40 years after pivotal civil rights legislation in 1968, Angela Davis gave a lecture at Cooper Union organized by BCRW called "Abolition Democracy and Global Politics." She spoke in November 2008, a few days before Obama’s election. In this talk, she lectured about Obama’s recent campaign speech on race, and her hopes that it would open serious conversation about the role race has played in shaping our histories and presents. Instead, Davis argued, his speech was the beginning and end of conversations about race during his campaign. Davis highlighted the importance of talking about racism as it is asserted through social structures, even when no individual can be called racist. She pointed to the legacy of freedom fighters like Fannie Lou Hamer who made it possible for Obama to be president. According to Davis, Obama could separate Fannie Lou Hamer’s legacy from his own because our society tends to think about race in a very contained way: we don’t have a capacious notion about the damage racism does to our society. Davis continued on to talk about how there was no “public language about racism” during Obama’s campaign, which led to a silencing of conversations about race and how the rights of some people are “embedded into systems,” while the rights of others are not. Finally, Davis spoke about civil rights as a “negative process” that points to the “relationship between civil rights and civil death.” In a time when the country was debating the possibility of a “post-racial” world and the first Black president, Angela Davis connected the history of the Civil Rights Movement (which she called the “Freedom Movement” at the time) to the ongoing struggle for Black liberation and prison abolition.
BCRW’s engagements with abolition continued to grow and take center stage at many Scholar and Feminist conferenced. In 2013, the 39th Scholar and the Feminist on “Utopia” featured a workshop on prison abolition led by Tourmaline, a filmmaker, activist, writer, and Activist-in-Residence at BCRW’s Social Justice Institute (SJI). Before becoming a filmmaker, Tourmaline was an abolitionist activist at Sylvia Rivera Law Project and Critical Resistance. Building on this work and writing on resistance to police violence, trans embodiment, and the Prison Industrial Complex (PIC), her workshop offered participants an understanding of the PIC through multimedia and creative exploration. In it, she engaged with archival footage and text from activists such as Angela Davis, Marsha P Johnson, and Sylvia Rivera.