Sunday, January 26, 2014

Honoring Angela Davis on her 70th Birthday

Today, Angela Davis turns 70. I want to honor her legacy. Angela Davis was one of the prophetic voices to come out of the sixties and seventies for social change. She was, and still is, a mighty voice for black liberation, feminism, and social equality. In 1969, Davis began publicly speaking, voicing her opposition to the Vietnam War, racism, sexism, and the prison industrial complex, and her support of gay rights and other social justice movements. Davis was a member of the Communist Party and the Black Panthers.
Davis was fired in 1969 from her teaching post at UCLA and was barred from teaching anywhere in California at the behest of Governor Ronald Reagan, because of her involvement in the Communist Party and radicalism. Although Davis was fired from her position, she actually showed up to teach her class anyway. Fifteen hundred people showed up for her class, in an expression of support for her. Only 150 people had signed up for the class, which was on themes in black literature.

Davis was once on the FBI's most wanted list. A young African American man named Jonathan Jackson took control of a Federal courtroom, kidnapped a judge and three other hostages. He got into a gun fight with police, and in the resulting melee, Jackson, the judge, and hostages all died. Davis had purchased the guns used by Jackson (which she had for her personal protection at a time she had received many death threats). Davis was charged with kidnapping and murder, and she fled California, but was arrested by the FBI in New York.
She was seen by her supporters as a political prisoner, and she was eventually acquitted of all charges and released. John Lennon and Yoko Ono wrote a tribute song for her called, Angela, which was on their 1972 album, Sometime in New York City. The Rolling Stones did the same with their song, Sweet Black Angel on their 1972 album, Exile on Main Street.

After her release, Davis visited Cuba, where she was so well received that she could barely speak amid the applause. After visiting Cuba, she said “only under socialism could the fight against racism be successfully executed.”

Davis continued to work for social change after her release from prison throughout the 1970's and in the decades that followed. She gave lectures in schools, universities, and parks. She authored several books, some of the most well-known ones are: Angela Davis: An AutobiographyWomen, Race, & Class; Abolition Democracy: Beyond Empire, Torture, and Prisons; Blues Legacies and Black Feminism; Are Prisons Obsolete?, and others.

She ran for Vice President of the United States on the Communist Party ticket, in 1980 and 1984, along with Communist Presidential candidate Gus Hall. However, she also urged people on the left to vote for Democrats, as a practical matter. “Revolutionaries must be realists,” said Davis. Although she is no longer a member of the Communist Party, she is on the advisory board of the Committees for Correspondence for Democracy and Socialism.

In recent years, she has spoken out against the U.S. Prison system, which she calls the “prison-industrial complex,” and a modern “form of slavery.” She helped form with others the African American Agenda 2000, an alliance of Black feminists.

Davis is prominently featured in the new movie, the Black Power Mix Tape. 

Although retired from teaching, she continues to be a force today for social change, being a strong advocate for the abolition of the U.S. Prison system, which she calls a “form of slavery,” and for the Occupy Wall Street Movements.

Angela Y. Davis has been a person of consistent courage and conviction, who has spoken powerfully for social justice and change.

I still find Angela Davis very compelling. I am deeply moved by her speech at Occupy Oakland. I applaud her call for free health care and education, and to resist the global capitalist system. I have the Youtube video of her appearance at Occupy Oakland below.

Angela Davis has been willing to champion ideas that may not be popular with many Americans. She has exercised her democratic rights fully in advocating for her views and causes, and example of a person realizing the full potential of the American ideal. 

Some links:

Democracy Now! Program with Angela Davis. (this interview with Angela is terrific!)

Interview of Angela Davis from prison in 1970 on Black People defending themselves. 

Angela Davis speech in the 1970's

Angela Davis at Occupy Oakland, using the People's Mic to support the world wide Occupy movements, and to speak against police violence and hierarchies of class, race, gender, and sexuality. 

John Lennon and Yoko Ono's Angela:

The Rolling Stone's Sweet Black Angel (about Angel Davis):

Finally, this excellent tribute to Angela Davis:

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