News & Politics

‘Portlandia’ Feminist Bookstore Taken Over by Prison Abolitionists

The Portland feminist bookstore In Other Words, which was featured on the IFC sketch comedy show Portlandia, shut down at the end of June. Since then, the space has been taken over by a group of equally ambitious activists demanding the complete “abolition” of prison and the criminal justice system.

Founded in 1993, In Other Words only employed volunteers and sold books below market rate. After 25 years, the store was forced to close: not due to finances, the ownership claimed, but due to the difficulties of managing an unpaid “staff.”

Johanna Brenner, the Portland State University professor who co-founded the bookstore, told PJ Media on Sunday that the lease for the storefront was taken over on July 1 by prison abolitionist group Critical Resistance Portland.

“I don’t think there is overlap among the volunteers. After all, being a volunteer for either organization is a big commitment,” said Brenner.

But she did note that the bookstore’s history will live on.

“We have arranged with the Portland State Library to deposit all of our records, both digital and hard copy, in the Portland State University archives, where indeed the story of In Other Words will be preserved.”

Critical Resistance Portland — described as a “nonprofit” despite not appearing to be a registered 501(c)(3) organization — states that it has the “goal of eliminating imprisonment, policing, and surveillance.”

“From where we are now, sometimes we can’t really imagine what abolition is going to look like. Abolition isn’t just about getting rid of buildings full of cages. It’s also about undoing the society we live in,” explains the CRP website.

“An abolitionist vision means that we must build models today that can represent how we want to live in the future. It means developing practical strategies for taking small steps that move us toward making our dreams real.”

According to its website, the CRP’s advocacy efforts revolve around reducing the Portland Police Bureau budget. The group has had mixed success. In early 2017, supporters lobbied against the city’s plan to create 93 new police officer positions. But after the CRP deluged the city council with complaints, only 55 were eventually approved in May.

CRP does not seem to acknowledge the implications of prison abolition for people involved in more serious ones, such as murder and sexual assault. The group advocates for alternatives to imprisonment, but in the context of violent crime, it remains to be seen what these alternatives might look like.

CRP did not respond to a request for comment.

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