This was written by some anonymous students who attended the October 17th march to abolish Northwestern University’s police department. It provides a detailed account of the march and its moments of experimentation with moving in the streets ungovernable, and some positive feedback on the process of escalation. Escalation is good. Polarization is good. Burn down the American plantation.
Daily Abolitionist Marches Against Campus Police Make the Insurrectional Turn
Last Saturday, a small group of us, all students at Northwestern University, attended our sixth (and certainly not last) demonstration to abolish the police on campus. Our crew, masked up, faceless, anonymous, showed up in solidarity with—but also unaffiliated from—the courageous organizers of these daily marches.
These marches have been organized by radical Black abolitionist students, highly skilled and razor-focused, both from undergraduate and graduate positions, all working in solidarity as #NUCommunityNotCops. This action-oriented project has the potential to continue gaining momentum as they co-build a movement with campus workers (service, staff, and non-corrupt faculty), collaborating with other networks across Chicago campuses, and connecting with grassroots community activist groups.
This is a rather exciting development in the Northside of Chicagoland/Evanston suburban terrain. Last Saturday night has revealed new avenues for insurrectional abolitionist practice and a broader horizon for prison-industrial complex abolitionism to be fought for on university campuses. What the evening of October 17th made crystal clear is how the strategy of escalating conflict with administrators, provosts, presidents, and their guardians has been a consensus-based solution shared by growing numbers of students at Northwestern, across Northern Illinois college campuses, and throughout the Midwest.
Everyone attending these marches expressed a sense of joy in the process of experimenting with and learning how it feels to be ungovernable and how to keep people safe in the streets. The protest leaders are not managers, instead speaking from an abolitionist stance: they understand that abolition does not mean pacifism but the end of all forms of systemic state and interpersonal violence by any means necessary.
Saturday was LIT
The crowd converged at the Foster-Walker complex, a building on the westside of campus. We first discussed community norms, such as: do not cross the people in front, you don’t know the route; do not police each other allow people to react how they want to; protect each other from cameras within the march and from Evanstonians and cops; try your best stay within the bike and white people perimeter; if an arrest happens do not scatter, etc.
The group began marching west down Ridge avenue, toward NUPD headquarters. Almost immediately, black flags began waving alongside the marchers, and tags on corporate chain buildings flowered up rather quickly. The CTA station we passed on the way was heavily tagged up and the march circled up to block the intersection in front of NUPD HQ. Folks put more graffiti in the street in front of the building—some of it was already there from our march a week prior. A small American flag was burned in the back of the group.
People tagged the building up, and formed a barricade in front of the cops positioned inside the HQ, so our people could not be seen. Some comrades spray painted over the blue light security cameras, while others danced and enjoyed the music. From there, the organizers reminded people this was an abolitionist march and that we were in solidarity with all people facing repression and state terror in Nigeria. It was in this moment that we understood that the fight to abolish police was not siloed in Evanston, and not even in Illinois, but that our militant and abolitionist struggle against NUPD was connected to the struggle to abolish SARS in Nigeria—a call to international solidarity against antiBlackness globally, in all its forms.
The march eventually moved to downtown Evanston and its war memorial (sadly no one tagged the memorial) but more graffiti in the streets began saturating the area. On the way past the memorial, we passed a strip of businesses that got tagged including the cop-loving SF chain Philz Coffee. Fuck Philz. From downtown Evanston, the march began to move closer to campus. On the way to campus, two parking meters were smashed, a large Chase bank sign was completely shattered, the street-facing windows of the Whole Foods near campus were significantly tagged up, defaced, and a whole panel of windows were shattered.
Once we got to the front gate (“the Arch”) of campus, someone tagged the NU university sign with abolitionist messaging. When everybody arrived at the arch, they tagged it the fuck up. We ripped down the president’s condescending “we’re N this together” banner, and burned it while the crowd danced to “burn baby burn.” Someone said over the mic asked the streets, “How can we be in over this together when service workers are being laid off without pay or not being given hazard pay?”
Full of joy and energy, we then walked to the University president’s home. While on our way, we slowed down in front of the university’s “black house” to chant, “I love you.” But as we continued towards the president’s mansion, passing through the surrounding wealthy residential neighborhood, we chanted “I didn’t get no sleep cause of y’all, y’all ain’t gonna get no sleep cause of me.” An old white man walking his dog tried to film us at this point, but he got booed and the crowd forced him to stop snooping. Nobody in that neighborhood can say that they didn’t hear us.
The march arrived at the president’s mansion, where we left our mark, using the sidewalk as our canvas. To nobody’s surprise, this is where the cops arrived in very heavy riot gear, with K9 units and a paddywagon—protecting the university’s private property and hoping to frighten the crowd into submission. But they still did not have enough units for a crowd of our size. The cops were, to say the least, overwhelmed.
Again, to nobody’s surprise, the police northward (above downtown Chicago) are ill-prepared for a mass insurgency out in the streets. Countless times over the last three years both CPD, Evanston PD, and NUPD have proven to not hold the numbers northward to actually stop any sizable demonstration. With this in mind, what can we plan for and what can we do in the future? The Whole Foods could have easily been looted and all the students fed for the remainder of the quarter.
The presence of police in front of the president’s mansion did not deter us from doing some creative landscaping of our own. We left the burned banner, a symbol of our rage and discontent, in front of Morty’s castle, spoke a bit, and dispersed.
Escalation is “Timely”
Escalation is something that occurs organically and can be manufactured in the early stages of a revolutionary conjuncture. Revolutions are processual phenomena, as they happen in phases not as events. Moreover, the overthrow of one administration in power does not eliminate an entire repressive governing eddiffice. And as many of our comrades have been saying for ages, to abolish the police on a university campus is an impossible feat because the university is in fact the police. Thus we resist actively and with the information we gain, brace and prepare for reaction.
Comrades in Michigan speak of the generative aspects of “tensions” between people of different workplace status, positionality, access, and sense of class belonging. At a grad student action in southeastern Michigan, the “introduction of abolitionist demands and non-reformist reforms, as well as the tactics and actions proposed to achieve these demands, soon became a point of tension.” That tensions always already “exist within coalitions,” is clear, yet some such tensions result in “peace police”-esque denunciations of militant escalations that, when examined objectively, seem to be making more headway than any prior “negotiations” or “dialog” with officials, admin, and university donors has ever accomplished prior.
The point is to not only dwell within contradictions and let their synthesis or its impossibility reveal itself, as Black feminists like Angela Davis and Ruth Wilson Gilmore teach us; we sometimes must also apply pressure within those moments of tension, and attack contradictory forces aggressively and head on! This means that if the President of a major research university tells students that he will never in his lifetime abolish the university Police, a statement that stands in diametric opposition to the demands made from those most implicated by police presence on campus, then you must believe that neither the president nor the university will ever sanction the abolitionist demand.
When coupled with escalating militant confrontations with the university’s social relations of production, capacities to govern us, and its co-monopoly on the legitimate use of force, the abolitionist insurrection on (and off) campus is proving it may not need demands other than total abolition at all. If unmet political demands are indeed the entry point into learning the imperatives of holistic revolutionary transformation for millions during this conjecture so be it. However at some point we will not need demands any longer because we will topple the university of the colonizers themselves. Embrace nothing and nobody having control over the emergent movement in motion, embrace it, embrace no authority and embrace ungovernability. Embrace risk.
By building and nourishing a sense of shared community and mass participation in this insurgency against policing on/off Northwestern University campus, these daily convergences—in both their formal and informal iterations—may serve as the catalyst for escalation of an insurrectionalist abolitionist process at colleges across Illinois, or perhaps the Midwest generally. What defines the insurrectional mode of abolition is its “direct confrontation and antagonizing of the “big P” Police and its constant attempts to maintain order, while simultaneously attempting to liberate occupied territories.”