“You have to act as if it were possible to radically transform the world”
– Angela Davis
What better way to spend International Women’s Day than in conversation with Angela Davis at the Royal Festival Hall, London. Influential political activist, academic and author, Angela has been an inspiration to millions, including myself by per participation in movements and reminders of the importance of intersectionality through our struggles. This sold out event is a testament to her legacy.
This talk was part of Women of the World (WOW) with which Angela will also speak at the Apollo theatre in Harlem, New York. We began the event by learning how to sign ‘women around the world’. Angela was introduced to the stage by WOW festival founder Jude Kelly who was facilitating the conversation, greeted by a standing ovation not a single person stayed sat in their seat.
As Angela received praise from the audience she took this opportunity to reiterate the importance of recognizing change is brought about by movements not only individuals and that we are who we are only in relation to others. That we are also a product of history.
When asked how to address demotivation around the popularity of movements fluctuating she said it is ok to accept movements are not always at their peak. She gave the example of the Black Lives Matter movement which gained short-lived media attention. To realize that these peaks spark conversations which matter. They have an impact. They help us begin to question institutions, no longer only individuals.
Conservative views which may provide resistance often causes amnesia. Meaning If only individuals are held responsible for their actions the institutionalized systemic problem is often forgotten. We may send an individual to prison, but we would not be looking at the root cause of why they have committed crimes they have. We should keep a prison abolition mindset.
Carrying on with these movements we are sharing down information to younger generations so they can keep going to influence change. Angela gave a great example of how women’s movement now include trans women which they previously didn’t. On this point, she reminded us of the importance of intersectionality across movements.
There was a mention that younger generations today are criticized for their lack of knowledge, but it is these younger generations which will be the ones to bring about change. They are the ones to take risks. Change always comes from the youth, they are our future. Angela always makes a point to listen to the voices of the younger generation. Things are changing and leadership can be collective it does not have to be by individuals. It is important to remember change can take hundreds of years, but it is still an asset to keep that sense of impatience as it brings about a sense of much-needed urgency.
Critical engagement is important in movements and we should not be afraid of criticism, people are stuck in their way of thinking we need to be questioned in order to change the conceptional way of thinking. Racism in the struggles will always exist those deep in the struggles understand that and are less defensive.
Diversity and inclusion mean nothing unless we are moving towards justice. Industries in the military industrial complex are becoming more female dominated but we are not moving towards justice.
Angela discussed her recent experience where she was due to be awarded the Fred L. Shuttlesworth Human Rights Award from the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute in Alabama where she had a personal connection. In a turn of events, the board of directors soon retracted the offer due to pressure from outside individuals who highlighted her critic of Israel and support for the boycott movement. Angela perpetuated the root of his was her long-term support for Palestine which she has always been open about. The reaction which followed these events was unexpected. She attracted mass support from the Jewish community, in particular, a group of Reconstructive Jews who even held Shabbats in her name. Angela still went to Alabama on the day she was supposed to receive her award, but to a community event instead where an impressive 35,000 people showed up. There were many individuals and organizations presence notably a large number form the Jewish and black community. She reinforced criticism of Israel is not anti-Semitism and that those who have who have suffered great devastation are not immune from committing crimes.
Angela also reminded us that justice does not always come in the form of the law or authority figures. Throughout her talk, she did not refer to Donald Trump by name but referred to him as the ‘occupier’ as she believed him to be. Another interesting point was to remind us that movements should not be linked to ethnicity but to those with similar political goals.
When asked if she believed there would be reparations paid to those who have suffered, she said yes but they should not come not in the form of money but as change such as free healthcare and education with accessible housing. We need a greater focus on civil rights for migrants and refugees in this current time.
Angela ended her talk by stating that women are on the rise and we need to derive inspiration from women across the world, mentioning brave women from the struggles in Brazil, Rohingya, and Kurdistan.
The final sentiment of the night was to remind us – Freedom is a constant struggle.