Gary Horton | Angela Davis Gets Enthusiastic SCV Response

Gary Horton

“Angela Davis Receives Enthusiastic SCV Response.” Now, that’s a headline one wouldn’t have read from these Signal pages 30 years ago. And yet, the sold-out house crowd at the College of the Canyons Performing Arts Center — perhaps 25% students, 75% residents, perhaps 75% white, 25% people of color, and of all ages — repeatedly stood in ovations, cheered, clapped and otherwise enthusiastically interacted with Ms. Davis. 

There was one lone protester outside, “photo documenting” people entering the building. He was accompanied by perhaps the most chill security officer I’ve ever seen … a beefy policeman in short, well-cut short-sleeve shirt, and a California tan – explaining to the young man that he was welcome to protest, but he wouldn’t allow any harassment of attendees. The protester gave a half-hearted attempt at escalation, but the security officer didn’t take the bait and things stayed chill, and by the end of Mr. Davis’ presentation the one-man back-to-the past movement had long disappeared. 

Perhaps the Santa Clarita Valley is far more diverse and accepting of diversity in person and in thought than is usually assumed. 

Meanwhile, inside the PAC, Angela Davis, now 79, spoke poignantly, presenting her stirring thoughts with a measured cadence and light-touch humor that opened minds and brought to the house far more than the SCV might have hoped for. For 80 minutes, Ms. Davis identified social and practical matters important to all of us and did so with immense eloquence and intellect. Ms. Davis caused the audience to consider American history and current issues in a framework that broadened everyone’s understanding. And, regardless of whether folks left persuaded of her admonitions, surely all left informed how others experience and think about these topics we all experience, together. 

Prior to Ms. Davis’ presentation, at least one COC security officer and some others in the community expressed outrage that a phenomenally, worldwide-regarded Ph.D., past communist, a once-charged kidnapping suspect (fully acquitted by an all-white jury), and persistent critic of what she calls our “prison industrial complex,” would be invited to speak at the behest of our local college. “Snowflakes,” I retort! If you’re bothered by diverse thinking, you’re bothered by thinking, itself. And this retort cuts to folks from every angle. Intellectual growth happens when we hear others who may not share our ideals and have life paths different than our own. 

Angela Davis has lived a life far, far different than any of us. And through her extraordinary intelligent life chocked full with advanced education and truly extraordinary experience from 79 long years and all around the globe, she’s done a lot of hard thinking about a lot of hard subjects that torment us still, and she’s knitted together a rational, comprehensive framework that makes sense about how we got to where we are in America and what we might yet accomplish, achieve greater peace and better lives for all Americans. All races, all ages, all genders.  

Ms. Davis pounded home the truth of education being the absolute bedrock building block of freedom and improved lives. Specifically, she stressed, education that advances and manifestly raises and improves people’s lives. “Knowledge and education must raise the living conditions and livability for all people or what use is it?” she repeated. From hard science to the arts to social studies to history; all of it important – but the key is that increased knowledge is used to raise lives upward.  

She stressed the absolute necessity that critical thinking be required in educational settings. Learning is about getting exposed to things that challenge us. Learning must require us to be exposed to new ideas, to challenge, synthesize and critique them — and grow through the process. This, which sounds obvious to anyone in education, yet is an idea newly under attack in some conservative quarters. 

Angela Davis challenged us to be critical thinkers. She challenged us to be challengers. This may not be a happy message if you want to grow people as mushrooms, or cult followers, or political sheeple. But it’s a very good message if you’re hoping for an ever more enlightened society and the societal equity that will bring. 

By bringing such a powerful, thought-provoking, world-leading woman to the SCV, our very own COC batted way into the Big Leagues and brought further educational distinction to the school. Indeed, every day, COC achieves what Angela Davis exhorted of education: That it demonstrably improves the life outcomes for as many possible; now and deep into the future. 

Like or dislike Angela Davis, this remarkable event brought an intellectual stimulation spectacular to our wonderful town and remarkable college. This was a good and respectful thing. We should be proud of our townspeople and proud of our remarkable college.  

Gary Horton’s “Full Speed to Port!” has appeared in The Signal since 2006. The opinions expressed in his column do not necessarily reflect the opinions of The Signal or its editorial board.

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