Angela Davis came to my attention in my pre-teens and early teens, mostly when my family was living in the suburbs east of Oakland. I was old enough to know things were starting to shake up the world, especially that part of the country with the “love generation” in San Francisco and Berkeley, Black Panthers in Oakland, riots and demonstrations around the country, and a general feeling of instability among my parents and their friends. Threaded through much of this was Angela Davis. Communist, feminist, associated with the Black Panthers, wild-haired, gap-toothed, and brilliant. I think even the people who hated her knew the brilliance was there, and that was part of what they feared. My parents were raised in an era when the few blacks they saw were servants or slaves in movies and TV, Amos and Andy, or musicians. Just seeing black people express themselves with anger was unnerving for them. To do it more with eloquence than they possessed was even more intimidating.
Unless you were willing to read alternative press she was also generally smeared on the big three networks and most newspapers of the time. Ronald Reagan, who tried to get her fired from being a professor for her communist thought, and J. Edgar Hoover who labeled her a terrorist and made her just the third woman on the 10 Most Wanted list, surely wanted it that way.
This book is a collection of essays, interviews, and speeches given by Davis over the past few years. As the subtitle indicates two of the major subjects are Ferguson and Palestine. She also deals with the building of movements, feminism, and the history of the black liberation movement.
I was a little leary of taking on this book, mostly because of her long time in the American Communist Party, running as its VP candidate twice. It’s not so much the communism, which I see as a pretty dead political theory, but the stilted language most adherents insist on using. But she broke from the party in 1991 over objections to their support of the anti-democratic coup in Russia. Most of the language seems to have left at the same time.
There are some important ideas in this book. Building and maintaining political action (community organizing if you prefer) and working with people with opposing viewpoints. There are insights into why responding to Black Lives Matters with All Lives Matters carries racist weight, diversity in the feminist movement, and capturing the momentum of popular movements. This is from a woman who’s read thoroughly into history, was a child in Birmingham, Alabama, during the beginnings of the civil rights movement, and has been deeply or tangentially involved the civil rights movements around the world for most of her life.
Even if you know you’re diametrically opposed to her world view it would be a worthwhile book to look into. She’s a powerful spokesperson for the reasoning (not just the emotion) of the movements she’s been involved in. The book isn’t a diatribe but a researched discussion of a perspective that is often dismissed as directed only at the benefit of a few, not a drive to benefit and free all people.
She also freely discusses the divisions and differences within movements on the left and why Barack Obama’s election was not the beginning of a post-racial era. If you’re political at all this is a must-read.