Building a better system: ALAB

Last post, I asserted that in addition to police abolition and prison abolition, we should pursue several other goals in order to create a system that works for everyone. The first of those goals is Abolish Homelessness.

I will admit that as a progressive white lady from a suburban middle-class background, I was at first much more amenable to the principle of All Landlords Are Bad than to All Cops Are Bad. The difference is that I could already much more easily picture a system without landlords.

Go back to a few months ago when states were first setting lockdowns for the COVID-19 situation, and the emergency orders included “no you cannot evict your tenants for failing to pay their rent with the pandemic putting them out of work.” Which is pragmatic as well as compassionate for pandemic response; in the interests of not having so many people catching and spreading the Official Pestilence of 2020, it helps not to have them living on the streets.

And anyway, some of the landlording class didn’t like that. I remember some asshat’s Tweet got a lot of circulation because he was so indignant about the eviction moratorium impinging on his “right” to “make a living” from charging rent on his properties.

And that’s the part where I said: “Well, golly gosh, comrade, have you ever considered working?”

There are plenty of laws on the books concerning the way landlords treat their tenants. The laws vary from state to state and their enforcement is also variable. No matter how comprehensive the laws are and no matter how consistently they’re enforced, they’re ultimately a band-aid on the bigger injury, which is rich fucks buying up real estate they don’t need and charging as much as they can get away with for other people to live on their properties.

When I say “have you ever considered working?” I am dead serious that they’re not getting paid for work. Landlords do not “provide housing.” They control the supply of housing and profit handsomely from the general desire not to be homeless. Owning real estate you don’t need for your residence is not work. Maintaining property is work. Some landlords do a better job than others of maintaining their properties, and they expect to collect rent either way. I have sympathy for house-flippers who take properties that are structurally unsound and rebuild them into quality housing. That’s not how most landlords make their money.

Housing is among the most basic human necessities and landlords make that necessity into a profit generator. As long as there are homeless people and people-less homes, I do not recognize anyone’s inherent moral right to profit from their real-estate investments.

Landlords don’t just contribute to homelessness by evicting people in financial difficulties. (Or domestic violence victims. Or the current tenants pay their rent on time and behave like angels but there’s somebody else who’ll pay more for the same unit!) Landlords depend on homelessness to keep the rest of us paying through the nose to have any housing at all. We have to work our asses off and spend an exorbitant percentage of our take-home pay just to keep our housing, and we’re supposed to be okay with that because we see what happens to people who can’t meet those terms.

Any policy that will substantially and sustainably reduce homelessness is likely to piss off the landlording class. I say, let ’em be pissed off. No one should be priced out of housing.

Abolition requires better systems

On the question of how to abolish policing and imprisonment without ending up with something worse—

—and while I admit that it takes some energy to imagine something worse than what’s happening now, truly it can always get worse—

—let’s say, short version, we need better laws. We need the entire system of laws to be geared towards care, rather than coercion. As long as the laws are inhumane, law enforcement will be inhumane.

Longer version: the justice system is much bigger than just the courts and lawyers, the cops, the prisons.

This is not a radical idea. Get into any discussion of, for example, how to make the educational system work better, and it won’t take long before you get to the idea of the educational system being more than the school buildings and teachers and books. The way kids get educated has to do with housing, childcare, food security, healthcare, sanitation, transportation, economic justice, and so forth.

With any other system, it’s the same idea. Healthcare is more than hospitals and drugs, doctors and nurses. The justice system is intertwined with the educational and healthcare systems, all of which are interdependent with housing, sanitation, transportation, occupational safety, disability access, food security, childcare, economics, environmental justice, disaster management, I could go on.

So when I say we need a better system of laws, I mean not just the rules governing how people treat each other, but governing how all of these systems work for the people. In order to get to the question of what comes after police/prison abolition, all of these systems need to do better, meaning they need to take care of the people down to the most vulnerable among us.

Abolish the police and abolish prison, sure. These goals can’t be pursued in a vacuum. We also need to abolish homelessness. Abolish medical debt and medical neglect. Abolish hunger. Abolish illiteracy. Abolish environmental degradation. Abolish child neglect. Abolish dirty water and inadequate plumbing. Abolish abuse of the elderly and of the disabled. Abolish voter suppression and disenfranchisement. Abolish labor exploitation.

As long as the laws are inhumane, law enforcement will be inhumane.

I’m trying not to be one of those carceral feminists.

Anyone who says the policing and prison systems need to be abolished…probably has some good points to make. Anyone who has a quick “duh” answer to the matter of what comes after abolition…is probably full of shit.

This kind of questioning is the energy I would like to engage with:

And that’s when it clicked for me: we need to start from the ground up. We all need to engage with the question of how to hold abusers accountable, and there won’t be any 100% solutions any time soon. This challenge is no excuse to fall back on the assumption that we can’t do without prisons and police departments.

I’m a feminist; I even call myself a radical feminist. I need to be ready to be radical about how we deal with shitty people. I’m also a creative. I can build entire worlds from the ground up. If I’m going to have opinions on what justice demands, then it’s on me to use some imagination on the structures needed to make justice happen.

It’s gonna be a big, messy conversation. I want to be part of that conversation.