Freedom Is a Constant Struggle

Freedom Is a Constant Struggle

Ferguson, Palestine, and the Foundations of a Movement

Angela Y. Davis

The problem was that people who associated themselves with that movement did not continue to wield that collective power as pressure that might have compelled Obama to move in more progressive directions (for example, against a military surge in Afghanistan, toward a swift dismantling of [the detainment camp at] Guantánamo, toward a stronger health care plan). Even as we are critical of Obama, I think it is important to emphasize that we would not have been better off with Romney in the White House. What we have lacked over these last five years is not the right president, but rather well-organized mass movements.

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the most profitable sector of the private prison business is composed of immigrant detention centers. One can therefore understand why the most repressive anti-immigrant legislation in the United States was drafted by private prison companies as an undisguised attempt to maximize their profits.

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There are vast numbers of people behind bars in the United States—some two and a half million—and imprisonment is increasingly used as a strategy of deflection of the underlying social problems—racism, poverty, unemployment, lack of education, and so on. These issues are never seriously addressed. It is only a matter of time before people begin to realize that the prison is a false solution. Abolitionist advocacy can and should occur in relation to demands for quality education, for antiracist job strategies, for free health care, and within other progressive movements.

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since 1967, eight hundred thousand Palestinians—40 percent of the male population—have been imprisoned by Israel.

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our struggles mature, they produce new ideas, new issues, and new terrains on which we engage in the quest for freedom.

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It is a mistake to assume that all we have to do is guarantee the prosecution of the cop who killed Michael Brown. The major challenge of this period is to infuse a consciousness of the structural character of state violence into the movements that spontaneously arise… I don’t know whether we can say yet that there is a movement, because movements are organized. But these spontaneous responses, which we know happen over and over again, will soon lead to organizations and a continual movement.

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Racism is so dangerous because it does not necessarily depend on individual actors, but rather is deeply embedded in the apparatus… And once you’re in the apparatus… Yes. And it doesn’t matter that a Black woman heads the national police. The technology, the regimes, the targets are still the same. I fear that if we don’t take seriously the ways in which racism is embedded in structures of institutions, if we assume that there must be an identifiable racist… The “bad apples” type of… …who is the perpetrator, then we won’t ever succeed in eradicating racism.

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I don’t think we can rely on governments, regardless of who is in power, to do the work that only mass movements can do. I think what is most important about the sustained demonstrations that are now happening is that they are having the effect of refusing to allow these issues to die.

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I can remember that in 1963 during the civil rights era, before the March on Washington that summer, in Birmingham, Alabama, there was a children’s crusade. Children were organized to face the high-power firehoses and the police, Bull Connor’s police in Birmingham. Of course, there were some who disagreed with allowing the children to participate at that level; even Malcolm X thought it was not appropriate to expose children to that amount of danger, but the children wanted to participate. And the images of children facing police dogs and firehoses circulated all over the world and that helped to create a global consciousness of the brutality of racism. It was an extraordinary step. And this is something that’s often forgotten, the role that children actually played in breaking the stronghold of silence regarding racism.

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solidarity always implies a kind of mutuality. Given the fact that in the US we’re already encouraged to assume that we have the best of everything, that US exceptionalism puts US in a situation as activists to offer advice to people struggling all over the world, and I don’t agree with that—I think we share our experiences. Just as I think the development of Black feminism and women-of-color feminisms can offer ideas, experiences, analyses to Palestinians, so can Black feminisms and women-of-color feminisms learn from the struggle of the Palestinian people and Palestinian feminists.

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Optimism is an absolute necessity, even if it’s only optimism of the will, as Gramsci said, and pessimism of the intellect. What has kept me going has been the development of new modes of community. I don’t know whether I would have survived had not movements survived, had not communities of resistance, communities of struggle. So whatever I’m doing I always feel myself directly connected to those communities and I think that this is an era where we have to encourage that sense of community particularly at a time when neoliberalism attempts to force people to think of themselves only in individual terms and not in collective terms. It is in collectivities that we find reservoirs of hope and optimism.

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it was a CIA agent who gave SA authorities the location of Nelson Mandela’s whereabouts in 1962, leading directly to his capture and imprisonment. Moreover, it was not until the year 2008—only five years ago—that Mandela’s name was taken off the terrorist watch list, when George W. Bush signed a bill that finally removed him and other members of the ANC from the list. In other words when Mandela visited the US after his release in 1990, and when he later visited as South Africa’s president, he was still on the terrorist list and the requirement that he be banned from the US had to be expressly waived. The point I am making is that for a very long time, Mandela and his comrades shared the same status as numerous Palestinian leaders and activists today and that just as the US explicitly collaborated with the SA apartheid government, it continues to support the Israeli occupation of Palestine, currently in the form of over $ 8.5 million a day in military aid. We need to let the Obama administration know that the world knows how deeply the US is implicated in the occupation.

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Du Bois argues that it was the withdrawal and bestowal of labor by slaves that won the war. And what he calls “this army of striking labor” eventually provided the two hundred thousand soldiers, “whose evident ability to fight decided the war.” And these soldiers included women like Harriet Tubman, who was a soldier and a spy and had to fight for many years in order to be granted, later, on a soldier’s pension.

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I’ll just summarize the Ten-Point Program and you might get an idea why there are not efforts under way to guarantee a large fiftieth anniversary celebration for the Black Panther Party. Number one was “We want freedom.” Two, full employment. Three, an end to the robbery by the capitalists of our Black and oppressed communities—it was anticapitalist! Number four, we want decent housing, fit for the shelter of human beings. Number five, we want decent education for our people that exposes the true nature of this decadent American society. We want education that teaches us our true history and our role in present-day society. And number six—which is especially significant in relation to the right-wing effort to undo the very small efforts made by the Obama administration to produce health care for poor people in the US—we want completely free health care for all Black and oppressed people. Number seven, we want an immediate end to police brutality and the murder of Black people, other people of color, and all oppressed people inside the United States. Number eight, we want an immediate end to all wars of aggression—you see how current this still sounds. Number nine, we want freedom for all Black and oppressed people now held in US federal, state, county, city, and military prisons and jails. We want trials by a jury of peers for all persons charged with so-called crimes under the laws of this country. And finally, number ten: we want land, bread, housing, education, clothing, justice, peace, and people’s community control of modern technology.

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Assata Shakur is one of the ten most dangerous terrorists in the world according to Homeland Security and the FBI, and then when I think about the violence of my own youth in Birmingham, Alabama, where bombs were planted repeatedly and houses were destroyed and churches were destroyed and lives were destroyed, and we have yet to refer to those acts as the acts of terrorists.

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Assata is not a threat in the way she has been represented by the FBI, as someone who is waiting to commit an act like the Boston Marathon bombing. Assata is certainly not a terrorist. But if she would not and is in no position to commit acts of violence against the US government, the fact that the FBI decided to announce with great fanfare that she is now the only woman on the Most Wanted terrorists list should cause US to wonder what the underlying agenda might be. And I should say that I especially empathize with Assata, because it was forty-three years ago that I was placed on the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted list, and, some of you may have seen the new documentary on my trial, which shows President Richard Nixon, openly and ceremoniously, congratulating the FBI for catching me and in the process labeling me a terrorist as well. So I know the dangerous consequences that can follow from this ideological labeling process. That this is happening forty years after Assata’s original arrest should give US cause to reflect.

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there is a great deal to be learned about the potential of decarceration and abolition in relation to prisons, about the possibilities of abolishing the prison-industrial complex, by looking very closely at the deinstitutionalization of asylums and psychiatric institutions.

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when we focus our attention on the southern struggles of the 1950s and ‘60s, specifically when we think about the Montgomery Bus Boycott, we inevitably evoke Dr. Martin Luther King. We also think about Rosa Parks, but we should be focusing on Jo Ann Robinson as well, who wrote the book The Montgomery Bus Boycott and the Women Who Started It. As many times as I’ve spoken during Black History Month, I never tire of urging people to remember that it wasn’t a single individual or two who created that movement, that, as a matter of fact, it was largely women within collective contexts, Black women, poor Black women who were maids, washerwomen, and cooks. These were the people who collectively refused to ride the bus. These are the people whom we have to thank for imagining a different universe and making it possible for us to inhabit this present.

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for those who are opposed to the DREAM Act because it provides pathways to citizenship for people who are in the military—again, you can be opposed to the military and at the same time support the DREAM Act. Just as you can support gay rights within the military and you can say at the same time I want to dismantle the Pentagon.

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Oftentimes people argue that in these more recent movements there were no leaders, there was no manifesto, no agenda, no demands, so therefore the movements failed. But I’d like to point out that Stuart Hall, who died just a little over a year ago, urged us to distinguish between outcome and impact. There is a difference between outcome and impact. Many people assume that because the encampments are gone and nothing tangible was produced, that there was no outcome. But when we think about the impact of these imaginative and innovative actions and these moments where people learned how to be together without the scaffolding of the state, when they learned to solve problems without succumbing to the impulse of calling the police, that should serve as a true inspiration for the work that we will do in the future to build these transnational solidarities.

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