On Thursday, September 30th 2014, world renowned American political activist, author, speaker, and bad ass, came to my city for the Activist Assembly event, to speak on issues of race, activism, how prisons just aren’t like what they were intended to be, her history, her present, and our future.
I apologize for I did not catch the name of the two elders sitting beside Angela in the photo above but they were marvelous and extremely welcoming. The Activist Assembly was held on Algonquin land (something new that I am very happy I learned about). The elders led us in their traditional prayer; praying for us to open our minds and our hearts. The elders additionally welcomed us unto their Native land and the ritual performed was great to watch as well.
As a Black Woman, there is nothing greater to me than to hear the stories and experiences of other Black Women. Especially, older Black Women. Angela began her talk by saying, “We need to know we can come together and struggle and win.” I am not going to give you a huge background of Angela because you could very easily Google her and/or read her books. But, I will state some great facts about her as this post proceeds.
Angela Davis spoke of when her activism began and traced it back to playing games when she was younger. Back then there was clear segregation, even in neighbourhoods, as Black and White families lived on opposite sides of the street and were not supposed to mingle. The results of a Black person accidentally crossing the line of segregation was often deadly. The 16th Street Bombing, when Angela was eleven years old, is a clear example of this. Angela and her friends would dare one another to cross that exact line. The whole crowd laughed upon hearing this story. Essentially, Angela and her crew would dare one another to cross the line of segregation and, if the individual being dared was extra brave, he/she would ring the doorbell of the White family’s home before running back to hide in time. Angela defines activism as, “how [she] learned to live her life.” Angela spoke of how the KKK would very often burn down and/or burn the homes, the churches, and/or the community areas, of Black People. She said, in relation to this, “All this talk of the war on terror but no one realizes America was born on terror.”
A fun fact that I found about Angela Davis was that she studied with Theodor Adorno and Max Horkheimer. I distinctly remember my jaw dropping when I heard that.
Angela Davis joined The Black Panther Party in 1969 and became a target of many due to being recognized with this party. The Black Panther Party did such tasks as that of a Neighbourhood Watch and much more. Having grown up around guns (due to her father having to protect his family from KKK and the likes), Angela was not shy from the idea of using guns as a way of self defence. To her guns were not a huge deal. Moreover, Angela got a job at UCLA as a professor but was then fired by Ronald Reagan due to being in The Black Panther Party. She was charged with murder, treason, and conspiracy, which were all capital crimes. The problem with these being capital crimes was that they were then non bailable. This then started the Bail Movement. As Angela mentioned, having the right to bail was a constitutional right. Aretha Franklin then stepped forward and said she would gladly provide the financial support needed. This and the tireless efforts of those that were part of the Bail Movement, then resulted in Angela being bailable. Unfortunately, as was mentioned by Angela, unlike today’s world where we could easily have emailed and/or sent a tweet, back then social media was not there. Aretha, became unavailable.
It was a dairy farmer named Roger McAfee, who put up part of his land as collateral for Angela Davis’ $102,500 bond. When Roger did this Angela had never met him prior. It was a remarkable act of kindness.
Angela then went on to discuss the “abolition of gender policing.” She mentioned that the “prison complex produces surplus bodies,” before continuing on in saying, “To stand up against racism and heteropatriarchy, we must defend the rights of immigrants all over the world.” Angela spoke of what we all know to be true about prisons. There are a disproportionate number of Africans and/or Middle Easterners, within the prison. When the government does not want to deal with poverty and/or health care, they throw people into prisons. In Angela’s words, “now is certainly the time to imagine and struggle for a better world.”
Then came the end of her talk and the beginning of the question period. When asked on her view of activism, or rather to expand on her view of activism and the prison complex (what could be done), she responded by saying that “we need to link our activism around and/or with the prison complex.” Angela sees that “activism is not a single thing.” It is all interconnected. She mentioned that we can stand up for multiple causes but it’s important also to “embrace what you feel passionate about. Embrace your passion.” Then she spoke more on the prison complex in relation to male violence and dominance stating that, “male violence is produced by the [prison] institution [and this has ramifications] outside.” In one sentence she summarized her views on prisons in saying that “prison has become the site where global populations are disposed.”
One lovely lady asked about self care. She mentioned that with activism, especially as her being a black woman, she and her fellow black sisters, have to be hyper active. This is true as it is something I experience. We have to be on top of the issues surrounding race so as to eliminate it one by one. The problem is that as you solve one, another pops up. The lady asked Angela about how to take care of oneself, amidst all of the struggles of activism. Angela responded by saying that, “we have to transform how we think about struggle. Things may not have changed the way we wanted them to change but they changed better. This also ties into her answer regarding her regrets. Angela said that we have to incorporate self care into our struggles/activism. For herself, she used yoga in jail to help ease her anxiety and headaches.
One thing that stood out to me from her answers was when she spoke on equality. She said, “We are taught that equality is sameness, but, because we live in this racialized society, the norm has been white.” For activism, “strategies should be feminist.” Feminism, by the way, additionally extends to the benefit of men. “Unity is not just getting everyone around on one issue the same. It has to be complex and recognize the differences.,” (Angela).
Thank you for a great and insightful night Angela Davis. xx