Struggle and Unity in the Politics of Angela Davis

0 Flares 0 Flares ×

Midwest Bisexual Lesbian Gay Transgender Ally College
Conference—Liberty and Justice For All: Voting for
Change. The insipid “unifying” theme paralleled the goals
of the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), the wealthiest
political action committee for sexual minority rights,
which seeks assimilation into the exclusionary institutions
of marriage and the military.
Quickly into the first day, the political tenor of the conference
waxed tense as political differences surfaced
among participants. Several moments of conflict caused
some participants to bristle, including a conversation
where Candace Gingrich dismissed the possibility of outing
as a political tactic. She claimed, instead, that she
could only confirm the queerness of people who she had
slept with.
By the time the Q & A session for the opening keynote
by gay Army veteran Eric Alva—the first casualty of the
Iraq war and advocate of “Do Ask, Do Tell“—began, HRC’s
well-oiled, feel-good machine hit a roadblock. When students,
challenged the imperialist enterprise of the U.S. military’s
mission, they were heckled and shouted down. At
which point, any illusion of a “safe and ally-rich” gathering
began to collapse. In enters Angela Davis, professor of the
History of Consciousness and Feminist Studies at UC Santa
Cruz, transforming the conference dynamics from one of
fear and loathing to one of unity and inspiration.
Yet, it might seem ironic that Davis became the unifying
figure, given her controversial history. In 1968, she joined
the Communist Party and, subsequently, endured the
McCarthyism of the UCLA regents and then-governor
Ronald Reagan, who fired her. In 1970, Davis appeared on
the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted Fugitives list, when a gun registered
in her name was implicated in Jonathon Jackson’s
attempt to free the Soledad Brothers, which resulted in a
deadly shootout at the Marin County Hall of Justice.
Davis served eighteen months in prison until she was
acquitted of charges of conspiracy, kidnapping, and homicide.
While the more moderate NAACP and SCLC considered
Davis’ Marxist politics taboo, the movement to free
Angela Davis garnered support across the political spectrum
of Black America. In an editorial written in the
Chicago Daily Defender soon after her capture, Louis Martin
expressed the solidarity an older generation of civil
rights leaders felt with Davis, as well as a collective pride
in her academic achievements. Even if they did not share
her political theories, they understood her rage and her
yearning for justice.
However, despite this support, Davis still contended
with accusations by some of not being radical enough,
considering her interest and studies of European philosophers
a political contradiction. In her 1974 autobiography,
Davis also expresses ambivalence about her travels abroad,
which coincided with moments of acute crisis in the struggle
for civil rights. She was studying abroad when the 16th
Street Baptist Church in Birmingham was bombed by the
KKK, killing four black girls she knew from childhood. As
she was embarking for her graduate studies at the Frankfurt
Institute in 1965, Watts erupted into flames. Her
words speak to the conflicts she experienced between
completing her studies and the urgency that she was needed
in the civil rights movement. Perhaps, contending consciously
and consistently with the dilemmas, conflicts, and
contradictions in her life are precisely what have given her
the strength to instill a sense of unity in people, even in
the midst of great conflict and difference.
Davis’ strength as an organizer rests on the long history
of her commitment to abolishing the prison-industrial complex
and her ability to bridge the differences among generations
and political viewpoints. Her compassion and faith in
people temper Davis’ iconic image as a “black militant revolutionary.”
Her pedagogy invites us to remember those that
have paved the way before, invoking the memory of Bayard
Rustin (1912-1987), the openly gay civil rights leader who
helped to organize the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs
and Freedom. Davis’ passion echoes too the post-Reconstruction
era anti-lynching advocate Ida B. Wells.
The power of her oratorical style draws from the same
well as Martin Luther King. It is perhaps the deep values
instilled by this tradition, situated solidly in the Black
experience, which calls forth the responsibility to act
now for the sake of future generations. Angela Davis
invites us to join together, regardless of our political affiliation,
our race, our gender, or our sexuality, and to consider
how we will respond to our children in the year
2030, when they ask us, what have we done to shape the
world they will inherit?

This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.