In the early ’70s, she was a symbol of revolution, her huge afro gracing the FBI’s Top Ten Most Wanted List making her the third female in history to earn such notoriety.
Angela Y. Davis first gained national attention in 1970 for being fired from her position as a philosophy professor at UCLA because of her membership in the Communist Party.
Also a member of the Black Panthers, she was charged with murder after weapons registered under her name were used in an attempted prisoner release at a courthouse in Marin County in which three people were killed.
She evaded police for two months before being caught and imprisoned, during which time a worldwide “Free Angela Davis” campaign took place, with supporters uniting in her cause. She was released after 18 months and eventually cleared of all charges.
For the past 15 years, she has taught at UC Santa Cruz in the History of Consciousness Department. She has written eight books, and is currently writing on prisons in American history.
On June 10 Davis spoke at the Los Angeles MOCA in conjunction with the Geffen Contemporary’s current exhibit “Wack! Art and the Feminist Revolution.”
“It is good to be in Los Angeles,” she opened to an appreciative audience, “but I always say that for some reason I repress memories of this city.”
A vocal opponent of oppression of all kinds, Davis spoke on topics of feminism, prisoners’ rights and race, and suggested we think more broadly and critically about the state of human relations.
She admitted that as a young woman she was reluctant to identify with the feminist movement, as she did not see her own experiences reflected in the teachings of the time.
She discussed her 1981 book titled “Women, Race and Class,” where she stressed the universal concept of “woman,” and suggested that race, class and gender cannot be separated in an individual’s experience, and should not be used as a divide in the fight for equality.
“There is not one feminism,” Davis said. “There is no feminist party.”
Davis challenged the audience to focus on what they think about human relations and not get caught up ideologies that “force us to think a certain way,” i.e. gender as meaning “woman”, or race as meaning “not white.”
Davis ended the talk saying she misses the sense of connectedness of the ’70s, when she felt there was more of an emotional nature to society and an ability to imagine oneself as connected to others. She expressed a fear that capitalism is beginning to “constitute our dreams.”
“Change isn’t something that we can just expect,” Davis reminded the crowd, “change is something we have to advocate for and actively participate in.”
Coming from a woman who has spent over thirty years of her life working for change, that statement rang true without a drop of hypocrisy.