Angela Davis

The scholar and activist, Angela Davis, spoke at the University of Oregon, as part of its “Women of Color” conference. She began by talking about the civil rights movement. She said she thinks we should rather speak of a “freedom movement”. We “restrain our vision” by speaking of civil rights rather than freedom. She then spoke about the Montgomery Bus Boycott. She pointed out that it was Black women, most of whom worked as domestics in white people’s homes, who made the boycott succeed. She said we shouldn’t measure the progress of women by how many become CEO’s, but by the progress of poor women in our society. Feminism, she argued, involves a consciousness of how capitalism and imperialism affect our world. She criticized congress for failing to pass the DREAM act. She said we have to defend the rights of undocumented immigrants.

She talked about what she called the “21st Century Abolitionist Movement”. Its first aim is to abolish the death penalty, but its ultimate aim is to abolish prisons. Discussing violence against women – which is “pandemic in the world” – she pointed out that our government has passed stricter and harsher laws against domestic violence and rape, yet the rate of such violence remains unchanged. Simply locking up violent individuals doesn’t end violence. We think of violence as perpetrated by individuals, not by institutions. “Incarceration does not challenge the social attitudes that encourage rape.”

She also talked about a trip she recently took to Colombia, where the government has embarked on a program of building huge new prisons. She talked about how farmers there are being pushed off their land, so trans-national corporations can grow sugar cane for biofuels. (The people there refer to these cane fields as “green deserts”.) She said many of these people who have been driven off their land will end up in these new prisons the government is building. It was good to hear somebody say this in Eugene, where many people have embraced biofuels as the “solution” to our energy problems.

Davis’s argument that prisons are not the solution to violence is a direct challenge to the dominant mode of thinking in our society. It is an important argument that needs to be heard.

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