When I was first envisioning this essay, I thought I would discuss the legacy of an amazing woman, Angela Davis. However, as I re-read her books and re-watched some of her interviews, I felt personally reinvigorated by her words. Not in an abstract sense of being impressed by poignant words or impassioned delivery. Rather, I was energized tangibly by both how much energy she still has for the project of freedom and justice, but also for her ability to convey and belief in a better and more just world.
Angela Davis is an amazing woman. Full stop. She has been in the struggle for Black justice since the late 1960s. And since then she has been arrested, imprisoned, and placed on the FBI’s 10 most wanted list. For over 50 years she has been in the struggle and her energy, passion, and vision vital for our current struggles for social justice. So I would like to share not only what her words mean for our times, but for me personally.
I think Davis’ most important contributions are the ideas of people power and the ability to imagine something beyond the status quo. I think I will begin with the former. People power—or collective solidarity—is a hallmark of Davis’ outlook.
“I cannot imagine who I would be and how I would be thinking and acting had I not been exposed to the potential of international solidarity at a very young age.”
Her notion of solidarity stretches beyond the refrain of an “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere”—which is indeed true—rather it is a solidarity that recognizes the true power a united front of people can have.
For instance her own incarceration was overturned by an international campaign calling for her freedom. Her leadership in the Black Panther’s helped shape the party’s policy of championing revolutionary struggles in colonized and oppressed nations. Or the ongoing calls for solidarity with Palestine. Though recently, I have been personally moved by her championing of intersectionality.
The idea that oppression can be understood as intersectional is the foundation of my personal vision of justice. Racialized oppression can be viewed in the prison system, gender struggles, economic racism, LGBTQ oppression, even the exploitative practices in the coffee industry. So when she speaks of the solidarity between BLM protestors and the Free Palestine movements, she speaks literally of the shared concern for human dignity.
This strong attachment to solidarity is linked to Davis’ uncanny vision for different ways of doing things—different ways for being both in and for society itself. Her book “Are Prisons Obsolete” is based on this notion. The very idea of the book is to challenge how and why a prison can exist in a self described “enlightened society.” Her answer is a lack of vision. She asks, why do we have a justice system built upon retribution and vengeance—which is proven to be ineffective—rather than one built on reconciliation, reparation, and rehabilitation?
Without getting too deep in the weeds, we can see how just daring to imagine a better world can actually help manifest it. Because as Davis describes, a lack of vision “relieves us of the responsibility of seriously engaging with the problems of our society.” This idea is really important to remember if one is truly to sustain an activist outlook. Especially now. For instance, the recent calls for defunding the police is a direct product of envisioning a better future. It is not a negative notion that is primarily about dismantle—getting rid of—rather it is about re-envisioning and building something new. Which, now that I am writing this, is how I will describe it to someone critical of the defunding of the police.
I suppose what I am getting at is that I have the utmost amount of respect for the work of Angela Davis, but also for her as a leader of people and thought. I could go on for pages and pages, but I will conclude with this.
“You have to act as if it were possible to radically transform the world. And you have to do it all the time.”
I try to remember these words in all aspects of my life. In relationships, when I meet a stranger on the street, when I eat, with my work, with my activism. Solidarity and the ability to envision something beyond what we can see is the foundation of my outlook, and it’s people like Angela Davis who keeps giving me energy to continue down that path.