Building an Abolitionist Graduate Workers Union
Dear NUGW members,
For the past two weeks, Northwestern University Community Not Cops (NUCNC) have been holding actions at Northwestern and the broader Evanston community to bring attention to their demands for NU to invest in Black students and abolish NUPD. NUGW as an anti-racist, feminist graduate worker union unequivocally supports NUCNC.
NUGW has supported NU Community Not Cops and the broader abolitionist demand to abolish police on campus since the beginning of the campaign, which began this past June. Members of NUGW worked in collaboration with Black undergrads in the writing of the initial June 3rd letter that called on Northwestern to invest in life-giving institutions for Black students and divest from law enforcement. NUGW was also a formal signatory to this letter and our union voted on a referendum to add the demand that the University divest from policing to our June 2020 Sick Out Demands. NUGW members have continued to be leaders in NUCNC by joining with undergrads in meetings with administration and spearheading the planning and execution of the recent NUCNC month of actions. More broadly, NUGW members have consistently shown up to support NUCNC actions in person. On October 23rd, we launched an NUCNC Organizer Support Fund to raise funds for NUCNC student leaders to attend to their self-care and well-being as they lead this historic campaign. We have already raised over $1,200 through this fund. We plan to continue fundraising to make sure NUCNC leaders are well taken care of as they lead us all in the fight against anti-Black policing and in building abolition in our lifetime.
Please read the below FAQs which will clarify our stance and answer questions you may have about our support for NUCNC and the larger police abolition movement. NUGW has supported NUCNC from the beginning and we will continue to support them in their fight to dismantle policing on campus and to win material, meaningful investment in Black lives (including Black graduate workers) by the administration. We hope you join us at their actions, donate to our Organizer Support Fund, participate in their phone and email zaps, and amplify this movement on social media and throughout your networks.
If you have any additional questions or concerns, please feel free to reach out to your DO or e-mail us directly.
Building an Abolitionist Graduate Worker Union: Frequently Asked Questions
What is abolition?
Abolition is the practice of imagining and creating alternatives to policing, prisons, and the carceral logics that uphold them. It means divesting resources from punitive institutions and, instead, investing them in the health and well-being of communities. Often, the supports and structures that communities actually need for safety are starved for the ample resources given to police, despite the fact that police do not actually keep us safe. An abolitionist framework demands that we redirect those resources to life-giving institutions.
At Northwestern, this means dismantling the Northwestern University Police Department; cutting ties with the Chicago and Evanston Police Departments; and committing those funds to things like: an increase in the number of Black students, faculty, and staff, better financial aid packages for Black students, and a more robust psychological services system for Black students.
Wouldn’t police reform be a better alternative to abolition?
In response to the abolitionist demands made by NUCNC, many Northwestern administrators—including President Morton Schapiro—have responded with suggestions to mandate more diversity/sensitivity training for NUPD and hire more police officers from underrepresented groups. It’s important to know that these initiatives would expand—not shrink—the police force at Northwestern. Reformist initiatives are harmful because often, they end up giving more funds and resources to police at the very same time that they make it even more difficult for communities to demand accountability and structural change. Historically, police “reforms” have often furthered the expansion and grip of the racialized carceral state, leading to the multiplication rather than the diminution of racist police terror.
Beyond that, reforms advance the idea that policing is an institution that can be tinkered with, rather than one that has immovable roots in slavery, anti-Blackness, settler colonialism, and US imperialism. The project of abolition pushes us to think about the very foundations of policing and start from the premise that it cannot be reformed.
Why does Northwestern University Graduate Workers support NU Community Not Cops?
NUGW is an anti-racist, feminist graduate worker union. First and foremost, we support NU Community Not Cops because their vision of protecting Black, brown, Indigenous, trans, queer, undocumented, and other margainalized people who are often targets of police violence are directly aligned with ours. Indeed, we see NUCNC’s fight for abolition and racial justice more broadly as an inherent part of our labor fight that seeks to protect graduate workers (and workers more broadly) from harm at their workplaces. As we work toward union recognition, it is imperative that we see the connections between labor struggles, police violence, racism, and anti-Blackness. In doing so, we ensure that all graduate workers are protected and members of our community, especially those who directly suffer from racist policing, anti-Blackness on our campus, all other forms of oppression enacted by the settler-colonial and corporate university. Our graduate worker movement is stronger, sharper, and more resilient when we are able to see the many ways that Northwestern University harms multiple communities on this campus, all of which include Black people. Only when Black people are safe are we all safe.
Abolishing police not only ensures the workplace safety of our members, but it also serves another purpose: disrupting the University’s ability to beat back the power of organized labor, including graduate workers, on campus. When graduate workers at UC Santa Cruz went on a wildcat strike for an increase to their cost of living stipend, which barely covered their living expenses, they were met with police aggression and surveillance. The presence of aggressive policing on the picket lines is nothing new; modern police trace their roots in part to municipal police forces deployed by wealthy capitalists to suppress workers movements in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. As such, NUGW supports NUCNC’s fight to abolish police because police are the historic and present enemies of workers’ movements, posing an existential threat to NUGW’s interests and the interests of all workers. (For more arguments for why police should not be understood as part of the labor movement, see here.)
Finally, but not least, NUGW supports the work and vision of NUCNC because we believe that it is important for us to take direction from Black organizers. Working to undo racism and anti-Blackness (broadly but also in labor organizing spaces specifically) means supporting and amplifying Black students’ demands and the vision that they have put forward for a community without cops.
How can NUGW continue to support and amplify the work of NU Community Not Cops?
As mentioned earlier, NUGW has already lent support to NUCNC in a number of ways. In June, over 90% of our union voted to expand our Sick Out demands to include specific action around police violence. Overwhelmingly, members voted to show solidarity with NUCNC and demand that Northwestern disband NUPD and cut ties with the Evanston and Chicago Police Departments. Some members of NUGW are also more closely involved with NUCNC and co-wrote the original call for Northwestern to invest in Black students and divest from police. They have also accompanied undergraduate student organizers to meetings with administrative leaders and continue to do the work of coordinating/communicating with them about ways that graduate students can show up for this ongoing campaign.
Protests, marches, rallies, and other actions will continue to happen through this month and into early November. You can keep up with all of them through the NU Community Not Cops Twitter and Instagram accounts. All actions are announced either the day of or late the night before, and they all take place in Evanston. Masks are required to participate. If you can’t physically support, the organizers have also shared this great thread of ways to support their work. Finally, NUGW has created a fund specifically to support student organizers’ daily needs for this work. Please give to the fund if you are able and spread the word about NUCNC’s work!
What else can I read to educate myself on abolition?
The literature on abolition is vast. We encourage you to do your own research, and this list is far from comprehensive, but here are some places to help you get started:
- Resource Guide: Prisons, Policing, and Punishment
- Prison Abolition Syllabus 2.0
- An Indigenous Abolition Study Guide
- Study and Struggle Political Education Curriculum
- Abolition for the People
- Why Police Abolition Is a Useful Framework — Even for Skeptics. Zak Cheney-Rice. New York Magazine
- Yes, We Mean Literally Abolish the Police. Mariame Kaba. New York Times
- The “abolish the police” movement, explained by 7 scholars and activists. Vox.
- If we abolish police, what happens to rapists? Cassandra Mensah. Teen Vogue
- Summer Heat. Mariame Kaba. The New Inquiry.
- How I Became a Police Abolitionist. Derecka Purnell. The Atlantic.
- What Abolitionists Do. Dan Berger, Mariame Kaba, David Stein. Jacobin.
- Is Prison Necessary? Ruth Wilson Gilmore Might Change Your Mind. Rachel Kushner. New York Times.