Angela Davis: ‘The refugee movement is the civil rights movement of our time’

October 29, 2016
Angela Davis.

Long-term US activist Angela Davis addressed an overflowing lecture theatre at Melbourne University on October 24.

In a wide-ranging lecture and discussion, Davis looked at the criminalisation and incarceration of communities most affected by poverty and racial discrimination.

Davis drew upon her own experiences in the 1970s, when she spent 18 months on trial after being placed on the FBI’s “Ten Most Wanted List”.

The forum opened with acknowledgement of the struggles of First Nations people. Davis noted that it is less common to acknowledge the First People in the US than here.

Davis has had an extensive teaching career and has lectured throughout the US as well as in Europe, Africa, Asia, Australia and South America. She has conducted extensive research on numerous issues related to race, gender and imprisonment and has authored 10 books and a recent book of essays, Freedom Is a Constant Struggle: Ferguson, Palestine, and the Foundations of a Movement.

According to Davis, “The refugee movement is the civil rights movement of our time. In most countries across the world migration and refugee issues have come to the fore as well as struggles for justice. The Mediterranean has become a graveyard for refugees.”

Davis emphasised the importance of internationalism, pointing to the links that have been made between Black Lives Matter activists and activists in occupied Palestine.

On the US elections, Davis expressed disgust with both Trump and Clinton and said: “We need a new party that is anti-capitalist and that takes up the various issues of social justice and environmental justice.

“We shouldn't use all our radical energy on election campaigns. We need to get back to grassroots community organising and build a radical movement.”

Davis tried to give an indication of the long-term nature of the struggle, arguing: “I once had Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan and J Edgar Hoover arrayed against me”,  “without struggle there is no progress”, and that “we need to bring the word capitalism back into activist vocabulary”.

“Women have always been the best organisers,” she said. “The campaign to stop violence against women is very important and shows the links between intimate violence and structural violence.”

Davis is a founding member of Critical Resistance, a national organisation dedicated to the dismantling of the “prison industrial complex”. Having helped to popularise this notion, Davis urges her audiences to think seriously about the future possibility of a world without prisons and to help forge a 21st century abolitionist movement.

The forum ended on a hopeful note: “Activism is being extravagant in our imagining. Think expansively and capaciously.”

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