CHAMPAIGN — Patience and passion.
Longtime civil rights activist Angela Davis urged a crowd of young and old visitors to her talk on Friday that if they want to create a world without racism, sexism or homophobia, there are no short-term solutions and people must teach themselves to think "beyond the moment, beyond the decade, beyond the century."
"Racism is still with us because too many people have assumed we can wish it away. Violence is still with us because we failed to acknowledge the depth of its roots in our histories, in our families, in our cultures. If we are interested in our future, our collective futures, we've got to think long and hard for solutions that can gradually begin to change the way we inhabit the earth. There are no instantaneous solutions," she said.
"What I want to urge is a combination of patience ... and passion and fervor," she said.
Davis' speech, called "Abolishing the Prison-Industrial Complex," was part of the University YMCA's Friday Forum lecture series. The series this fall centers on the topic, "Beyond Mass Incarceration." Davis, who has been active in this arena for decades, said she wished she could hang around all semester to participate in the other talks.
Born in Alabama, Davis earned degrees in philosophy and joined the faculty of the University of California, Los Angeles. She gained national attention in 1969 when the university removed her from the position because of her involvement in the Communist Party.
In the 1970s she voiced support for the "Soledad Brothers," three prisoners who were accused of killing a guard in the Soledad Prison. During an attempt to free the prisoners from a courtroom, several people were killed. Police linked a gun used in the attempted escape to Davis and she was brought up on several charges, prompting the campaign, "Free Angela Davis and All Political Prisoners."
She was eventually acquitted.
Davis is now a distinguished professor emeritus in the History of Consciousness and Feminist Studies Departments at the University of California, Santa Cruz. She is the author of many books, including, "Are Prisons Obsolete?"
Davis has spoken out against racism, sexism and homophobia in the criminal justice system and has become an advocate for the abolition of prisons movement. She is a founding member of Critical Resistance and is affiliated with Sisters Inside, an Australian organization.
For her Friday forum talk she touched on several themes, including the power of language and use of words such as prisoner, immigration legislation and briefly, vegetarianism. The main focus, however, was on the anti-prison movement.
There is a tendency among people who are trying to break down the prison-industrial complex to think of people in prisons "simply as their beneficiaries," Davis said, and this process objectifies them.
"It is so important to develop egalitarian relations with people who are currently in prison and respect the work they've done," she said.
In fact, the approach of linking prison abolition to anti-slavery abolition came from a man in prison, she said.
"I realized whenever we manage to break down the walls and to forge a world beyond the bars that that world will certainly benefit from the fervor for social justice that former prisoners will bring," she said.