Angela Davis Speaks At the Boston Social Forum

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As thousands gathered at the first-ever Boston Social Forum, Angela Davis examines prison issues from Abu Ghraib to the U.S. and calls for a re-evaluation of American democracy. [includes rush transcript]

Over the weekend leading up to the Democratic National Convention, thousands of people from social justice movements and organizations around the country gathered at the University of Massachusetts for the Boston Social Forum.

The three-day event was modeled on the World Social Forum, which has brought tens of thousands of activists from around the world together in Porto Allegre and Bombay to share strategies, analysis, and proposals for social change. This year marked the first major social forum in North America.

The Boston Social Forum featured over 500 workshops and discussions on a broad range of issues including, immigration, environmental justice, Iraq, women’s liberation, racism, corporate accountability and much more.

On the opening day included guest speakers such as indigenous rights activist Winona LaDuke, local city Counciler Chuck Turner and renowned prison activist and University of California professor Angela Davis.

  • Angela Davis, a longtime prison activist and professor at the University of California, Santa Cruz. She is the author of many books including “Women, Race, & Class” (1981) and “Women, Culture, and Politics” (1989). Courtesy: Boston Neighborhood Network

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: As we turn now to the last segment of our program, this weekend thousands gathered at U. Mass-Boston for a three-day Boston Social Forum modeled on the World Social Forum in Porto Alegre, Brazil, and Bombay, India. This year marked the first major social forum in North America. Among those who spoke was Angela Davis, the renowned prison activist and University of California professor.

ANGELA DAVIS: I want to begin by saying that of all the mass political gatherings taking place this summer, one next week here in Boston, the other in New York, this is the gathering that best represents a serious commitment to justice, equality and democracy. (applause). And it is refreshing to be a part of this experience of community that is linked to radical, feminist, socialist and generally progressive movements in the Global South and throughout the world. I like the overarching theme of, I guess what we might call the Social Forum Movement, of which the Boston Social Forum is a part: Another world is possible. Another world is possible. I like this theme because I think it captures the contemporary importance of political imagination. Not that imagination, by itself, can produce a new world, but if we cannot imagine social relations based on peace and justice and equality, we will find ourselves caught up in the rhetorical universe that has been fabricated by global corporate dominance and, of course, its major spokespersons in the Bush Administration. So what does it mean to fight for democracy today? What does it mean to fight for democracy today? When Iraqi prisoners ask whether the recent evidence of torture furnishes material proof of the kind of democracy the United States is determined to bring to the Middle East, this is a question that deserves to be taken seriously. (applause). For the rest of the world, and of course for many of us here in the U.S., as well, the economy of images of U.S. democracy, United States democracy, has shifted. And that economy of images is dominated by representations of hooded figures, recapitulating the practices of the penitentiary as it developed early on in connection with the emergent United States democracy in the late 1700s, the early 1800s. It also reflects the contemporary sexual coercion that saturates domestic prisons, women’s prisons, men’s prisons. However now, young white women apparently taking pleasure in forcing nude Iraqi men to masturbate is a strange but meaningful representative of the military as site for the production of gender equality: now, women can participate in torture on a basis of equality with men. And of course here at this gathering, we know the limits of formal equality and of democracy based only on formal rights. In the immediate aftermath of the release of the first images of Abu Ghraib, the French daily newspaper Le Monde published a cartoon depicting an enormous boot crushing the head of an Iraqi prisoner, and the cartoon was accompanied by the words “repetez: de-mo-cra-tie,” “repeat after me: de-mo-cra-cy.” So what does it mean to acknowledge the repression and torture and sexual coercion that constitute the underbelly of a particular version of democracy, a particular version of democracy which has achieved dominance in the world? But more importantly, for us this weekend, what new versions of democracy do we want for the future? And how can we guarantee that technologies of torture and disappearance and coercion will cease to exist? A few words about prisons. Prisons disappear entire populations, entire communities, especially Black and Latino communities. The disappeared, or desaparasidos, is a term we associate with the practices of the military junta that seized power in Argentina in 1976. Thousands of people suspected of involvement with what the dictatorship labeled “left terrorism” including opposition party members, labor activists, journalists, engaged artists, teachers, concerned citizens vanished without a trace. It has been determined that many of them were held captive in a network of secret detention centers where they became anonymous hooded prisoners subject to humiliation, torture and murder. A quarter of a century later, fast forward 25 years, photographs taken in a military detention center outside Baghdad, Iraq are placed in global circulation, thus revealing the ugly details of what may very well have been the fate of the desaparasidos in Argentina. The victims today who are also purported to be terrorists probably include labor activists, journalists, cultural workers, teachers, concerned citizens, as well as opposition party members, in fact, a group very similar to the community that is gathered here this weekend under the auspices of the Boston Social Forum. (applause) But of course this time it is not a military dictatorship in South America utilizing the well-preserved techniques of torture, but, it’s rather, the military arm of a government that claims to represent the most advanced democracy in the world. What I would like to say this evening is that it is our responsibility to take advantage of this rupture in the global reputation of U.S. democracy. We want a democracy that does not spawn terror and war, (applause) a democracy that does not need enemies for its very substance, a democracy that does not thrive on racism and homophobia. We want a democracy that is not based on the rights of capitalist corporations to plunder the world’s economic, social and physical environments. As labor activists, community organizers, scholars, cultural workers, concerned community members, it is our responsibility to encourage our constituencies to work hard, to imagine alternative versions of democracy, versions of democracy, for example, in which a youthful mistake cannot condemn a child to a life of confinement in juvenile facilities, jails and prisons.

AMY GOODMAN: You’ve been listening to Angela Davis at the Boston Social Forum this week leading up to the Democratic National Convention which begins today at the Fleet Center in Boston.

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