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Sunday, August 9, 2020

Political activist Angela Davis speaks to a packed Western audience on the importance of feminism

By Rahwa Hailemariam 

Over 1000 people showed up to hear the renowned civil and political activist Angela Davis speak at the Justice Speaks event organized by Western students.

Angela Davis, a feminist, political activist, civil rights activist, author and professor, gave a talk in the Performing Arts Center on Friday, May 5.

Davis stressed the importance of global activism and the significance of recognizing how issues, such as racism and islamophobia, are interconnected during her talk.

“We cannot imagine effective challenges to racism if we do not think globally,” Davis said. “So to speak out against racism is to speak out against islamophobia.”

She posed a lot of questions surrounding all the -isms and phobias during her talk.

“Why it is issues of race have inevitably been assumed to be the property of those who have been the targets of racism? Why is it that [people of color] have to always bring up issues of racism?” Davis asked in her talk.

Davis also talked about the significance of feminism and intersectionality during her talk.

“What I am trying to suggest is that our analysis has to be a feminist analysis, it has to be an intersectional analysis, not the kind of feminism Hillary Clinton represents,” Davis said.

Feminism allows us to approach things in more complicated ways, and allows us to recognize that to understand something is not equivalent to condoning it, Davis said.

Giselle Alcantar Soto, graduate student and one of the organizers for the event, said Justice Speaks is a part the education and social justice minor established in 2014, which is the only minor that does programming to this scale.

Due to the high demand of the event, Alcantar Soto posted the concerns of her and her colleagues on the Facebook page acknowledging that the series is a primarily student-run effort, the need for online reservation, the availability of “spill room,” and that people of marginalized groups will remain a priority for the event since Justice Speaks is for them.

They prioritized students who hold marginalized identities by reaching out to them through inviting ESC clubs and speaking to president’s council, Alcantar Soto said.

“We were receiving so many emails of people feeling entitled, particularly from professors and community members, expressing their disappointments and telling us why they deserve tickets,” Alcantar Soto said.

Junior Realia Harris, one of the organizers for the revitalization of ethnic studies and campus right curriculum reform petition, said they wouldn’t have gotten so many signatures for the petition if it wasn’t for the event.

“[The event] was really validating because I felt like a lot of the times on campus, people like me get marginalized from really cool stuff like this,” Harris said. “The fact that they wanted marginalized students in particular to be catered to for this event was really refreshing and kind.”

Harris said a group of faculty and students have been working for a couple of weeks on the idea of bringing the ethnic studies classes as a General University Requirement, along with other demands for campus climate.

“Both research and testimony have shown that Ethnic Studies programs increase student performance, retention and sense of self. Hold the university accountable. Our call to action: 1. The revitalization of Ethnic Studies at WWU. 2. Campus-wide justice-oriented curriculum reform,” the petition summary reads.

Stacey Ejim, senior, attended the talk and said as a black woman, she wanted an opportunity to talk with someone she identifies with but felt like she was being pushed out.

“I just feel like inherently [Davis] is a black woman for a black woman and she advocates for other rights but her identity alone expresses so much,” Ejim said “I guess I feel a little disrespected by the fact that there were some white people taking up space in trying to have their moment with Angela Davis.”

She said she wanted to hear someone speak about their experiences of being a black woman in America and find comfort.  

Ejim said she thought the talk was good and it brought up interesting points and questions.

“What was good about her speech was that it posed a lot more questions than it answered, which I think is important in activism,” Ejim said.

The Justice Speaks team invited Western alumnus Andrea Tompkins, Belina Seare, Tahlia Natachu and Dillon Baker to help open the space and give historical context on Justice Speaks.

“Let us be reminded this event is not a form of entertainment, there are students sitting in front of us who came to this gathering to continue on their journey,” Tompkins said. “The Justice Speaks series is a way for marginalized students to be rejuvenated, healed and motivated. Ask yourself, by being here are you giving a false illusion of support? Or will you be here for students after the speaker leaves?”

The biggest challenge was receiving a lot of really negative emails on top of coordinating the event, Alcantar Soto said.

“It was hard to get so many emails from people feeling entitled to an event that was not put on for them in the first place,” Alcantar Soto said.

She said they had to move to main stage last minute in order to accommodate more people.

Harris said not only does Davis’ words inspire them in their activism but her very presence on campus inspired her to take action.

They said she credits Justice Speaks organizers and that planning committee for putting this event together and that this was the work of their fellow peers, not the work of Western.

“It’s just another example of how we need to continually do things to uplift ourselves and uplift our own communities because Western doesn’t offer opportunities like this,” Harris said.

“We were in awe, the committee was very happy with how it went, it was everything we could have asked for. It was really difficult to get there, we had a few hiccups,” Alcantar Soto said. “Overall it was amazing, a lot of us were crying and we were happy with it.”

She said Justice Speaks is meant to provide students of marginalized identities with access to topics that are relevant to them and it’s about representation.

Justice Speaks does not have an operational budget and the committee fundraises for everything, Alcantar Soto said.

While the Angela Davis event is the biggest event of Justice Speaks yet, they have had guests such as Cherrie Moraga and David Stovall, Alcantar Soto said.

Alcantar Soto said a link to the talk will be provided for educational purposes only because of the deal Justice Speaks made with Davis.

“We will allow those folks who didn’t get to see her a chance to watch it and then the link will be taken down,” Alcantar Soto said. “The video will then be available in a DVD in Center for Education, Equity and Diversity library for students and faculty to check out for educational purposes.”

Who is Angela Davis:

Angela Yvonne Davis was born in Birmingham, Alabama in 1944. Davis got her education at various universities in and out of the United States with mainly the study of philosophy.

Davis became a part of the Communist party in the late 1960s and joined the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and the Black Panther Party.

In 1969, she was hired as an assistant professor of philosophy at the University of California Los Angeles. She was later fired from her position as a result of her social activism and involvement in the Communist Party USA.

Davis was placed on FBI’s 10 most wanted list in 1970 and was later arrested with several charges including murder and providing weapons for the death incident in the prison.

She spent about 17 months in prison and was acquitted. She began teaching at San Francisco State University in 1972.

In 1975, she published her autobiography “Angela Davis, an Autobiography.” Where she talked a lot about her experience as a black woman in Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and Black Panthers as well as becoming a part of the Communist party.  

In 1979, she was awarded the Lenin Peace Prize in the Soviet Union. She then became the vice president of the Communist party.

Angela Davis is known for her continuous work to fight all forms of oppression globally.  

“She is a living witness to the historical struggles of the contemporary era,” according to University of California Santa Cruz feminist studies.

1 COMMENT

  1. Regarding Prof. Angela Davis “… providing weapons for the death incident in the prison”. She has never denied buying the shotgun that was used in the kidnapping and murder of a judge in CA. Why should she? Prof. Davis has spent her whole tax-payer subsidized career celebrating political change by violence: the Russian, Chinese and Vietnamese Communist Parties being her favorite killers. She even accepted a “peace” prize awarded in the name of V. I. Lenin, one of the worst mass murderers of the 20th century.
    So, congratulations to Justice Speaks and to all of its allies at WWU. Your choice of an exemplar says everything the community needs to know about what you think social justice is and how it should be achieved.

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