There is no just future that includes the USA

A sunrise in Honolulu, Oʻahu, as three military Osprey fly over the cityscape. (Photo by author.)

The myth of a just future for the US

Before I explain why, I want to delineate what justice is and isn’t. Justice necessitates the liberation of all people and lands. A piecemeal liberation, where some are free while others are left destitute and oppressed, is not true liberation nor justice. Likewise, a future where the power roles are reversed, where the formerly oppressed invoke generations of systematic violence on their former oppressors, is not true liberation nor justice. Justice requires far more than righting the wrongs of the past when possible, with the shortcoming that the lives and the histories destroyed cannot be replaced — justice requires the dissolution of the systems and institutions that have perpetuated and would continue to perpetuate violence against peoples and lands. Justice, simply, cannot allow systematic violence to continue in any form or against any target.

The inherent barriers for justice in the US

Abolishing institutions of violence

Although there is overwhelming evidence that these institutions are the embodiment of injustice from their history to their continued functions, the common response is to reform these institutions to make them less cruel and violent. However, Mariame Kaba gives us a sobering reminder in relation to prison reform that rings true for the reform of the other aforementioned institutions as well — “While some offer calls for reform, such calls ignore the reality that an institution grounded in the commodification of human beings, through torture and the deprivation of their liberty, cannot be made good.”

Knowing that reform will never make these institutions just, as they are unjust to their very root, then abolition is the only path forward towards achieving a just society. Their abolition is necessary for justice, as their function and mere existence is an act of violence and terror. However, the very functioning of the US and its socioeconomic fabric is upheld by these institutions. These institutions are routinely used to enact violence against any liberation efforts domestically — as seen in summer 2020, summer 2016, and many seasons past, with police forces being deployed to enact terror on those protesting police violence, particularly police violence against Black people. These institutions are weaponized abroad to challenge and crush any oppositional government or movement, as well as secure routes of resource extraction — a prime example is through rampant and ongoing military activity in the Middle East to secure oil for the US.

These violent institutions are necessary for the continuation of the US empire as a political project, and, as such, the US will meet any efforts towards the abolition of these institutions with increasing violence to ensure their preservation. A manifestation of this can be seen through the response of recent police abolition efforts — rather than centering community concerns over the violence they face, many sects of the government, particularly at the federal level, opted to instead increase police funding to further entrench the institution and ideology into the social fabric. The US empire requires these institutions to continue as is — the prospering of the ruling class here has only been possible through the proliferation of these unjust institutions — so as long as the US exists as a political project, it will defend the continuation of these institutions until its last breath at the expense of the masses and the land. Therefore, if we are to abolish these unjust institutions, then it is likewise necessary to abolish the US as a political project as well, as these institutions and the nation are one and the same, each requiring the other to function.

Return of lands and governance

Looking closer, though, to the places many of us call home, there is no land within what is recognized as the US wasn’t stolen in some form or fashion, whether through genocide, coerced and violated treaties, or other forms of state-sanctioned theft. If we understand decolonization to be the “repatriation of Indigenous land and life”, then there is no way justice can exist for Native communities whose lands were stolen without the return of these lands and the restoration of their governing powers over the lands. So, then, how can the US return those lands and governance of those lands when the entirety of the US is stolen lands? The simple answer is that, in order for Native lands to be fully returned, the US must cease to exist.

Where do we go from here?

The recognition of the need to abolish the US as a political project helps guide political visions beyond representation politics, electoral politics, diversity & inclusion initiatives, and other red herrings. These political strategies only serve as moving targets to keep us distracted, all while legitimizing, and often increasing funding for, the violent systems themselves and yielding no fruits towards their abolition. The understanding that the US must be abolished serves as a political guidepost, helping us discern what aids this transformation and what serves as a distraction, placating reforms, or false promises that only further entrench the US and its institutions — along with their violences — as legitimate powers.

Such a tactic of distraction was seen recently in Biden ordering ICE and CBP to change their language to be more “humane.” While dehumanizing language is certainly harmful, using “humane” language does not diminish the violence of the acts carried out by ICE and CBP. This reform functions to appease liberalist notions of reform under the guise of a more kind and humanizing border regime. But, in understanding the violences of US border imperialism, we understand that such language reform is often used as a tool to distract from the inherent terrorism of ICE, CBP, and other such institutions — a rebranding, a public relations stunt to legitimize these institutions under narratives of their increasingly “humane” nature, ultimately serving to further cement US border imperialism. Transforming our language is an important step for humanizing and valuing those who society dehumanizes and deems criminal or expendable, and is certainly worth fighting for, but when the change begins and ends with mere language reform it is woefully insufficient. In the end, the border will still stand, be reinforced, and be used to continue violence domestically and globally through border imperialism.

When presented with these glaring shortcomings, liberal reformist ideology often leads people to believe that what really matters then is fighting for better inclusion and representation within the US government, so that decisions can theoretically reflect our communities and their needs. But why fight for a seat at the proverbial table when the table should not exist in the first place? When the table has been built in someone else’s house against their wish? When the table has been formed of bone and lacquered in blood again and again?

Rather than fighting for seats at the table, the understanding that the US must be abolished for justice to thrive allows us to focus instead on what actionable steps can be taken to dismantle the table altogether — What can we do as individuals, communities, and coalitions to directly ensure the welfare of those around us, particularly those criminalized and subjected to the violences of the US empire? What can we do to oppose the expansion and prompt the elimination of the police, jails & prisons, the military, and other such institutions of violence, rather than seek their reform? How can we increase our personal capacities, as well as the capacities of our communities and coalitions, particularly Black & Indigenous communities and coalitions, such that we can become more autonomous and sovereign from the US empire?

On this last question, the vision of an end to the US is not a loss, but rather a call to build as we dismantle. The dismantling of the US empire will be a loss in the same way that one ‘loses’ their chains when they gain freedom — once gone, the possibilities are that much more abundant, the future that much brighter and liberated. The impossible simplicity of nations is that they are ultimately imagined — social constructions that are manifested such that they often feel inevitable and fixed. But, they are entirely mutable. A nation only exists if there are people who say it exists and uphold it as such. That means that a simple start towards justice is by internalizing that the US is an empire that has no place in a just future. By letting our imaginations divest from the US, its maintenance, and its ‘improvement,’ we begin letting ourselves imagine modes of governance and care unconcerned with US institutions — we become able to imagine decolonial landscapes where Indigenous governance over and relations with the land are restored, and where communal nurturance within and between communities is the ideological norm rather than the exception.

While liberatory, changing our imaginations is insufficient without also changing the material reality and dismantling the institutions of violence — but, for everything we tear down, there is an opportunity to reflect on what we can build. Ruth Wilson Gilmore teaches us that prison abolition is a project of imagination — dreaming up a world where prisons and policing are obsolete, and then taking action to build that world. So, too, is true of the abolition of the US — although we might not be able to discern every last feature of what a decolonial landscape could look like, freedom dreaming allows us to suss out necessary details or critical junctions and take steps to actualize them. This will look different for everyone. For me, I realize that food sovereignty is necessary for oppressed communities to become free from the dominant corporate food regime. To this end, I have spent the last several years working towards building capacity within communities to (re)gain autonomy over their food systems by volunteering at numerous local farms and farmers markets, researching biocultural restoration in Hawaiʻi and Puerto Rico, and giving lectures and developing curriculum around food sovereignty. Likewise, I understand that colonialist and capitalist ideologies have degraded many people’s relationships with the land, and that a decolonial future necessitates vibrant and reciprocal relationships with the land, so I find great pleasure in helping those around me (re)connect with and care for their lands, especially the seascape. Similarly, I research and advocate for the decarceration of environmental governance, a concrete step in undoing a culture of carcerality and making policing obsolete.

A just future is not only possible, it is necessary — particularly if we are to ensure the welfare of our communities and lands within the mounting climate apocalypse. However, the continuation of the US as a political project is inherently antithetical to cultivating just futures. The abolition of the US empire is an arduous, multi-generational task, but it is the challenge we must undertake if we are to build futures where, for all people and lands, liberation is unshakable and care is abundant.

Boricua/Taíno via LBC | PhD student in NREM, UH Manoa | B.S. & M.S. in Earth Systems, Stanford ’17 | financially support at$Fisky

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