Political activist Angela Davis spoke at College of the Canyons on Saturday afternoon at a sold-out event held at the college’s Performing Arts Center.
While emails indicated that COC’s security team anticipated a large number of protesters ahead of the event, just one person stood in opposition before Davis’ speech. A “free speech zone” was provided, near the entrance of the PAC, for him to exercise his First Amendment right.
Inside the PAC, Davis was welcomed to the stage with a standing ovation from the nearly 900 people in attendance and was introduced by Diane Fierro, deputy chancellor and chief of diversity, equity and inclusion at COC, and Angeli Francois, an English instructor at COC — who also served as the event’s moderator.
Francois began the event with a brief biography of Davis, which included the universities she’s taught at, her work as an author and a mention of Davis’ brief time on the FBI’s most wanted list after being accused of murder.
During the reading of her bio, the audience cheered — an act Davis acknowledged in the first words of her speech.
“I think this is my first time and I’ve heard people applaud for the bio,” said Davis. “Makes me wonder why it took me so long to come here.”
Davis acknowledged she was only familiar with Santa Clarita as a place she drove through on her way up to the San Francisco Bay area. Before answering the first question asked by Francois, she thanked the audience for attending.
“I think I only stopped here once to charge my car and I had no idea what a gem there was here, so thank you so much for the enthusiastic welcome,” said Davis.
Francois’s first question was in regards to the link between being an educator and activism. Davis answered this question by talking about her experiences growing up in Birmingham, Alabama, and witnessing the intense segregation that existed at the time, while also acknowledging the influence her parents, both educators, had on her decisions.
Davis elaborated on the importance of education by listing examples of what she believes are the actions and words that stifle it, particularly with the banning of books or of certain subjects, such as Critical Race Theory — efforts she said silence the acknowledgment of structural racism.
“We’re at a critical turning point. I think we could go in a very radical, progressive direction. But there are those who want to make sure that we move in a conservative direction,” said Davis. “And when I say conservative, I mean toward the past, because that’s precisely what conservatives want. They don’t want us to move in a progressive, future-directed way. They want us to move in a way that recapitulates the same old, same old.”
While Davis is no longer a member of Communist Party USA, she still holds critiques of modern American capitalism. She did this while discussing the importance of community and the difference between individualism, which she does not support, and individuality, which she does support.
“We’re so convinced that what is important, and the way we live our lives, is what we achieve as individuals. And the individualism is produced by capitalism, first of all. It robs us of a sense of connectedness with those with whom we inhabit this Earth,” said Davis.
Francois used Davis’ answer about community and equity as a backboard on which to bounce her next question: How does social justice intersect with equity?
Davis answered this by saying, “There can be no equity without justice,” and that equity means justice for all people, not just Black people. She emphasized that equitable justice is needed particularly for people of color, but that white people are also included. This was due, in her belief, because racism stems from a patriarchy of affluent white men.
“Poor white men are excluded from the outset as well. So we have this weird situation where this document (the U.S. Constitution) that is supposed to guarantee equality and justice and democracy revolves around a minority of the population … I think that if we really want to think deeply about equality, that we may think about becoming equal to those who have spent their entire lives struggling for freedom. And this is one of the reasons why Black history is so important.”
One of Davis’ other main points was how impressed she was with how youth today are redefining gender, saying that even though she, and the others who supported her, believed they were progressives, they still believed gender was structured.
“I’m really happy that I lived this long, that I get to see all of the incredible young people who know so much more than we knew when we were young, and they’re supposed to, and who are leading us in directions I never could have imagined,” said Davis. “I’m so glad that the revolution, what we thought of as the revolution, didn’t happen then. Because it wouldn’t have been a good revolution, it would have been a masculine revolution.”
While Davis had several critiques about modern American society and politics, she insisted she was not a cynic and that she’s glad a revolution didn’t happen while she was young. She said she instead was optimisitc about where today’s youth was carrying the movements she helped start.
“I am, however, optimistic. In the summer of 2020 … when we were experiencing the worst of the COVID pandemic, people were dying, people were suffering, and however, in the process of that, we … [recognized] those who were dying disproportionately. And that recognition brought about a sense of the structural racism that is embedded in the health care system … this sense that racism is embedded in the very machinery of policing began to emerge. I don’t think I have ever, in my life, at least experienced this kind of collective awareness that emerged.”