Free Angela Davis – I remember seeing 1970s posters distributed all over my university campus raising awareness of the campaign to free the African American activist from the prison where she was being held because she’d purchased the gun that had killed a Californian judge. She was not present at the killing and was eventually declared not guilty.
Angela Davis is an activist writer, speaker, latterly campaigning against the prison system in the US. I was lucky enough to attend her conversation with Southbank Centre Artistic Director Jude Kelly as part of the Women of the World Festival. I listened to their far-ranging discussion on the subjects of equality, intersectionality and the importance of activism. Davis remains an activist and movement builder – she’s currently campaigning against the militarization of the police.
Davis spoke about her interpretation of equality, questioning why women would want equality with men with the same current patriarchal structures. Kelly agreed, saying that we want a world that doesn’t replicate the status quo “with the furniture rearranged.” Davis challenged the view of conventional leaders, emphasizing that it’s not about taking on the role of leaders but recognising the role and importance of collective leadership. She was dismissive of the ‘glass ceiling’ concept: “Who is in a position to penetrate this if not those women already at the top?” she said, believing that we can’t talk about equality if we don’t address the majority of women whose ground is constantly shifting.
Davis was inclusive in her views. She spoke of intersectionality – “the messiness, the cross-hatched character of this…why shouldn’t a black transgender woman be the sign of what we should strive for?”
In her view men should take the initiative to be feminists, rather than waiting to be invited by women. For example, violence against women is a man’s problem, so why aren’t there men organising movements against this? Despite myriads of committees and strategies all over the world tackling violence against women it’s still there.
One should be true to one’s beliefs, she told a young black woman in the audience: “If I’d known then what I know now I wouldn’t have taken risks and made mistakes.” Campaigns and movements might not bring about immediate change but can change a mindset or galvanise a person to bring about change. “It was Rosa Parks sitting down on a bus that gave Martin Luther King his movement,” she pointed out.