Emory Report
March 30, 2009
Volume 61, Number 25



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March 30
, 2009
Davis frames activism in light of new day

By KiM Urquhart

“Before I get into some of the very serious things of my presentation, let’s smile again,” Angela Davis told the standing-room only crowd that filled Martin Luther King Jr.’s Ebenezer Baptist Church, “and let’s remind ourselves that this is the first Women’s History Month since the election of Barack Obama.

“It’s definitely a new day. And one of the major responsibilities of me being here is to guarantee that some of these issues that are marginalized become a part of the agenda of a new administration.”

The civil rights and women’s rights leader, a “relentless” political activist involved in urgent social issues and one of the most well-known critics of the U.S. prison system, spoke about women, privilege and prisons in a keynote address culminating Emory’s observance of Women’s History Month and the Atlanta Consortium of Colleges and Universities’ “Motherhood at the Intersection of Race and Class” series.

Did you know that 1 in 100 American adults are in prison? “This country is the great incarcerator,” notes Davis. “States are stupidly spending three more times on a prisoner than on a school student, and that’s a pretty dumb investment policy.”

Davis’ long-standing commitment to prisoners’ rights dates to her involvement in the campaign to free the Soledad Brothers, which led to her own arrest and imprisonment in 1970. On the FBI’s “Ten Most Wanted List,” Davis spent 18 months in jail before being acquitted in 1972. Now a professor at the University of California, Santa Cruz, Davis is a founder of the prison-industrial complex-abolition organization Critical Resistance.

She spoke of prisons “as agents of sexual assault” against women, of the strip searches and other routine modes of violence endured by women, many of whom had endured violence privately in the home. It’s a vicious circle, and often generational in families.

“If we assume we can get rid of the problem by simply sending the harm-doers to prison where we then don’t have to think about them or what they did, than in a sense what we are doing is replicating and guaranteeing that what is going to happen is the same problem over and over again.”

“I don’t have any solutions,” said Davis, but she did have advice: work with contradictions, build movements, push for broader meanings of freedom. “I see feminism as new ways of thinking and knowing, transforming social relationships. And whenever I listen to young activist-scholars,” she says, “my response is always ‘right on.’”