To say that Ruth Wilson Gilmore is a geographer, which she is, is not to convey the vast and varied ways in which she is influencing the makings of the future. She's a mentor and teacher to a new generation of social activism and creativity. She's a visionary of “abolition,” and that has become a fraught and polarizing word in our fraught and polarized public discourse. But when Ruth Wilson Gilmore speaks of “abolition,” she is working with a long, long view towards making a whole world, starting now, in which prisons and policing as we do them now become unnecessary, unthinkable. In this sense, abolition is not primarily a matter of what to get rid of, but what to build and to orient around — being present, for example, to human vulnerability and to the ingredients that make for deep human flourishing.
Meeting Ruth Wilson Gilmore and drawing her out in this way is an exercise in muscular hope — and in understanding the passion of a new generation that is shaping what we will collectively become.
Ruth Wilson Gilmore is a professor of Earth & Environmental Sciences, and American Studies, at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York, where she is also director of the Center for Place, Culture, and Politics. She grew up in New Haven, Connecticut. Her paternal grandfather was a janitor at Yale who helped organize the first blue-collar union at that university. And as a tool and die maker for the firearm manufacturer Winchester, her father played a central role in organizing the machinists at that company in the mid-1950s. She has co-founded several organizations, including the California Prison Moratorium Project, Critical Resistance, and the Central California Environmental Justice Network. She has authored and co-edited several books, including Golden Gulag, Abolition Geography, and the forthcoming Change Everything.
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