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Full Video: Angela Davis in Conversation with Imani Perry in Birmingham, Alabama

Web ExclusiveFebruary 19, 2019
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Civil rights icon and scholar Angela Davis returned to her hometown of Birmingham, Alabama, over the weekend. She originally planned the visit to receive the Fred L. Shuttlesworth Human Rights Award from the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute, but the institute withdrew the award last month, soon after the Birmingham Holocaust Education Center sent a letter urging the board to reconsider honoring Davis due to her support of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement targeting the Israeli government and Israeli institutions. Facing swift and widespread outcry, the institute then reversed its decision and reinstated the award. But Angela Davis has yet to say if she will accept it. More than 3,000 people gathered Saturday evening for an alternative event to honor Davis hosted by the Birmingham Committee for Truth and Reconciliation. The event featured a conversation between Davis and Princeton professor Imani Perry, who is also from Birmingham.

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

IMANI PERRY: Let’s begin with how we got here today. You were to receive a humanitarian award from the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute. That award was rescinded, before being reinstated. But when it was rescinded, the people of Birmingham, Alabama, immediately responded.

ANGELA DAVIS: You know, I have never loved Birmingham as much as I love Birmingham at this moment.

IMANI PERRY: But let’s—I mean, I’m interested in hearing your thoughts about that process, and, in particular, what we learn, both about history but also about the present, by virtue of what happened.

ANGELA DAVIS: You know, I didn’t have a chance to get miked like you, Imani—

IMANI PERRY: Oh, OK.

ANGELA DAVIS: —because I wanted to see everything that happened before I came on. So…

IMANI PERRY: Happened before, yes.

ANGELA DAVIS: And it is really a joy to be here this evening. I want to thank everyone for coming out, people in Birmingham, from Alabama, and I know my friends and comrades are here from New York—

IMANI PERRY: All over, yes.

ANGELA DAVIS: —and Chicago and Oakland—

IMANI PERRY: Yeah.

ANGELA DAVIS: —and all over the country. So, thank all of you for being here this evening. It almost feels as if we’re marking a new beginning.

IMANI PERRY: Yes.

ANGELA DAVIS: And what I can see is that, of course, when I learned that I was to receive the Shuttlesworth Human Rights Award—

IMANI PERRY: Yeah.

ANGELA DAVIS: —from the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute, I was overcome with joy. Reverend Shuttlesworth has always been one of my heroes. And I have always admired those, especially Odessa Woolfolk—

IMANI PERRY: Yes.

ANGELA DAVIS: —who had the vision that led to the creation of the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute. And so, I want to say from the very beginning that I don’t want to do anything that can damage the future of this very important institution in our community. But I was surprised to hear that later they decided to rescind the award. And then, when I discovered that it might have something to do with my involvement, over many years, in efforts to advocate for justice for Palestine, it became clear to me that this might actually be a teachable moment.

IMANI PERRY: Yes.

ANGELA DAVIS: That as much as the whole controversy might have, at least for the moment, damaged the reputation of those who made that decision, that we might seize this moment to reflect on what it means to live on this planet in the 21st century and our responsibilities not only to people in our immediate community, but to people all over the planet.

IMANI PERRY: Yes.

ANGELA DAVIS: And, of course, in occupied Palestine. Black people, especially, owe a great deal to Palestinians, who have been struggling for decades and decades and refuse to give up. They are an inspiration to people who are fighting for freedom everywhere on the planet.

IMANI PERRY: Everywhere, everywhere. Yeah.

ANGELA DAVIS: So, did I answer your question, Imani?

IMANI PERRY: Yes. But I want—and relatedly, though, because I think that there is a misperception, that is fairly widespread in this moment, that is important for us to talk about, that solidarity for—with Palestinian people does not mean one is anti-Semitic or does not also have solidarity with Jewish people, right? And yesterday—I think it was yesterday—there was a national solidarity Shabbat for you, right? And for those who aren’t aware, Shabbat is the—that is the Sabbath ritual for Jewish people. And one of the things that they said as part of the solidarity Shabbat—right?—is you are—”Angela, you are welcome at this Shabbat.” What—can you tell us about the significance of both the phrase itself but also for you, as a person who has been engaged in struggles for justice that are international for the majority of your life?

ANGELA DAVIS: Well, first of all, I know that Jewish Voice for Peace has done an incredible job, not only at this particular moment, but in general—

IMANI PERRY: Yes.

ANGELA DAVIS: —creating a very powerful movement among Jewish people.

IMANI PERRY: Yes, mm-hmm.

ANGELA DAVIS: I was, by the way, just speaking at Brandeis last week. I went to Brandeis University, which was founded in the same year as the state of Israel. And I also point out that I learned about Palestine at a Jewish university.

IMANI PERRY: Right.

ANGELA DAVIS: And so, Jewish Voice for Peace has done an amazing job over the last years bringing people together all over, all over the country. So when I heard about this Shabbat, I said—well, first of all, it made me feel really humble—

IMANI PERRY: Yeah.

ANGELA DAVIS: —because I’m—you know, I don’t really think of myself as being special. No, hold on for a second. Let me say what I have to say. Let me say what I have to say. I think that a lot of work that has been accomplished by organizations and movements and huge numbers of people gets projected onto individuals.

IMANI PERRY: OK.

ANGELA DAVIS: I know we often assume that when we speak of the civil rights movement, immediately who comes to mind?

IMANI PERRY: Right. King.

ANGELA DAVIS: Dr. King. And, of course, Dr. King was a powerful figure. But he did not create the civil rights movement.

IMANI PERRY: Right, right.

ANGELA DAVIS: And I think, particularly at this moment in our history, when we are so influenced by the neoliberal ideologies of global capitalism, we have to figure out ways in which we can contest this individualism—

IMANI PERRY: That’s right.

ANGELA DAVIS: —that shapes the way we think about the world.

IMANI PERRY: Yes.

ANGELA DAVIS: So, what I want to say is that I’m happy, I’m happy to be here, but I think it’s important that you know that I am simply standing in for the work that was done by vast numbers of people, thousands and millions of people all over the country and all over the world. And so, that is how I—that is how I read the Shabbat.

IMANI PERRY: OK.

ANGELA DAVIS: And the slogan, “Angela, sister, you are welcome in this house”—”Angela, sister, you are welcome in this Shabbat” comes from a slogan that was used on many posters all over the country when I was underground fleeing the FBI. So, people put up these posters on their doors: “Angela, sister, you are welcome in this house.”

And you have to realize that the only reason people are familiar with my name and my history today is because people did that work of organizing the movement to save my life back in the 19—1970. Well, it started in 1969, when Ronald Reagan fired me from my job, but—you know, I don’t know why I always end up in the middle of these situations. I really—I really never asked to be at the center of it all. I was very happy to be organizing on the sidelines and doing the work to promote someone else. But somehow or another—I have no idea.

IMANI PERRY: Why end up at the center of it?

ANGELA DAVIS: I have no idea why. And even now, at age 75, here I am again. But I can tell you that what I’ve always tried to do is to utilize the moment, to take advantage of the particular arena. And I think we’re doing this here this evening—I was scheduled to be here on February 16th. And what is this date?

IMANI PERRY: February 16.

ANGELA DAVIS: And here I am.

IMANI PERRY: Yes.

ANGELA DAVIS: Not because of anything I myself did, but because of the amazing organizing work of the Birmingham Committee for Truth and Reconciliation.

IMANI PERRY: And Reconciliation, yeah, yeah.

ANGELA DAVIS: So, thank all of you who were involved in organizing this event this evening.

IMANI PERRY: So, actually, I want to go back to 1970, but also beforehand, because one of the things that I think is often missed about Birmingham, in particular, is that there is this long, robust black radical tradition that comes out of Birmingham. And so I’m interested in, you know, having you talk some about the root of your radicalism here, and then also, you know, how it is you have these sort of two pieces of your journey, which are actually, I think, a big piece of why you wind up at the center of all these things, that you’re an intellectual and an organizer. Right? So, how did that come to be?

ANGELA DAVIS: Of course, Imani is asking me the question, but she’s an amazing researcher and has done—I love your book on Lorraine Hansberry.

IMANI PERRY: Oh, thank you.

ANGELA DAVIS: And she probably knows the answer better than I. But I can try. Yeah, the roots of—the roots of our radicalisms.

IMANI PERRY: Yeah.

ANGELA DAVIS: You know, I grew up in the city. And as difficult as people from the outside may have thought living in Birmingham, Alabama, was, it was actually an amazing experience. And I know a bunch of my childhood friends are here this evening.

IMANI PERRY: I see.

ANGELA DAVIS: I know Madeleine Kaur [phon.], Houston Brown. I saw Bugs, and I saw a bunch of people. There you all are. So, thinking about growing up in Birmingham, I realize that actually we learned how to resist.

IMANI PERRY: Yeah, mm-hmm.

ANGELA DAVIS: And there’s a story I often tell about the games that we used to play as children. You know, my house was—well, the house still stands there, on 7th Street and 11th Court. And those of you who know the history of Birmingham, you know that Center Street divided the black neighborhood from the area that was zoned for white people.

IMANI PERRY: White people, right.

ANGELA DAVIS: And you know about the bombs that happened on the other side of Center Street. But also, as kids, we used to dare each other to run across the street, you know, knowing full well that what we were doing was illegal.

IMANI PERRY: Right, yeah.

ANGELA DAVIS: And there were some white people who lived across the street from our house. I think they were the Montys. And so, we used to dare each other to run across the street and run up on their porch and ring their doorbell and make it back to safety before anyone came to the door. And it was fun! And so, one of the things that I learned growing up in Birmingham is that resistance can be fun.

IMANI PERRY: Can be fun. That’s a big piece of it, yeah.

ANGELA DAVIS: It can bring us pleasure and joy.

IMANI PERRY: Yes, yes. When did you know you were going to become a scholar? At what point did that calling emerge for you?

ANGELA DAVIS: Well, I have to think about that—

IMANI PERRY: OK.

ANGELA DAVIS: —because initially I thought I was going to be a doctor. I used to go to Children’s Home Hospital. Anybody remember that? This was a children’s hospital down on 8th Avenue and—

HOUSTON BROWN: Jasper Road.

ANGELA DAVIS: Jasper Road, that’s right. Thank you, Houston. And so, I loved that place, and I originally had decided that I was going to be a doctor. And as a matter of fact, I got accepted at Fisk on an early admission program. I think I was 15. And so I figured, “OK, if I go to Fisk, I will graduate when I’m 19, and then I’ll go to Meharry. I’ll just go right across the street to Meharry medical school.

IMANI PERRY: Mm-hmm, yeah.

ANGELA DAVIS: “Then I’ll be a doctor by the time I’m 20-something.” And so I had it all—

IMANI PERRY: All planned out, OK.

ANGELA DAVIS: —planned out in my head. But then, it was my father—I love Fisk. Don’t get me wrong. And I know that—I know that Claudia Burnham is here, my friend from growing up in Birmingham and from New York, and she went to Fisk. But at the same time, I had the opportunity to go to New York for my last two years of high school. So I chose to go to New York. And I think it was probably that decision that exposed me to ideas that I had never imagined before. I was fortunate to—you know, I’m from Birmingham, Alabama, and I go to this high school where we read The Communist Manifesto

IMANI PERRY: Right.

ANGELA DAVIS: —by Karl Marx, and where we read Freud in high school.

IMANI PERRY: High school, right. It was informally known as the Little Red School House, right?

ANGELA DAVIS: Well, no, actually—

IMANI PERRY: Or was that the under—that was the government—

ANGELA DAVIS: The whole system is the Little Red School House.

IMANI PERRY: OK.

ANGELA DAVIS: And the elementary school and the high school.

IMANI PERRY: OK.

ANGELA DAVIS: The high school, it was—Elisabeth Irwin founded—

IMANI PERRY: The high—

ANGELA DAVIS: —Little Red School House—

IMANI PERRY: OK.

ANGELA DAVIS: —during the ’30s, when there were a lot of progressive, experimental schools happening. But then, during the McCarthy era—

IMANI PERRY: OK.

ANGELA DAVIS: —they disassociated the school from the public school system.

IMANI PERRY: I see. OK.

ANGELA DAVIS: And the teachers, who were also—what do you say? Whitelisted? The teachers—the teachers decided to cooperatively own and control the school.

IMANI PERRY: Ah, OK, control the school. OK.

ANGELA DAVIS: So they could teach whatever they wanted.

IMANI PERRY: They wanted. So that’s what exposed you to—

ANGELA DAVIS: Well, yeah.

IMANI PERRY: Moved you.

ANGELA DAVIS: Well, I had to learn French. And, I often point out, I had to do three years of French in one year, so that I could catch up with my class by the time we graduated.

IMANI PERRY: Wow!

ANGELA DAVIS: And learning French also exposed me to French culture and philosophy. And I was, you know, moved by existentialism in those days.

IMANI PERRY: Yeah.

ANGELA DAVIS: You know, this is the period of the beatniks in New York.

IMANI PERRY: Yeah.

ANGELA DAVIS: And it was an amazing era.

IMANI PERRY: Yeah.

ANGELA DAVIS: It was an amazing era.

IMANI PERRY: And then you studied with Marcuse in—at—

ANGELA DAVIS: I studied with Herbert Marcuse—

IMANI PERRY: Marcuse, yeah.

ANGELA DAVIS: —at Brandeis.

IMANI PERRY: At Brandeis.

ANGELA DAVIS: Yeah.

IMANI PERRY: What was that—was that another sort of watershed for you intellectually?

ANGELA DAVIS: Oh, absolutely.

IMANI PERRY: Yeah.

ANGELA DAVIS: Absolutely. For some reason, I think I knew that a connection with Marcuse would be transformative. You know, I was at—I told you I was at Brandeis two weeks ago. And somebody asked me, “Well, why did Marcuse choose you?” And I said, “I don’t know.” I don’t know whether he chose me. I think I can be persistent sometimes. And I think after I told him so much about my desire to learn philosophy, this is—by this time, I’m in my senior year, and I’ve already spent a year in Paris. And I was majoring in French, but I decided that I wanted to shift to philosophy.

IMANI PERRY: Philosophy, mm-hmm.

ANGELA DAVIS: And I told him how passionate I was about philosophy. But the problem is, I’ve never taken a single philosophy course. And so he said, “OK, let’s change that.” And so, during the first semester of my senior year, he did this intensive history of philosophy independent study with me. So I met with him a couple of times a week.

IMANI PERRY: Wow!

ANGELA DAVIS: And I had to read everything from the pre-Socratics, you know, all the way up—Plato, Aristotle, Spinoza—the whole history of Western philosophy, up to Immanuel Kant. And he told me, “I’m doing a graduate seminar on Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason next semester. So, I want you to take that seminar.” And I was scared to death. I mean, I’m in a seminar with advanced graduate students. And he forced me to give the first paper. So, those of you who are academics, you know what that means.

IMANI PERRY: Yes, right.

ANGELA DAVIS: And after that, I was really hooked.

IMANI PERRY: Yeah.

ANGELA DAVIS: I think. I don’t think I could have imagined any other trajectory for myself. But what I haven’t said was why I was drawn to critical theory and Herbert Marcuse. Because it wasn’t philosophy per se. It was philosophy in the service of social, political, economic transformation.

IMANI PERRY: Transformation, right.

ANGELA DAVIS: It was critical theory. And later on, after I had studied critical theory for many, many years, I had this—well, the French would call it prise de conscience. I had this moment when I realized why I felt so drawn to critical theory. Because critical theory urges us to question that which exists, and it conveys the message that just because something exists does not mean that it will exist in the future, does not mean that it cannot become something else.

IMANI PERRY: Yes, right.

ANGELA DAVIS: And then I remembered growing up as a child here in Birmingham, when my mother would always tell us, when we wanted to know, you know, “Why can’t we go to the amusement park? Why can’t we go—why can’t we go to the big library?”—right? And she always was very careful about saying that, “Well, you know, this is segregation. This is the way things are now.” But she always said, “This is not the way they always have to be.” And so, I kind of learned from my mother how to both live in the existing world and at the same time inhabit an imaginary. You know, how do I—how can I imagine Birmingham of the future?

IMANI PERRY: Future, yeah.

ANGELA DAVIS: So I was always thinking about change.

IMANI PERRY: Yes, yes.

ANGELA DAVIS: And I think that was also what drew me to critical theory, yeah.

IMANI PERRY: Over the last two weeks my students have been reading Women, Race, & Class, one of your classic texts. And one of the things that we’ve talked about in the course is what it means to construct a history—right?—to tell a story in a particular way with the goals, the transformative goals, of critical theory in mind. And in the context of the discussion, one of the things I’ve talked to them about is your work around prisons and prison abolitionism—right?—and prison abolition as a value, that began many—decades before there’s a public conversation about mass incarceration. And that seems to be something that often you are engaged in the kind—have been engaged in the kind of organizing that later people begin to catch on to but is controversial, to say the least. So—I’m OK. So I do—can we talk a little bit about prisons and the connection between this work—you’re one of the founders of Critical Resistance, right? Around the same time that Women, Race, & Class is published, right? Or a couple of years after the publication, yeah?

ANGELA DAVIS: Imani, you’re very young.

IMANI PERRY: OK. I know.

ANGELA DAVIS: It was like something like maybe 20 years before.

IMANI PERRY: Twenty years before? OK.

ANGELA DAVIS: But, you know, yeah, time—OK.

IMANI PERRY: Yeah. What’s—

ANGELA DAVIS: You asked me a lot of questions. I really—I love those rich, you know, complex questions.

IMANI PERRY: Well, I just, yeah, you know, I want to get a sense of, yeah, what—

ANGELA DAVIS: But, first of all, you mentioned my book Women, Race, & Class.

IMANI PERRY: Yes.

ANGELA DAVIS: Which was published in 1981.

IMANI PERRY: ’81, OK.

ANGELA DAVIS: OK. Critical Resistance, the conference, happened in 1998.

IMANI PERRY: Oh, I thought the organization started in ’87. I was wrong. OK.

ANGELA DAVIS: Well, yeah. So…

IMANI PERRY: OK.

ANGELA DAVIS: But we started the organizing in 1997, I think.

IMANI PERRY: OK.

ANGELA DAVIS: 1996.

IMANI PERRY: OK.

ANGELA DAVIS: But the impetus for writing this book, which is called Women, Race, & Class, actually came from the period I was in jail. I wrote an article—

IMANI PERRY: Yes.

ANGELA DAVIS: —when I was in jail entitled “The Role of Black Women in the Community of Slaves.”

IMANI PERRY: Yes.

ANGELA DAVIS: That was published by The Black Scholar. And I wrote that article because of all of the very confusing conversation that was happening at the time about, you know, black women being responsible for the oppression of black communities. It was around the time that—well, the Moynihan Report—

IMANI PERRY: Moynihan Report.

ANGELA DAVIS: —came out in 1965, right? So there were all of these ideas that were circulating, including among prison intellectuals, including George Jackson, for example.

IMANI PERRY: Jackson, mm-hmm.

ANGELA DAVIS: So I had had a number of arguments with George Jackson about the role of women in the movement. There was a tendency to assume that the problem with—the problems we were experiencing in black communities had to do with—this is the way they put it—it was the white man and the black woman. I don’t know whether any of you remember. They used to say there are only two free people—

IMANI PERRY: Two free people in the world.

ANGELA DAVIS: —in the world, right?

IMANI PERRY: That, I do—

ANGELA DAVIS: The white man and the black woman.

IMANI PERRY: And the black woman.

ANGELA DAVIS: You remember that?

IMANI PERRY: Yeah.

ANGELA DAVIS: And so, this whole notion of the matriarchal structure of the black community, and so, therefore, if there was going to be black liberation, black men had to overcome—had to overthrow the matriarchy. Yeah, things were—

IMANI PERRY: That’s a problem.

ANGELA DAVIS: I mean, can you believe it? And so, that was actually the impetus for—

IMANI PERRY: For that.

ANGELA DAVIS: —for beginning to do that research—

IMANI PERRY: Yeah.

ANGELA DAVIS: —that eventually led to Women, Race, & Class.

IMANI PERRY: To that book.

ANGELA DAVIS: And I think that virtually all of the intellectual work I’ve done has responded to urgent questions, urgent contemporary questions. And I don’t think that that’s necessarily a way to shape one’s trajectory as a scholar, but, for me, my scholarship has always been very closely connected to transformative movements that can produce a different and better future.

IMANI PERRY: For us, yeah.

ANGELA DAVIS: So, that’s why—that’s why I wrote that book. And then, now, I’m losing the—

IMANI PERRY: Well, just, I mean, just to ask a sort of follow-up question about—

ANGELA DAVIS: So, what—yeah, no, what was that—what was the other question you asked? You asked me two questions.

IMANI PERRY: I did. And I don’t quite remember the second one, either.

ANGELA DAVIS: She doesn’t remember.

IMANI PERRY: But, no, what—but I—

ANGELA DAVIS: OK, so it’s not just a senior moment here.

IMANI PERRY: Well, but I was—no, but I do—but it’s—

AUDIENCE MEMBERS: Prisons.

ANGELA DAVIS: Prisons, right.

IMANI PERRY: About prisons, yes.

ANGELA DAVIS: Exactly, exactly.

IMANI PERRY: Yeah. Thank you.

ANGELA DAVIS: And so, actually, abolition—

IMANI PERRY: Yes.

ANGELA DAVIS: —has a very long history. I think I first encountered the idea that we might consider abolishing, rather than reforming, prisons when I was in jail myself. In 1971, the Attica rebellion took place.

IMANI PERRY: Yes.

ANGELA DAVIS: And the Attica brothers—the Attica brothers called for a whole range of really radical transformations. Among them was the abolition of the prison system as we know it.

IMANI PERRY: Yes.

ANGELA DAVIS: And at the same time, in Quaker circles—you know, we’ve been talking about the connection between religion and struggle. You know, the Quakers were the ones who invented the prison.

IMANI PERRY: Right. Penitentiary, right?

ANGELA DAVIS: The penitentiary.

IMANI PERRY: Repent, right.

ANGELA DAVIS: Well, yeah, because it was assumed, back in those days, that this institution could rehabilitate individuals, that it could give people the opportunity to be penitent. So one went to prison in order to reflect on one’s behavior and in order to establish a relationship with God. But, you know, it sounded great, but the practice—

IMANI PERRY: Right.

ANGELA DAVIS: —of the prison involved repression and the worst kind of physical, corporal punishment. So, the Quakers, who literally invented the prison as punishment, also offered abolition to us as a goal, once they realized that this institution does not work. It’s creating more violence than it is erasing. And so, yeah, I became aware that we might think differently, because, you know, prison reform rolls off of everybody’s—

IMANI PERRY: Tongue very easily, yeah.

ANGELA DAVIS: —tongues, really easily, right?

IMANI PERRY: Everybody, yeah.

ANGELA DAVIS: You talk about prison, you want to do something about it, what do you do? You reform. But the prison—the whole history of the prison is a history of reform.

IMANI PERRY: That’s what it is.

ANGELA DAVIS: It’s been reformed over and over and over and over again. And the more it is reformed, the more repressive it becomes.

IMANI PERRY: It becomes, yeah.

ANGELA DAVIS: And the more paranoid it becomes. And I say this because we’re at a moment now when everybody’s talking about mass incarceration, right?

IMANI PERRY: Right.

ANGELA DAVIS: So what are they offering? Criminal justice—

IMANI PERRY: Reform.

AUDIENCE: Reform.

ANGELA DAVIS: —reform, yes. And so, there is the possibility that if we don’t change the nature of the discourse around the prison, that we’ll end up, in the end, with an institution that is even more repressive and even more permanent than when we began. So, yes.

IMANI PERRY: Yes, yes. Now, one of the things I think both—so, these ideas and this message, you’ve been engaged in for decades, but you’re also consistently in conversation with younger organizers—right?—people who are emerging. Young people in Ferguson, right? And on campuses. One of the students who’s in my class said he signed up for my class because you had come to his high school in Northampton, Massachusetts.

ANGELA DAVIS: Oh, yeah, I love speaking in high schools.

IMANI PERRY: Yeah.

ANGELA DAVIS: I do. And, you know, once—once, I was invited to speak in an elementary school, and I said—I don’t think I was ever so nervous.

IMANI PERRY: The babies are a tough crowd, yeah. You have to keep them engaged, yeah.

ANGELA DAVIS: And then, you know—and I had to tell the students—I said, “This is the first time I’ve ever done this, so, you know, you have to let me know if I’m doing OK.” Because, you know, I’m used to talking to graduate students. So, as the talk unfolded, I would ask them, “Am I doing OK? Is this all right?” And they’d—

IMANI PERRY: They’d say OK.

ANGELA DAVIS: So, yeah. Now I can say I also love teaching—speaking at elementary schools.

IMANI PERRY: Elementary schools, too. But what’s the motivation for you? I think I have an idea, but for constantly. And also, what do you see that’s happening now that’s hopeful? You know, people tend to be very critical of millennials, especially young millennials. But what do you see in them, in terms of this, you know, struggle, movement, organizing?

ANGELA DAVIS: Well, you know, change has always come from the younger generations.

IMANI PERRY: Yeah.

ANGELA DAVIS: And it is—it’s very bizarre that as we grow older, we forget, you know, and somehow we think that we are the ones in possession of all of the knowledge. And we forget what it was like to be young and to respect our elders but also recognize that sometimes we have to do things differently, and that means we have to challenge our elders. I mean, you mentioned Ferguson. You know, Ferguson was an amazing moment, a conjuncture in the history of this country that marked the beginning of something very new.

IMANI PERRY: Yes, right.

ANGELA DAVIS: And the fact that they decided to do something a bit different from what we had been doing for years and decades—because we’ve been challenging racist police violence ever since the days of slavery.

IMANI PERRY: Right.

ANGELA DAVIS: That has been the—that has been the one constant theme of the struggle for black liberation. Am I right?

IMANI PERRY: Yes, that’s right.

ANGELA DAVIS: And more recently, we got into the habit—this is this individualism that is associated with the capitalism that we were talking about before.

IMANI PERRY: Yes.

ANGELA DAVIS: We’ve gotten into the habit of assuming that the problem somehow lies with the individual who perpetrated the violence. And so, OK, you call for the prosecution of the individual police officer. But we all know that it’s not about individuals. We all know that that racism is embedded in the very apparatus of policing.

IMANI PERRY: Right.

ANGELA DAVIS: And so that also means, speaking about abolition, that we have to think about something very different, and perhaps also the abolition of policing as we know it.

IMANI PERRY: We know it, right.

ANGELA DAVIS: And so, young people in Ferguson, young people in Ferguson refused to give up. They kept going back. And, you know, let’s also remember that Ferguson marked the moment when the black struggle in this country became internationalized once more.

IMANI PERRY: Again, right.

ANGELA DAVIS: And this was also largely due to the work of Palestinian resisters on the ground in occupied Palestine, who were the first to offer solidarity to those who were protesting in Ferguson.

IMANI PERRY: Yeah.

ANGELA DAVIS: Let’s not forget that.

IMANI PERRY: Yes.

ANGELA DAVIS: And we also learned, thanks to Ferguson and the organizing around it and all of the conversations that occurred as a result of Ferguson, that rather than simply calling for the prosecution of individual police officers, we have to address such things as the militarization of the police. And we learned that that small police force in Ferguson, Missouri, had been in part trained by the Israeli army.

IMANI PERRY: Yeah.

ANGELA DAVIS: Yes.

IMANI PERRY: Yes.

ANGELA DAVIS: And so, that means that if we want to struggle against racism, if we want to do a good job of doing this work in our communities right now, we have to beware of—be aware of the international reverberations and international connections and intersections.

IMANI PERRY: Yes.

ANGELA DAVIS: And so I think we—young people are the ones who developed this new framework.

IMANI PERRY: Yeah.

ANGELA DAVIS: This didn’t come from, you know, old civil rights veterans, as we’re often called. I think that the reason I feel connected with what has unfolded over the last period is because I’ve been willing to learn from my young sisters and brothers and comrades. You know, I’ve recognized—

IMANI PERRY: Yeah.

ANGELA DAVIS: —that they are the vanguard. They are out front. They are the ones who are showing us the way. And, you know, I often point out that the metaphor we use of one generation standing on the shoulders of the previous generation, we should think about that, because if you’re standing on someone’s shoulders, it means, first of all, you’ve learned pretty much all that they’ve learned, right? You know what they know. But you’re on their shoulders, and you can see a great deal further. So this is why—

IMANI PERRY: Yeah.

ANGELA DAVIS: —I think it’s so important to accept the leadership of young people.

IMANI PERRY: Of young people, yeah. You’ve talked some about capitalism, individualism, imperialism, settler colonialism, racism, right? So there’s an underlying politic—right?—that makes me think that you have, that you’re talking about, in terms of solidarity with other people. And it makes me think of the phrase we use colloquially—right?—”Who are your people?” And I’m interested in now—right?—in this landscape, across the borders of nation and the way we categorize identity, how—who are the—how would you name who the freedom fighters are? And I’m asking that because I’m hoping, in particular, that it helps give people a language, you know, for thinking about a sense of belonging that isn’t tied up in neoliberalism and nationalism and, you know, clanishness and…

ANGELA DAVIS: You know, my people are all of those people who are struggling for justice and freedom in the world. And, you know, let me say something about—I know we only have a few minutes left.

IMANI PERRY: Few minutes left, yeah.

ANGELA DAVIS: I saw a sign a little while ago that said five minutes.

IMANI PERRY: OK, yeah, we—yes. Sorry.

ANGELA DAVIS: But, you know, first of all, the reason black people have been so central to the history of this part of the world is because black people have engaged in incredible struggle, that’s five centuries old, for like 500 years, you know, since the first slave rebellions that took place with the assistance of indigenous people, of Native Americans. And the whole history of black people in this part of the world cannot be told—

IMANI PERRY: Without, mm-hmm.

ANGELA DAVIS: —without also considering the history of the indigenous inhabitants.

IMANI PERRY: Yes.

ANGELA DAVIS: We wouldn’t be where we are today. But the fact that black people have been struggling, generation after generation after generation, you know, you would think that by now people would have given up. Some people have. Some people have decided, “Oh, I may as well just assimilate.”

IMANI PERRY: Right.

ANGELA DAVIS: But in their vast majority, black people have refused to give up that struggle, from 500 years ago to the present moment. And that is incredible. That is remarkable. As a matter of fact, if there’s any hope for democracy in this country—

IMANI PERRY: Right.

ANGELA DAVIS: —that hope comes from the black—

IMANI PERRY: From the black people. That’s right.

ANGELA DAVIS: —and it’s always come from the black liberation movement.

IMANI PERRY: Yeah, yeah.

ANGELA DAVIS: And at this moment, we have—yeah, there’s somebody who lives at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue who is trying to throw a wrench into, you know, the whole trajectory right now. And so, I would say, you know, my people are people who recognize that the nation-state is not the most appropriate form of human communities. And when people—when people decide that they want to take their future in their hands, and they travel in search of a better life, and they try to travel to the United States, because there’s no other possibility open to them, and then, when they’re referred to—we’re talking about women who are trying to escape femicide in Honduras and Guatemala. And when they are characterized as criminals—

IMANI PERRY: Right.

ANGELA DAVIS: —yes, they are my people. They are my people. The Palestinians are my people.

IMANI PERRY: Are my people, yes.

ANGELA DAVIS: The Rohingya are my people.

IMANI PERRY: My people, yes.

ANGELA DAVIS: The Kurdish women who are standing up for revolution and for women’s emancipation are my people.

IMANI PERRY: Yes.

ANGELA DAVIS: Trans activists—

IMANI PERRY: Yes.

ANGELA DAVIS: —who are showing us the way, are my people. The LGBTQ—

IMANI PERRY: Yes.

ANGELA DAVIS: —community, who understands that we need a revolutionary future, they are my people. And all of those who want to bring the system of capitalism to its knees, they are my people.

IMANI PERRY: An end, yeah. Yes. My people. So, time’s up. I apologize I’ve taken—but I just want to say two—

ANGELA DAVIS: We just got started, didn’t we?

IMANI PERRY: I know. That’s what—I want to say something briefly and then give you an opportunity to give a closing remark. And, you know, one of the things that you started with was saying that you don’t like to sort of focus on the individual, and see yourself as a representative of a large community of people who have been in the struggle for justice. And I just want to say that that itself is extremely inspiring, moving and impactful for me and, I know, for many people—right?—so that what it means to actually have models of people who are not drunk on attention, but instead identify every opportunity that they have to speak truth to power, to share ideas as—in community with other people in the world, is—it’s incredibly important, particularly in this landscape. Right? So, thank you so much for that. Thank you. Do you have final words you want to share with your people?

AUDIENCE MEMBER: Yes!

AUDIENCE MEMBER: We love you!

IMANI PERRY: Yes, we love you. We love you.

ANGELA DAVIS: I love Birmingham. I really love Birmingham.

IMANI PERRY: Yeah, that’s it. OK.

ANGELA DAVIS: Yeah, you know, we were talking earlier—this is about the fifth time that I’ve done some kind of presentation today, so I can’t remember exactly where it was. But we were talking about the fact that, you know, oftentimes we assume that when we work for justice and equality and freedom, that we’re going to see immediate results. And capitalism teaches us to want to see, you know, the immediate—well, profit is what the capitalists. So, we have a relationship to our history that is very much a model after the capitalist market.

And we don’t necessarily recognize that the work we do today, while we may not see immediate consequences tomorrow, or even next year, or even 10 years from now, but maybe down the line, maybe 20 years of 50 years or 100 years from now, the work that we have done at this particular moment will have made a difference. And I think it’s so important to try to develop that different temporality. And, you know, I always point out that hundreds of years ago there were people who were standing up against the institution of slavery, and they were imagining. They were imagining a different world. They knew that a different world was possible. They never got to experience that world. But that world is the world we are inhabiting today. They made it possible for us to be where we are. And so we have to begin to think broadly in that way and imagine how consequential our work can be.

I was giving an example of the Me Too movement. Of course, black women never got the, you know, credit for doing all of the really important work that demonstrates that misogynist violence, gender violence is structural. It’s not just about individuals.

IMANI PERRY: Right.

ANGELA DAVIS: So you can’t just keep toppling individuals and assuming that because you tell them that they can’t have this job anymore, that that’s changing the world.

IMANI PERRY: Right.

ANGELA DAVIS: That is not changing—

IMANI PERRY: No.

ANGELA DAVIS: —the structure. It’s like send people to prison and assume that you’re dealing, you know, with the problem for which they were sent to prison. So, some people will remember, 50 years ago, beginning to do this work to end violence against women. A few people remember when Rosa Parks started to do it—

IMANI PERRY: Yes.

ANGELA DAVIS: —in 1944, before anyone else was doing investigations of rapes. Right?

IMANI PERRY: Rapes, yes, of black women, yeah.

ANGELA DAVIS: In Abbeville, Alabama.

IMANI PERRY: Alabama, mm-hmm.

ANGELA DAVIS: And so, let’s see if we can’t gauge the value of the work we do now by its possible future consequences.

IMANI PERRY: Yes.

ANGELA DAVIS: And perhaps, perhaps 50 years from now or a hundred years from now, there will be some people gathered, in the way we are gathered here this evening, who will be thankful, who will give thanks to those who came before them, who will be thankful for the work we did—

IMANI PERRY: Yes.

ANGELA DAVIS: —when we were called upon to do it.

IMANI PERRY: Yes. Thank you.

ANGELA DAVIS: Thank you very much.

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