We Who Believe in Freedom: The Long History of Struggle in Illinois Prisons & Beyond

Zoom + Facebook Live Thursday, Apr 22, 2021 4 – 5 pm Eventbrite Registration

Join the Mass Incarceration Working Group as we welcome activist Nancy Kurshan and historian Toussaint Losier for a discussion of the enduring histories of struggle and coalition-building by those inside and outside Illinois prisons to create movements against political repression, abolish the death penalty, and close supermax prisons. Together, we will reflect on the importance of that legacy to ongoing struggles in the present moment. This is the third event in the Mass Incarceration Working Group series, “More Beautiful and More Terrible: Prison Organizing and Abolition in Unsettled Times.”

Nancy Kurshan is an American activist who participated in the civil rights and peace movements as far back as high school. In college she was a member of Friends of SNCC and CORE, and participated in the first demonstration against the Vietnam War in Washington, DC in April 1965. She has participated for many years in campaigns to free political prisoners, such as the Puerto Rican political prisoners, Sundiata Acoli, Geronimo Pratt, and many others. She was active in the fight against control unit prisons as a founding member of the Committee to End the Marion Lockdown, described in her book, Out of Control: A 15-Year Battle Against Control Unit Prisons. She has also written a widely distributed article on “Women And Imprisonment in the United States.”

Nancy Kurshan’s Books and Articles:

Out of Control: A 15-Year Battle Against Control Unit Prisons (2013)

Women and Imprisonment in the United States (1995)

“I Was in the Room Where It Happened: One Woman’s Perspective on ‘The Trial of the Chicago 7,’” Counterpunch, October 2020

“From Mandela to Oscar Lopez – America’s Own Political Prisoners,”  Counterpunch, December 2013

“Connecting the Dots: From Tiger Cages to Control Units,” Counterpunch, November 2013

“Houses of the Dead: Human Rights Crimes Inside America’s Control Unit Prisons,” Counterpunch, May 2013

Four short interviews on solitary confinement with Nancy Kurshan by Claire Schoen for Making Contact, 2013

“Solitary Resistance,” Counterpunch, 2013

“The way forward to end solitary confinement torture: Where’s the Army?,” Todd Ashker comments on Out of Control: A 15-Year Struggle to End Control Unit Prisons in the San Francisco Bayview, January 25, 2015

The People Make the Peace: Lessons from the Vietnam Antiwar Movement, edited by Karin Aguilar-San Juan and Frank Joyce


Toussaint Losier is an Assistant Professor in the W.E.B. Du Bois Department of Afro-American Studies at University of Massachusetts-Amherst. Dr. Losier holds a Ph.D. in History from the University of Chicago, with his research focusing on grassroots responses to the postwar emergence of mass incarceration in Chicago. At UMass-Amherst, he teaches courses on African American history, Black politics, criminal justice policy, and transnational social movements. His writing has been published in SoulsRadical History ReviewThe Journal of Urban HistoryAgainst the Current, and Left Turn Magazine. He is co-author of Rethinking the American Prison Movement with Dan Berger and is preparing a book manuscript titled, War for the City: Black Liberation and the Consolidation of the Carceral State.

Toussaint Losier’s Books and Articles:

Rethinking the American Prison Movement with Dan Berger (2018)

“A Human Right to Reparations: Black People against Police Torture and the Roots of the 2015 Chicago Reparations Ordinance,” Souls, June 2019

“Towards a ‘People’s Housing Authority’: Human Rights, Decommodification and Community Control in the Praxis of the Chicago Anti-Eviction Campaign,” Housing Justice in Unequal Cities (2019)

“The Rise and Fall of the 1969 Chicago Jobs Campaign: Street Gangs, Coalition Politics, and the Origins of Mass Incarceration,” University of Memphis Law Review (2018)

“Rethinking American Prisons” with Dan Berger, Abolition Journal, August 2018

“The Movement Against ‘Modern Day Slavery,’” Jacobin, September 2018

“Against ‘law and order’ lockup: the 1970 NYC jail rebellions,” Race & Class, June 2017

“The True Defense Needs of Our Cities: Chicago Mayor Harold Washington and the Reagan Era War against Drugs,” Wayne Law Review (2017)

“‘We oppose the authorities because we never gave them the authority ...’: Aspects of Non-Collaboration in the Political Resonance of Western Cape Anti-Eviction Campaign,” Unequal Cities (2015)

“‘…For Strictly Religious Reason[s]’: Cooper v. Pate and the Origins of the Prisoners’ Rights Movement,” Souls, July 2013

About the Series:
The COVID-19 pandemic has wrought untold suffering onto incarcerated people and their loved ones. Those in prisons, jails, and detention centers are made vulnerable to illness and for many, these circumstances have made the past year one of mourning and revelation.  

These pressing conditions challenge those who dream and struggle for a society free of domination and control to ask themselves, What do prison organizing and abolition mean right now? How might we draw on history to meet this moment? What new strategies or knowledge have been developed, or can be developed, to push forward an abolitionist future?
Over the winter and spring, the Mass Incarceration Working Group at UChicago will host a series of “teach-ins” with activists and scholars across the country to tackle these very questions. Curated by Human Rights Lab Graduate Fellow David Knight, this series will proceed from the standpoint that abolition, to echo the words of Dylan Rodriguez, is a project of “collective genius,” an obligation to our ancestors and to future generations.

Presented by the Mass Incarceration Working Group convened by the Pozen Center Human Rights Lab and the Center for the Study of Race, Politics, and Culture.