Through a series of interviews, university speeches, and lifelong activist work, the book Freedom is a Constant Struggle by Angela Davis gives valuable insight into the power, influence, and interconnectivity of collective freedom movements from all around the world. Davis addresses key issues that arise through worldwide movements that are deeply connected but may seem unrelated. She focuses on the U.S. mass incarceration system, the US military involvement in non-Western countries, the occupation of Palestine, long existing and continuing racist structures and systems within the US that oppress the Black community, and the massive corruption that is capitalism. At the same time, Davis highlights the progressive, collaborative movements and social mobilization in response to oppression by those in power who manipulate and exploit the bottom ninety-nine percent, especially people of color. Davis’s being and work serve as an inspiration for the next generation of women of color, like myself, to be inspired and empowered to follow the lead of a woman who persisted in actively standing up for herself, for those around her who experience painful oppression, and continuously challenges the systems that cause injustices.
Davis teaches the reader about each social issue in distinct parts for clarity, as separate entities each with a source of power potential for change. Moreover, Davis rightly connects movements such as Ferguson and Palestine that are each dealing with internalized institutional racism that prevents equality, true freedom, and justice of these minority lives within their own countries, eventually building up in each chapter towards Davis’s larger picture. While they are completely different countries, with different cultures, practices, and histories, the dangerous and oppressive conditions of discrimination, injustice, and hierarchies lead to both movements being similar in their goals and progress for all within their respective countries. Davis further explains that for both Black Americans and Palestinians, the treatment of being labeled dangerous foreigners and being ostracized by their own country points out that those who are truly dangerous within society are those in power, ignorant/dismissive of the injustice around them, not those challenging the system that constantly fails them.
In writing about the unlimited dominance by those in power, Davis deconstructs the illusion that those with dangerous White supremacist, wealthy, patriarchal ideologies/practices in positions of power are not able to be dismantled. Rather, Davis emphasizes the great potential of grassroots mobilization and movements that have the real ability to make White America acknowledge how systems of oppression harm not only marginalized groups but the majority of Americans who do not identify itself as the top one percent. Davis explains how the people can deconstruct and overcome these ‘intimidating’ power structures that have been in place since the beginning of our country. The collective, demandable voices of the people have the power to inspire change, by eliminating the status-quo power structure and build one that creates equality, freedoms, rights, justice for absolutely all. This goal is realistic, as mediated by Davis. I believe her message is one of the most impactful because she shows the potential of ordinary Americans who can be part of a larger revolution towards progressive victories, even if they don’t identify or fit the ideal role of an ‘activist’.
A final theme that Davis consistently writes about is through the framework of intersectionality, within progressive movements and mobilization efforts. The need to include all groups of all genders, race, cultures, ethnicities, abilities, ages, sexualities, religious beliefs within social justice movements is necessary for a full acknowledgment of diverse experiences to tackle social issues. In addition, the respect and understanding of connected, complex identities that simultaneously hold, to an extent, privilege and oppression, needs to be listened to, for those are the groups that are most vulnerable to the stripping of their rights and are most marginalized in Western and global society. This message by Davis, coined by Kimberly Crenshaw, critically de-centers the overrepresented, normalized perspective of male, heteronormative, Whiteness, in order to analyze and challenge systems/structures that are built to exclude the rest of society. Also, the danger of homogenous dominant ideologies, histories, culture, and practices only harms those labeled as ‘other’, while disempowering them by the lens and ‘superiority’ of Whiteness. Furthermore, the recognition of the postmodern framework is also important to include for progressive movements that are moving beyond categories of restriction that simultaneously oppress individual as individuals and as a part of a larger society. Davis’s emphasis of intersectionality circles back to freedom movements, efforts, and action throughout the world by explaining that freedom, rights, justice must be wholly and purposefully inclusive, for the freedom for some, is not the freedom for all.
While Davis’s work speaks volumes as to the persistence of activist and the movements she has rooted herself into, this positive and progressive representation of Davis is not easily brought to light in the majority of mainstream media or educational systems. Therefore, women, and especially women are color are not introduced to her work, both literary and activism, until or if they reach higher educational levels or independently seek out Black activism history. This effect can have detrimental limitations on young activist women who are not seeing women like themselves who have been at the forefront of social justice movements, as the majority of them are lead by men.
Angela Davis is fearless in her work, showcasing the traumatic and extremely difficult side of activism, especially when being a woman of color and not having certain privileges that others do. Davis elaborates on the risks, threats, and sacrifices that it takes to unconditionally stand behind what you believe in. To me, Angela is a woman who decided to dedicate her life and voice for justice, equality, and freedom for all, while supporting intersectional thinking and actions to widen the perspective of the world. Angela Davis realistically empowers women and girls to believe in their great potential to change the world, through each other and their communities, despite being socialized into ideologies and practices of patriarchy, capitalism, and White supremacy. When reviewing the earlier photos and videos of Davis with the same wisdom and fight she continues today, it is easy to see the connection that young women activists see of Davis’s contagious spark that radiates and leaves young women of color to affirm in themselves, “If Angela Davis can do it, why can’t I?”.
Overall, Davis’s message of freedom movements and interconnected solidarities, are a present and powerful source for the worldwide demand of human rights, justice, freedom, and basic standards of living. Davis illustrates that those fighting for issues surrounding justice across the world are not that different from the issues we are fighting for at home, and the resistance together has the ability for greater positive impact. While Davis is critical of individualism and the larger extent of focus centralizing on leaders within movements, Davis strongly represents what is it to be an unapologetic, loyal, strong leader and role model for the movements that she stands for, while at the same time exemplifying that she is also just one of many that create the force behind the movements.
by Elizabeth Corronel, PJC Racial Justice Intern,
edited by Rob Persons, PJC Peacework Intern