I had the pleasure of shaking Angela Davis’s hand. I want to describe that experience but I can’t find the words to convey my feeling. It was an exceptional and honored experience. Instead, I will move on to my response to the actual lecture. The topic of Angela Davis’s conversation is the Power of the Imagination, Power to the People. To cultivate imagination is to allow myself to “question everything,” as I was prompted to do so by Angela. As I reflect on my journey to where I am today, physically, emotionally, and socially, I know that questioning everything is exactly what has created who I am today. I want to frame this blog entry in this way. These are all of the ways that questioning is important to me.
I would not be where I am if it was not for my curiosity and urge to question everything. I don’t know where that urge came from, but want to thank a greater power for bestowing that upon me and Angela for reminding me. I questioned things early on: What does the world outside of Cuba, Missouri really look like? Why was my family so content with the conditions we lived within? Why are all the people at school saying “that’s gay” so often? Why does everybody seem so okay with students in my high school getting wasted on the weekends as long as they play sports? Why should I not give up when my mom is in prison, my sister is on drugs, and my dad drinks his pain away? Why did my high school counselor tell me college isn’t for everyone?
I ask those questions not rhetorically, but to offer a pixelated photo of where I have come from as context for my further thoughts. To further elaborate on why I question everything, Angela said that “history is individualistic” and then asked what most people thought the civil rights movement was about. The response she commonly hears is: “It was Martin Luther King, Jr.” I realized that prior to Seattle U., I would have said the same thing. I bring this up because I think of all the history I was taught in my K-12 system, and it was this way. I learned about all of the good white men who did great things for America and the world, I suppose. I was not educated to imagine a future.
I have since questioned that and began reading. Reading allows a new history to take shape in me. It just took me about 23 years to realize the blessing of books and being able to read them. Angela graciously offered history to me, and now I need to go read about it. These are the topics I will be reading up on very soon: What was the first real democracy like in Haiti? Why did Native Americans occupy Alcatraz? What was the challenge to wounded knee? Why was Herman Wallis in solitary confinement for 41 years in the Prison Industrial Complex? What happened when 30,000 prisoners chose not to eat their food in California? What was the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing? Why is 25% of the world’s prison population in America when we have only 5% of people in the world? And who the hell is Dynamite Bob?
A good portion of the conversation, and Angela’s work, is to imagine an alternative to the Prison Industrial Complex. “Prison emerged with democracy and it was supposed to be a way of holding people accountable without a direct harm to the body. Capital punishment is oddly that. It leads to the death penalty that has survived because of the survival of racism.” Therefore, “it is a racist institution in a historical sense.” In that time, “white men were put to death for one crime, murder. Black men saw the death penalty for 76. [Thereby] the death penalty was able to seek refuge in slavery.”
Slavery’s legacy is still here. “The violence of young communities is connected to the violence of slavery and the Ku Klux Klan. Violence is what isolates the present from the future, which inhibits a relationship with the future.” It is difficult to think of how important acknowledging the history of my identities is. If you have not yet read Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome, please do so. Slavery exists and its affects will never leave. “How has violence become so naturalized?” Work that I intend to pursue further is consolidating a connection between white men owning slaves and their current positional power in America. I think the supporting information already exists, but putting it together in a story may help explain why there is perpetuation of violence. In the Prison Industrial Complex “violence is rendered legitimate by law. The solutions are the causes of violence. Currently, the punitive system exacerbates the problem and perpetuates the violence. We don’t associated the past to the present and further separate ourselves from the past.” I vote that we dismantle the legacy of slavery because failure to do so, is a “failure to acknowledge the depth of our roots.”
Angela says that “abolition is a project of imagination… asks us to think against the norm and question new possibilities.” It is a struggle and I have to believe that it is a purposeful one. There are “no formula and no short term solutions,” so there must be an increased “patience to imagine a projected struggle. We have to do the work. To challenge the apparatus, a challenge to the system, we must be hyper vigilant of our personal actions.” I whole heartedly believe that “we must act as if it were possible to change the world, and we have to believe that there is chance.”
I also feel that Angela called me to action in another way. “What is supposed to nourish us ends up killing us.” In order to do the work and be a strong activist we must take care of our bodies. A good time ago, I questioned what I was putting in my body. I read a lot about and now find myself hiding that part of me. Angela says “it’s our responsibility to encourage others and that self-care is necessary to build community.” If you are curious feel free to ask me. I have some knowledge around ingredients, GMOs, corporations, animal rights, food processing procedures, and the health impacts associated with them. It will help me too because it is something I am afraid to talk about.
I finish with what I need. Self-care is hard and I am beginning to understand where I truly find it. “Communism is a collective imagination.” Questioning everything is liberating and gives me life, but it is also hard and draining. After watching films about Angela Davis and having the honor of attending her lecture, I know that power comes in the collective. Please invite me to coffee and know that the more I stay engaged in the conversation the more sane I will remain.
– Justin Zagorski