Angela Davis, a world-renowned activist, author and professor, talks about the prison reform movement from her time as a Black Panther leader up to today. Davis has been a tireless advocate for education and the interconnected struggles between oppressed peoples through her tireless efforts as an educator and an abolitionist. Davis speaks about Indigenous genocide and Palestine, critical race theory, and the role of independent media. “Democracy Now! helps us to place our own domestic issues and struggles within the context of global battles against fascism,” says Davis.
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AMY GOODMAN:This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org. I’m Amy Goodman. Well, this year we’ve been marking Democracy Now!’s 25th anniversary on the air. Earlier this month, Angela Davis, Noam Chomsky, Arundhati Roy, Martín Espada, Winona LaDuke, Danny Glover, Danny DeVito and others joined us for a virtual anniversary celebration. You can see the video. whole event at democracynow.org.
Today we bring you Angela Davis’ full conversation. She is a world-renowned abolitionist and activist, as well as a professor at the University of California Santa Cruz. Democracy Now!’s Juan González and I interviewed her from her home in Oakland, California.
AMY GOODMAN: On this 25th anniversary celebration, Angela, it is such an honor to have you join us, as you’ve done so many times in the last decades.
ANGELA DAVIS:Amy, thank you so very much. You know, it seems like it’s been longer than 25 years. It seems like Democracy Now!It has always been there. I.F. is what I’m thinking of, I think. Stone’s newsletter and some other progressive media in your lineage.
AMY GOODMAN:Someone like I.F. would be a great choice to join that incredible pantheon. Stone, who said to journalism students, “If you can remember two words, remember ‘governments lie.’ If you can remember three words, remember ‘all governments lie,’” it would be an honor for us to be counted together with I.F. Stone.
ANGELA DAVIS:Thank you so much for all your hard work over the years. Just thinking about how Mumia Abu Jamal’s voice was heard on our radio, when no one else could. Democracy Now!Amy, Juan and your colleagues covered her case, even though no one else was paying attention to Assata Sharkur and the demonization Assata Shamur. Thank you so much. I don’t know what we would have been able to do in our efforts to push for radical social change if Democracy Now!They weren’t there.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, Angela, I wanted to ask you — when we first spoke on Democracy Now!About abolishing the prison-industrial complex, this was in 2010. And you said then that, quote, “Prison abolition is about building a new world.” Here we are more than a decade later. The abolition movement has attracted more attention. What is the key to understanding how this movement can continue growing?
ANGELA DAVIS: Well, you know, let’s remember that the abolition movement has a very long genealogy. We can go back as far as the 1970s and Attica brothers revolt. People in prison who resisted the terrible conditions were also adamant about prison abolition.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: That’s right.
ANGELA DAVIS:Perhaps this was the first public display of a way of addressing the prison system that wasn’t based on reform ideology.
It is a surprise that abolition has been brought up in public discourse during this time. Truth be told, many of my comrades, me included, assumed that it would take decades and decades for people to realize that reforming the police and prisons cannot continue. Reform is the glue that has held these institutions together for so many years.
But it’s so exciting now to see young people, especially, talking about building a new world, recognizing that it’s not about punishing this person and that person, it’s about creating a new framework so that we do not have to depend on institutions like the police and prisons for safety and security. We can learn to depend on education, healthcare and mental health and recreation to help us thrive. That is true security, true safety.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ:I also wanted to inquire about another aspect of the movement. You’re the daughter of civil rights activists. You became a prominent member in the Communist Party. USAA leader of the Black Panther Party. You were also targeted by the FBI. The. FBIYou were on the list of America’s 10 most wanted fugitives. Today, however, some of America’s most vocal voices, especially on college campuses, dismiss or ignore the most vital lessons from the Panther Party, the Young Lords, and figures such as Malcolm X and W.E.B. Du Bois and others emphasized the need to not only fight systemic racism, but also to work for the solidarity of oppressed persons of all races and for unity of workers against capitalism. It seems that the new trend is now focusing on racial identity and individual biases as the central question for social reform. And in doing so, they echo a historical strain of narrow nationalism, what we used to call in the Young Lords back then “pork chop nationalism.” The Panther Party, as well, called it that. Some have tried to delete you and your lived experience, as well as the sacrifices of radical socialists, and the revolutionary movement within Black and Brown communities. I’m wondering your thoughts on that? I’ve heard you speak on it, I think, at a forum in Germany recently.
ANGELA DAVIS: Well, yes. Yeah, I’m very disappointed that we don’t have a more capacious public understanding of what it means to stand up against racism, that racism is the very foundation of this country, based on colonialism and slavery. It is therefore important to recognize the connection between Indigenous people and peoples of African descent. It is impossible to tell people of African descent in Americas’ stories without also telling the stories of Indigenous people.
You know, I believe that young people start to understand the value of having serious conversations with adults who are really interested in learning. They begin to recognize that we can’t work with these narrow assumptions about Blackness and who counts as Black and the efforts to dismiss what is often referred to as political Blackness. Du Bois taught us many decades ago that the reasons for identifying connections among African peoples and people of African descent has nothing to do genetically or biologically with Blackness. It has everything to with struggles against imperialism, all to do global struggles for better world. We continue these conversations.
And I’m actually impressed by the fact that increasing numbers of people are recognizing how important it is to have a decolonial or anti-imperialist perspective. If we did not expect to have abolition become a central element of public discourse during the early part of the 21st century — and it has become that — then I think we can be a little more optimistic about the possibility of encouraging people to think more critically about the future struggles against racism.
AMY GOODMAN:Angela, I was interested in your latest news. North Dakota’s Republican Governor Doug Burgum has signed legislation banning the teaching of critical race theory, so public schools are now barred from teaching students that, quote, “racism is systemically embedded in American society.” Critics say the law could ban the teaching of slavery, redlining and the civil rights movement. Even discussion of the law that was just passed is now prohibited in North Dakota’s schools. You can see it happening all over the country. You know what? I see! Democracy Now! and, overall, independent media, one of its powers, aside from assuring that there’s a forum for people to speak for themselves, is bringing historical context to everything. You look back at the past and forward when you talk about you in 2021. You talk about the struggles of the ’60s and what’s happening now. What about the movement against education in America
ANGELA DAVIS:Amy, I believe we are witnessing a clash of forces between the past forces and the future. The campaign against teaching critical race theory in schools — now, first of all, critical race theory is not taught in high schools. I wish that critical race theory was taught more at the university level. However, critical race theory is now a key word in any discussion about racism or any effort to educate students about the history of the Americas and the planet. Any discussions about slavery as the foundational element of this country are being barred, according to the proponents of removing, quote, “critical race theory” from the schools.
But let’s not be misled by the term they are using. What we are seeing are attempts by white supremacy to regain control of the country they have had for a long time. It is essential that we engage in the types of efforts that will prevent them from gaining a victory in education. Many of us involved in the abolitionist movements see education as central for the process of dismantling prisons and the process of imagining new forms safety and security that can replace the violence of the police.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Angela, I’m wondering if you could talk about the growing threat of fascism and authoritarianism here in the United States. Clearly, the January 6th events, I think, were a wake-up call to those who hadn’t awakened during the period of the Trump presidency. But the signs, not only in the United States but in much of Western Europe, are that the right-wing, fascist and populist — right-wing populist movements and fascist movements keep growing. How progressives and radicals can come together to stop this tide in the United States?
ANGELA DAVIS:We did manage to remove fascism from White House. People are sometimes a bit too shortsighted to believe that by exiling fascists from the White House, we have won. Gramsci might argue that this is a skirmish and that we must continue to fight fascism which, naturally, relies on racism in the country and white supremacy as its means of expression. There’s Brazil, of course, and we see continuing efforts to challenge, you know, what the terrible forces of fascism have done in that country.
If we want to win over fascism in America, we need to be open-minded and internationalist. We can’t simply focus on what is happening in Washington. We can’t simply focus only on our domestic issues. We need to be more aware of what is happening in Brazil and the Philippines, South Africa, Palestine, and throughout Europe. This is why we have to be more aware of what is happening in Brazil, the Philippines, South Africa, Palestine, and throughout Europe. Democracy Now! Democracy Now!This allows us to see our domestic problems and struggles in the context of global fights against fascism, climate change, and especially against racism. We’re becoming aware that racism is not primarily a U.S. phenomenon, not primarily a South African phenomenon. It has infected our global environment.
AMY GOODMAN:Angela, you know that you mentioned Palestine. The Fred Shuttlesworth Human Rights Awards were announced by the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute in 2019. You were excited about this announcement. I mean, you are from Birmingham and you were returning home. It was going to make for a huge celebration. We followed you back to Birmingham after the award was rescinded by the institute, apparently due to your activism regarding Palestine. This became a major controversy. In the end, thousands of people — and we covered this whole journey you took — came out to the convention center to hear you speak, to show their support. The institute was disgraced. The board was disgraced. They reversed their decision and you were awarded the Fred Shuttlesworth Award. It was an amazing sequence of months. I was wondering if it would be possible to talk about this and offer any advice for those who have been under attack for supporting Palestine.
ANGELA DAVIS:Amy, it was an incredible experience. I am thrilled to see the attention Palestine has received in Birmingham. Many of the people involved in the fight to overturn the decision by the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute board were not aware of the struggles in Palestine. Human rights activists must recognize that not everyone is equal. However, one cannot advocate for human rights while ignoring certain communities, struggles, or countries. And so I am excited to recognize now that people who were not necessarily involved in the campaign for justice in Palestine have joined that movement — Black people, Jewish people.
And as someone who’s been involved virtually all of my life in struggles around Palestine, as difficult as things remain — and we see the evictions continuing to take place. We see efforts to consolidate the rule of the Zionists, both there and — both in the region and throughout the world. But, at the same, I think there is more hope than we have ever experienced in the struggle for justice and peace for Palestine. More people are involved. So, while I was initially disappointed that they had canceled the award, I now see that that was a gift. It generated conversation and encouraged us to reflect collectively on the absolute necessity of focusing our attention on justice for Palestine.
AMY GOODMAN: And we’ll be back with scholar and activist Angela Davis in 20 seconds.