Dr. Angela Davis grew up in the Dynamite Hill area of Birmingham, Alabama. Her neighborhood owes its nickname to the Ku Klux Klan’s bombings of African-American homes during the 1960s.
Now it is Davis who is blowing up convention and blasting social injustice in a country still reeling from 450 years of slavery and oppression.
Davis, the once-controversial UC Santa Cruz professor, rallied an audience of 1,200 in the creaky, cramped but crazed gym. She moved mellifluously from her days in the early 1970s on the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted Fugitives list to her current role as the greying but gregarious critic of environmental degradation and mass incarceration.
“We can never forget that this land was forcibly taken from the people who worked its stories, who respected this land and entered a caring relationship with it,” she said.
Davis’ “Education or Incarceration” lecture was part of the college’s Cultivating Courageous Conversations series. Prison, she said, is the plague of African-Americans. America has suffered a 500 percent increase in incarceration rates over the last 40 years, without an increase in crime rates. Davis said the targeted groups have been ethnic minorities, with one in three black men and one in six Latino men likely to be imprisoned during their lifetimes. Putting men of color behind bars is a profitable business, she said.
Davis related mass incarceration to the way capitalism has invaded every aspect of American life. She encouraged the audience to “form a country that doesn’t need prisons.”
There is a direct link between the nation’s financial structure and spikes in prison building and incarceration rates, she said.
“Our analysis of the crisis in over-incarceration and the role that racism plays in it, is connected to the way in which incarceration fuels the economy,” she said.
Environmental injustice is the foundation of all other injustice, Davis said. Land ties everything together, she insisted, as demonstrated by the Standing Rock Sioux tribe protesting the Dakota Access Pipeline. Without the land, she said, there is nothing.
Davis said the election of Donald Trump was unfortunate, but it is waking up a sleeping country.
“This resistance has been led by women,” she said.
She used Trump’s Muslim ban to illustrate how resistance has brought the country together.
“It was absolutely incredible, the way that people flocked to all the international airports and spontaneously created all of these demonstrations,” she said. “In cities where there were no international airports, people went to symbols of power and demonstrated there.”
Professor of Communication Dr. Rachel Hastings said Davis inspired students to rise up.
“I’m hoping to get some good, honest, historical conversation on how to stay involved,” she said.
Davis would be all for that.
“I am really happy to be able to witness this upsurge in resistance all over the country and all over the world.”