Angela Davis – A Queer Revolutionary Fighting for the Rights of the Oppressed

„You have to act as if it were possible to radically transform the world. And you have to do it all the time.” So said Angela Davis, 78, America’s most famous living revolutionary. She was born in Birmingham, Alabama, one of the most incendiary of the racist southern cities, in a neighborhood called “Dynamite Hill,” due to attacks on Black people by their white neighbors. Davis would rise to become an international beacon of anti-racist and feminist radicalism over decades, expanding her vision to include LGBTQ civil rights.

A radical political activist and theorist, Davis gained fame in the 1960s and 1970s as a leader in the Black Civil Rights, Black Power and Black and feminist liberation movements.

“I am no longer accepting the things I cannot change. I am changing the things I cannot accept.” – Said Davis through all her activism. 60 years ago, when she enrolled at Brandeis University, she was one of only three Black students. After graduating from Brandeis, Davis studied with Frankfurt school philosopher Herbert Marcuse in Berlin. In a 2007 television interview, Davis said, “Herbert Marcuse taught me that it was possible to be an academic, an activist, a scholar and a revolutionary.”

In 1969, while a professor in the philosophy department at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), and already a world-renowned activist, Davis was fired for being a Communist and for her “inflammatory language.” Davis was also a member of the Los Angeles chapter of the Black Panthers at that time and identified as a radical feminist. Her firing was both urged and lauded by then Gov. Ronald Reagan, despite national support for her.

The following year, Davis was listed among the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted, the first Black woman to be on the FBI’s fugitives list, personally chosen by J. Edgar Hoover. The listing and subsequent manhunt came after guns Davis had purchased were used in an August 1970 shooting at the Marin County courthouse in California related to the Soledad Brothers, whom she supported as political prisoners.


FBI Wanted poster for Angela Davis. (Photo credit: Collection of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture)

The manhunt for Davis was massive, but it took several months to track her down, eventually resulting in her arrest in New York City. When Davis was apprehended, President Richard M. Nixon congratulated the FBI on its “capture of the dangerous terrorist Angela Davis.”  But Davis was no terrorist and was acquitted of all charges after a 16-month prison stay without trial.

Davis’s arrest and imprisonment were focal points for other activists and heightened her political profile and activism. Black writers formed a committee called the Black People in Defense of Angela Davis which grew to hundreds of chapters in nearly 70 countries. John Lennon and Yoko Ono wrote a song, “Angela,” in support.

A lifelong Communist, in 1980 and 1984 Davis was the Communist Party’s candidate for vice president. She subsequently split from the Communist Party and in recent years supported Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden for president, noting that it was essential to vote against the Republican Party leadership and oust them from the White House.

On prisons, Davis’s writing is succinct as she links a series of social issues to America’s carceral system which fosters racism and in which LGBTQ people are disproportionately imprisoned. She argues, “Prisons do not disappear social problems, they disappear human beings. Homelessness, unemployment, drug addiction, mental illness, and illiteracy are only a few of the problems that disappear from public view when the human beings contending with them are relegated to cages.”

Photo: AAIHS

In her interview with George, Davis talked about the protests in the summer of 2020 and made another causal link between police violence — which also spurred gay and trans people at Stonewall: “The abolitionist imagination delinks us from that which is. It allows us to imagine other ways of addressing issues of safety and security. Most of us have assumed in the past that when it comes to public safety, the police are the ones who are in charge. When it comes to issues of harm in the community, prisons are the answer. But what if we imagined different modes of addressing harm, different modes of addressing security and safety?”

In 2019 Davis was inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame and in 2020, she was listed as the 1971 “Woman of the Year” in Time magazine’s “100 Women of the Year” edition, which covered the 100 years that began with women’s suffrage in 1920. Davis was also included in Time’s 100 Most Influential People of 2020.

In “Freedom Is a Constant Struggle,” Davis gives a template for activism and recording our own stories. She writes, “Our histories never unfold in isolation. We cannot truly tell what we consider to be our own histories without knowing the other stories. And often we discover that those other stories are actually our own stories.”

Source: Philadephia Gay News

Main photo: Nonviolence International

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