“Remain cognizant of the struggles which have carved out a place for you. Also, be willing, in turn, to add your own contribution to the ongoing quest for justice and equality.” – Angela Y. Davis
I had the awesome experience of going to see Angela Davis last week. Twice! (If you are in the unfortunate situation and have gone this long unsure of who she is, please cancel out of this blog, Google her, and come back later once you’ve done a good amount of learning-up on this amazing and revolutionary woman. They don’t make ’em like this anymore). Just a month earlier while at doula training, I was talking to a fellow student and telling her how I would love to see her — a conversation I completely forgot about until the morning I was getting dressed and ready to go and see her. By a fluke just days before the event I found out she was coming to town to give a lecture at the Community College, and then the keynote at the Martin Luther King, Jr. Celebration, so I attended both. Obviously! For as long as I can possibly remember I have wanted to see Dr. Davis, hear her speak and just vibe from her years of wisdom, political activism, resilience and resistance (in reality, I want to take her out for a drink and pick her brain…. but I guess I’ll settle for hearing a lecture and a speech). The talk discussed the legacy of Dr. King — where we were then and where we are now, recognizing even though we have made great strides, we still have a long way to go — the ongoing struggle. This also encompasses community organization, and patience.
At the end of the lecture, during the Q&A (from my front row seat ;)), I got to ask the very last question. I asked Professor Davis what type of advice she has to activists and advocates to keep going. That when you just want to throw in the towel, what can people do to continue on? This is an area that I don’t really see anyone talking about, and I think it needs more discussion; it’s sort of like ‘everyone wants to have dinner, but no one wants to talk about doing the dishes.’ At least that’s the way someone from the audience equated what I asked, when I was approached after the event about my question. I wanted to know from someone who has been on the front lines of political activism for decades, and has, no doubt been through it all — how to go on?
I know I’m not alone and there are plenty others who feel this way and wonder the same. My question comes from a place where even though I love what I do, I’ve been looking for some type of inspiration. I know my frustrations often come from what I feel is so much general apathy and a lack of interest in social change – from too many — you know, the ones who don’t do anything at all, yet try to silence you?! I find the bulk of people aren’t concerned with most things unless it directly affects them, and then are then only interested in ‘saving’ themselves. There are too many who can do something and don’t – to really challenge racism, class issues and white supremacy – and all other forms of oppression and domination. And recognize we are all to blame and can all do something. Confronting these types of sentiments from others while I’m in this ‘struggle for justice and equality,’ I sometimes feel these are overwhelming, and drain my energy and at times make me wonder why I even give a care.
I think her response was also something she talked about in her lecture on Dr. King’s legacy. Professor Davis said that in addition to creating change in a way that does not wear us down and practicing self-care — she does yoga three times per week, that we ‘need a combination of urgency and patience’ — and to recognize what we’re looking for won’t happen overnight. When Dr. Davis was talking about activism in her lecture, she emphasized that the struggle is ongoing — what we’re wanting won’t happen tomorrow, and we must ‘imagine things beyond our immediate scope’ and work with future generations in mind. She mentioned the latest Presidential election, and suggested there actually is organization and interest among the people. All of this really touched a soft spot for me. I think that often times I do work to ‘get the message in our DNA’ — that will transcend generations – but I also know that there’s definitely times I’ve found myself looking for a ‘fast food’ type of solution’ that Ms. Davis referred to – suggesting everyone wants things to be automatic. I think that plays a part in my frustration.
The messages from Angela Davis – from the lecture and the keynote, and the sentiments of the MLK Holiday, reminds me that even though there were significant strides made then and that we are ‘living a reality we may not have imagined a generation ago,’ something else she emphasized, the focus is on continuing. A friend of mine said recently that we must understand that even though we want change and dedicate our time and energy, we may not see the fruit of that labor it in our lifetimes. That’s something else to think about.
What I’ve also thought about is that ‘ongoing reservoir of inspirations’ for me, means surrounding myself with people who have the same vision — or a similar one, who are also working towards a similar goal. I’ve been giving this a lot of thought, and I will continue to do so. I’m not one who is quick with letting people off the hook and not holding them accountable for creating change I know is possible, but I’m slightly less frustrated, somewhat – at least for the moment anyway. But I’d love to hear from you all out there, who work to create positive social change and radical transformation. What happens when you feel this way, because I know you do. What’s your opinion? I’d love to hear your take.
“It’s not going to happen tomorrow. But act as if it were possible.”
Here is the video from the lecture at Edmonds Community College. You can see the back of my head in much of it. LOL. I wish there were one also from the keynote address at the Convention Center later that night. If I happen to come across it, I’ll post it.
An MLK Commemoration with Angela Davis
“As part of the community’s Martin Luther King Jr. Day Celebration feminist and writer Angela Davis speaks on campus. Through her activism and scholarship over the last decades, Davis has been deeply involved in our nation’s quest for social justice. Her work as an educator both at the university level and in the larger public sphere has always emphasized the importance of building communities of struggle for economic, racial, and gender justice. Davis has lectured throughout the United States as well as in Europe, Africa, Asia, Australia, and South America. In recent years a persistent theme of her work has been the range of social problems associated with incarceration and the generalized criminalization of those communities that are most affected by poverty and racial discrimination.”