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Angela Davis: Making Waves Since 1961


Once on the FBI’s ‘most wanted’ list, the civil rights activist Angela Davis has no intention of slowing down. She talks to Frank Barat about her inspiration.

What’s your earliest memory?

I grew up in the Jim Crow south [of the US] at a time when spectacular manifestations of racist violence were the major interruptions of our daily routines. When I was still quite young, my parents moved to a neighbourhood that was repeatedly attacked by the Ku Klux Klan. The earliest event I can remember was a bombing across the street from our new home. Black people were allowed to move in on the side of the street where we lived, but they were not allowed to purchase property or live on the other side of the street that divided the white zone from the black zone. On several occasions, committed white allies purchased homes in the forbidden zone as surrogates for black people who were determined to resist the racist zoning laws. One Saturday night when I was close to three years old, I was washing out my white shoelaces that I would need for Sunday School the next day. Suddenly the entire house shook violently. It would have felt like the end of the world, but there was no such conception in my young consciousness. I remember being more frightened than I had ever been, and ran screaming to my mother. To this day, whenever I hear loud, explosive noises, I am brought back to that moment.

What does ageing mean to you?

As I grow older, I try my best to hold on to the courage, enthusiasm and willingness to venture into new territory that is most often characteristic of young people. But at the same time I try to draw appropriate lessons from the experiences I have accumulated. For example, I really do understand now the importance of physical, mental and spiritual self-care. As an older person, I find that a great proportion of the new knowledge I encounter comes from young people. Intergenerational contact is good for us all.

What are you politically passionate about?

I could name a number of political issues that are close to my heart – violence against women, the global prison-industrial complex, immigration rights, Palestine solidarity. I am passionate about all of these issues and many others. However, what concerns me most today are the connections between these issues. Especially in relation to Palestine. I am especially happy that increasing numbers of African Americans are speaking out against Israeli apartheid.

Who or what inspires you?

I have been active around Palestine for most of my life and thought I knew what I needed to know about the subject until my visit to the West Bank last year. I did not expect to be both shocked by the brazen character of Israeli state repression and immensely inspired by the people who refuse to give up, even after many decades of occupation. I was inspired by women activists, former prisoners, educators, and especially by the children, who have learned how to combine a sense of struggling for a better life with an ability to find joy in every day.

What’s your biggest fear?

My fear right now, as Barack Obama’s second term in office begins, is that we will forget that the real victory was not the election of an individual but rather an indication that people in this country really want a change. During Obama’s second term, we will have to accelerate our mass mobilizations and our movement-building so that what we considered by itself to be a historic victory will indeed have made a difference in the lives of people who continue to suffer as a result of policies that have led to poverty, mass imprisonment and war.

Where do you feel most at home?

I feel at home wherever there are people who have dedicated their lives to struggling for a world beyond capitalism, racism and heteropatriarchy.

 

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