I seriously had so much more to share about my experience. I had to cut the post in two separate entries. There was so much that Dr. Angela Davis had to say that I think is worth revisiting. This is a post for my art and writing, but I think as an artist it is important to have something to say. And when someone as notable as Dr. Angela Davis takes the time to introduce herself and her struggle to our youth while reintroducing herself and reinvigorating those of us who have been around the block a time or two, then I can’t help but to want to light the fire under those of us who are so comfortable and settled in our complacency. So here it goes…
Civil Disobedience for Civil Rights © iam mai dg from Who Could I Have Been series
After the meeting, my daughter and I preceded to the lecture hall and were amazed first by Dr. Henry Giroux’s introduction of Dr. Davis and then completely enthralled by Dr. Davis herself.
As Dr. Davis spoke about the fact that it is the 150th year of the abolishment of slavery in the United States and that nothing of significance is happening to commemorate one of the most momentous things in U.S. history, I sat in amazement that that isn’t part of our individual or collective consciousness. I wondered how there could be multi-millions spent to celebrate Christopher Columbus in over three countries every few years for his so called “discovery” of the New World, when the Native populations and subsequently enslaved peoples are still reeling from the effects of his occupation.
I wasn’t surprised when Dr. Davis spoke about the contributions of women being erased from the history of the Human Rights and Black Freedom Movements. That has been the modus-operandi globally for millennium. If you don’t believe me, just check history books around the world. I’m sure women would have been taken out of all five pages designated to the women’s suffrage and women’s liberation movements in the history books, if the absurdity of their omission wouldn’t so obviously fly in the face of reason.
When Dr. Davis quoted statistic after statistic to support her assertion that the United States is a Prison Industrial Complex supported on the backs of the poor and disenfranchised through the lure of Capitalism, there was a noticeable silence in the packed to capacity room. As she spoke about the connection between the deindustrialization of North America and the rise in the production of structures to hold, and policies to supply, inmates for the Prison States, people started shouting “Preach!” I wondered if what she spoke of was akin to what the military tacticians have known for centuries…when your home economy is tanking, then you tank someone else’s economy, increasing patriotism, linear thinking, fear mongering and religious fervour while decreasing your opponent’s economic, political and social stability, as well as decimating their population and means of production.
I think I took an audible breath then said “SHIT!”, when Dr. Davis said that there were far more black men incarcerated and under the control of the prison system now than were enslaved at the height of slavery. That statistic had me overwhelmed. There was so much more that was shared, but for me none more heart breaking than that last statistic.
I thought of the three leaders, Coretta Scott King, Winnie Mandela and Michelle Obama, in the painting I had presented to Dr. Davis earlier and what they and their husbands had forfeited for the struggle. I considered how of the six of them, three had languished in prison for standing up for their human rights and none of them were exempt from death threats being levelled against themselves or their families. I considered how many other unsung leaders in the labour force and arts, business, entertainment, sports, sciences, medicine, technology as well as education suffered the same or worst fates. I thought of those who gave their lives, their liberties and their freedoms to this cause and were erased from the annals of history for their ultimate sacrifice. I recollected the “disappeared” in Chilean history and how generations of people are still left suspended in uncertainty and marvelled at how many other societies around the world could share their own variation on the same old theme.
Dr. Davis spoke about Dr. Martin Luther King Junior’s Dream and that she was tired of hearing about it. She complained that worldwide the “I Have A Dream” speech is the only thing anyone can quote about what he brought to the Civil Rights Movement. She mentioned his last speech, before he was assassinated, questioning the government and the structures upon which they remained shackled. He questioned why, if this was the land of opportunity, were the majority of the population poor and the minority rich? Why were those who fought abroad for our liberties fighting, once they returned home, for basic human rights and dignities? Why would people have to pay so much for water, when ¾ of the earth was water? Dr. Davis brought our attention to the fact that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. contributions had been reduced to a tidy little sound bite for the world to consume. She also drew our attention to the fact that people like Claudette Colvin, Metgar Evers, and Malcolm X to name a few, were being expunged from our history and our collective memories. I would like to add that organizations such as the Black Panther Movement are still vilified in our global collective memory with very little new analysis being offered to deconstruct the importance of their contribution to the civil rights movement.
Three Wise Men © dg iam mai from The Chosen series
Before opening the floor to questions Dr. Davis insisted that we push for President Barack Obama to move the country forward by addressing some of the social and political concerns that he failed to advance during his previous term.
What is the greater plan here? Where will this adversity lead the nations? How can we individually and collectively shift the momentum of this well oiled machine off the path that it is currently on, so that racialized and commodified populations can thrive? How can we manoeuvre, or what do we have to put in place, so that not only people are called to be accountable for their misdeeds but that structures upon which inequitable power relations are supported are dismantled? I certainly don’t know. What I do know is that we as a global community have to stop being so distracted from our own micro-politics and shift our gaze to the macro-policies that effectively cripple us and keep us imprisoned no matter where we go.
I do not purport that we try to be Dr. Angela Davis; she has got that nicely covered. What I do suggest is that no matter who we are, or what our gifts and talents are, that we use them not only to our advantage, but for the betterment of the world. It will take some commitment, focus, a little courage and tenacity. We will be knocked down, but we have to get back up. Our course may change and our path may deviate, but who knows where your new path may lead you. And who can tell how your contributions on your path can impact the greater picture in this enigma.
I am certain that Dr. Angela Davis did not live her life as she has for fame, notoriety or fortune. I am confident that she stuck to her principles because she was decidedly that, principled. And somehow I think that Dr. Davis is more surprised than we are that she has somehow become a cultural icon. Despite her turbulent life and her politics she has risen to the heights few other Freedom Fighters have had the privilege of reaching. I am grateful that she is still here among us, on her path, doing her work and carrying the difficult discourse forward.
I will leave you with some questions from Dr. Davis that still resonates with me. Perhaps these questions will influence my next series of works. Or perhaps it will enable me to keep the dialogue going through the words I write or the images I create.
1. How can the 150th anniversary of the abolition of slavery go by unobserved?
2. Why do we not recognize that all struggles for human rights are our struggle?
3. Why are societies that wage war against its citizens and citizens of the world
permitted to go unchecked?
4. Why are women, and people of colour, continually erased from history and why isn’t
there a movement towards their reinsertion?
Donna Guerra © 04/04/13 dg