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Abolition Is Now: Leah Cowan & Lola Olufemi

Leah Cowan and Lola Olufemi join The Verso Podcast to discuss feminist futures, abolitionism, and the roots of social violence.

14 June 2024

Abolition Is Now: Leah Cowan & Lola Olufemi

This week on The Verso Podcast we’re going to be thinking about the relationship between feminism and the carceral system. For a growing number of people the prospect of an abolitionist future - in which police and prisons are obsolete, and are not seen as the answer to all social ills - is an obviously desirable one. But to others, the notion of an abolitionist society is not only unworkable, but deeply irresponsible. Leah Cowan and Lola Olufemi sat down with our host, Eleanor Penny, to address our preconceptions about where violence comes from, what we think it looks like, and how we might tell the difference between protection and liberation - covering topics ranging from the history of feminist movements, to transphobia, police violence, the NGO sector, borders, and biological destiny.

The idea that we need greater police powers and harsher sentencing laws to protect women is very deeply rooted in our culture generally, and often in feminism specifically. Those who criticise abolitionism as fatally naive often point to the rapists and abusers out there as proof that the only solution can be harsher penalties and more stringent enforcement. On the surface it seems that this constitutes a great face-off between feminism and abolitionism.

However when we begin to look more closely at the criminal justice system - and in particular at how atrocious it is at dealing with violence against women - this opposition quickly begins to dissolve. Famously, the vast majority people who commit sexual assault will never face criminal charges let alone conviction or punishment. In fact police forces, prisons and detention centres are themselves often hotbeds of racial and sexual violence - less part of the solution, and more part of the problem. So, how did feminist visions of the future get wrapped up with policing and prisons? And how can we start imagining the world otherwise? 

Lola Olufemi is a black feminist writer and researcher. She co-authored A FLY Girl's Guide to University, and is the author of Feminism Interrupted: Disrupting Power and Experiments in Imagining Otherwise. She is a member of bare minimum - an interdisciplinary anti-work arts collective, and a curator and coordinator at the Feminist Library. She’s a doctoral researcher at the University of Westminster’s Centre for Research and Education in Arts and Media, where she’s the recipient of the 2020 Techne AHRC Doctoral Training Partnership.

Leah Cowan is a writer and editor. Her work has appeared in outlets including Vice UK, Huck, DOPE magazine, and the Guardian, and she is the former Politics Editor at gal-dem. Leah also works at Project 17, an advice centre for migrant families who have No Recourse to Public Funds. Her first book, BORDER NATION - breaking down the borders of migration, was published in 2021. Her latest title Why Would Feminists Trust the Police?: A tangled history of resistance and complicity, is out this week, published by Verso Books. 

This will be the last episode of our main series for this season, but if you haven’t had quite your fill of the Verso podcast this summer you’re in luck!

You are all invited to join us for our upcoming live podcast event and crossover episode with The Dig podcast on Friday the 26th of July at the Union Chapel in London - featuring Jeremy Corbyn, Laleh Khalili, Daniel Denvir of The Dig, and our very own Eleanor Penny, in a discussion about internationalism, the fight against the global far right, and the rise of the Palestine solidarity movement. 

Get your tickets here!

We will also be welcoming the Macrodose podcast as an opening act to this event. Writer and broadcaster Dalia Gebrial will be joined by political scientist Thea Riofrancos and climate justice activist Asad Rehman to discuss the decline of the unipolar world, the climate crisis and green colonialism, and the future of global capitalism. 

Join us in the aftermath of the upcoming UK general election for an evening of discussions where we will collectively grapple with the state of global politics in the era of instability we now inhabit. 

Don’t forget to subscribe to the podcast - you won’t want to miss out on any of our forthcoming episodes over the next few months - featuring even more of the world’s leading activists, scholars, and thinkers. 

If you enjoyed this show please consider leaving a rating or review wherever you get your podcasts - it really helps us out!

See all Verso Podcast episodes here. Listen via your preferred podcast platform.

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Why Would Feminists Trust the Police?
Every week it seems there is a fresh scandal involving abhorrent, racist, misogynist behaviour by police officers. Yet these are the very people women are supposed to approach for help when faced w...

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