Salute to the Mothers of our conscious struggle who sacrificed much, so that we could have a tomorrow and to all the courageous Sisters who just weren’t having any of it…
1. Angela Davis 2. Assata Shakur 3. Kathleen Cleaver 4. Sojourner Truth 5. Harriet Tubman 6. Rosa Parks 7. Fannie Lou Hamer 8. Shirley Chisolm 9. Sis. Minister Ava Muhammad 10. Two Sisters who weren’t having it!
Interviewer: But the question is more, how do you get there? Do you get there by confrontation, violence?
Davis: Oh, is that the question you were asking? Yeah see, that’s another thing. When you talk about a revolution, most people think violence, without realizing that the real content of any revolutionary thrust lies in the principles and the goals that you’re striving for, not in the way you reach them. On the other hand, because of the way this society’s organized, because of the violence that exists on the surface everywhere, you have to expect that there are going to be such explosions. You have to expect things like that as reactions. If you are a black person and live in the black community all your life and walk out on the street everyday seeing white policemen surrounding you… when I was living in Los Angeles, for instance, long before the situation in L.A ever occurred, I was constantly stopped. No, the police didn’t know who I was. But I was a black women and I had a natural and they, I suppose thought I might be “militant.”
And when you live under a situation like that constantly, and then you ask me, you know, whether I approve of violence. I mean, that just doesn’t make any sense at all. Whether I approve of guns.
I grew up in Birmingham, Alabama. Some very, very good friends of mine were killed by bombs, bombs that were planted by racists. I remember, from the time I was very small, I remember the sounds of bombs exploding across the street. Our house shaking. I remember my father having to have guns at his disposal at all times, because of the fact that, at any moment, we might expect to be attacked. The man who was, at that time, in complete control of the city government, his name was Bull Connor, would often get on the radio and make statements like, “Niggers have moved into a white neighborhood. We better expect some bloodshed tonight.” And sure enough, there would be bloodshed. After the four young girls who lived, one of them lived next door to me…I was very good friends with the sister of another one. My sister was very good friends with all three of them. My mother taught one of them in her class. My mother—in fact, when the bombing occurred, one of the mothers of one of the young girls called my mother and said, “Can you take me down to the church to pick up Carol? We heard about the bombing and I don’t have my car.” And they went down and what did they find? They found limbs and heads strewn all over the place. And then, after that, in my neighborhood, all the men organized themselves into an armed patrol. They had to take their guns and patrol our community every night because they did not want that to happen again.
Angela Davis, prominent activist known for her commitment to combating forms of oppression in the U.S. and abroad, shows her support for the fight against the forced closure of Aboriginal communities in Australia.
Image credits: Stop the Forced Closure of Aboriginal Communities in Australia Facebook page
Angela Davis, philosopher-activist and professor, was hunted down by the FBI for a crime she didn’t commit, jailed in 1970, and freed in 1972. While serving her sentence in a California jail, she gave a thoughtful interview (later included in The Black Power Mixtape) about the state of the Black Panthers at that time, and why violence is part of protest, because it is an inherent element in the daily lives of black and brown people. Watch the remarkably relevant video.
What is happening in Ferguson - and the solidarity people from Palestine are expressing - is exactly what Angela Davis has been talking about. The internationalization of these oppressive structures. The prison industrial complex does not exist in a vacuum. Police brutality doesn’t exist in a vacuum. Apartheid doesn’t exist in a vacuum. These oppressive structures are interconnected.
This is why whenever I’ve seen her speak on the PIC or on feminism and abolition, she’s always connected it to Palestine. Global connections. When she was imprisoned in the 70s, in solitary confinement in an American prison, a Palestinian political prisoner in an Israeli jail sent her a message of solidarity - it was smuggled out of that Israeli cell an into Davis’ cell. Do we not see parallels of that today in those tweets sharing tips on how to deal with police brutality?
The struggles are distinct. Specific to specific communities. But the structures are interconnected. What does it say for American police to be trained by and often armed by the IDF; what does it say for weapons to be tested on Palestinians and then sold to the rest of the world; what does it say for military and prisons to both be privatized to this extent; what does it say for neoliberal institutions like the IMF and the world bank to be supporting private prisons as replacements of state functions in developing countries? We have to have attention to detail and we have to also be able to look at this in a larger framework.
Angela Davis: From Michael Brown to Assata Shakur, the racist state of America persists December 18, 2014
Although racist state violence has been a consistent theme in the history of people of African descent in North America, it has become especially noteworthy during the administration of the first African-American president, whose very election was widely interpreted as heralding the advent of a new, postracial era.
The sheer persistence of police killings of black youth contradicts the assumption that these are isolated aberrations. Trayvon Martin in Florida and Michael Brownin Ferguson, Missouri, are only the most widely known of the countless numbers of black people killed by police or vigilantes during the Obama administration. And they, in turn, represent an unbroken stream of racist violence, both official and extra-legal, from slave patrols and the Ku Klux Klan, to contemporary profiling practices and present-day vigilantes.
More than three decades ago Assata Shakur was granted political asylum by Cuba, where she has since lived, studied and worked as a productive member of society. Assata was falsely charged on numerous occasions in the United States during the early 1970s and vilified by the media. It represented her in sexist terms as “the mother hen” of the Black Liberation Army, which in turn was portrayed as a group with insatiably violent proclivities. Placed on the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted list, she was charged with armed robbery, bank robbery, kidnap, murder, and attempted murder of a policeman. Although she faced 10 separate legal proceedings, and had already been pronounced guilty by the media, all except one of these trials – the case resulting from her capture – concluded in acquittal, hung jury, or dismissal. Under highly questionable circumstances, she was finally convicted of being an accomplice to the murder of a New Jersey state trooper.
Four decades after the original campaign against her, the FBI decided to demonise her once more. Last year, on the 40th anniversary of the New Jersey turnpike shoot-out during which state trooper Werner Foerster was killed, Assata was ceremoniously added to the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted Terrorist list. To many, this move by the FBI was bizarre and incomprehensible, leading to the obvious question: what interest would the FBI have in designating a 66-year-old black woman, who has lived quietly in Cuba for the last three and a half decades, as one of the most dangerous terrorists in the world – sharing space on the list with individuals whose alleged actions have provoked military assaults on Iraq, Afghanistan and Syria?
A partial – perhaps even determining – answer to this question may be discovered in the broadening of the reach of the definition of “terror”, spatially as well as temporally. Following the apartheid South African government’s designation of Nelson Mandela and the African National Congress as “terrorists”, the term was abundantly applied to US black liberation activists during the late 1960s and early 70s.
President Nixon’s law and order rhetoric entailed the labelling of groups such as the Black Panther party as terrorist, and I myself was similarly identified. But it was not until George W Bush proclaimed a global war on terror in the aftermath of 11 September 2001 that terrorists came to represent the universal enemy of western “democracy”. To retroactively implicate Assata Shakur in a putative contemporary terrorist conspiracy is also to bring those who have inherited her legacy, and who identify with continued struggles against racism and capitalism, under the canopy of “terrorist violence”. Moreover, the historical anti-communism directed at Cuba, where Assata lives, has been dangerously articulated with anti-terrorism. The case of the Cuban 5 is a prime example of this.
This use of the war on terror as a broad designation of the project of 21st-century western democracy has served as a justification of anti-Muslim racism; it has further legitimised the Israeli occupation of Palestine; it has redefined the repression of immigrants; and has indirectly led to the militarisation of local police departments throughout the country. Police departments – including on college and university campuses – have acquired military surplus from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan through the Department of Defense Excess Property Program. Thus, in response to the recent police killing of Michael Brown, demonstrators challenging racist police violence were confronted by police officers dressed in camouflage uniforms, armed with military weapons, and driving armoured vehicles.
The global response to the police killing of a black teenager in a small midwestern town suggests a growing consciousness regarding the persistence of US racism at a time when it is supposed to be on the decline. Assata’s legacy represents a mandate to broaden and deepen anti-racist struggles. In her autobiography published this year, evoking the black radical tradition of struggle, she asks us to “Carry it on. / Pass it down to the children. /Pass it down. Carry it on … / To Freedom!”