We Don’t Leave Our Fighters Behind

Another article in the recent zine, We Gather Here Today in Disservice of the State, from Des Moines Mutual Aid (DMMA) is “Court Solidarity: How and Why, or We Don’t Leave Our Fighters Behind.”

Des Moines Mutual Aid is an Abolitionist Mutual Aid Collective made up of varying radical and revolutionary tendencies in what is currently known as central Iowa.

Even though I’ve been engaged with DMMA for two years, I continue to learn of the many things our collective does. My experience is with the food giveaway project, and I know about the work to help the houseless. I also know about the bail fund. But not the full extent of Court Solidarity.

Des Moines Mutual Aid is the best community organizing group that I know of. Besides putting together and distributing the boxes of food on Saturday mornings, I look forward to hearing what my friends have been up to. And look for ways I can help. By offering to take photos at events, for example.

The Why

The injustices we face are commonly perpetrated and enforced by the state. Which means our demands for justice often require agitation against the state. The state criminalizes the exercise of civil liberties with laws that are themselves often unconstitutional. But this is how the state attempts to quell resistance, by arresting and incarcerating us.

The basic reasoning of why this tactic [court solidarity] has developed is that the state uses isolation as a tool for intimidation and compliance. The state relies on you feeling powerless once they have you in their grips… When we know our communities have our back, we are less likely to be coerced into decisions detrimental to ourselves and our communities and more willing to fight back.

May capitalism’s armed militias never capture you. If they do, may your people have your back like you had theirs.

A Brief History of Des Moines Mutual Aid Court Solidarity

When the uprising after the police murder of George Floyd began, Des Moines Mutual Aid understood we needed to organize a bail fund to keep our fighters out of jail and get them back to the streets. This was also during the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic and jails are an extremely dangerous hotspot for virus transmission.
As expected, the state responded viciously to the protests and began making mass arrests. We put a call out to the community and they responded rapidly with donations. We set up a hotline that is monitored 24/7 to alert us to arrests and typically have bonds posted within hours. We managed to bail out every protester in Des Moines since the Summer of 2020 and continue to do so at the time of this writing at the beginning of 2022.

This reminds me of my training for community organizing as part of the Keystone Pledge of Resistance in 2013. Everyone participating was told to write the phone number to our bail support team on their skin.

But the court solidarity of DMMA goes far beyond that.

After bail was paid and the person was leaving jail, they were interviewed to see if they had any immediate needs and to obtain their contact information so the court solidarity team could monitor court filings and work on finding pro bono lawyers and mental health professionals as needed.

As the street protests cooled down and the trials began, we put out a call to build a Court Solidarity crew. We used information from the defendants and public court records to keep up to date on court scheduling and made sure we showed up to court dates. This also served as a movement building tactic. Many different orgs are represented on these days and we use this time to eat together, organize further, and strategize about upcoming cases


Once arrested there are two things that need to be done right away.

  • Assess the immediate needs of the person arrested, and of those who depend on them.
    • “Needs such as injuries, time-dependent medications, pets, children, dependent adults, immigration status, etc.”
  • Determine their bail and get it paid quickly
    • “The longer someone is in the hands of the state the possibility of something very bad happening increases.”


Once the ransom is paid, or the defendant is denied bail and must wait in a cage for trial, the next step is to find legal representation.

This is also the time to organize defense committees for the defendant or a group of defendants, with their consent. The defense committee’s roles include raising funds for legal costs and dependent care as well as popular support, as deemed appropriate. They often work hand in hand with the lawyers to make sure neither is creating roadblocks for the defendant’s goals. The defense committees should have one or more individuals that keep track of the defendant’s mental health and arrange for therapy or other means of relief.
All of these processes are traumatic to the defendant.

Remember that many protest arrests are of people knowingly risking their freedom to further ours.


Once the trial starts, fill those seats! There are few feelings of isolation like sitting in a courtroom inside a building completely filled with people that have your worst interests in mind, many of them armed. When you have a few dozen people sitting with you it can give the little extra courage needed to complete this on your terms. There is evidence to suggest that court support and character letters, which we will come back to, have a positive effect for the defendant during sentencing.
If the defendant is feeling it, have the whole crew eat together during lunch breaks, and rest somewhere together while waiting on the jury to return its verdict. This can have the effect of keeping the defendant’s morale up, as well as that of the defense committees, many of whom may be defendants themselves. The stress of state repression during times of increased resistance can, and all too frequently has, fractured relationships and solidarity.
These are important moments to nurture those relationships and maintain the strength we built together in the street


In the case of a guilty verdict or acceptance of a plea, continued support is needed. Character reference letters can be sent to the court prior to sentencing. And funds need to be raised. crowdfunding is commonly used.

In the worst case scenario money will be needed for commissary.

Letter writing can be very helpful, not only to those who are incarcerated, but as a way those outside the prison walls to learn of conditions in prisons. And organize ways to address conditions. I’ve written about the prison letter writing group I’ve been involved with. That is organized by one of my Mutual Aid friends as part of the work of Central Iowa Democratic Socialists of America.

Transgress the Prison Walls

This is a very broad overview of Court Solidarity. Many of the important details will differ based on the laws of your state. Looking up state code and talking to lawyers, law students, or paralegals will help you get a handle on that.
Our next installment will cover prison escapes, how to live underground, and states that refuse u.s. extradition.

If you have any questions, feel free to contact us at desmoinesmutualaid@protonmail.com.

Transgress the Prison Walls

I just sat down after taking two letters to prison pen-pals to the mailbox and saw the article Abolitionist Efforts to Trangress the Prison Walls by Jaden Janak, Hood Communist, March 10, 2022. I don’t like to include too many quotes in my writing, but this article touches on many things I’ve been learning, much which is about Mutual Aid.

Through a close reading of Black Communist trans prisoner Alyssa V. Hope’s legal efforts and writings, this article unearths how a pen-pal relationship transformed into a comprehensive abolitionist community. This case study provides an example of how abolitionists are grappling with the need to support the material needs of marginalized communities while still building otherwise possible worlds separate from a failing welfare state. Mutual aid projects, like the one formed by Hope’s supporters, showcase that otherwise possible worlds are not only possible, but they are being created right now before us.

Abolitionist Efforts to Trangress the Prison Walls by Jaden Janak, Hood Communist, March 10, 2022

… it was not always this way, which proves it does not have to stay this way. 

What we have is each other. We can and need to take care of each other. We may have limited power on the political stage, a stage they built, but we have the power of numbers.

Those numbers represent unlimited amounts of talents and skills each community can utilize to replace the systems that fail us.  The recent past shows us that mutual aid is not only a tool of survival, but also a tool of revolution. The more we take care of each other, the less they can fracture a community with their ways of war

Ronnie James, The Police State and Why We Must Resist

The focus of the Transgress the Prison Walls article is on the writings of political prisoners, but much applies to prison pen-pal relationships with anyone who is incarcerated. I’ve become involved in the prison letter writing project of the Central Iowa Democratic Socialists of America. Not surprisingly, I found several of my Des Moines Mutual Aid friends are also involved.

I wrote the following based upon a sample letter.

As abolitionist organiser and theorist Mariame Kaba writes, “The work of abolition insists that we foreground the people who are behind the walls… That we transform the relationships we have with each other so that we can really create new forms of safety and justice in our communities.” (Duda/Kaba 2017) This solidarity takes many forms such as written correspondence via pen-pal pro-grams

Abolitionist Efforts to Trangress the Prison Walls by Jaden Janak, Hood Communist, March 10, 2022

More than a one-way exchange of sympathy, abolitionist solidarity operationalises mutual aid as a foundational modality for community building. Abolitionist mutual aid recognises the necessity of meeting immediate communal needs while also addressing deeper causes of violence: mechanisms of control, management, and punishment that structure everyday life (Spade 2020, 9). Historically, mutual aid communities have taken many forms including the 1969 Free Breakfast programs of the Black Panther Party in the United States and the maroon communities formed by free and escaped en-slaved people (Nelson 2011). In the 1950s and 1960s, health providers routinely refused Black patients and relegated Black people to sub-standard facilities (ibid., 24). To protest this treatment and provide for their community, the Black Panther Party of Oakland and other chapters around the nation and world opened People’s Free Medical Clinics that provided quality medical services free of charge to Black community members (ibid., 79). Mutual aid work, like that of the Black Panther Party, is not top-down charity. Rather, mutual aid projects “are an integrated part of our lives… and [they] cultivate a shared analysis of the root causes of the problem.” (Spade 2020, 28f.) Even as the welfare state continues to crumble, communities work together to meet each other’s needs while creating new relations of accountability and care in the state’s absence.

Abolitionist Efforts to Trangress the Prison Walls by Jaden Janak, Hood Communist, March 10, 2022

So, I work with a dope crew called Des Moines Mutual Aid, and on Saturday mornings we do a food giveaway program that was started by the Panthers as their free breakfast program and has carried on to this day. Anyways, brag, brag, blah, blah.

So, I get to work and I need to call my boss, who is also a very good old friend, because there is network issues. He remembers and asks about the food giveaway which is cool and I tell him blah blah it went really well. And then he’s like, “hey, if no one tells you, I’m very proud of what you do for the community” and I’m like “hold on hold on. Just realize that everything I do is to further the replacing of the state and destroying western civilization and any remnants of it for future generations.” He says “I know and love that. Carry on.”

Ronnie James, Des Moines Mutual Aid

Working for peace

With the rising rhetoric and tensions regarding the Russian invasion of Ukraine, I’m asking myself, again, what does it mean to work for peace? A question I’ve returned to repeatedly over the course of my life. My answer to that question has changed over time. Following is some history of working for peace. But I intend to write how I see working for peace has changed, what that means today, soon.

As I was coming of age in the late 1960’s, at the time of the war in Vietnam, I continuously studied and thought about war and peace. On his eighteenth birthday, every male in the US was required to register with the Selective Service System, which recruited for the armed services. I was born into a Quaker community and attending Scattergood Friends (Quaker) boarding school at that time.

Because of their work for peace, Quakers, the Brethren, and Mennonites were known as historic peace churches. Young men who were members of one of those religious organizations could apply for conscientious objector (CO) status with the Selective Service System. If approved, they would spend two years working in civilian jobs for the public good. Most often in hospitals or mental health institutions.

Those who didn’t belong to one of the historic peace churches could apply for CO status, but that usually wasn’t granted to them. That was blatantly unjust. Similarly, those attending college were routinely granted a student deferment, allowing them to finish their studies. Yet another injustice for those who weren’t students.

Conscientious objector status and student deferments were transparent efforts to quiet resistance to the draft. A number of young men refused to accept those alternatives. Refusing to register with the Selective Service System or returning your draft card made you a draft resister. If convicted, the sentence was a felony conviction and usually a prison sentence.

The peacetime draft was implemented in 1940. Not long after, some Quaker families left the country and established the Monteverde community in Costa Rica.

About dozen men and their families in my Quaker community remained in this country but believed they could not participate in the draft. Which meant refusing to register or returning their draft cards if they had registered but came to believe that was wrong.

It took some time for my family to come to terms with my decision to resist the draft. I initially applied for and was granted conscientious objector status. When my family finally accepted my decision, I turned in my draft cards.

A lot more about my draft resistance story can be found here: https://jeffkisling.com/2017/05/01/my-draft-resistance-story/

I wasn’t arrested, but Daniel Barrett, who attended Scattergood Friends School with me, was arrested and imprisoned.

My Quaker friend and mentor, Don Laughlin, collected many stories of Quaker responses to several wars, including Danniel’s and mine. Don resisted the draft and was imprisoned. When I heard of his project and offered to help, which meant I had those stories when Don died. You can read those stories here:

Young Quaker Men Facing War and Conscription

This morning I saw a message from a Friend who suggested we begin to offer conscientious objector, or draft counseling, as was done during the Vietnam War.

I wanted to share the story of how Muhammad Ali was an inspiration to me as I struggled with my draft decision.

Muhammad Ali was one of the most significant influences in my life, at a difficult time in my life. Approaching my 18th birthday, when I would have to decide what I was going to do about registering with the Selective Service System, I saw Muhammad Ali take a very public, very unpopular stand against the Vietnam War.

He said:
“Under no conditions do we take part in war and take the lives of other humans.”

“It is in the light of my consciousness as a Muslim minister and my own personal convictions that I take my stand in rejecting the call to be inducted. I do so with the full realization of its implications. I have searched my conscience.”

“Man, I ain’t got no quarrel with them Vietcong…they never called me n_____.”

It was very clear what the consequences of that decision could be, and yet he would not be persuaded to change his position, knowing he was jeopardizing his boxing career.

I was impressed by his clear vision of the universal struggle of every person for peace and freedom, and every person’s responsibility to the world community, no matter their religion, race or country.

He helped me make my decision to refuse to participate in the draft, and therefore, the Vietnam War. And continued to be an inspiration in the days that followed.

Muhammad Ali and Me

I read this Epistle to Friends Concerning Military Conscription many times as I was praying and thinking about draft resistance, and since.

An Epistle to Friends Concerning Military Conscription

Dear Friends,

It has long been clear to most of us who are called Friends that war is contrary to the spirit of Christ and that we cannot participate in it.  The refusal to participate in war begins with a refusal to bear arms.  Some Friends choose to serve as noncombatants within the military.  For most of us, however, refusal to participate in war also involves refusal to be part of the military itself, as an institution set up to wage war.  Many, therefore, become conscientious objectors doing alternative service as civilians, or are deferred as students and workers in essential occupations.

Those of us who are joining in this epistle believe that cooperating with the draft, even as a recognized conscientious objector, makes one part of the power which forces our brothers into the military and into war.  If we Friends believe that we are special beings and alone deserve to be exempted from war, we find that doing civilian service with conscription or keeping deferments as we pursue our professional careers are acceptable courses of action.   But if we Friends really believe that war is wrong, that no man should become the executioner or victim of his brothers, then we will find it impossible to collaborate with the Selective Service System.  We will risk being put in prison before we help turn men into murderers.

It matters little what men say they believe when their actions are inconsistent with their words.  Thus we Friends may say that all war is wrong, but as long as Friends continue to collaborate in a system that forces men into war, our Peace Testimony will fail to speak to mankind.

Let our lives speak for our convictions.  Let our lives show that we oppose not only our own participation in war, but any man’s participation in it.  We can stop seeking deferments and exemptions, we can stop filling out Selective Service forms, we can refuse to obey induction and civilian work orders.  We can refuse to register or send back draft cards if we’ve already registered.

In our early history we Friends were known for our courage in living according to our convictions.  At times during the 1600’s thousands of Quakers were in jails for refusing to pay any special respect to those in power, for worshiping in their own way, and for following the leadings of conscience.  But we Friends need not fear we are alone today in our refusal to support mass murder.  Up to three thousand Americans severed their relations with the draft at nation-wide draft card turn-ins during 1967 and 1968.  There may still be other mass returns of cards, and we can always set our own dates.

We may not be able to change our government’s terrifying policy in Vietnam.  But we can try to change our own lives.  We must be ready to accept the sacrifices involved if we hope to make a real testimony for Peace.  We must make Pacifism a way of life in a violent world.

We remain, in love of the Spirit, your Friends and brothers,

Don Laughlin
Roy Knight
Jeremy Mott
Ross Flanagan
Richard Boardman
James Brostol
George Lakey 
Stephen Tatum
Herbert Nichols
Christopher Hodgkin
Jay Harker
Bob Eaton
Bill Medlin
Alan & Peter Blood

Roy Knight, John Griffith, and Don Laughlin were among the members of my yearly meeting, Iowa Yearly Meeting (Conservative) who resisted the draft. Don and Roy signed the epistle above.

Global Abolition and White Supremacy

For most of my life I understood abolition to mean abolishing slavery. I often heard about that in my Quaker community. The story is that Quakers were involved in the underground railroad, helping freedom seekers escape from where they were enslaved.

But my friend Lucy Duncan writes about myths and avoiding uncomfortable truths.

We White Quakers like to revel in our myths about ourselves. These include “we were all abolitionists”; “we all worked on the Underground Railroad”; and “none of us were slaveholders.”

Often there are kernels of truth in myths, but the truth is more complex. Myths exist to veil the complexity and contradictions of our history, to obfuscate the differences between who we think we are and who we really are and have been. Often we want to take credit for the courageous few among us in order to absolve us from the uncomfortable reckoning with our past and our present. These myths protect our sense of innocence and goodness, but at what cost? Our failure to interrogate uncomfortable truths keeps us from living up to the promise of our faith, one that centers uncovering truth as foundational to our communal religious life.

A Quaker Call to Abolition and Creation by Lucy Duncan, Friends Journal, April 1, 2021

There are many stories of white Friends today refusing to reckon with our past, and what racial justice requires of us now.

Today abolition more commonly refers to abolishing police and prisons. I’ve joined in the work of Quakers for Abolition Network and contributed to an article about this in the Western Friend, https://westernfriend.org/issue/94. I participate in the Central Iowa Democratic Socialists of America’s prison letter writing efforts and am taking two courses related to abolition.

As I was praying about what to write today, I was thinking about the terrible abuses the Wet’suwet’en peoples in British Columbia are suffering from the heavily militarized Royal Canadian Mounted Police. The state sanctioned violence to enforce construction of the Coastal GasLink pipeline through their sacred and pristine lands and water. Yesterday I wrote about stopping the criminalization of Indigenous land defenders. And I realized this is another case that calls for the abolition of police and prisons.

That led to making the connection to the entire history of colonization of so-called North America to abolition. To the global colonization of Indigenous peoples. To the need for abolition of colonization and supremacy worldwide. Including repudiation of the Doctrine of Discovery.

Abolition is about ending systems of control over populations. That is why my friends and I are working to create Mutual Aid communities. Mutual Aid is about replacing vertical hierarchies with horizontal group structures. There can be no control from above if there is no vertical hierarchy.

“What would it look like to finally and fully abolish slavery?” It would look like Mutual Aid.

What would it mean for us to take seriously and collectively as a Religious Society a call to finish the work of abolition, hand in hand and side by side with those affected  and their loved ones? What would it mean for us to stand fully with the calls to abolish the police and fully fund community needs instead? What would it mean to reckon with our past complicity with harm and fully dedicate ourselves to the creation of a liberating Quaker faith that commits to build the revolutionary and healing faith we long to see come to fruition? What would it look like to finally and fully abolish slavery?

A Quaker Call to Abolition and Creation by Lucy Duncan, Friends Journal, April 1, 2021

The future we want

I’ve been trying to integrate all that I’ve been learning about Mutual Aid, #LANDBACK, Abolition, Religious Socialism, Ecosocialism, photography, forced assimilation and Indigenous worldview. There are many intersections among these. This is stimulated in part as I reflect on yesterday. It was a spiritual time when I stopped at Easter Lake to take photos there, despite, or because of the bitter cold. Then continuing to be with my Mutual Aid friends as we filled boxes of food to distribute in the neighborhood. To witness people coming together to share stories. Each moving from one friend to another. This is part of the future we (I) want that exists now. That is the wonderful thing about Mutual Aid, as the focus is on addressing survival needs in the present. As my friend Ronnie says, you work intensely for an hour and a half, and when you’re done you feel sweaty, tired and good.

As I hear so many friends expressing feelings of hopelessness and despair, I feel fortunate to be involved in a community that gives us a sense of doing something good together. Which is one reason I’m trying to get more people involved in Mutual Aid.

I heard some of this discouragement when those in the Quakers for Abolition Network met via ZOOM yesterday.

I’ve been working on a new diagram to help me visualize the relationships between the concepts mentioned at the beginning. The root cause of so much suffering is the capitalist economic system. Socialism is an alternative to capitalism. Ecosocialism is about how environmental devastation will be the end of capitalism. Or faith communities can help bring about socialism as an alternative to capitalism from a moral lens. Or both.

Mutual Aid is a framework to replace vertical hierarchies and the unjust power structures they enforce. LANDBACK, returning to Indigenous relationships with the land, and abolition of police and prisons are part of building communities that represent the future we want.


Des Moines Mutual Aid Networking

Yesterday I wrote about the Quakers for Abolition Network I am a member of. We will be meeting this afternoon, so I’m thinking of what I hope our network might do. There is so much that needs to be done.

My friend Jake Grobe, from Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement (ICCI) was at our Des Moines Mutual Aid food distribution this morning. He doesn’t get to attend too often because of his organizing work. He told me about an upcoming action at MidAmerican Energy to demand that they shut down all their coal plants. Here is the story about a previous action.

Protesters gathered outside the MidAmerican Energy headquarters in downtown Des Moines today to demand Iowa’s largest energy company retire all of its coal plants in nine years. They were part of two groups: Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement (Iowa CCI) and the Iowa Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal campaign.

They also want MidAmerican to invest in retrofitting homes for energy efficiency with a focus on families of color and low-income individuals.

Jake Grobe stood on a ledge wearing a bucket hat and a blue T-shirt with “REVOLUTION NOW” printed in all capital letters. He held a megaphone to his mouth, which was covered by a black and white bandana. (All the protesters wore masks.) Grobe asked the crowd who is most hurt by the effects of climate change.

“It’s Black, Indigenous, it’s poor working families that are unable to recover from flash floods, from droughts from wildfires. Climate crisis increases all inequalities,” he answered himself.

Environmental Activists Urge Iowa Energy Company To Retire Coal Energy By Kassidy Arena, Iowa Public Radio, August 18, 2021

One of the things I love about Mutual Aid is how we network about each other’s work. I hadn’t known about the MidAmerican actions, but now I hope to attend the next one. He said it would be good if I could take photos there. This networking lets us know who has skills, like photography, which can help each other’s work.

Speaking of photos prompted me to share about a recent action at Chase Bank in support of the Wet’suwet’en peoples fighting against the Coastal GasLink pipeline. He hadn’t been aware of that.

Support for Wet’suwet’en at Chase bank

That also reminded me of going to SUMMIT headquarters in Ames, Iowa, recently. SUMMIT is one of the companies proposing to build carbon pipelines in the Midwest. My friends Sikowis Nobiss and Mahmud Fitil know of my photography and asked me to attend the gathering there.

Jake and ICCI are also working to stop CO2 pipelines.

We talked about how bad the Iowa legislature is. He said we need our own socialist party. I told him about the Central Iowa Democratic Socialists of America’s prison letter writing project.

He asked what I had been doing. I described the Quakers for Abolition Network, which interested him. He had been arrested three times last year at direct actions and said you don’t really know how bad prison is until you experience it yourself.

our response and an invitation that we allow the Spirit to awaken our imagination to build a world where we can all be safe(r) and flourish without threats of violence.  

The call for the abolishment of police, policing and the police state is not a new call. For centuries, Black and Indigenous people have called for the end of violence enacted on their bodies and communities by police. They have been calling for other possibilities that move us from the appearance of safety to truly safe and whole communities. In the wake of continued high profile police shootings across the United States, many people in the church pushed for an Anabaptist-oriented response and resources that helped us to move as a church into solidarity with the pain and brutality being felt and witnessed on Black, brown and Indigenous people. This curriculum is our response and invitation that we allow the Spirit to awaken our imagination to build a world where we can all be safe(r) and flourish without threats of violence.  

Defund the Police? An Abolition Curriculum

Quakers for Abolition Network

The tragic news of the recent killings of police officers ratchets up calls for more policing. Demonizing those of us who call for defunding the police. New York City’s mayor refers to defunding the police as a bumper sticker.

President Joe Biden’s meeting with New York City Mayor Eric Adams on February 3, 2022, comes as cities across the U.S. face a rise in violent crimes and represents a politically awkward shift in how the Democratic Party is approaching policing and criminal justice.

As a Senator in the 1990’s, Biden was known to be tough on crime, and Adams, a former NYPD captain, has been vocal about his support for police and the criminal justice system. They both find their long-held positions on policing and crime back in the Democratic mainstream, as some mayors and elected officials have shifted their stance on crime and the “defund the police” movement over the past several months.

During his meeting with Adams, Biden expressed his opposition to defunding the police as he said, “the answer is not the defund the police, it’s to give you the tools, the training, the funding, to be partners [and] to be protectors.”

Joe Biden, Eric Adams Meeting Marks Democrats U-Turn on ‘Defund the Police’ BY MATTHEW IMPELLI, Newsweek, 2/3/22

As an abolitionist, it feels like menace is in the air. I’m reminded of my teen days when I resisted the draft while the Vietnam war was raging. It was great to be living in the Scattergood Friends School community then.

Most people think about abolition in terms of what it is against. Against the institution of slavery, against police and prisons. I like to think about what abolition is for.

I am a member of the Quakers for Abolition Network. Mackenzie Barton-Rowledge and Jed Walsh have been organizing this effort. Following are two articles published in Western Friend. To join the Quakers for Abolition Network, email Jed Walsh (jedwalsh9 [at] gmail.com) or Mackenzie Barton-Rowledge (mbartonrowledge [at] gmail.com).

Mackenzie: Let’s start with: What does being a police and prison abolitionist mean to you?

Jed: The way I think about abolition is first, rejecting the idea that anyone belongs in prison and that police make us safe. The second, and larger, part of abolition is the process of figuring out how to build a society that doesn’t require police or prisons.

M: Yes! The next layer of complexity, in my opinion, is looking at systems of control and oppression. Who ends up in jail and prison? Under what circumstances do the police use violence?

As you start exploring these questions, it becomes painfully clear that police and prisons exist to maintain the white supremacist, heteronormative, capitalist status quo. The racial dynamics of police violence are being highlighted by the recent uprisings and the Black Lives Matter movement.

We are in the same place, with a call to imagine a culture radically different than the one in which we live. Abolishing police and prisons, like abolishing slavery, would change the structure of our society: dramatically decreasing violence and undoing one set of power relationships that create domination and marginalization. And in place of this violence, we could, instead, have care.

Abolish the Police by Mackenzie Barton-Rowledge and Jed Walsh, Western Friend, Nov 2020

Perspectives from the Quakers for Abolition Network

In late 2020, the two of us wrote an article for this magazine, called “Abolish the Police.” Through writing the piece, we realized we wanted to convene a larger space where Friends with an interest in police and prison abolition could have conversations with one another. Quaker abolitionists today face major pushback from our Meetings; we hoped that drawing Friends together would support and strengthen our work.

In this context, the Quakers for Abolition Network is being born. We are a collection of Friends from at least five Yearly Meetings; we range in age from high school to our 80s; we are disproportionately queer and trans. While AFSC and FCNL staff are participating, this is a grassroots project without any formal connections to existing organizations. We are in the process of defining our mission statement, structure, and our methods for addressing white supremacy when it shows up in our work, while building relationships with each other as we go. Below, four Friends write about their approaches to abolition, their lessons, and their visions for where Quakers might be headed.

Jeff Kisling: Mutual Aid and Abolition

I grew up in rural Iowa, where there was very little racial diversity and interactions with police and the court system were rare. About ten years ago, I was blessed to become involved with the Kheprw Institute, a Black youth mentoring and empowerment community. I’ll never forget how shocked I was when a Black mother broke down in tears, explaining how terrified she was every minute her children were away from home. It was obvious that every other person of color in the discussion knew exactly what she was saying.

After retiring, I was led to connect with Des Moines Mutual Aid, a multiracial organization founded to support houseless people. For over a year, I’ve helped my friends fill and distribute boxes of donated food, while continuing to learn about the framework of mutual aid.

To me, mutual aid is about taking back control of our communities. Besides the food giveaway, we support houseless people and maintain a bail fund to support those arrested agitating for change. We also work for the abolition of police and prisons.

To join the Quakers for Abolition Network, email Jed Walsh (jedwalsh9 [at] gmail.com) or Mackenzie Barton-Rowledge (mbartonrowledge [at] gmail.com).

Mackenzie Barton-Rowledge and Jed Walsh: Introducing the Quakers for Abolition Network, Western Friend, Sept 2021

New paths for faith and justice

Much of my work and writing last year has been related to Mutual Aid. This has solidified my conclusions that our hope now is to continue and expand Mutual Aid projects across the county and world.

The greatest driver to build mutual aid groups is we will soon have no choice. It is increasingly clear our political system has failed us. Capitalism has failed us. Our healthcare industry is failing despite the valiant efforts of front-line health workers. And most of all, environmental chaos will rapidly worsen.

It has seemed our faith bodies are failing us, too. Where is the church in helping us through these increasingly trying times?

We can take advantage of skills that we cultivate within our faith spaces—such as mindfulness, active listening and servant leadership—to build multi-faith, multi-tendency, and multi-generational coalitions for systemic change

Ty Kiatathikom

For example, I’ve worked my entire adult life to convince Quakers to stop owning personal automobiles. And failed to do so. I’m aware this could be related to mistakes I’ve made in communicating.

I’ve been discouraged, but not surprised, at the lack of response I’ve been getting when trying to convince people of the evils and failure of capitalism. (See Evils of Capitalism). But I know it will require spiritual guidance to help us through the coming times. I still have faith the Inner Light will show us the way.

I am intrigued by the idea of Religious Socialism that my friend Fran Quigley told me about. Fran is director of the Health and Human Rights Clinic at Indiana University McKinney School of Law and has published the book Religious Socialism: Faith in Action for a Better World.

In the following Lucy Duncan writes “What would it mean to reckon with our past complicity with harm and fully dedicate ourselves to the creation of a liberating Quaker faith that commits to build the revolutionary and healing faith we long to see come to fruition? What would it look like to finally and fully abolish slavery?”

Ty Kiatathikom writes about Religious Socialism. And there is information about an eight-week course, “Re-Envisioning Community Safety. Exploring Policing and Alternatives”.

Early Friends understood the Inner Light not only as a beacon shining from each person’s soul but also as a searchlight exposing the knots and blocked or wounded places in ourselves, the spaces requiring reckoning and real repair. I would argue that these stories of White Quaker complicity (which do not in any way diminish the stories of individual and collective Quaker courage) implicate us in the harms of slavery and incarceration in deep ways. They implicate us as perpetrators but also as wounded ourselves.

As Wendell Berry so eloquently put it, we carry the mirror image of the harm we’ve caused in our souls. This “hidden wound” is ever present and disrupts our ability to be fully intact, fully grounded, and human. We render ourselves in some ways obscure to our own history and to a full knowing of who we are.

I tell the stories of early White Quaker relationships to slavery because slavery was never really abolished. If we can reckon with the full truth of our connection to slavery and its afterlives, perhaps we can begin the healing necessary to fulfill the promise of the Religious Society of Friends of Truth. 

We as White Quakers like to think of ourselves as ahead or better than dominant culture, but we have been complicit in a system and mindset that are ubiquitous. Claiming the full truth of our history and committing to repair the harms done are deeply spiritual acts of healing our own wounds of disconnection. I would argue it is the pathway upon which we can, perhaps for the first time, discover and invigorate our faith with its full promise.

What would it mean for us to take seriously and collectively as a Religious Society a call to finish the work of abolition, hand in hand and side by side with those affected  and their loved ones? What would it mean for us to stand fully with the calls to abolish the police and fully fund community needs instead? What would it mean to reckon with our past complicity with harm and fully dedicate ourselves to the creation of a liberating Quaker faith that commits to build the revolutionary and healing faith we long to see come to fruition? What would it look like to finally and fully abolish slavery?

A Quaker Call to Abolition and Creation by Lucy Duncan, Friends Journal, April 1, 2021

Where do religious socialists fit into that struggle?

Every religion teaches the power of redemption. In every faith, there are stories about human beings redeeming and being redeemed. Siddhartha Gautama renounces his status as a prince to live and die as an ascetic, and in doing so, escapes from the cycle of life and death entirely. The Abrahamic religions call on their adherents to answer for their misdeeds by doing virtuous acts and asking forgiveness from God. Universally, our faiths extol the importance of understanding that our actions in this life define us and carry us on over to the next, and that no person is ever beyond redemption for their vilest act.

We can take advantage of skills that we cultivate within our faith spaces—such as mindfulness, active listening and servant leadership—to build multi-faith, multi-tendency, and multi-generational coalitions for systemic change. Relationship-building is a foundational step in birthing a revolutionary culture, and abolitionist culture is no different. As religious socialists, we have the potential—and therefore the responsibility—to nourish the culture that connects us within and without prison walls. 

One example of religiously informed abolitionist organizing is Abolition Apostles, a national jail and prison ministry based in New Orleans. Serving thousands of incarcerated people across the country, Abolition Apostles connects them with pen pals, material support, and advocacy for their parole and re-entry. 

We cannot claim to live in a moral society until we have achieved the permanent abolition of the prison-industrial complex. The words echo in religious and socialist texts: Hebrews 13.3: Remember those who are in prison as though you were in prison with them; the Dhammapada: Whoever, being pure, forbears with punishment, bondage, and abuse, having the strength of endurance, having an army of strengths, that one I say is a brahmin;  Eugene Debs: While there is a lower class, I am in it, while there is a criminal element, I am of it, and while there is a soul in prison, I am not free


Dear Friends,

From October through December 2021, I led a course for Friends from Multnomah Friends Meeting and West Hills Friends Church (both in Portland, OR) based on the Mennonite Church, USA curriculum about police abolition. https://www.mennoniteusa.org/abolition-curriculum-intro/  
This Portland Quaker gathering was sponsored by Multnomah’s Peace and Social Concerns Committee and Friends for Racial Justice. 

After spending nine weeks exploring these issues and obtaining feedback from course participants, I feel led to widen the discussion to a broader community. I am hoping that additional Friends will join me for an exploration of this topic – and that Friends will forward this opportunity to friends who are not Quakers who may be interested.

Below is the course announcement. Unfortunately, the timing of the course (6:30 – 8:30 pm PST) only works for West Coast, or possibly Mountain Time people. 

Please get in touch if you have questions, suggestions, or are interested in participating.


Kepper Petzing (they)


Why Religious Socialism now?

I first heard about Religious Socialism at the end of 2020, when my friend Fran Quigley wrote in response to the blog post I had written, The Evil of Capitalism. Fran is the director of the Health and Human Rights Clinic at Indiana University McKinney School of Law and a religioussocialism.org editorial team member. He wrote “This post of yours struck me close to home. I too have become fully convinced of the evils of capitalism. Moreover, I have come to the conclusion that my faith dictates that I work to replace it.”

He told me about his involvement with the Democratic Socialists of America’s (DSA) Religion and Socialism Committee. I was interested in what I learned, but was involved in other things at the time, primarily Mutual Aid.

I’ve had trouble getting Quakers interested in being involved in Mutual Aid. And I haven’t often raised religion when with my Mutual Aid friends, some of whom are Indigenous. The horrors of the institutions of forced assimilation, which some Quakers were involved in, are receiving much needed attention now.

I have also been involved in the Quakers for Abolition Network. So, when I saw the Central Iowa DSA event related to their prison letter writing project, I became involved. Not surprisingly several of my Mutual Aid friends were involved as well. I joined the Democratic Socialists of America.

A few days ago, our prison letter writing group met via Zoom to discuss additional things we could do related to incarceration. I mentioned Fran and the DSA’s Religious Socialism group and suggested that might be a way to get faith communities involved.

I’ve begun reading Fran’s book, Religious Socialism: Faith in Action for a Better World.

I created a WordPress site, Quakers and Religious Socialism.

And the Facebook group, Quakers and Religious Socialism.  https://www.facebook.com/groups/470800671285294