Thursday, September 25, 2008

Angela Davis in the House

When the Latino Insurgent wrote to me asking for the “black female militant perspective” on world events, I couldn’t refuse after hearing that Angela Davis would be in the Cornhusker State. Davis didn’t expect that packed in a Nebraska community center she would find supporters of Mondo we Langa and Ed Poindexter, two former Black Panther Party for Self-Defense members, who are awaiting a post-conviction appeal on October 1st at the Nebraska Supreme Court. The two are serving life sentences for the death of Larry Minard, an Omaha police officer, 38 years ago. Amnesty International has determined that they are “prisoners of conscience,” arrested under what Davis calls the “bin of terrorism” that swept the sixties, fueled by Hoover’s COINTELPRO. Mondo and Ed maintain that they had nothing to do with Minard’s death. New evidence will hopefully shed light on this during their post-conviction.

Like Mondo and Ed, Angela Davis fell victim to the “bin of terrorism.” She served 18 months in prison and was placed on the FBI’s “Ten Most Wanted List,” for her political views. The parallels between the terror watch of the sixties and post-9/11 shouldn’t be surprising to anyone. After all, we are fighting a war of rhetoric—Iraqi Freedom, Terrorism, etc—blanket abstractions that are expansive and flexible enough to sweep anyone within the great terror bin. I mean seriously, do we really know who our enemies are?

I’ve been reading Scott McCloud’s book on comics with my students. He talks about the differences between received and perceived information, how the more abstracted the image is the greater the levels of perception. We have to do a lot more with the information—we have to decode it and process the decoded message. We have to be versed in specialized language to some degree in order to do this. BUT if abstractions are molded into recognizable shapes then we’ve shifted back to received information. I think that something similar has happened with our war of rhetoric. That is, we have blanket, abstract ideas to which the admin attaches faces. And these faces are shaped out of what we are culturally indoctrinated to recognize as dangerous—black faces, Latino faces, Middle Eastern faces, etc. The faces that are attached to these ideas are so temporary that they serve their purpose—to divert our attention—for a singular political moment. And then they (these faces) don’t matter anymore and they disappear from the national consciousness. Case in point: when was the last time that anyone mentioned bin Laden?

To go back to that political moment, open up the terror bin, and release the prisoners of conscience who were imprisoned due to the corrupt practices of COINTELPRO is another deal, but Angela Davis has spent her life doing this work.

Davis would go further and add that prison inmates are labeled as another form of “terrorists.” She’s written extensively on the “prison industrial complex” and she would go as far as to say that we should consider abolishing the prison system as we know it—it serves one main purpose: “to provide the material for the world.” The racialized material property is so whetted to our capitalist dollar that we can’t see where it ends and begins, hence Davis’s parallels between the prison industrial complex and slavery.

It’s hard for me not to agree with the parallels Davis makes. My own brother, a former college student, a father of three, and an Americorps volunteer with no priors is serving a term reduced to life with the possibility of parole for an accidental shooting after being falsely accused of theft and assaulted by drunk, white, college students. You don’t have to ask whether or not I think justice was served, but I will say that if he were ever to be paroled, I can’t imagine the great possibilities that lay ahead of him without access to an education as prisons begin to strip away any possible rehabilitative systems that came about with prison reform.

Since we’re only a couple months away from the election, I’ll end on some words that Angela Davis offered in this regard. She said that we should “take seriously, the contributions of those that were active during that year.” She was talking about the year 1968—the election year that MLK and RFK were both assassinated. Although she holds both leaders in high regard, she reminded us that “we often individualize history” forgetting that it’s a “community of struggle.” She said, “We always ask who is going to lead us to freedom and we give up our individual power.” Davis wasn’t just talking about 1968 anymore. She was talking about our tendency to invest all of our hope behind one face. We expect this messiah to come in and save us all so then we don’t have to act anymore. Does it really matter who we vote for if all we do is cast our ballot, go home, and watch the Home Shopping Network? The great “change” that the Democrats (and now the Republicans, apparently) are waiting for won’t happen without individual acts of change.

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