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Fellow Highlight: Dayjha McMillan

Dayjha McMillan (they/she) is a fellow in the Community Impact Fellowship ‘22-’24 cohort. She’s also a recently published co-author of the essay, “ACAB Means Abolishing the Cop in Our Heads, Hearts, and Homes: An Intergenerational Demand for Family Abolition,” which is the first essay in Abolition Feminisms, vol. 2 (table of contents here), published by Haymarket Books November 8, 2022. We’re so grateful she was willing to take the time to talk to us about her experience!

(This interview has been edited for clarity) 

This is so cool!! We’re excited to celebrate with you and share this news. How are you feeling? Have you celebrated at all?

The sweet angels in the fellowship reached out to my girlfriend and my roommate and were like, “Do you want to throw Dayjha a surprise book party?” And they reached out to some of my super old friends and they made, like, a really big card for me. There was food and decorations, and it was so cute. I had no idea. Wow. So that was definitely a celebration, and I did a little reading at that party. 

I’m glad that I ended up celebrating because I wasn’t going to, and right now, I’m just kind of…I don’t know…sitting with it. Feeling a little nervous. That this is out in the world. But other than that, I feel pretty good.

Would mind telling us a little about the piece you co-authored?

Basically the piece is talking about abolishing our understanding of the nuclear family, which is just like the family system that we have been set up and programmed to aspire to; it’s supposed to be the ideal, you know. And so when we were thinking about abolishing police we were thinking about all the systems that are connected, because they all are. And something that I had been grappling with for years was this understanding of the nuclear family. So it made sense to connect abolishing the police with abolishing this family system. We also took an intergenerational approach with two of my mentors slash professors and talked about how we all have understood the nuclear family and where we’re located within that. 

Would you mind sharing a teaser with us? For folks who want a taste of the brilliance?

“Abolition feminism reminds us that getting rid of police and prisons means nothing if we do not abolish the ideologies, practices in effective economies of policing in our interpersonal relationships and communities. So, basically, this essay argues that unlearning the carceral system requires an unlearning of one of our most intimate institutions, which is family. So by family abolition, we refer to the positive expansive process of proliferating networks of care, love and support that crowd out rigid, hierarchical, privatized nuclear hetero patriarchal families.” 

Essentially, we were thinking about all these systems that are connected to policing and how the policing system began, which was slave patrols. We had to go all the way back. From there, we were thinking about the link between “inside the house” and “outside of the house” and policing being something that’s outside of the house…but that there are so many people who have experienced policing inside of the house and harm inside of the house. We were making the connection between white supremacy and this idea of family abolition. 

I think the pandemic helped us get to this understanding, too. All of us were stuck inside. And what does that mean for folks who experienced violence and harm inside of the home? We’re in a pandemic, and we know that police don’t protect us. They don’t serve us. Like, who do you call to help you? What do you bring from outside into your private sphere where there’s so much violence happening? Yeah, so it was  all weaving together and we were like, holy shit. Mind. Blown.

Can you explain a little bit about the way this particular essay is in conversation with the other pieces in the book? I noticed it’s very intersectional and interdisciplinary.

What’s really cool is that our essay is the first one in the book. In the foreword, they kind of talked a little bit about it as a starting point for what’s in the rest of the book. 

Volume One is definitely more of a historical landing point. It’s definitely more text rich…like, histories of abolition, if you will. And Volume Two is kind of like a resource book. I will say that we have a section in our chapter that asks where do we go from here? And what is built in place of abolition as you’re abolishing things? What are other possibilities for us? The rest of the book really is about other ways of being and living that keep us free.

Will you tell me about your co-authors and your process?

One of the co-authors, Dr. Tamara Spira, was one of my professors and mentors. I was her research assistant for many years. I was her teaching assistant with Madi, in 2020, and helped teach one of her classes while she was having her baby. 

In 2016, I started coming into her office a lot more and with questions around kinship and queer families and chosen families. Yeah, I think I was struggling and had many questions. Over two years, I kept coming to her office and the questions were, like, evolving, changing form – you know, as they do – and then I started being her research assistant in…must have been late 2017? 

Madi and I were her research assistants up until we graduated in 2019. 

And so me, Madi, and Spira…we spent a lot of time together. [Dr. Spira] was writing her book on queer parenting, being a lesbian mom, and, like, dissecting having to go through the formal adoption process to adopt the child her wife and she had. And the tensions and what that all meant. 

Simultaneously, at that time in one of my political science classes, I was writing a paper on queering the family, and I was going to present that paper in Atlanta. I ended up presenting it in our ethnic studies sit-in, which was really cool. 

Then one of Spira’s good friends, comrades, and also one of my other professors, Dr. Verónica Vélez, who was like the creator of the Education and Social Justice Department at Western [Washington University], and just super badass and has her hands all up in Ethnic Studies in Washington State. She joined on because she and Spira are really good friends and have known each other for a long time.

So we all got together. And then near the end of 2018, we saw that Abolition Feminism was looking for journal entries. So we thought, what if we submit this to the journal? Then we were working all of that year to turn it into a journal entry. And then at the end of 2019, we had submitted our first draft. I had graduated at that point, with Madi graduating June of 2020. We had no idea what was in store for us (i.e. the pandemic)

Most of 2020 we all wrote it in isolation. Madi and I were on FaceTime for 10-12 hours a day writing this. After submitting our drafts, Madi moved in with me in July of 2020. We got to write in the flesh, which was really awesome! 

And then the journal reached out and said, we have so many awesome submissions. And Haymarket Books, they’re doing an abolition series, and they want to turn what was going to be just a journal into a book and put it in their abolition series. Because of that, the deadline got extended a little further. In 2021, we finally submitted our last edits, but it was like, two years of writing and editing. And so we had time to really make it our own and then the pandemic hit, and we were like, this conversation is so much bigger than we think it is.

What was the catalyst for you in wanting to write about abolition? And specifically within the family?

I’ve been a student of abolition probably since 2017. I did my first independent study project on police abolition and that was one of the first starting places for me. 

I think abolition is so important. But also for me abolition has to be in connection with restorative justice. I need them both; like, they come hand in hand. I had this…whisper of knowing, like, you need to go on this path. And learn more and dedicate your life to this because this is so important for my understanding of what liberation and freedom is. 

I’ve been a student of abolition probably since around then. But in terms of family abolition… I was really trying to answer questions around queer kinship.

My queer friends at that time…we were, like, really in this weird, toxic juggle. I think at the time, we were all young, and were replicating these super harmful family structures on each other. It started off as a joke, but then it kept going and it was not good and it felt weird. Like, you know, we had “mom” and “dad” and “uncle” and… it was a joke, but it ran to such a weird place. I think I was struggling with this concept of chosen family, and then I was like, why am I recreating family structures with my gay friends? Most of us have had a really hard time with our own bio families and were struggling to break apart from that. And I didn’t have all the words to explain where the tension was, but I knew that there was something in that. 

Also, I don’t label myself as polyamorous but I have inclinations towards polyamory, and have practiced it and its forms over the years. I’ve struggled with the nuclear family and polyamory…and then I remember hearing this awesome podcast with Kim Tallbear (here is her blog, Critical Polyamorist). She was saying that, for her, polyamory – even if she’s not actively practicing it – and having an ethics of polyamory is how she liberates herself from her body, her being being property…and that blew my noggin.

And I was like, wow, even if I’m not practicing polyamory, even if I ended up with a nuclear family… I think rooting myself in the ethics of polyamory is important because I don’t want my being – especially as a Black person, who, again, the construct of race was around the reproductive labor of Black women who were enslaved – to ever be in connection to property or control. And so that was also a huge jumping-off pad to abolishing the nuclear family for me. 

How has the RVC Fellowship interacted with this other journey that you had already been on?

I started the fellowship working with WA-BLOC – they do restorative justice work within schools for students – and for me that felt like a really close step to what I wanted to be doing.

I think with the fellowship, one thing that I feel thankful for is that I got to meet Flo, they’re my coach and the fellowship program manager, and they’re someone who’s deeply rooted in restorative justice and transformative justice and abolition. And I think when I met them I remember having this feeling of, “Oh, whoa, they might be someone that’s a long term mentor for me… someone that I’m always going to look up to.” I feel like our values are really aligned and the work they’re doing is closely aligned to the kind of work I want to be doing. 

I feel much closer to the work that I want to be doing and who I want to be. I do think the fellowship has been a huge place for me to feel a sense of stability to explore these things and to feel safe enough to be open to what is coming to me. And for me to also feel like I am welcomed to be who I want to be and to have the space to like, fuck up while I figure out who that is, you know? I think it’s beautiful. And I love my cohort. I’m obsessed with the cohort and it’s just so awesome. And it’s cool because, like, we get to write blog posts, and now I get to do more writing, which I really want to do.

I will always probably want to be working with survivors who are values-aligned with understandings of restorative justice and abolition work. I really think it would be dope to learn how to write policy that centers survivors in Washington State, and so that’s kind of why I’m going to apply to grad school to get my Master’s in Public Policy. And then I would like to, you know, combine all of those things, doing some writing on the side about, like, what I’m seeing happening.

Any last words?

I’m really thankful for the connections that I’ve made, the community that I’m a part of. I’m like, I don’t think any of this would have happened had it not been people giving me a chance or creating that space so that I can show up as my full self to be able to do any of this.

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