people, and anyone else who
dares resist his increasingly fascistic regime
(see also: the similarly violent War on Drugs
in Colombia, Brazil, and here in the US). The
bombs being dropped on Lumad schools
and the weapons being used to kill their
elders, teachers and activists are supplied by
none other than our very own tax dollars.
With these connections in mind, we have
decided to expand our work and launch a
chapter of Liyang Network here in Western
Massachusetts, where we will continue to
2 | https://truthout.org/articles/its-time-to-end-u-smilitary-aid-to-the-philippines/

educate ourselves on the Lumad struggle,
build bridges with Lumad communities,
and participate in scholarly and cultural
exchanges in the Philippines.
We’ve taken this step not only because we
know that we here in the US have a direct
stake in ending the violence against Lumad
land defenders, thanks to the role of our
government, in carrying that violence out,
but because of the liberatory potential we
see in their struggle. In living at the Bakwit
school, we also caught a glimpse of their
powerful vision of life, of education, of
freedom, and of community. It allowed us
to feel the possibility of a different way of
living, one that nurtures and sees us as fully
human, one that allows us to truly be with
each other, one that is forged in the act of
struggling for a better world. It is that vision
of the world, of surviving and thriving, that
the Lumad students are fighting so hard to
protect.
TO STAY INFORMED ABOUT THE LUMAD
STRUGGLE:
Get involved with our organizing! Contact us
at liyangwesternmass@gmail.com
Come to our launch party in collaboration
with the Asian Students’ Association on
Thursday, September 19th.
Follow Liyang and Sabokahan on social
media:
Instagram: @Liyang_network and
@Sabokahan
Facebook: Liyang Network and Sabokahan
IPwomen

Collaborate on projects with us as an
individual or organization.
*Some names may have been altered for privacy
reasons.
23

On October 20, 2014, a 17-year old Black boy named Laquan McDonald was fatally shot in the back
16 times in 15 seconds by Chicago Police Officer Jason Van Dyke. After a thirteen-month long cover-up,
led by infamous Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel, and several waves of fearless, powerful protest by the
people of Chicago and the larger Black community, dash cam video evidence was released showing
that Laquan McDonald had been walking away from Van Dyke at the time of the shooting. Van Dyke
was eventually found guilty of second-degree murder and 16 counts of aggravated battery with a
firearm. This poem was written in reaction to Van Dyke’s sentencing hearing, which was streamed
through local Chicago news outlets. Survivors of the repeated behavior of extreme brutality that Van
Dyke was known for gave testimony to their traumas in court. Van Dyke was sentenced to 7 years in
prison.

ON WATCHING
THE VAN DYKE
SENTENCING
Tanya Calvin ’20

You ever seen a grown Black man cry?
Shake violently,
sip water,
tremble
until his skin falls off,
spill water,
wipe nose,
wipe eyes,
try to hide,
and finally,
breathe...
all just to be able to say
“no.”
“Do your meds always make you this emotional?”
You ever seen him stumble over his words,
trying to relive it all?

24

At least he gets to relive it though –
right?
How many questions you gotta ask him white man?
How much you need to prove?
Where is this boy’s mama?
More importantly,
what’d you do with his cousin?
Why would you put him in the same room?
Can’t you see what it does?
“Do your meds always make you this emotional?”
You ever seen a grown Black man disappear before your very eyes?
You ever see him gasping for air?
HE SAID HE CAN’T BREATHE,
WHY WON’T YOU HEAR HIM?
HOW CAN YOU NOT HEAR HIM?
I HEAR HIM ALWAYS.
I wasn’t even there and I hear it.
You know how many of us you traumatized?
How many of us shake when you walk by?
“Can you point him out?”
How can you ask him to look?
How much more can we take?
How much more you need?
Is this not enough?
HOW MUCH MORE YOU NEED?
How many more bodies?
How many more souls?
At the end of it all, what will we have left?
What will be there,
except rooms full of grown Black men crying,
shrinking into boys?
What will we do with all the wails?
Should we record them for evidence, too?
25

ON RHETORIC,
HISTORY,
WORDS, &
POLITICAL
LITERACY
AKA: The Importance of
Political Education
Huey Hewitt ’19

My name is Huey Hewitt and I am an
anarchist. Specifically, I am an anarchocommunist, a black liberationist, a black
feminist, and a prison abolitionist. What
do all of these words mean? Are they just
buzz-words? Do they mean everything?
Nothing? Let’s break it down.
I have met several so-called “activists”—
who write more words on Twitter than they
do in letters to incarcerated folks—who
are all talk and no walk, who know the
lingo and can talk in a million different
ways about getting down but never do.
Some term them “armchair-socialists,” but
this indicates some kind of fundamental
character flaw, unchangeable, rather
than a disposition that results from active
(and malleable) choices. Let me quote a
black liberationist; it was Fred Hampton
who said, “Theory’s cool, but theory with

26

no practice ain’t shit.” He was right. In
a separate interview, he also spoke on
the importance of Political Education—
revolutionary ways of knowing which
could match up with revolutionary ways of
being. Fred Hampton was younger than I
am when he was shot and killed as a part
of the FBI’s Counterintelligence Program
aimed at pacifying and otherwise silencing
“Black Nationalist” groups, including the
Black Panther Party, of which Hampton
was a part. Without Political Education,
you would not know this. Without Political
Education, you would maybe rest easy
thinking that the Black Panthers were an
anti-white hate group, despite the fact that
Fred Hampton actively sought coalitions
with poor whites to unite in what he saw as
a class struggle against capitalism. Political
Education allows you to know the facts of
history, historicize (that’s a fancy word for
“know/understand/delineate the history
of/about”) buzz-words, critically think for
yourself, and use your knowledge and
thinking to make good choices about how
to proceed in the present political moment.
Political Education is literacy, is numeracy,
is history, is political science, is ethics, is
Education itself. Except, whereas your
education previously may have misled you
regarding the nature of the world--past
and present--the aim of Political Education
is to force you to encounter reality as
soberly as possible. In pursuing this kind of
education, you’ll learn that Fred Hampton’s
assasination was rooted in the same
social conditions which got Dr. Martin
Luther King Jr. shot, and you’ll be allowed
to question whether or not integration
actually produced liberation.
I hope that everyone walks away from

reading the Disorientation Guide with a
desire to go out there and act. But I also
know that, for me personally, I wasn’t about

For me personally, I
wasn’t about to jump on
some radical train without
feeling like I had a good
reason to.
to jump on some radical train without
feeling like I had a good reason to. I needed
to know what I was doing, why I was doing
it, and how. Most human beings don’t want
to feel propagandized; they want to be able
to name and know things before acting. I
wasn’t about to call myself an “anarchist”
without learning who else had used the
term before, how other people defined it,
and why it was so scary—the same with
“communist.” I wasn’t about to believe we
could live in a world without prisons and
cops without a lot of reading and thinking,
because no matter how many times I saw
black people being brutalized by police
officers, I knew that solutions to these
kinds of problems were always complex.
And, contrary to strawman arguments
which paint prison abolitionism as overly
simplistic and reductive, abolition is
actually about as complicated as you can
get. What’s more complicated than a
complete transformation of the order of
things, such that the intention is to abolish
the old so as to begin anew—so as to create
something that few of us can even imagine
yet?
Last year, the Office of Diversity & Inclusion
at Amherst College released a document
called the “common language guide”
27

intended to provide definitions to a variety
of words for students, staff, and faculty who
were perhaps unfamiliar with such terms.
Included were definitions of marginalized
sexualities and gender identities, as
well as terms related to class, race, and
more. In response, the Amherst College
Republicans sent a story to the conservative
press which claimed that the document
showed clear bias and was an affront to
free speech. The College administration
then quickly retracted the document
and began to scrutinize its production.
Several faculty members—almost all of
whom were white—went so far as to say
that the document kept them up all night
because it was anti-intellectual and posed
a genuine threat to freedom of expression.
The document is no longer available on
the College website, although I am sure
other copies could be found. The irony of
the affair, on the other hand, seems lost to
most parties.
Who could miss the irony of an entire
document being repressed in the name of
“free speech”?
A lot more could be said on the Guide
and the situation which erupted from its
release, but it represented something
more important than its own making: a
discussion about terms. Who can have a
debate about fascism without defining
it? And Marxism? Anarchism? Feminism?
Who can live out a political struggle—a
debate with arms (or if not arms, then at
least tactics)—without having some kind
of understanding about these words?
These terms do not mean single, precise,
unchallengeable things: they have
histories, and their meanings are interlaced
with said histories.
28

So my challenge to you after reading this
article is to research every buzz-word I used
in the first paragraph, on your own, and
to use your critical thinking skills during
that research. Read Noam Chomsky,
Angela Davis, Ruth Wilson Gilmore,
Peter Kropotkin, Bakunin, Marx himself,
Mao, Assata Shakur, Ericka Huggins, and
even Wikipedia. (Read On Anarchism by
Chomsky, Are Prisons Obsolete? by Davis,
Golden Gulag by Gilmore, Conquest of Bread
by Kropotkin, and other titles.) Read your
enemies—or my enemies—like Hitler and
Henry Kissinger. Read and think and talk
about what you read, and then think some
more. You’re in college—now is an ideal
time to do this.
Now, you could choose an alternative
route, chosen by many white and upperclass students: snorting coke, barely
skimming readings, and criticizing
communism without ever reading a word
about it. But I encourage you to take your
Political Education seriously, because our
political situation is serious. It’s impossible
to know everything there is to know about
politics or life, but at some point, I hope you
feel confident enough in your knowledge
to throw yourself wholeheartedly into
disciplined, diligent, and dignified
organizing. No matter how many books
or essays you read, that’s where the real
education starts: in the streets.
Good luck. And be brave.

NAVIGATING
AMHERST
WITH A
DISABILITY
Annika Ariel ’19 & Joshua Ferrer ’18
Georgina Kleege writes that “the blind
are either supernatural or subhuman,
alien or animal...but when we express
any of this, the sighted scoff: ‘Don’t be
silly. I can see you as you really are...
You’re just being oversensitive.” Though
writing about blindness, Kleege’s words
easily apply to all disabilities. Disability
is commonly seen as a problem in
need of a solution or an individualized
medical issue to be “fixed”, rather than
an essential aspect of human diversity.
But what could be more diverse than the
abilities of the human body?
The social model of disability presents
an alternative view. Rather than viewing
disability as an individualized medical
issue, it views it as a failure of society to
include and accommodate everybody.
Rather than viewing “accommodations”
as special benefits bestowed by the
majority on the few, it views them as
band-aids that fail to make up the
gulf between a society designed to

exclude (the one we live in) and a
society designed to include everybody.
It recognizes the idea of “normal” for the
myth it is, one we must come to terms
with if we wish to create a truly inclusive
society.
We are writing to tell you that Amherst
College, for all its pretenses, is very much
the same as the rest of the world in the
way disability is viewed and treated here.
Both of us were involved in Roosevelt@
Amherst which, at the time, was the only
student group on campus that did any
sort of work or research on disability.
In 2017 and 2018, there was briefly a
Presidential Task Force on Accessibility
and Inclusion; it fell apart due to
administrative intransigence and has yet
to be restarted. We’ve outlined the work
we’ve done previously in the Amherst
Student]. In short, a review of Amherst’s
disability policies revealed significant
deficiencies across a wide range of areas,
including physical accessibility, curricular
29

accommodations, faculty and staff
awareness, and administrative support.
We have advocated for a number of
concrete changes, some of which have
happened and many of which have not.
The Task Force was meant to continue
this work, but since its dissolution little
has been achieved.
We have a much more practical purpose
in writing this beyond Amherst’s
inadequate disability policies: to
explain how to navigate Amherst with
a disability. Our experience comes from
speaking to students, interacting with
administrators, and conducting policy
research. One of us is blind and the
other is nondisabled. We don’t pretend
to know every single disabled students’
experience. Every disability is different
and every person will have a different
experience at Amherst, but we believe
these guidelines are helpful to almost all
students with disabilities.
A note on our language–the Americans
with Disabilities Act (ADA)’s definition
of disability, which Amherst subscribes
to as a legal requirement, is incredibly
broad. For the purposes of our piece,
we’re taking a slightly different
definition: if you identify as disabled
in any way, shape, or form, we consider
you disabled. Many people who are
technically disabled may not identify as
disabled, and some people who are not
considered disabled under the ADA may
still identify as disabled.
1. First and most importantly: find
advocates. At Amherst, a good portion of
administrators won’t take you seriously
if you’re an individual student. This has
30

slightly improved over the years, but
not enough to guarantee your rights as
a student. Some professors are, quite
frankly, horrible with disability and
accommodations. Others are amazing.
Finding out who is and isn’t great is
a learning process where you will,
unfortunately, make mistakes. Talking
with other students can be helpful, but
as the vast majority of Amherst students
don’t identify as disabled (even those
who receive accommodations and thus
are technically marked by the College
as having a disability), even this can
be difficult. Once you find a (generally
tenured) professor or a staff member
with more institutional power than
you, don’t be hesitant to pick their brain
about what is going to work. For what
it’s worth, both of us owe most of our
advocacy education to Professor Kristin
Bumiller.

understanding marginalized identities.
The former is exhausting enough on its
own.

2. Educate as much as you personally
want to, not what others want you
to do. Amherst is your place to be as a
person. As a disabled person, you are
inarguably the smallest minority on
campus (Annika was the only person
with a visible disability on campus for
two years). Directly or indirectly, people
are going to expect you to educate them
all the time. Whether or not you do this
is up to you, and if someone pressures
you into representing an entire minority
group, you don’t have to. You don’t speak
for everyone with a disability. This goes
for students asking you as much as for
administrators and faculty. It also holds
true for other intersecting identities
you bring with you to Amherst. You are
at Amherst to get a college education,
not to be others’ personal tutors in

and isn’t someone you want in your life.
If someone is awkward or rude about
your disability (a good example is when
a roommate said I ‘wanted’ my guide
dog), listen to what they’re telling you
and spend your time with others. It’s not
your job to educate everyone (see point
2). You’ll meet better people you won’t
have to justify your existence to.

3. The first year of Amherst is stressful
for almost everyone--that said, listen
to what people are telling you about
themselves. This isn’t necessarily their
words, but more their interactions
and how they seem to feel about your
disability. If you have a disability,
especially one that affects many
aspects of your life, you’ve probably
gotten decent at sussing out who is

Don’t be shy when it
comes to asserting your
rights. You are at Amherst
to get an education, and
your worth is just as much
as everyone else’s.

4. Amherst has the money. Some people
are hesitant to ask for accommodations
because of the cost, even though most
accommodations cost under $500
(read: a penny to this institution)
and are legally required. Amherst
administrators will try and discourage
many accommodations, even legally
mandated ones. Especially if you’re
from a low-income background,

accommodations costing money–
even someone else’s money– can be
uncomfortable. But Amherst has the
money to provide almost any reasonable
accommodation, and fully including a
student in the college is almost certainly
a better use of their money than what
they’re going to spend it on anyway (see:
fancy banquets for alums, the giant
clipboard sofa in Ford Hall, and the
incessant landscaping). And considering
that most accommodations are (as you
may have picked up on) legally required,
it’s also important to know your rights.
But...
5. Don’t just know your rights, know
about your rights. You’re not going to
learn much about disability history or
the disability community at Amherst.
Over our combined six-and-a-half years
spent at Amherst, there was exactly one
course offered on disability. This coming
semester, Professor Rangan is offering
a course on disability media, the first
in at least seven years and likely far
longer. To remedy this, there are some
foundational disability studies readings
we recommend. Keywords in Disability
Studies is easily available on JSTOR,
Enabling Acts by Lennard Davis analyzes
the complicated history of the ADA (and
discusses how private colleges opposed
it, a fact that one can easily see in a quick
trip to Arms Music Center or Clark House,
two completely inaccessible buildings),
and even a simple Twitter search will
reveal the wide and diverse disability
community. The American Association
of People with Disabilities and National
Federation for the Blind are two great
avenues to get involved with these
issues on a bigger scale. The Center for
31

American Progress has also launched a
Disability Justice Initiative.

Amherst spends
millions of dollars
on lighting. If you’re
blind, this is worthless
to you, but to sighted
people, it’s a necessary
accommodation. The
only difference is who the
minority is.
6. Don’t be shy when it comes
to advocating. Getting a basic
accommodation that would take an
administrator under five minutes can
sometimes take weeks (or, in some cases,
years. The Office of Financial Aid is still
using inaccessible documents, meaning
that students who use certain kinds
of assistive technology have to rely on
friends or family to fill out forms that
include information such as income and
Social Security Number). Don’t hesitate
to find out who someone’s boss is and
cc them on emails. Don’t be shy when it
comes to asserting your rights. You are
at Amherst to get an education and your
worth is just as much as everyone else’s.
Amherst spends millions of dollars on
lighting. If you’re blind, this is worthless
to you, but to sighted people, it’s a
necessary accommodation. The only
difference is who the minority is.
Amherst is already difficult. You’ll have
lots of demands on your time, from
coursework, labs, and midterms to
sports practices and music rehearsals,
to managing a social life. Despite what
32

Amherst may say about itself as an
“inclusive” college community, expect
the same as always when it comes to
having a disability. While Amherst has
resources for other minorities–and
we’re not saying they’re perfect, we’re
not saying they’re enough, but we’re
saying they’re present–disabled people
are largely left to fend for themselves.
Amherst is also an institution that, for
the time you’re here, will control most
of your life. At times, it may feel like
you’re constantly dealing with obstacles
related to your disability and there’s no
way of escaping them. Don’t forget that
just walking into town can sometimes
feel like a different world, and that
taking the bus to another town is always
an option. Sometimes the best thing you
can do is just to get away.
Disabled students have to deal with
the stresses of Amherst on top of
navigating a largely inaccessible
campus environment. There’s no
sugarcoating it: the Amherst grind will
be hard, and you will have to deal with
lots of questionable behavior from
administrators, faculty, and students.
Our hope is that these pointers will help
provide you some guidance during your
time at Amherst. And remember you are
never alone. We’re in this fight together.

PRISON
ABOLITION:
A PRIMER
Direct Action Coordinating Committee
For many people, prisons are invisible.
We tend to have a collective memory
of playing cops and robbers at recess
when we were young, always feeling
justified in playing the cop, especially
when we caught the robber. We have
been programmed from a young age
to believe that cops are always justified
in their actions. According to this logic,
those who are in prisons deserve to be
there, so we are permitted to forget
about prisons entirely, and go on with
our daily lives. The injustices of the
Prison Industrial Complex remain
entirely hidden.
For incarcerated people and their
families, however, these injustices are all
too real. The Prison Industrial Complex1
disrupts communities, especially
black communities, by stealing away
parents, siblings, activists, organizers
– all because they were caught with an
1 | When we say Prison Industrial Complex, we’re referring to
the overlapping interests in government and corporations that
use imprisonment, policing & surveillance to supposedly tackle
social problems, while often benefiting in material and/or
symbolic ways from these carceral systems.

offense as minor as smoking weed in the
wrong place at the wrong time. When we
were younger, we were taught that there
is a difference between right and wrong–
and that folks who do wrong things go
to prison. But the reason why individuals
can be locked up for such minor
offenses is because the Prison Industrial
Complex functions to make money for
corporations, municipal governments,
unions of cops and correctional officers,
and other parties. The more people are
locked up, the more money is made.
This incentivizes police forces to lock
up people whether or not they were
doing something wrong. As the primary
tool of the white supremacist state,
incarceration specifically targets black
communities, filling neighborhoods with
police and leaving gaping holes in the
communities and families where people
once were.
Outside of these communities,
though, there are no witnesses to the
consequences. This is tactical. Those
who run the Prison Industrial Complex
33

do not want the unaffected to see what
happens behind those walls; if they did,
the lies about the necessity of the system
would be a lot harder to maintain.
Prisoners are often tortured and raped,
with no avenue of defending themselves
against such abuses. They are fed food
with practically no nutritional value,
and have healthcare that falls far below
the status quo of quality of healthcare
for those who possess it in the United
States. Prisoners have restricted
visitation hours, usually no more than
four hours a month, and visitors must
be approved in advance and searched
entirely before entering. Many prisoners
are not even allowed to have visitation
hours, and instead have allotted time
to speak with family members over
video call. Birthdays and holidays are
spent squinting through a camera.
These video call services are provided
by corporations who make money from
this arrangement. The situation can
be worse for women in prison who are
at higher risk of being physically and
sexually abused by male guards, and
even worse for trans women who are
often placed in prisons that do not align
with their gender, leading to horrific
abuse. Trans men and other gender
nonconforming people also face these
problems. Prisoners can be indefinitely
placed in solitary confinement at the
whim of authorities, in which they are
allowed absolutely no contact with
anyone. The psychological terror of this
state of being is unimaginable for all
except for those who live it. Life after
prison is also immensely difficult--as
formerly incarcerated people can legally
be denied jobs, housing, and the right
to vote. Additionally, social support
34

systems that were in place before one’s
incarceration are often absent upon
release, compounding the PTSD that
commonly results from being behind
bars. For these reasons, it is common that
previously incarcerated people often end
up back in prison, creating a vicious cycle
that locks people into prisons for life.
Prisons need to be abolished. These
people need to be freed. For those who
look past the invisibility of the Prison
Industrial Complex, the situation is
clearly getting worse.
To understand the abolitionist necessity
and the potency of a prison-free future,
we first have to understand how and
why the prison emerged as a method of
racial control that remains closely tied to
capitalism.2 As it so happens, the history
of the prison is closely linked to two
modern beliefs: the idea that as human
beings we possess inalienable rights and
liberties; and the idea that time operates
as currency under capitalism. In the
pre-modern and early modern period,
corporal punishment was the principal
method of social control, designed to
publicly make an example out of an
individual. But imprisonment introduced
a new framework in which the ‘criminal’,
having wrought some damage on
society, pays penance with time behind
bars, deprived of rights and liberties.
Linked as it was to the ideas of liberalism
and commodification of human life, the
adoption of the prison as the primary
method of social control, unsurprisingly,
2 | When we refer to capitalism, we generally refer to the profitdriven economic system that exploits, disposes of, and dispossesses swathes of society and the lands, waters, and species of
our world. We specify that capitalism is racial because black
and brown people around the world are disproportionately the
targets of the greatest harms in this system.

has always been intentionally racialized.
THE AFTERLIFE OF SLAVERY
The modern prison can be conceived
of as an afterlife of the institution that
came before it – slavery. Enslaved people
were held against their will, confined in
their location, forced to labor without
payment, isolated from the outside
world, and dependent on their landowning oppressors. The institution
of slavery was upheld by the law and
enforced by slave patrols (early iterations
of police forces). Many of the conditions
of enslavement are found in today’s
prisons, and today’s prisons are used to
oppress black people.

As the primary tool of
the white supremacist
state, incarceration
specifically targets black
communities, filling
neighborhoods with
police and leaving gaping
holes in the communities
and families where people
once were.
The historical parallels are profound.
Soon after the end of the Civil War,
the prisons of the South shifted from
being almost entirely white to being
almost entirely black. Plantations had
a shortage of labor--previously filled by
enslaved people--and the Thirteenth
Amendment created the conditions for
further enslavement via incarceration:
“Neither slavery nor involuntary
servitude, except as a punishment for

crime whereof the party shall have been duly
convicted, shall exist within the United
States, or any place subject to their
jurisdiction.” The convict-lease system
allowed black people to be leased out to
the plantations where they would work
without pay as part of a chain-gang, once
again experiencing abuse at the hands of
their overseers. Black people continued
to be exploited to feed the greed of the
capitalist system that demands unwaged
labor, whether it be from black slaves or
black prisoners.
While imprisonment emerged as a mode
of racial caste and racial punishment
in the wake of chattel slavery, the
failings of Reconstruction also led to the
development of Jim Crow. Segregation
actually emerged, in part, as an antiracist solution to outright exclusion
of blacks from white establishments;
through segregation, black people could
be included, but separately. With time,
segregation itself became a tool of the
Southern white power structure, upheld
through Jim Crow “separate but equal”
laws based on scientific racism and fears
of racial intermingling to the detriment
of the white–and ‘superior’–race. While
Jim Crow was still the law of the land,
during WWII, war-time jobs contributed
to mass migrations of black Southerners
to Northern cities–an exodus rooted just
as much in seeking new employment
opportunities as it was in escaping racial
terror. But many of these war-time jobs
evaporated by the end of WWII, and
black people were left overwhelmingly
under-employed. As the Civil Rights
Movement fought for desegregation in
the South, many Northern black people
were attracted to the rhetoric of Malcolm
35

X (who received his political selfeducation in prison) and other militants
who spoke directly to the realities of
police brutality and poverty in the
absence of formal Jim Crow laws.
“Law and order” spoke the language
of racial panic which emerged from
the crime–rooted in poverty–now
defining ghetto life. “Law and order” also
became the refrain of segregationists,
to persecute civil rights organizers who,
through their political activity, were
breaking the law. Once segregation
ended, the forces of white supremacy
fought to sustain racial caste through
police brutality and imprisonment. In
the Southern movement, black middleclass folks who had previously appealed
to respectability were now protesting
segregation and filling the jails with
pride. This strategy was intended to
press up against the capacity of the state
to jail black people, and thusly, pressure
state actors into meeting the demands
of the Movement. But Southern states
responded with their own strategy:
expanding local and state carceral
capacities so as to have enough officers
for the mass arrests triggered by civil
rights demonstrations, and enough jail
cells for those who disobeyed “law and
order.” At the height of the Movement,
during the march from Selma to
Montgomery in 1965–when black
Southerners were protesting for their
right to vote–Lowndes County officials
moved the voting registrar’s office from
the courthouse to the jailhouse for this
very reason. This expansion of carceral
capacity–that is, the capacity of the
state4 to arrest, jail, incarcerate, and
surveil–continued when the Movement
36

ended. These strides towards expanding
carceral capacities were the small-scale
seeds of mass incarceration.
NEOLIBERALISM, CAPITALISM, AND
WHITE SUPREMACY
Let’s shift now to just forty years ago,
when the Prison Industrial Complex
began to emerge. In the 1980s, while
crime rates were declining, states
began to oversee a major boom in
prison construction. Why? Around this
time, corporations began looking for
cheaper labor overseas as neoliberal3
capitalism began to truly go global and
working-class cities and communities
across the U.S. were being devastated
by the process of deindustrialization.
The prison construction boom promised
jobs and a new industry for economically
depressed communities, and was a timely
method to concentrate and manage the
disproportionately black communities
abandoned by the economic shift. At
this time, the War on Drugs brought
the full force of the state down on
black and brown communities in order
to fill the newly-constructed prisons.
Prison populations across the country
skyrocketed. As usual, black bodies were
being used to feed the capitalist machine.
The Prison Industrial Complex gobbles
3 | Neoliberalism names the state of today’s global capitalist
system that began to develop around the 1970’s and 80’s. The
key features are privatization of anything that can be privatized,
rather than held in common, as well as deregulation, tax cuts
for the rich, and free-trade deals that give corporations hella
power to chase the cheapest labor pool and undermine sovereign
regimes around the world.
4 | ‘The state’ refers to institutional structures of government,
at all levels–municipal, county, state, and federal–as a means of
organizing society. States have existed in diverse forms for a large
part of human history, but the modern state was only developed
in recent centuries–alongside capitalism, white supremacy,
colonialism, and other axes of power. We criticize the state as an
axis of power in and of itself, and the U.S. state specifically for its
propagation of white supremacist imperialist violence.

up public funds to keep people behind
bars, providing a large consumer base
for corporations producing anything
from mattresses to cookies. People in
these prisons are put to work for these
corporations–as clean-up crews at the
B.P. Deepwater Horizon oil spill, at call
centers for corporations like Sprint,
Verizon, and Wendys, shipment return
processors, on farms or even as farm
labor, and as manufacturers for common
brands like Victoria’s Secret.
The success of private prisons is only
the latest iteration of upholding white

If we limit our imagination
to piecemeal changes,
we’re not challenging the
logic and the structures
that put people in prison
in the first place.
supremacy by managing and exploiting
black populations. Core Civic and
Geo Group, two of the largest private
prison corporations in the United
States, redirect public funds directly
into corporate profits and shareholder
dividends. The wealth generated from
the exploitation of black people seeps
into every corner of our lives, from the
Amherst College endowment that
supports your financial aid to your
parent’s 401k retirement fund with
Fidelity Investments, which invests
in private prisons. Private prison
corporations also spend millions of
dollars lobbying for harsher sentencing
and negotiating contracts with states to
encourage higher prison populations;
even though private prisons are just

a small fraction of the prisons in this
country, they’re a significant force
contributing to the expansion of the
Prison Industrial Complex today.
Additionally, the model of privatizing
the control of criminalized communities
is quickly being exported abroad to
dozens upon dozens of countries
that continue to police, concentrate,
manage, and exploit black and brown
communities for the benefit of capital.
Even outside of the economic benefits
produced by the Prison Industrial
Complex, racialized mass incarceration
also serves to quench a sadistic thirst
present in the white unconscious:
the brutalization and disposal of
black bodies as an end in and of itself.
Lynchings did not take place for profit.
Beatings of enslaved people did not
maximize plantation output. Eric Wilson
did not shoot Michael Brown for a check.
White women do not continually call
the cops on black BBQs for corporations;
they do so because they possess
racial fear and resentment, complex
affects that were taught to them by
their parents, whose parents taught
them, whose parents taught them. If
the trauma of transatlantic slavery is
carried in the bodies of black people in
the present, then so too is the complex
emotional fabric of white supremacy
carried in the bodies of white people. As
we struggle to end the Prison Industrial
Complex, we must reckon with this
reality so as to fully and wholly fight
against racism in all of its forms; we are
about to end a lineage.
REFORM VS. ABOLITION
So, now that we can see this massive
37

system of racial oppression and
exploitation of black people for what it
is--this regime of the “New Jim Crow” as
Michelle Alexander puts it—what do we
do? What should our collective response
be in the face of this violent reality?
For many, the answer to that question
is prison reform: working within the
system to change the aspects of it
that are most violent and inhumane,
maintaining its core structure while
attempting to correct its abuses. This
response makes sense to an extent,
especially if we care about making life
concretely better for people inside.
However, if we limit our imagination
to these piecemeal changes, we’re
not challenging the logic and the
structures that put people in prison
in the first place. In the era of slavery,
merchants like Thomas Tryon considered
themselves reformers–abhorred by the
racial terrors of the plantation system–
and advocated for longer rest periods,
better and more plentiful food, and
less beatings for enslaved people. They
failed to recognize that a fundamentally
unjust system ought to be abolished,
not reformed. This does not mean that
short-term reforms should not be part
of our movement structures–in the vein
of improving the material circumstances
of incarcerated people–but that they
cannot be our long-term goal; moreover,
if we are not careful in strategizing what
reforms we should seek, we may end
up strengthening the Prison Industrial
Complex even more.
Campaigns for prison reform have
5 | “The Challenge of Prison Abolition: A Conversation between
Angela Y. Davis and Dylan Rodriguez,” https://www.historyisaweapon.com/defcon1/davisinterview.html

38

accompanied the growth of prisons
through their entire history–facilitating,
not challenging, this growth by making
prisons more palatable to the public
and less likely to be challenged. As
Angela Davis puts it, “the seemingly
unbreakable link between prison reform
and prison development has created
a situation in which progress in prison
reform has tended to render the prison
more impermeable to change and
has resulted in bigger, and what are
considered ‘better’, prisons.”5 Changes
intended to improve conditions for
incarcerated people often become a tool
for prison developers to get their foot
in the door and build more prisons, and
these in turn become an incentive for the
state to incarcerate even more people.
In California, for example, Folsom State
Prison was built to supposedly replace an
overcrowded and abusive San Quentin
prison. However today, both prisons are
still standing, and even if initially Folsom
might have eased the problems at San
Quentin, its construction as the second
state prison in California set the stage
for the development of one of the most
bloated and overcrowded prison systems
in the country6.
We don’t want the prison system to
expand, because as we have seen, the
prison system in our society is not about
addressing harm or violence, but about
exploiting and disposing of black bodies,
and eventually those of anyone else
the U.S. state deems threatening to its
goals. There is no reform that can fix this
6 | For more on the explosive expansion of the California prison
system, read Golden Gulag: Prisons, Surplus, Crisis, and Opposition in Globalizing California, by Ruth Wilson Gilmore.

reality.
WHAT DO WE DO WITH THE
MURDERERS AND RAPISTS?
What many reforms don’t get at is the
fundamental truth that prisons, no
matter how well-run or accommodating,
can never address the root forces
that tear our society apart and move
members of our community to do harm.
Fred Moten names prison abolition as
“[n]ot so much the abolition of prisons
but the abolition of a society that could
have prisons, that could have slavery,
that could have the wage, and therefore
not abolition as the elimination of
anything but abolition as the founding
of a new society.” In this formulation, a
society in which prisons are possible is a
society that teaches violence.

A society that has prisons
is not capable of ending
violence because it is
inherently violent. To
end the violence, we
must start in our own
communities... True
accountability and
transformation aimed at
repairing and preventing
harm must happen
through strengthening
the community.
When presented with the idea of prison
abolition, many people ask, “What
about the murderers and rapists? What
do we do about them?” We commonly
conceive of prisons as a place where

we put violent people–“criminals”– to
protect society. But the initiation of
violence actually takes place the other
way around: the state does violence
(including sexual violence) unto people,
who in turn also do violence (to one
another, to the state) as the continuation
of a cycle. In response, the same violent
society uses prisons to punish harmdoers–along unequal axes of race, class,
gender identity, disability, and more. A
society that has prisons is not capable of
ending violence because it is inherently
violent. To end the violence, we must
start in our own communities. Whereas
prisons violently force people out of
their communities–separating them
from their families–true accountability
and transformation aimed at repairing and
preventing harm must happen through
strengthening the community. For this
reason, prison abolitionists seek solutions
to intracommunal violence which do not
rely on the police.
This is why we call for the abolition of
both the prison system and the structures
of state surveillance and policing that
feed into it. This doesn’t mean ignoring
the very real harm and violence that
people inflict on each other, but instead
addressing it differently. (For more on
this, read our Accountability Statement,
“On Being Ancestors-in-training,” on
page 42).
ABOLITIONIST GOALS & PRACTICES
What else does abolition look like
in practice? It looks like opposing
reforms that expand the prison system
and the Prison Industrial Complex,
and supporting ones that have clear
goals of decarceration and investment
39

in communities. When confronting
the issue of poor mental healthcare
in prisons, for example, rather than
supporting initiatives to build new
specialized facilities for mental health
within the prison system–which in the
end become just more prison beds to
be filled and an excuse to incarcerate
even more people–we should push for
improved access to mental healthcare
in the communities that incarcerated
people come from. And with that, we
should push for less incarceration and
the release of people from prisons,
so they can have access to this care in
their own communities. The same logic
applies to confronting the treatment of
incarcerated women, all trans people
and all youth. What they and their
communities (as well as anyone else
who is vulnerable to imprisonment and
policing) need is not separate facilities,
it’s to not be in prison.
Abolition is based on the premise
that prisons and police don’t keep us
safe. Our communities should keep
us safe; investment in education
and healthcare keeps us safe; real
accountability keeps us safe. Prisons
and police do nothing to keep us safe,
for they are–in and of themselves–
threats to our collective physical safety.
If we really want to address the reasons
why there’s so much violence being
inflicted in the first place, we need to
see the carceral structures of the white
supremacist and capitalist U.S. state not
as the solution, but as the root of the
problem. If we care about real justice
and peace for all–for black people, for
queer and trans people, for indigenous
people, women, youth, for everyone–
40

then we must be committed to tearing
these structures down, and building
alternatives that will address our
communities’ real needs and wellbeing.
If we want collective liberation, we must
fight to liberate all people from prisons.
IF YOU WANT TO LEARN MORE
ABOUT PRISON ABOLITION:
Come to DACC’s prison abolition teach-in
& write-in on Thursday, September 26–
follow facebook.com/acdacc for details
on time and location.
Support Books Through Bars, an
organization distributing books
to contribute to the education,
entertainment and support of
incarcerated people. Donate on their
website at greatfallsbooksthroughbars.
org & look out for our upcoming
fundraiser to support their work (DACC
isn’t affiliated with Books Through Bars,
we just really value the work they do)!
Learn more about abolition with Critical
Resistance: criticalresistance.org

ON BEING
S
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O
T
S
E
C
N
A
G
N
I
N
I
A
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T
N
I
An Accountability Statement from
the Organizers of & Contributors to
this Guide

When we first come into political
consciousness, things may seem
simpler than otherwise. Oppression
exists; it sucks. There are oppressors
and oppressed people. There is a power
structure that we must dismantle.
There are means of struggling against
oppression; maybe it’s justified that we
struggle by any means necessary. Morality
is political. By struggling and seeking
better politics, we can become more
moral.
Eventually, there comes a point when we
begin to recognize points of complexity,
nuanced elements that challenge our
previously constructed politics. We begin
to recognize that oppressed people
also oppress others. White workers
exclude black workers from their union.
Our friend, a woman, abuses her male
partner. We find out that our uncle who
just got out of jail also just took a job to
work for ‘the state.’ Structures suddenly
seem endlessly intricate, perhaps more
dispersed than constructed.
Maybe this is also around the time we
realize that, even after we had read a
feminist article about trans issues, we
41

still laughed at that joke from Friends or
some other mainstream show that made
fun of gender nonconformity. Maybe we
also remember a time when we claimed
we were “woke” but didn’t stand up to
an ableist comment at a party or smoke
session, because we didn’t want to “ruin
the mood.”
And then maybe, even as we feel that
we’re learning more and more, even
as we feel that we “have” good politics,
nuanced politics, we fuck up again
anyway. Maybe this makes us reflect
about other moments where we’ve
harmed those around us, ignored
boundaries, ignored consent, or
otherwise broken the trust of our friends,
comrades, and loved ones.
And we don’t know what to do. Are we
good enough for our movements? Are
we frauds? Will we be exposed as such?
Is it possible to be accountable to our
mistakes, past and present, and how
would we go about that accountability
anyway? Where do we start?
This is an accountability statement
rooted in the complex reality that we
are all human beings, that we were all
raised and socialized in a profoundly
oppressive and fucked up world, and
that no amount of “having” good
politics (whatever that even means)
will purify us from the need to wrestle
actively, day by day, with the violence
of the world—violence which includes
that which we enact, or are, at the
least, complicit in. To put it bluntly:
as organizers and contributors to the
Guide, we are all working through
our shit, we have all made poor
42

choices which have caused harm and
contributed to oppression, and we all
desire to be accountable.
First, what accountability is not. It is not
the so-called “cancel-culture” that a lot
of people criticize “social justice” spaces
for -- the observed tendency in both
progressive and radical movements to
“cancel” people who have done anything
(or everything) between killing a trans
woman and misgendering her. These
criticisms of “cancel culture” are astute
in that they point to the dehumanizing
effect of purity politics. But more
often than not these criticisms are also
reactionary (and dangerous) in that
they subtly or expressly advocate for a
return to original form: a complete lack
of accountability for folks who enact
bad behavior. Unfortunately, what these
critics almost never point to is that
“cancel culture” is not “social justice”specific; it is a manifestation of broader
social norms carrying into activist scenes,
the same way that subtle ableism or
racism can leak into our efforts to subvert
them.
“Cancel culture” is a misnomer for
disposability culture. Disposability
culture names the way we relate to
each other in this historical moment,
largely along axes of race. Disposability
also names the condition to which
indigenous people were subjected
during the genocidal genesis of
Amerikkka. Disposability names the
operating logic of the prison industrial
complex, whereby black people–no
longer capable of being exploited within
a largely de-industrialized neoliberal
economy–are stuffed in boxes and

deemed otherwise undesirable to
society. The disposability of black and
brown bodies, historically speaking, has
always rested alongside the possibility
of exploiting them. As Michelle
Alexander notes in The New Jim Crow,
to be subjected to disposability can
be more dangerous than subjection
to exploitability–because if you are
exploitable, you must be kept around;
exploitability describes a logic of
enslaved labor, but disposability
describes a logic of genocide.1
With more than 2 million–
disproportionately black, poor, and
under-educated–people behind bars,
the U.S. houses the largest prison system
(in relation to overall population) that
the world has ever seen. Day after day,
human beings are displaced from their
communities, hauled off to far-away
and dehumanizing facilities, and forever
marked by a criminal record. They are
“cancelled,” disposed of: denied jobs,
denied housing, denied respectability
and humanity. (We’d encourage you to
read more about mass incarceration and
the prison abolitionist movement in an
article in this guide, “Prison Abolition: A
Primer,” p. 33) This disposability culture
that pervades our neo-liberal carceral
reality is reflected in our movement
spaces, perhaps most obviously by our
use of the term “trash” to describe human
beings who do not embrace our politics
or sufficiently embrace our preferred
praxis. When we “cancel” or dispose of
people within and outside of activist
scenes, we are replicating the logics
1 | Alexander, Michelle. The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness. Pp. 219

which uphold mass incarceration--that
it is easier to get rid of and dehumanize
someone who has done harm to the
community than it is to hold them incommunity, heal all parties, reconcile,
and reduce future harm for every human
being involved.
So, then, what is accountability? The
notion of accountability–individual,
interpersonal, and communal–is about
orienting oneself to criminalization
and the law in a subversive fashion.
It is about addressing harm that is
legal, or even carried out by the state
itself. True accountability rejects
punishment as an operating logic for
addressing any kind of behavior–because
even if someone seems to “deserve”
punishment, it rarely actually works to
heal harmed parties or modify future
behavior. True accountability is about
real transformation, growth, healing;
it’s about changing the conditions and
attitudes that allowed the harm to
happen in the first place.
We understand accountability not to
be a singular process yoked upon single
community members who are deemed
bad people, but a constant and ongoing
process in which we are all—individually
and communally—involved. We must
be accountable to moments in which
we harm others and harm ourselves. We
must be accountable to all of our words
and actions, big and small. From washing
our fair share of dishes to healthy
communication to truly practicing
consent to doing our share of labor as
organizers, accountability must be a
constant pursuit.
43

In a world defined by punitive
structures like prisons and policing, like
disposability culture and “Oppression
Olympics,” we are dedicated to radical
forms of accountability, healing,
restoration, reconciliation, and
transformation. True accountability
is not merely an “alternative” to state
structures; it is the active subversion
of them. True accountability is not
about reputation, clout, social capital,
or ego; we must sacrifice these things
continually if we are to be accountable
to a revolution which is rooted firmly
in values and not just more violence.
Accountability does not (only) take the
form of bureaucratic “processes” (like
the popular anarchist “accountability
process” structure)—as this would,
again, mirror logics of the state and
authority—but must take the form of
formlessness, of constant change and
engagement and sobriety in the face of
reality.
Accountability means embracing our
capacity to be dangerous, harmful, and
oppressive—and understanding the
agency that arises when we choose to
not be these things, even and especially
when choosing to be better entails risk.
This requires us to abandon simplistic
notions of ourselves as merely victims
of oppression or harm—notions that
mask both our harmful capacity and our
agency. The historical record shows that
even enslaved people had the agency
to rebel and resist—and it would be an
insult to our collective revolutionary
lineage to pretend we bear less
responsibility than we do. We all both
survive and perpetuate various forms of
harm; and still, we all can be and must
44

be better than we are.
We want to close with a real world
example of praxis from Zen Master Thich
Nhat Hanh, the “apostle of peace and
nonviolence” in Dr. King’s words, who
has spent his life educating others on
the relationships between meditation,
healing, and social justice. In Hanh’s
first Western monastic community,
Plum Village, the people practice a
weekly ceremony of Beginning Anew. In
Hanh’s words: “Beginning Anew is not
to ask for forgiveness. Beginning Anew
is to change your mind and heart, to
transform the ignorance that brought
about wrong actions of body, speech,
and mind, and to help you cultivate your
mind of love.”
While there are many intricate aspects
of the ceremony, it contains three crucial
elements that all of us can bring into
collective efforts at accountability: 1)
mindfulness, equanimity, and deep
listening; 2) expressing regrets; and
3) expressing hurts and difficulties.
Following the Beginning Anew
ceremony, community members may
speak with each other privately to followup on anything that was said, clarify
misunderstandings, express apologies,
and/or express forgiveness.

an “ancestor-in-training.” To think
of one’s literal blood ancestry carries
political significance for people of
color, especially black and indigenous
people whose ancestors’ suffering
played a fundamental role in the birth
of modernity and the American project.
Various spiritual traditions produced
by black and indigenous people in the
Americas draw on the power of ancestors
for guidance and protection. But the
intergenerational trauma and abuse all
of us carry in our bodies is testament
enough to the potentially devastating
effects of descending from ancestors
who behaved unwisely, or lived in
unwise times. Therefore, as organizers,
by conceiving of ourselves as ancestorsin-training, we can begin to interrupt
cycles of intergenerational trauma
and abuse. We can discipline ourselves
to act more skillfully and mindfully,
learning that sitting around in self-pity,
or letting our ego dictate our aversion
to accountability, or otherwise allowing
unwholesome motives to define us—
none of this can answer to what current
realities demand. Instead, we must
Begin Anew each day.

RESOURCES ON ACCOUNTABILITY:
(Note: We do not endorse the following
resources as sacred texts to be followed
religiously, but instead, we see them
as reading material, like any other, to
be critically engaged with and learned
from.)
ZINE: “An Accountability Process Primer”
(https://f12network.com/accountabilityprocess-primer/)
ZINE: “The Broken Teapot” (a critique
of accountability processes) (https://
theanarchistlibrary.org/library/
anonymous-the-broken-teapot)
ARTICLE: “Beginning Anew” by Thich
Nhat Hanh (https://www.lionsroar.com/
beginning-anew/)
ARTICLE: “7 Ways Social Justice
Language Can Become Abusive in
Intimate Relationships” (https://
everydayfeminism.com/2016/02/socialjustice-abuse-ipv/)
WEBSITE: INCITE! Women of Color
Against Violence’s resources on
community accountability: https://incitenational.org/community-accountability/
BOOK: The Revolution Starts at Home:
Confronting Intimate Violence within
Activist Communities, by Ching-In Chen,
Jai Dulani, & Leah Lakshmi PiepznaSamarasinha

Thich Nhat Hanh’s Engaged Buddhism
lineage has also been taken up by the
Buddhist Peace Fellowship (BPF), a
collective of mostly black and indigenous
organizers invested in social justice
and meditative practice. At the end
of one of BPF’s courses, they asked
participants to contemplate what it
would mean to conceive of oneself as
45

D
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D
N
E
M
ECOM

R

READINGS
&

RESOURCES

On Prison Abolition, Mass Incarceration, & the History of Black Freedom:
Are Prisons Obsolete? by Angela Davis
The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander
Captive Nation by Dan Berger
“Abolition and Reparations: Histories of Resistance, Transformative Justice, and
Accountability” by Patrisse Cullors
INCITE! Critical Resistance Statement on Gender Violence and the Prison Industrial
Complex, 2001. https://incite-national.org/incite-critical-resistance-statement/
Black Against Empire: The History and Politics of the Black Panther Party by Joshua Bloom
and Waldo E. Martin
On Neoliberalism & Imperialism and How they Structure our World:
Giants: Who Really Rules The World? Empire Files. https://www.youtube.com/
watch?v=ZUGh1Su7-ok
A Short History of Neoliberalism by David Harvey
Open Veins of Latin America by Eduardo Galeano
Life and Debt, documentary by Stephanie Black
On (Some) Indigenous Struggles Against Genocide & Colonial Occupation:
Wars of Extinction: Discrimination and the Lumad Struggle in Mindanao by Arnold P.
Alamon
An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States by Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz
The Battle for Justice in Palestine by Ali Abunimah
On Black Feminism & the Origins of Intersectionality:
The Combahee River Collective Statement
Black on Both Sides: A Racial History of Trans Identity by C. Riley Snorton
On Liberalism:
“Objectivity and Liberal Scholarship” by Noam Chomsky
Combat Liberalism, Mao Tse-Tung, 7 September 1937
On the Oppressor and the Oppressed:
Pedagogy of the Oppressed, Paulo Freire. Chapter 1.
On Self-Care, Social Justice, and Spirituality:
Radical Dharma: Taking Race, Love, and Liberation by Rev. angel Kyodo williams, Lama
Rod Owens, with Jasmine Syedullah
“The Drum Major Instinct” by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
On US involvement in and Support of Israel:
Occupation of the American Mind (documentary)
The Israel Lobby, John J. Mearsheimer

46

47

Highlights from previous editions of the guide:
Spectacles of Invisibility: Race and Racism at Amherst College, Andrew Lindsay ‘16
From La Frontera To An Ivory Tower: Building Un Mundo Sin Fronteras, Esperanza Chairez ‘19
On Intersectionality, Crystal Ganatra ‘19
Women Can’t Be Heroes, They Must Be Mothers, Sheila Chukwulozie ‘17E
Sexual Assault and Title IX, Dana Bolger ‘14E
Refusing to ‘Adjust to Injustice’: The Intellectual Power and Political Importance of the New
Student Activism, Hannah Holleman, Professor of Sociology
No Justice, No Pride, Huey Hewitt ‘19
Amherst Works?, Kali Robinson ‘17
Life After Amherst, Alex Diones ‘14
Taking Yourself Seriously, Thomas Dumm, Professor of Political Science
On Self-Critical Activism, Samuel Rosenblum’16
You can find all articles from previous editions of the Disorientation Guide online at:
https://amherstdisorientation.wordpress.com/

48

49

r our freedom.

ght fo
“It is our duty to fi

It is our duty

to win.

We must love each other
and support each other.
We have nothing to lose but our chains.”

-Assata Shakur

Printed in partnership with

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