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  • All Our Trials: Prisons, Policing, and the Feminist Fight to End Violence by Emily L. Thuma
  • Priya Kandaswamy (bio)
All Our Trials: Prisons, Policing, and the Feminist Fight to End Violence by Emily L. Thuma. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2019, 226 pp., $24.95 paper.

Emily Thuma's All Our Trials: Prisons, Policing, and the Feminist Fight to End Violence is a meticulously researched intervention into histories of feminist antiviolence activism. All Our Trials builds on and extends critiques of carceral feminism by examining feminist organizing during the 1970s and 1980s that linked ending violence against women to opposition to the criminal justice system. Thuma analyzes a broad range of activist approaches including prisoner defense campaigns, efforts to curtail the expansion of women's prisons, prison newsletters, and coalitions that developed intersectional approaches to addressing violence. Focusing both on national and local level organizing and highlighting organizations that were often on the periphery of more mainstream second-wave feminism, Thuma's research both denaturalizes the idea that the criminal justice system can be a vehicle for addressing violence against women while simultaneously providing models for a different approach. In doing so, she also locates the organizations she describes as important sites for the development of abolitionist thought, thereby making visible historical connections between feminism and prison abolition that have often been ignored.

All Our Trials joins a growing body of scholarship that documents and critiques the carceral turn in feminist antiviolence activism. Largely indebted to women of color feminisms, this work has shown how efforts to criminalize violence against women functioned to shore up an expanding prison system while neglecting the root causes of violence. Thuma's research elaborates this critique, constructing "an alternative history of feminism and the carceral state by shifting the focus to spaces and places at the edges of the mainstream antiviolence movement" (7). By engaging with these spaces, Thuma shows how carceral feminism was always contested and makes visible a longer history of feminist organizing that identified prisons as a site of gendered violence. In this way, she troubles narrow definitions of antiviolence activism while challenging many assumptions about the character and scope of feminist organizing in the 1970s and 1980s. With the organizations she chooses, Thuma productively disrupts dominant representations of second-wave feminism as exclusively led [End Page 174] by white, upper-class, cisgender, straight women. She highlights the work of multiracial and cross-class coalitions, the influence of Black feminism, the leadership of lesbian and queer women, and a commitment to trans-inclusive feminist organizing as central to the development of anticarceral feminism.

All Our Trials offers much more than a corrective to histories of second-wave feminism. Rather, the book posits a different way of approaching feminist social movement histories. Methodologically, Thuma eschews linear narratives in favor of deep engagement with the debates, conflicts, and challenges that antiviolence activists faced in their encounters with the carceral state. Thuma treats movements as sites of theorizing, and her analysis shows how an intersectional understanding of violence against women emerged from on the ground organizing. Not only does she engage with organizations that often get left out of feminist histories, the book is interested in process, not just in outcomes. The history presented in All Our Trials shows how organizations developed, what people struggled with, and the way encounters with the carceral state shaped thinking about and responses to violence against women. In this way, the book both pushes the reader to grapple with the broad range of feminist futures that were being imagined at the time while also being an instructive text for social movements of the present.

The book begins with an analysis of the defense campaigns of Joan Little, Inez García, Yvonne Wanrow, and Dessie Woods, four women who were incarcerated for defending themselves against sexual violence. Perhaps the most well-known of the cases, Joan Little was sexually assaulted by a prison guard while incarcerated in North Carolina. After stabbing and killing the guard in self-defense, she fled the prison. Eventually Little turned herself in and stood trial for the guard's murder, sparking a national campaign to free her. Thuma shows how this campaign...


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pp. 174-177
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