Rebel with a cause Angela Davis is still calling for significant changes to end the injustices that continue to plague society.
Davis, the keynote speaker at the 40th anniversary of the Toronto International Festival of Authors and the sixth annual Humber Faculty of Liberal Arts and Sciences and Innovative Learning Academic Conference on Nov. 2, said the move to eradicate violence in the world can’t be done through existing institutions.
The voice of one of the greatest activists of the ‘60s still resonates with her familiar urgency to change the institutions that systematically perpetuate racism, violence and injustice.
The speech by the renowned academic — who was a former Black Panther, a U.S communist party member and once wanted by the FBI for crimes she didn’t commit — was a wide-ranging discussion that included her views about gender and race violence, inequality and a brief history of American advocacy.
The Birmingham, Ala., born powerhouse has written 10 books. She is now a social justice educator at the University of California, Santa Cruz who fights for prison abolition.
“My life was shaped by many of the movements that had their roots in the 1960s,” Davis said.
One of the watershed events was the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing of 1963 in Birmingham, Ala., that killed four young black girls, two who were Davis’ neighbours.
It was one of these monumental moments that shaped Davis’s life. But she said it’s assumed the most powerful movements happen out of nowhere. Instead, she says most movements are born in the mix of various small acts decades earlier that created the wave for change.
Davis said moments like when Rosa Parks made the fateful decision Dec. 1, 1955, to remain seated at the front of the bus, refusing to go to the back. Parks was active in social justice advocacy for years but that one act did quickly evolve into what would become the Civil Rights Movement.
Davis said the movements in the South had been the inspiration for activists like herself to address these issues.
However, racism was not the only issue. There was also gender violence, and the crimes against the LGBTQ+ community. The ‘60s counterculture included a long list of movements, including gay rights, feminism, gender violence and the anti-war sentiment.
“Is it not now time to rid the world of things like gender violence and toxic masculinity?” Davis asked. “Is it not now time for men to become part of the change?”
She said the making of blues music was mostly by women of colour, who expressed personal pains — often as domestic violence — through the medium.
Now with powerful movements like #MeToo that was created in 2006 by Tarana Burke, a black woman, has over time become predominantly white.
Davis noted Climate Change protests are being led a younger generation but there is a deadline before irreparable harm is done to the environment. She said nothing exists without the environment.
“The youth are always for change, and it’s up to us to follow their lead,” she said.
Dr. Prasad Bidaye, head of Humber’s English Department, said Davis has been directly involved in modern American movements.
“She worked with the black power movement, she worked in feminism. She was an activist, but also an academic,” Bidaye said. “So she’s really unique because she covers all these different areas, different terrains, and manages to bring it all together.”
Bidaye said Davis’ important work was not just based in the ‘60s, but was instilled in movements that helped create those of today.