Everyday Abolition/Abolition Every Day

Interview with Kruti Parekh

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LMA: Thank you so much for agreeing to participate in Everyday Abolition! I am so excited to get to include your voice and stories of the YJC. So, tell me, how are you?

KP: I’m really good – just trying to stay grounded — in myself, in my role, and the organization. I feel like I am slowing down and thinking through what are we doing and why are we doing what we’re doing? And I feel like everyone is at the same place and ready to reflect. There is this rhythm, everyone wants to get strong and better. It’s beautiful. Of course it’s long and hard. I love that you’re talking about love because that’s a huge part of it, it’s the same stuff that causes the most heartache and the most euphoria, for us as individuals as well as a collective.

It’s very interesting because last year I was like LOVE – if it happens – it does, if it doesn’t – it doesn’t. I walked away last year feeling like I really wanted something real and then this year, my son’s father and I are re-connecting. You know, I did not know that was going to happen. Having love in my life has helped me be my whole self. That is what love can do.

LMA: How’s your son?

KP: He’s so big now, he’s 4. He’s good. He’s a fun little person. And he’s a grouchy little person. And a really, like, curious little person. He’s going through the phase where he is understanding sounds and putting sounds together to read and he is just so much fun. It is great to watch.

His dad is so different than me, my son is getting a lot of exposure. It will be interesting to see how he develops and how he thinks as he gets older.

LMA: How is everybody?

KP: Everybody is a transitioning body. We have been kind of needing a couple of bridges that can straddle the organizing YJC stuff and the school and right now we have that which is really exciting. It looks a lot like leadership development, a lot of people (including young people) helping young people – meeting them wherever they’re at and getting connected to the organizing. Really understanding what’s up and getting more active and out there.

There are some new staff who have been connected to the YJC for some time who are with us full time and are helping a lot! One came in and volunteered for a couple of years and was really interested in doing something full time, she started out as a teacher and realized her role and niche was organizing and helping with fundraising. She is helping to take care of the school in a real way – both healing young people and helping to build up consciousness.

We’re still struggling finding the appropriate credentialed teachers for the school. We’re going to take the summer off to plan that out better so we can be stronger next year. There has been a lot of turnover in terms of school staff because we’re organizers and we’re going to push the school staff to do some things they have never been asked to do. I really have to say that the teachers who have come on board have a lot of guts because never ever in the history of school system do you have an organizer right next door to a principal saying, “you have to find a solution”. You are going to have to find another creative way to handle it instead of kicking a student out of class or out of school. I am sure we have driven them out because unless you are about daily abolition, you are not going to work that hard to find solutions. But we have learned that we are going to have to raise our own teachers. We’ve known that and now we’re old enough where we’re seeing things come around. I’m thinking about 2 organizers who were volunteers and now they have their teaching credentials. They’ve been out there teaching for a minute and now they’re maybe ready to come in and help with the school. Exciting possibilities!

And everything is in cycle, you know? People are coming through. YJC makes its 10th year this year. So, we’re thinking about reunions and getting people into it and the concept of grassroots fundraising. It’s our 10th year, donate 10 dollars a month and become a sustainer of the YJC. That’s how we’re doing it. And I just connected with an old friend and he remembered that the YJC came thru for this domestic violence conference and we came through serious. And I was like we’re still like that. We’re still going to role thru and speak truth, every opportunity we can get. If people want to support, they can go to our website. 100% of our staff and Board members are monthly sustainers of the YJC.

LMA: That’s amazing! Congratulations. I’d love to contribute, I’ll figure it out on your website. So much resilience in 10 years. Speaking of fierce resilience, how is Henry?

KP: Henry is doing much better physically. He is walking around, driving around. He got a new car and I can’t believe this life altering thing happened like four months ago. He’s organizing, going to school, so he’s doing great. But you know the reality of his life is he got shot because of a mistaken identity and the bullet was meant for someone else and it caught him. So he is always going to live in fear. It’s a miracle story, he’s gone through a lot of heartache and he’s a survivor. He’s doing it. The best thing that he can do is bring that truth into spaces that don’t see it and don’t feel it. I remember the day after, I was in the hospital with Henry’s mom and Jasmine and Kim. And the next day there was this meeting on like a bullets taskforce and there was a judge and other community groups meeting together specifically around schools and push out and attendance policies and truancy. And so many people around the table knew Henry, know Henry, and were concerned about Henry and I was like, “Henry is another young person that gets kicked out of a public school. And that is why we have to really put all supports around every young person because he is a beautiful young person that people love and respect. And he got shot. And a bullet landed in the walls of his heart.” It just makes it so real. This is how urgent it is. Let’s not waste any time. Let’s just change shit.

LMA: Yes, Kruti, YES! That’s so phenomenal. Okay, let’s go there then, tell me, what does everyday abolition mean to you?

KP: Everyday abolition – the first 2 things that came to mind are that you don’t give up on human potential. The 2nd thing is no cages. I work in a space that as soon as you walk in, you are committing yourself to transform. You know that the ideas and the people within the space are going to push you to think differently. Current day USA, the norm is not invested in finding solutions, the norm is invested in removing “problems” and putting them into a cage. Everyday abolition looks like you work with what you have, you figure it out, you communicate, and you find solutions. And you don’t give up. Giving up would mean putting somebody into a cage. Or pushing people out of school. Or pushing people out of your family, community, center. Ultimately for me, when you push people out or push people in a cage – it means not learning and not growing and not believing that people can learn or grow.

LMA: Can you share some ways that you’re abolitionist politics inform your interactions with people? How do you not give up on people?

KP: I’m going to give you an example of a student, we’ll call this student, student K. K enrolled into our school, he cannot sit in the classroom for too long without moving around. He has known the organization for maybe 4-5 years because his older sister went to FREE LA school when he was in another school and was suspended from his school and then was at our school because his sister was there. And now what I keep seeing again and again is that he is unable to sit in a classroom. When it comes to packet work, independent study work, he is de-motivated by paper that doesn’t mean anything. That is one part of his being. The other part is that he applied to be a LOBO (Leading Our Brothers and Sisters Out of the System). As a job, he wanted to be a youth organizer. We’ve known him for a long time and we couldn’t seen him being a serious employee. That’s not what people think about K, that he’s going to be serious. But he walks into the interview and we ask him the question why he wants to be a LOBO and he said, “Because I want to change the world and I believe the people here can change the world.” He got the job, because that was a great answer. And 6 months in, he’s at a LOBOS meeting and he’s struggling. Struggling sitting at a meeting, because we’re not moving coordinated enough, fast enough. And I was able to understand him to the point of letting him know that he’s brilliant and where he wants the world to go, I can’t wait for us to get there either. But if he wants to work with other people he is going to have to be patient with them, and organize them, and work with them to be able to move one step after the next step after the next step. And when he gets frustrated with leadership it’s because he believes we are the ones that can create the world that he wants to live in, or that he wants to help create and he just wants us to move faster. And it’s that understanding and getting to know exactly where K is at in order for him to really see the agent of change that we know he can be versus reacting to the fact that he can’t sit in the class room or reacting because he’s not a professional or that he’s not whatever society has deemed to be proper or great or able to work. And we just continue to work with him and understand that he is KEY to moving the work forward.

LMA: What structures does YJC have that holds you all accountable to this? How do you support each other, have in place, esp staff and teachers, also young people, how do you make it go, especially when hard like with student k’s?

KP: It’s hard. It’s about 3 things, really. It’s about a real commitment to transformative justice. Which means that people have the ability to grow and change no matter how old they are. It takes time, a lot of time invested in helping people to understand when they’ve caused harmed. The second is take on the responsibility and be really invested in the behavior modification that it’s going to look like to be sure that that harm isn’t going to be recreated. And the 3rd piece is healing. As individuals we suffer so many different traumas. When people need healing, if they are unable to heal in that space right now, then they may need to be out of the space. If their healing includes the space, and they are harming other people, it may mean that they need support if there isn’t enough in-house support to like figure out what healing looks like so people can be engaged in their own personal work in addition to being in the space.

So for example we have pretty serious space guidelines and everybody who walks into the space, it’s a sign that is posted in the front. So every person that is in the space is free from oppression, free from substances, free from weapons. And folks often come to the space high. When we started our school, the philosophy was zero tolerance does not work and we are not doing zero tolerance. So around substance use for example we include and infuse the reality of drugs and have support to ask people how can you live a life that is not dependent on substances and also how are substances actually harming your relationships. So if you need to smoke during the day, you know you can’t come to school high, you can’t do it during school hours, but if after school you want to get high and it’s not interfering with your relationships, then you can do it. But if it’s impacting your relationships with your family members and your girlfriend or somebody else then you have to look at that. You have to choose the relationships over the substance. And that I feel like is one example that helps people start drawing those connections and if you continue to provide a supportive environment where people are healing then the natural response is that they will actually use substances less and less because they are not looking for the same thing they were looking for when they were still hurting. And if we handled everyone that had a chemical imbalance or were under the influence of a substance in that kind of way, imagine the population decrease with in lockup in, imagine the population decrease in terms of homelessness.

LMA: Do you have staffing structures or staff practices or things that you do to sustain yourselves in this work? Keep selves accountable to be the allies that you want to be to these young people?

KP: I feel like it really is a work in progress. There are things that is on the books and then there are things that is not quite on the books, right. For example, I have always known how hard Kim works and even before working at the YJC my role in her life was to take her out. So, we’d go to the movies or do something fun. Building in that community building time is so important. I’m recognizing that we need to do more of that because people don’t have it and a lot of the time when people do have it, it comes with breaking one of the space guidelines, like getting high or drinking alcohol. We need to create more ways to take care of each other, check-in with each other and debrief on difficult times. I think that’s a huge part of Chuco’s and community building itself.

And so much of that is like, everyday abolition itself. Like, caring, literally caring for each other. Not being too busy to like care for each other. And the other piece is really healthy debrief. We try to debrief after every action, after every event. We’re trying to get better at evaluation, group evaluations on a regular basis, like at least twice a year so people are getting feedback. And then we have transformative justice circles all the time. So, if there is a power dynamic between two of the youth organizers, and they are really struggling, we pull them together and talk it out in relation to the systems that are in place that are operating underneath all of the difficult stuff.

LMA: Can you tell me more about the Transformative Justice circles?

KP: So, I’ll give you an example. Imagine a group of young people and LOBOS can be between the ages of 14-24. Imagine one of the LOBOS starting out about a year ago and really showing leadership and she’s 17 years old. And she increases her leadership so she is now a team leader. At the same time, you have other organizers who are more experienced and/or older having issues with the fact that this young woman is now their team leader. She’s getting paid a little more and she’s responsible for more things. This is happening while other team members are complaining that the 17 year old is abusing her power. There were multiple instances where other youth organizers complained that the 17 year old did not communicate with them properly. They were saying she was bossy and she was abusing her power. Through observation and some research, we realized a lot of the accusations were true and we had to hold this 17 year old organizer accountable. The way this situation was handled, was three allies brought the organizer to the table – each covered three different components. One was more of the person that was going to be her support so that the work that she had to do, she was going to make sure she followed through with it. One was the allies facilitated the process. And the 3rd was sort of coming from the organizational accountability place, like if this you may lose your job. We had one initial circle and a couple of weeks later a second circle.

Fast forward 6 months, people have noticed extraordinary change in this young person. So she’s handling her end of it. Now the adultism that was happening in conjunction to the situation was rearing its head more clearly. We brought the whole team together to have a TJ circle to address the different issues that were coming up and allowed us to name it and address it with the team.

And a lot of the time, I feel like it’s just addressing issues when they occur. It’s not like we have to do this all the time, everyday, or anything like that. It’s just like when it’s happening you figure out who needs to be there, who can facilitate the process, what is the most natural, like, consequence that can uplift, support and possible. And if people don’t follow-up and follow thru on their commitments, what are the next steps. The hardest thing really has been the following up and the following through on making sure that people’s commitment are honored.

And again so much of it is around substance abuse also. You know, people are struggling, that’s why they’re getting high. But it’s like if a youth organizer comes in high, what do we do? Right now we’re starting with a verbal warning, a second verbal warning, and another warning and another warning and it’s like, it’s not a warning anymore. We’re pretty much allowing this to happen, basically. So, more recently – and if I’m the person that’s supposed to hold them accountable but I understand what’s happening in their life and that compassion is interfering with the accountability…I had used one of the transformative justice circles and said, “I’m an adult ally, this is what’s happening, what should I do?” And pretty much everyone around the table said follow the member’s rights and responsibilities, follow that protocol. I warn them that if I follow that protocol, people will get fired. And the way that I handled that one is that the two people that were really struggling with addiction, a team sat with both of them, individually and said here is a really good resource, you have a week to enroll into this program if you want to keep this job. We have to fine tune consequences so they are appropriate for the situation and person. For one person he couldn’t do it, didn’t want to do it and was being forced to do it. He wasn’t really following through and then we had to let him go. And for the other person, challenges and obstacles were coming up with that referral but they were putting in the effort, putting in the time, so they were able to stay. It’s key to set those limits and provide unconditional support. And no matter what, whether you’re working for the space or not, you’re still a part of the space and the movement that is happening here and if you need anything, we’re still here.

What is important is very clear agreements and whatever agreements are made, to make sure those agreements are honored.

LMA: That’s such a brilliant process. Thank you for the examples, such amazing work you are all doing at YJC. I could ask you a million more questions, but I know our time is coming to an end. Anything else, last beautiful Kruti wisdoms about everyday abolition you’d like to share?

KP: I want to add one more thing. I feel like this comes up in our school and I think it comes up in organizations and in different spaces. Many of us have worked in spaces where we have seen injustice and sometimes are the sole voice that voices these injustices. And then we come into spaces where it’s about voicing those injustices all the time. But some are more critical and more analytical and are more conscious and less arrogant than others. And sometimes it comes to this battle of who is the better organizer or who is the most conscious one? And as soon as the battle starts we move into this really weird twisted competition and I feel like everyday abolition is without competition, trying to be the best selves that we can be and really supporting that so we can nurture that for each other.

Thank you Kruti and all of the community at the Youth Justice Coalition!

Kruti is one of the adult allies and organizers at YJC and graciously shared this interview with EA. The YJC is a unique collaboration of a radical “alternative” high school called FREE LA High School (Fight for the Revolution that will Empower and Educate L.A.) and a youth-led political organizing community called Chuco’s Justice Center.

From their website:

The Youth Justice Coalition (YJC) is working to build a youth, family and prisoner-led movement to challenge race, gender and class inequality in Los Angeles County’s and California’s juvenile injustice systems. Our goal is to dismantle policies and institutions that have ensured the massive lock-up of people of color; widespread police violence, corruption and distrust between police and communities; disregard of youth and communities’ Constitutional and human rights; the construction of a vicious school-to-jail track; and the build-up of the world’s largest network of juvenile halls, jails and prisons. The YJC uses direct action organizing, advocacy, political education, transformative justice and activist arts to mobilize system-involved youth, families and our allies – both in the community and within lock-ups – to bring about change.

For more information, including ways that you can support YJC’s work – please visit their website at http://www.youth4justice.org

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