On Thursday, March 2, campus buzzed with excitement surrounding the Political Awareness Committee’s spring speaker, Angela Davis. Though her lecture began at 5:30 p.m., students began crowding the bridge between Boe Chapel and Buntrock Commons as early as 3 p.m., and by 4:30 p.m. the line extended all the way through Buntrock and to Rolvaag Library.
Davis is an extremely influential political activist who emerged as a prominent countercultural figure in the 1960s during the Civil Rights Movement. Today, she continues to discuss pertinent issues, particularly economic, racial and gender justice. She also firmly stands against the general criminalization of marginalized groups, something that has led to a booming prison population.
Davis’ talk was highly anticipated despite many students being unfamiliar with her.
“I didn’t know who she was initially, but I did my research beforehand once I heard about all the hype,” Claire Chenoweth ’20 said as she caught up on her homework while waiting patiently for the chapel doors to open. Some were more diehard fans. Lilia Escobar ’17 was at the front of the line and had arrived at 2:30 p.m. to ensure she got the best seat in the house.
“If you’ve learned anything about civil rights then you know how big Angela Davis is,” Escobar said.
Attendees were ushered into Boe Chapel beginning at 5 p.m., and by 5:15 it was already clear that the chapel was not going to fit everyone in line. Overflow seating was provided at the Pause Mane Stage, where the speech was live-streamed. Davis entered the chapel before her introduction even began, and the entire crowd jumped up for a standing ovation before PAC’s coordinator Eden Faure ’17 could give her opening remarks.
Davis began by urging the audience to reflect on the space they inhabited.
“Are you aware that we are gathering on indigenous land?” Davis asked. The room responded with a frenzy of applause.
Apart from initially mixing up the town of Northfield with the city of Rochester, Davis gave a memorable talk emphasizing the concept of intersectionality.
“Our struggles are all related,” Davis said. “We all need to work together to guarantee a planet that is inhabitable.” Like many Americans, Davis fears that President Trump’s administration is taking social justice movements many steps backwards after they had been on the rise in recent decades.
Davis made many remarks regarding Trump, with the most notable being, “Make America white supremacist again,” mocking his campaign slogan. Even before Trump took office, Davis always had her doubts about American society.
“In the U.S., we tend to be very myopic … we only think about what is happening here,” she said. “This country is responsible for so much of the misery in the world.”
The central part of her talk, which also happens to be a key part of her work in activism, was focused on the corporatization of prisons, something she has called the “privatization of punishment.” She argued that racism and capitalism have always been intertwined and that marginalized groups are so negatively affected by capitalism that they end up in prisons due to a vicious cycle of poverty and inequality. It has gotten so bad today, she says, that the economy now depends on soaring prison populations. Davis noted, for example, that in the U.S. today there are more black men in prison than there were enslaved in 1850.
In closing, Davis told the audience that in order to see change happen, we need to have an entire structural transformation.
“I would like to urge people to engage in the practice of helping to produce a better world for human beings of all racial, ethnic, gender and religious backgrounds,” she said. “As humans, we cannot disassociate ourselves from other sentient beings on this planet.”
Davis reminded listeners about International Women’s Day on March 8. She encouraged women to participate in a “A Day Without Women” by taking a day off from paid and unpaid labor, and she encouraged all people to wear red to show solidarity on that day.