For more than four decades, Davis has been one of most influential activists and intellectuals in the United States. An icon of the black liberation movement, Davis’s work around issues of gender, race, class and prisons has influenced critical thought and social movements across several generations. She is a leading advocate for prison abolition, a position informed by her own experience as a prisoner and fugitive on the FBI’s top 10 most wanted list more than 40 years ago. Once caught, she faced the death penalty in California. After being acquitted, she has spent her life fighting to change the criminal justice system. Just before the midterm elections, Angela Davis sat down with Amy Goodman in Washington, D.C., at Busboys and Poets to tell her life story.
AMY GOODMAN: Today, we spend the hour with the legendary activist and scholar Angela Davis, professor emerita at the University of California, Santa Cruz. For more than four decades, Davis has been one of the most influential activists and intellectuals in the United States, an icon of the black liberation movement. Angela Davis’s work around issues of gender, race, class and prisons has influenced critical thought and social movements across several generations. She’s a leading advocate for prison abolition, a position informed by her own experience as a prisoner and a fugitive on the FBI’s top 10 wanted list more than 40 years ago. Once caught, she faced the death penalty in California. After being acquitted on all charges, she spent her life fighting to change the criminal justice system.
I recently spoke to her in Washington, D.C., just before the midterm elections, at Busboys and Poets. I began by asking her about her connection to the late great soul singer Aretha Franklin.
AMY GOODMAN: The last time I got a chance to talk to you, Angela, we tracked you down your last morning—I’m sure you appreciated this—in Martha’s Vineyard. Right? It was in August. It was the day that Aretha Franklin died. So why were we looking for Angela? Because of their connection, that hardly gets attention today but, I think, says so much about both women.
And I wanted to read a quote of Aretha Franklin, who told Jet magazine in 1970, “My daddy says I don’t know what I’m doing. Well, I respect him, of course, but I’m going to stick by my beliefs. Angela Davis must go free. Black people will be free. I’ve been locked up (for disturbing the peace in Detroit) and I know you got to disturb the peace when you can’t get no peace. Jail is hell to be in. I’m going to see her free if there is any justice in our courts, not because I believe in communism, but because she’s a Black woman and she wants freedom for Black people. I have the money; I got it from Black people—they’ve made me financially able to have it—and I want to use it in ways that will help our people.”
What did that mean to you at the time, Aretha Franklin saying, “I want you free”?
ANGELA DAVIS: I was in jail at the time, of course. And when I learned about it, it was one of the most moving moments I experienced during that time, because, of course, Aretha had already provided the soundtrack of our lives, you know? And I was just, you know, so moved and so uplifted that she was willing to pay my bail.
But I should tell you, bail hadn’t been set at that time. It’s an interesting story. I was charged with three capital offenses, every single one of which was unbailable. And so, at that time, I had some arguments with people who were organizing, who wanted to do a bail movement. And I’m sitting in jail, and I said, “But I’m ineligible for bail. What’s the point?” But they proved me wrong. And people all over the world signed petitions. And then, eventually, interestingly enough, the state of California temporarily abolished the death penalty. And my lawyers tried their best to get in touch with Aretha, but she was in the Caribbean at the time.
AMY GOODMAN: The West Indies.
ANGELA DAVIS: And that was a different era. You’re used to money, capital, flowing with ease over national borders. There was no way that she could get the money to us in time. And so, this white farmer by the name of Roger McAfee, who had a farm in Central California, showed up at my lawyer’s office, and he said, “I’m willing to put up my farm.” And the thing is, had I not gotten out at that moment, I wouldn’t have gotten out on bail, because immediately the Supreme Court ruled that all capital offenses that were previously ineligible for bail would remain ineligible. And so there was this tiny window. And Aretha, by publicly announcing that she was going to pay my bail, made everybody listen. And so, I like to think that it was Aretha, you know, who bailed me out. And she did.
AMY GOODMAN: You know, we have a terrible problem in this country even with all of the media, with all of the channels: History gets erased so quickly. And I see so many young people here today, and I was wondering if you can tell that history, because each of the moments in your life were a political struggle, to say the least. I mean, we could—and we will—go back even further, to where you born, to Birmingham, but since we’re talking about this moment, 1969, Governor Ronald Reagan wants you thrown out of UCLA as a professor, as a teacher, because you’re a communist and he wants no communist voice there. Is that right?
ANGELA DAVIS: Yeah. And, you know, I never expected to be the center of attention in that way. I just wanted to teach philosophy. And probably, had anyone told me that I would be fired by Ronald Reagan and that this huge uproar all over the country about the fact that a communist was teaching at UCLA—I mean, I thought the McCarthy era was over, you know? Because there was a period where if you were a communist, you were not able to teach, you were not able to make movies. You all know about the McCarthy era, right? OK. I always say, even if you don’t have actual memory, you can have historical memory. So this should be a part of our historical memory. But yeah, Ronald Reagan. Oh, god.
You know, it’s so interesting that at these moments, when people like Ronald Reagan were elected, when people like Richard Nixon, we never expected that it could possibly be any worse. George W. Bush. I mean, the current occupant of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue makes George Bush look a lot better than he looked at the time. And that’s weird.
AMY GOODMAN: But before we go there, 1970, you’re fighting, as you fight today, more than 40 years later, against the prison-industrial complex, to free the Soledad Brothers, and there’s a shootout in the Marin courthouse. And that’s what led to your charge, your charges. Today, Washington state’s Supreme Court overturned the death penalty in Washington state, making it the 20th state. But your experience—and I think a lot of young people may not realize this—comes out also of your own experience in jail, in prison. You faced three death penalties, three death sentences?
ANGELA DAVIS: Yeah. You know, Amy is a really good interviewer, you know? Yeah, 1969, I was fired from UCLA, and that was a pretty difficult year. I got literally hundreds of death threats. I had to be ushered from classroom to classroom by the UCLA campus police. They had to start my car up to make sure there wasn’t a bomb planted. And they ushered me to the edge of campus, because they wanted to guarantee that I was not killed on the campus. I mean, that was really their role. And I say this because it meant that I had to have security 24 hours. And I had to have someone move into my apartment with me, because I lived alone at that time. I had to have someone—I had to have armed security 24 hours a day. And I had—I purchased a couple of guns, that were used by the people who were doing security for me, you know, particularly when I was speaking.
I should say that around the same time, we learned about the case of the Soledad Brothers—George Jackson, John Clutchette, Fleeta Drumgo—and began to do organizing in Southern California. There was a committee in Northern California to free the Soledad Brothers. We created a committee in Southern California. And George’s younger brother Jonathan, who was an amazing, really beautiful young man who was an incredible writer, wrote—he wrote poetry. He was also deeply dedicated to his brother. And I give you all of this information because at one point Jonathan, who had been doing security for me, took those guns that I had bought for my security, and went into the Marin County courthouse.
And we’re still not exactly certain what the plans were, but it seemed that he was going to call for the freedom of his brother and the Soledad Brothers. George was in San Quentin at the time. They had been moved to San Quentin. And there was a trial happening in the Marin County courthouse that involved a number of San Quentin prisoners. Jonathan went into the courtroom and brought the judge out with some of the jurors into a waiting van. And then, as we discovered during my trial, it was the San Quentin guards who opened fire, who were responsible for the death of the judge and the other prisoners and Jonathan. And it was horrendous. It was really horrendous.
I can remember, we examined some of the San Quentin guards during my trial and asked what their policy was with respect to escapes. And they said their policy was to prevent escapes at all cost. And so, we said, “Well, if it means the death of one person or 20 persons, does that still hold true?” And he said, “Yes.” If it meant the death of one child or 20 children? He said, “Yes.” So, anyway, I was charged with murder, kidnapping and conspiracy because the guns were registered in my name. And—
AMY GOODMAN: You had a major decision to make at that time, and you decided to go underground.
ANGELA DAVIS: Well, I wasn’t going to turn myself in. You know? I mean, we all—we were all very much aware of what had happened to Lil’ Bobby Hutton, an 18-year-old member of the Black Panther Party, when he tried to surrender to police and was killed. And it was really interesting, an interview—or, rather, a study was done, a poll was taken, of people in Los Angeles in black communities. And the question was whether they thought that I was doing the right thing by leaving. And it was like 90 percent said yes, because they knew the Los Angeles Police Department, and they knew how many people had been killed by the police department. So, you know, it never even crossed my mind to turn myself in at that time. I was thinking that, you know, maybe in a more auspicious moment, you know, maybe if organizing were done and—I mean, I didn’t get to do that, because the FBI caught up with me, and I was actually captured by the FBI, which was another story, but—
AMY GOODMAN: In New York.
ANGELA DAVIS: Yeah, I was in New York. Well, I was actually running from the FBI, because—you know, people have this romantic idea about what it means to be underground. But, you know, in a sense, I was almost relieved, because every time I saw a white man in a suit, I assumed it was the FBI. And if I had stayed underground any longer, I probably would have had a heart attack, so…
AMY GOODMAN: It’s almost exactly 48 years ago, 1970—it was October—that you—that they got you—right?—and put you at Bedford women’s prison—is that right?—one of the places you were held downtown in the Village of New York City?
ANGELA DAVIS: Yeah, it was the Women’s House of Detention in Greenwich Village, yeah. Yeah, they took me—first they took me to the FBI’s office. I mean, they—well, I’m having to go back in my memory 48 years. And I remember being on the elevator and knowing that they had found us. I was traveling with a man by the—who was actually really amazing. And he ended up being arrested—David Poindexter. And he finally beat the case. But I remember—we were going up to the hotel room, and I remember thinking that this is it. I could sense that it was going to happen. And as soon as we got up to the floor, they grabbed me, they grabbed him. They snatched—I had a wig, because I was in disguise. They snatched my wig off. And—only time I’ve ever worn a wig in my life! And my brother saw—my brother saw a picture or something, and he said, “That’s not my sister.”
But they kept asking me, “Are you Angela Davis?” And, you know, I learned when I was a very young child not to talk to the FBI. You do not say anything to the FBI. I learned when I was 5 years old, when my parents’ friends, who were communists, were underground, and the FBI would always try to get information from us. And I’d learn not to say a word to the FBI. So, the only thing I did say to them, eventually, was that I want my phone call. But yeah, yeah, that was a pretty dramatic moment. Yeah.
AMY GOODMAN: So you’re sitting in jail. They are going to fight for you to be extradited to California. You were fighting that, and then they just put you in a van and started moving you west?
ANGELA DAVIS: Well, I was in jail for—let’s see. I was arrested on October 13th, and I was in jail until November. So there are lots of stories that happened at the Women’s House of Detention. They’re really important stories, because I think I learned there. It was the only time I was ever in general population, because my lawyers fought for me to be removed from solitary confinement, so I did have contact with the women there. We did do—as a matter of fact, we did organizing around bail. And it’s so interesting that 50 years later, 50 years later, that remains the issue.
And so, there were people on the outside, and it was great that the jail was in Greenwich Village, because people could just gather outside, and you could talk to them out of the windows. And so—and I mention this in my autobiography, that when I was in high school, I went to high school in Greenwich Village, and I remember going—walking by that jail and hearing the disembodied voices and not really knowing how to respond. And then, it turns out, later, I’m the disembodied voices calling out to people to contact an attorney or—we did a lot of organizing in that way. And we were able to organize the women inside so that there would be collective decisions regarding who got out on bail after the money was raised by people in the community. It was really quite an amazing experience. I learned a lot from—the more I think about it, the more I realize how that experience really shaped me.
You know, later, I started to do yoga in jail. I had never heard of yoga. I mean, there weren’t even any yoga mats at that time. There was no such thing as the yoga industry. But I developed a yoga practice when I was there. I learned—I learned a lot from the women. I learned about the need for self-care. And, yeah.
AMY GOODMAN: Vegetarianism?
ANGELA DAVIS: Oh, yeah, I became a vegetarian. Not because I wanted to at the time. I’m sorry. I mean, I’m still—I’m vegan now, so this is a conscious decision. That was not a conscious decision. That was because the meat had maggots in it and was so bad that I told them I did not eat meat. And I had no idea that once I got out and I tried to go back to eating meat, it wasn’t going to work, so… And then, eventually, of course, I learned about all of the reasons why we should be engaging in conscious eating and not be participating in the inflicting of violence on—you know, for the sole purpose of producing profit.
AMY GOODMAN: The legendary activist and scholar, Dr. Angela Davis. We’ll return with her in a moment to talk about prison guards killing George Jackson in 1971 at San Quentin. We’ll also talk to her about the prison abolition movement and more.
AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, as we return to my conversation with Angela Davis. I spoke with her in October at Busboys and Poets, a cultural hub and restaurant in Washington, D.C.
AMY GOODMAN: I just was at San Quentin a few weeks ago. One of our fellows at Democracy Now!, she worked at the San Quentin News, and we went into San Quentin. And the first thing the prisoners showed us as we walked in the prison, they pointed and said, “This is where George Jackson was gunned down.” The first thing they showed us. This was agonizing for you.
ANGELA DAVIS: Yeah. August 21st, 1971, George was killed by San Quentin guards. And it was—during that period, there was so much going on, that it was—we could hardly find the time to mourn and to grieve, because, you know, something else would happen. Jonathan had been killed almost exactly a year before that. That period was so compressed in so many ways. And I’ll never forget when my attorney Howard Moore and my attorney Margaret Burnham came to visit me, because I was—at that particular time I was back in solitary confinement, because I had been extradited to California. And—
AMY GOODMAN: And you chose to have black attorneys, which was a very important statement.
ANGELA DAVIS: Well, yeah. Why not—I mean, the thing is, there were so many political prisoners during that period. And, you know, there were really good attorneys. Kunstler was amazing, right? But there were also black attorneys, who were committed, who had a history in civil rights activism, like Howard Moore, Margaret Burnham, who is my closest friend in the world. And we always say that we’ve known each other since before we were born, because our mothers were pregnant together, and our mothers were best friends. And she was the first person to show up at the jail. And she stayed with me from—she’s the only attorney who was with me from the very beginning, until the acquittal happened, which meant that she had to bring her son, her son who had cerebral palsy. That, you know, posed a whole number of challenges. She moved with him to California.
I will never forget Margaret’s—Margaret is amazing. You all should know her, as a matter of fact. She’s had about five different careers. She was a civil rights attorney. She was my attorney for two years. She was a judge in Boston. She ran an international law practice. She helped to write the Constitution of South Africa. And now she has a project—then she became a legal scholar and teaches law at Northeastern. She has this program that is called Civil Rights and Restorative Justice, where she investigates cases of black people in the South who were killed or who had their property taken away from them, who were lynched, in Alabama, in Georgia, in Mississippi, Louisiana. So, yeah, yeah. So I had three black attorneys. And—
AMY GOODMAN: Your third lawyer was?
ANGELA DAVIS: Leo Branton.
AMY GOODMAN: And he’s the one who, in court, turned to the jury and said, “Be black for a minute.” Right? Because the idea that you went underground, he said, you’ll automatically think that means she’s guilty. But change the color of your skin—and, don’t worry, you can go back in just a minute—and think what you would do.
ANGELA DAVIS: Yeah, he did do that. Yeah.
AMY GOODMAN: Right? Think what you would do if you were black in America at that time, and the police were going after you, and the FBI.
ANGELA DAVIS: See, Leo’s first love was drama. He studied drama. And so he had this sense of, you know, how to capture the attention of the jury. And many, many years later, we were at Harvard. Charles Ogletree did an event in which he invited me and my siblings and the attorneys. And Leo remembered, word for word, the closing argument. And he stood up in front of these students—this was in the 1990s—and gave the closing argument again.
AMY GOODMAN: Is it true that at one point they sat a woman, a good friend of yours, next to you to show the unreliability of eyewitness accounts?
ANGELA DAVIS: Yeah. My friend Kendra Alexander, with whom I was active in the Communist Party and a number of other organizations. She did legal work throughout the trial, as did her husband Franklin and my sister. And so, she sat at the table with us. And this witness was poised to identify me. And he identified Kendra.
AMY GOODMAN: They said, “Is she in this room today?”
ANGELA DAVIS: That is—yes, yeah, exactly. Yeah, there were all of these, I guess, Perry Mason moments in the trial that were—
AMY GOODMAN: And you were released on bail. But then describe the moment, the moment of the jury coming back in. Your family, your whole family, was there? But your mother was too nervous to come into the courtroom?
ANGELA DAVIS: Yeah, my mother didn’t want to come in. And Margaret, who had known my mother since she was born, you know, said, “Sallye”—we all learned to call the parents by their first names; that was kind of like a communist—you know? So, she said, Margaret said, “Sallye, you can’t stay out; you have to come in.” And she came in. But what was interesting was that Margaret was the one who was so totally composed, and she totally had it together. You know, she was the attorney. But as soon as the jury walked into the courtroom, she lost it. She like—her hands went up like this. But yeah, the jury announced the verdict. And Franklin sobbed out loud. You heard this loud voice of this man crying. Franklin was another close comrade friend, who did organizing around the case. Yeah, yeah.
AMY GOODMAN: One, two, three, the charges were read.
ANGELA DAVIS: Yeah.
AMY GOODMAN: And you were found not guilty on all three charges.
ANGELA DAVIS: Yeah.
AMY GOODMAN: You walked out into the sunlight, and the next chapter of your life began.
ANGELA DAVIS: Well, you know, we had a party that night, and champagne. It was great. And then, you know, the jurors wanted to get together, so I got to—so I actually became really good friends with the foreperson of the jury, whose name was Mary Timothy.
But then, the very next day, we got together and decided that something had to be done to keep the whole apparatus together that was responsible for organizing around the demand for my freedom, because, initially, it was National United Committee to Free Angela Davis, and during the time I was in jail, I looked at all of the women who were there, who had no resources, who had no access to attorneys, and I said, “This can’t just be about me.” And so, the name was changed: the National United Committee to Free Angela Davis and All Political Prisoners.
And so, the very next day, after we had partied all night, we had a meeting to figure out how we could begin to move to a new phase, how we could create a new organization. We created an organization called the National Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression. Some of the first cases were the Attica Brothers, because the Attica rebellion had happened in 1971, September, right after George was killed. There was the case of Reverend Ben Chavis and the Wilmington 10. There were so many cases. Lolita Lebrón, who was still in prison at the time. So we immediately—
AMY GOODMAN: The Puerto Rican independence activist.
ANGELA DAVIS: Yeah. So we immediately began to do that work. And I mention it because, you know, oftentimes we don’t get to see the history, the trajectory that makes it possible to engage in certain kinds of political actions 20, 30, 40 years later. And so, I think that we were helping to lay the foundation for movements against racist police violence today. As a matter of fact, we had a caucus within the organization that was very specifically concerned with stopping police violence.
AMY GOODMAN: Forty-seven years ago, George Jackson was killed. And on the 47th anniversary, this year, 2018, the prison strike lasted three weeks, from the gunning down of George Jackson to the Attica uprising. And prisoners around the country, once again, in this year, rose up, at great possibility of retribution against them, went on hunger strike, went on work strikes.
ANGELA DAVIS: Yeah, that national prisoner strike was so important. We often don’t recognize the degree to which the historical memory, that I was talking about before, plays such an important part in the lives of prisoners. Prisoners, even young people who have been recently arrested and sentenced to prison, are politically educated. They learn from the old-timers about, you know, all of the events that have happened over the years, the significance of George Jackson, all of the campaigns that took place in the 1960s and the 1970s. They actually do a much better job than people in the free world of preserving history. And, of course, the fact that we now can openly call for the abolition of imprisonment as the existing mode of punishment, and the abolition of policing as the major form of security in our worlds, we owe that to people who stood up many decades ago. I’ll never forget that.
AMY GOODMAN: And just before we move forward, I wanted to go back eight years to 1963, because this is also another anniversary. And it’s close to your home, because it’s where you were born. September 15, 1963, the blowing up of the Birmingham church in Alabama, a church you knew well. You were 19 years old. Where were you on that Sunday when that church, that icon within—in Birmingham, was blown up, and killed the four little girls?
ANGELA DAVIS: I was in France. I was spending my junior year studying in Paris. And when I learned about the bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church, I was there. And in those days, the technology of communication was not what it is today. You couldn’t just, you know, text somebody or—I mean, I called my family maybe once every two months when I was there. And so, that was a phone call I still vividly remember.
And my mother was very good friends with the mother of Carole Robertson. And as I’ve said many times, almost all of the girls were close to our family. You know, Cynthia lived right—two doors away from us. And Carole was my sister’s best friend. And she had taken Carole’s mother, whose name was Alpha Bliss Robertson—if any of you have seen Spike Lee’s film Four Little Girls, she’s interviewed there. That was one of his best films, I think.
AMY GOODMAN: It was so good.
ANGELA DAVIS: It was really good. And so, Alpha Bliss Robertson called my mother and said, “Would you please take me to the church? Because I have to pick up Carole. There’s—you know, something has happened there.” And so my mother was like there when she discovered what had happened to her child.
We could talk about that incident, but I think it’s also important to realize that that wasn’t the first time a church had been bombed. Often people who are not from the South don’t realize that that was a routine expression of racist terror. It happened all the time.
AMY GOODMAN: Did you—didn’t you grow up on Dynamite Hill? Didn’t they call it that?
ANGELA DAVIS: Yeah, where I lived was called Dynamite Hill, because so many houses were bombed. The church I attended, which was a couple blocks from the house, was burned when I was 11 years old, because we had an interracial discussion group going on there. So, you know, I’ve said many times that, you know, there’s all of this discussion about terror and the threat of terror, and the Islamophobia that goes along with it, but there’s never any acknowledgment of the extent to which terror shaped the country, and especially the South. And no one did anything about it.
AMY GOODMAN: So, have you ever had a discussion with another woman who was born in Birmingham, the former national security adviser, Condoleezza Rice?
ANGELA DAVIS: Not the one you’re talking about. No, I—you know, all kinds—
AMY GOODMAN: Two slightly different trajectories of life that came out of Birmingham—Condoleezza and Angela.
ANGELA DAVIS: Yeah. All kinds of people are from Birmingham. But, you know, I actually did read her autobiography a while ago, and I realized that there was a major difference.
AMY GOODMAN: I didn’t read her autobiography, and I had already figured that out.
ANGELA DAVIS: But, you see, one of the things I learned, growing up in Birmingham, was to really treasure community. And I learned that an injury to one is an injury to all. And I, you know, got a sense of—you know, I’m actually really glad I grew up in that segregated world, because it taught me about the possibilities of community. And I can remember our teachers, when the white men from the Board of Education would come to school and call the teachers by their first name, because that was one of the ways in which they gave expression to their racism. And so the teachers would stand up and fight back and end up losing their jobs, just from speaking back to, you know, a white Board of Education representative. And so, I felt this closeness there.
Now, the reason I make this point is because in Condoleezza Rice’s autobiography, she points out that she was reared to think of herself as someone who had to stand out, who had to be better than anyone else, who had to—who had to—if we’re running a race, she always had to be five miles ahead. And, well, you know, we all learn that if you’re black, you have to be 10 times better than white people. But she wanted to be—
AMY GOODMAN: So you didn’t just face one death sentence, you faced three.
ANGELA DAVIS: Right. No, but Condoleezza Rice wanted to be 10 times better than all black people, too, so… And I don’t think she grew up with that sense that—of the power of community. She grew up with a sense of the need to stand out as an individual. And I think that’s the fundamental difference.
AMY GOODMAN: The legendary activist and scholar Dr. Angela Davis. We’ll return to her in a moment to talk about challenging capitalism, today’s youth movements, fighting for justice and what gives her hope.
AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, as we return to my conversation with former Black Panther Angela Davis, professor emerita at the University of California, Santa Cruz. I spoke with her in October in Washington, D.C., at the cultural hub and restaurant Busboys and Poets.
AMY GOODMAN: You go back 50 years. You look at 1968. And you look at today. How does it compare, from the protests at San Francisco State and Columbia University, the protests in Paris, in France, the level of organizing—of course, that year, the assassination of both Dr. King and Robert Kennedy—but the level of organizing that took place then and what’s happening right now? Does this give you hope?
ANGELA DAVIS: Absolutely. Absolutely. And I think what gives me hope is the extent to which young organizers have been able to build on the work of those who came before them. And I am so impressed by young organizers and Dream Defenders, Black Lives Matter, Black Youth Project 100, SURJ.
You know, white people are really beginning to change significantly. I mean, I’m remembering that—you know, it used to be that we assumed racism was just about attitude. Right? And so the only way you can deal with a racist is to say, “Oh, you should go to an unlearning racism workshop.” You remember—I mean, this is what people who made these public—these racist statements publicly were then asked to atone and to learn. And there was no sense of the extent to which racism is so deeply embedded in the structures and the institutions of this society. And I think now there is a popular understanding of the fact that you can’t just assume that by finding Jason Van Dyke guilty of the murder of Laquan McDonald that that’s going to change the situation. The Chicago Police Department will continue to be as racist as it was before. And so this notion of abolition has really, really taken hold.
And, you know, I don’t envy young activists and organizers, because they have to deal with so much more. Things were so much simpler for us. And that’s because we had no idea how complicated these issues really are. I often point out the fact that when we began—when we were calling for black freedom, that was always freedom for the black man, you know? And women were doing most of the organizing, and the women who were doing the organizing didn’t even realize that we were excluding ourselves, through our very vocabulary, from the terrain of freedom. And that’s no longer the case. The role of gender and sexuality, I think, you know, queer approaches are becoming more mainstream in terms of organizing queer feminist approaches. And that’s exciting. Yeah.
So, even though I know the world always appears to be so chaotic, and sometimes we can’t see a way out, but I think the work that we have to do is to guarantee that we pass down a legacy to the next group, the next generation. And that’s our only hope for achieving change. And I see the work that young activists are doing today and the way in which they’re also—because you are not young that long. You know, many people are under the impression that youth is an eternal. It doesn’t happen that way. Before you know it, you will have aged out of youth. And so—so it’s so important to train others to share. And with each generation, it becomes richer and more interesting and more complicated. I am sometimes amazed listening to young activists who speak so fluently about the ways in which homophobia, transphobia not only affect those who identify as trans or as LGBTQ, but it’s about the entire world. The challenging of the gender binary has allowed us to recognize that everything can be challenged. If you can challenge what was considered to be the most basic guarantor of normalcy—right?—then you can challenge anything. You can challenge capitalism. You know? You can see your way to a future beyond the kind of obscene capitalist framework that has formed and shaped our lives. So I’m excited. Things look a lot—those of you who are young may not feel this, but things look a lot more hopeful to me. It’s the young people who represent the future. And so they are the ones who have to take the leadership. They are the ones who have to lead us into the next phase.
And I guess as I get older, I realize how important it is for us to imagine ourselves as something more than our own individual lives, that we’re connected with people who came before us, and we will be connected to people who come after us. So it’s our responsibility to do the work that will—and the responsibility of younger people, too, to make sure that you do the work that will keep the ideas alive, that will keep the possibility of freedom alive. Because it’s not going to happen tomorrow. We know that. But it can happen. It can happen sometime in the future. Well, I don’t think we will ever actually reach that point that we can call freedom, because what’s exciting is that on the road we notice that things are so much more complicated. You know? And so, I’m excited about what you will discover in the future. No one could have predicted 20 years ago that trans movements would be so important to social justice today. No one could have predicted that.
And so, I see us expanding the terrain of freedom. And I’m imagining that in the future we will have movements to protect animals, that will become much more widespread. We’ll have a different relation. We’ll experience our relationship to those with whom we share the planet in very different ways. And then there are all of those freedom ideas that I can’t even imagine. But I know that in the future they will emerge. And so, I’m excited. It’s actually—you know, it’s not that bad to be old. It isn’t, as long as you maintain that kind of perspective and vision that allows you to feel connected to both those who are younger and those who are older, those who came before us and those who will come after us many generations into the future.
AMY GOODMAN: The legendary activist and scholar Dr. Angela Davis, professor emerita at the University of California, Santa Cruz. I spoke with her in October in Washington, D.C., at Busboys and Poets. To see a transcript or the video or audio podcast of the interview, go to democracynow.org.
Please Help ZNet and Z Magazine
Due to problems with our programming that we have only now finally been able to fix, it has been over a year since our last fund raising. As a result, we need your help more than ever to continue to bring the alternative information you have been looking for for 30 years.
Z offers the most useful societal news we can, but in judging what is useful, unlike many other sources we emphasize vision, strategy, and activist relevance. When we address Trump, for example, it is to find ways beyond Trump, not to merely repeat, over and over, how terrible he is. And the same is true for our addressing global warming, poverty, inequality, racism, sexism, and war making. Our priority is always that what we provide has potential for aiding determining what to do, and how best to do it.
In fixing our programming problems, we have updated our system to make becoming a sustainer and giving donations easier. It has been a long process but we are hopeful it will make it more convenient for everyone to help us grow. If you have any trouble, please let us know right away. We need input on any problems to make sure the system can continue to be easy to use for everyone.
The best way to help, however, is to become a monthly or annual sustainer. Sustainers can comment, post blogs, and receive a nightly commentary by direct email.
You can also or alternatively make a one-time donation or get a print subscription to Z Magazine.
Subscribe to Z Magazine here.
Any aid will help greatly. And please email any suggestions for improvements, comments, or problems right away.