takeaways from angela davis at wow festival

The political activist and author sat down with WoW founder Jude Kelly for a discussion for lively discussion about Trump, jail and how young activists continue to teach and inspire her.

by Lynette Nylander
13 March 2017, 3:40pm

When you think of the word activist, you can't help but think of writer, author and academic Angela Davis. Over her life and career, she has continually inspired women and men, young and old, to engage in activism and resistance, particularly in the civil rights movement of the 1960s. Her novels such as Women, Race, and Class and Freedom Is a Constant Struggle: Ferguson, Palestine, and the Foundations of a Movement are essentially readings for anyone wanting to engage with activism and politics today. As part of the Southbank Centre's Women of the World Festival, Angela sat down with WoW founder Jude Kelly for an in-depth to discussion, to talk about activism's role in 2017, hierarchical power, race, gender and politics. Watch below and find ten takeaways from the talk below.

On Donald Trump
"The election of Donald Trump has created a disaster. I have said many times my two-year-old grandniece couldn't understand what was happening. She said many times, 'has Donald Duck been elected our President?' and I always say 'out of the mouths of babes!' As much as we worked to prevent the election of Donald Trump, and when I say prevent I mean the election, I don't mean to argue that had Hillary Clinton be elected, that we would have been in a substantially different situation. The difference would have been that we would have more room to do the organising we need to during this period."

On racism
"Often people ask me if I am disturbed or depressed that the same issues keep on coming up, over and over again, and often say, 'you have devoted your life to this movement, how does it make you feel when you see that nothing has really changed? And it's true that in many ways, structurally racism is more powerful than ever before, but I always have to make the point that things have changed. And if we don't acknowledge that conditions have changed, what we are saying is that the work that we do makes no difference. Young activists have more profound ways of thinking about how we move in direction of freedom, the conceptual tools that young people have today are based on decades and decades of struggle. So yes, we have made progress."

On hierarchical power
"These conversations never take place abstractly. There are those who are always calling upon people to participate in a conversation on race. In my opinion, the most effective conversations take place within the context of activism and trying to transform the world. There are problems of assuming that feminism calls for a kind of replacing of men by women. We always use as our standard those who are the centre of the structures we want to dismantle, so why would women want to be equal to men? Why would Black people and Latinos and Arabs and Muslims want to be equal to white people? Why would the LGBTQ community want to become equal in the context of the hetero-patriarchy?"

On changing the world
"We will always believe we have that we are able to change the world. Today in 2017, as we try to generate powerful resistance movements, against Islamophobia, to protect undocumented immigrants, to protect the rights of trans people, we are drawing upon forces and we are drawing upon forces and energies that have been created over decades. So now we are in a sense, are reaping the fruits of the work that activists like ourselves have done."

On intersectionality
"We have a lot to learn about the cosmologies of Indigenous people and we have a great deal to learn from those ways of thinking about the world, those ways of bringing the past and present together. Intersectionality, I don't think it has been clearly analysed in the 21st century. I like to point out the impulse for thinking about what we know now as intersectionality is an activist impulse. I was often the target of the question, 'what are you anyway? Are you black or are you a woman?' The whole notion of double jeopardy was used early on to be black and female, in an article that appeared in one of the first women's liberation anthologies, by Fran Beale. Triple Jeopardy became the title of a newspaper associated with Third World Women's alliance which was imperialism, sexism and racism. Intersectionality is just one of the most recent attempts to approximate the ways in which these modes of oppression and these categories come together in reality."

On men
"Progressive men need to take the initiative themselves, they don't need to be invited. What is important now is that we don't see the emergence of masculine, individualist leaders - we need to see a collective leadership."

On being in jail
"If one looks at the struggles of the 60s/70s, around the time I was in jail. I am sorry, I casually talk about the fact I was in jail. And what I can say is that was such a difficult period in my life but now I see it as a gift because I learnt so much and so much of who I am emanated from that experience of being imprisoned."

On channelling anger
"Anger can be a powerful force. I like Audre Lorde's way of addressing anger. We need to be beware that we are not self-destructive in that anger."

On future of activist work
"We are creating the terrain for something that may happen 50 years from now. And often when I say this people become depressed, because they say 'maybe I won't be around 50 years from now,' but so what! What difference does that make? Capitalism forces us in the neo-liberal ideologies forces us... compels us to measure the world in a very small way. We cannot measure the work that we are doing by our own individual selves, and even by our own life times, because I would like to think that today we are living the imaginaries of those who are long gone."

On young activists
"It's important that more experienced activists acknowledge young people. They have the capacity to imagine something different. Some of the most important learning I do is from young people." 

Read: What International Women's Day means from a POC perspective.


Text Lynette Nylander

Angela Davis
international women's day
iwd 2017
women of the world festival