In her inaugural appearance east of the Anacostia River, political activist and scholar Angela Y. Davis talked about her life of activism and shared her views on today’s most pressing issues while also promoting her latest book which she has co-authored.
Davis spoke before a capacity-filled main dining room at the Busboys & Poets restaurant in the Historic Anacostia community in Southeast on Sept. 6 – part of the venue’s 17th-anniversary celebration. Alicia Garza, a co-founder of the Black Lives Matter Movement, interviewed Davis for 90 minutes about her work as an advocate for equal rights for African Americans and people of color as well as her passion for feminism.
Andy Shallal, founder and CEO of the Busboys and Poets chain, said he didn’t hesitate to invite Davis to his Anacostia establishment.
“I am happy to bring Angela Davis to Ward 8 – a resilient, progressive and exciting area of the District,” Shallal said. “I am looking forward to hearing what she has to say and what she can teach us.”
Davis serves as the distinguished professor emerita at the University of California, Santa Cruz. A Marxist and feminist, Davis once counted as an active member of the Communist Party USA, serving as its vice-presidential nominee in both the 1980 and 1984 general elections. She also co-founded the Committees of Correspondence for Democracy and Socialism. Davis has authored a number of books on topics which include class, gender, race and the injustice of the U.S. prison system. She recently added another book to her numerous published works entitled “Abolition. Feminism. Now,” which she co-authored with Gina Dent, Erica R. Meiners and Beth E. Richie.
Davis said as much as she loves writing books, co-authoring her latest work initially served as a formidable challenge.
“Writing a book with COVID going on and doing it with other people was different for me,” she said. “I thought at first it would not be difficult because we believed in the same things. But I discovered that we were utterly different. I came to writing from the viewpoint as an educator while another colleague approached it as a literary scholar. It got to the point where I thought this book might not happen. But we got it together and got it done.”
Davis said much of her advocacy throughout her life has focused on issues which many politicians and policymakers have failed to address, including the nation’s prison system.
“I have been working around the prison system for a long time,” she said. “When we talk about people in prison, we are talking about males. No one mentions the females.”
Davis said her incarceration, in the early 1970s because of murder, kidnapping and criminal conspiracy charges, provided her with insight into what women face while locked up. She candidly admitted, “I was not prepared for jail.” She talked about women not having easy access to feminine hygiene products and the trouble some inmates had during childbirth. During her incarceration, she bonded with many of her fellow inmates to form an informal sisterhood.
Davis stressed that incarcerating people should become obsolete and noted that most inmates become institutionalized because they lack the tools needed to be successful in life.
“I support free housing and free education to make prisons no longer relevant,” she said. “The money we spend incarcerating people could be spent teaching people how to read, how to get a job and how to be productive citizens.”
She advised the gathering to get to know an inmate and develop a positive, mentoring relationship with them.
Davis also criticized the federal government’s role in the water crisis in Jackson, Miss., saying it has turned a blind eye to environmental racism.
“If the U.S. can send billions to Ukraine, then it can send billions to help people in Mississippi who are suffering,” she said.