For Davis, improvement will take imagination, innovation

Activist and author Angela Davis helps MATC celebrate Dr. Martin Luther King Day

Mark Feldmann,

February 01, 2022

MILWAUKEE – Imagine a world with less incarceration and more education. Imagine a nation that placed a high value on housing and healthcare.

People have the power to turn those dreams into realities, according to author, activist and scholar Dr. Angela Davis.

Davis, a national figure in the Civil Rights movement for more than 50 years, participated in a webinar sponsored by Milwaukee Area Technical College Jan. 18 as part of the college’s recognition and celebration of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day. The conversation continued Jan. 25 with small group discussions.

More than 350 students, faculty, employees, and community members attended Davis’ webinar or the discussions, said Myra George, an MATC English instructor and project coordinator of the college’s Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion grant.

Davis’ appearance was sponsored by the Black Student Union and the DEI Committee, an initiative of the college’s Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion.

Davis, who has written ten books on class, feminism, race, and the U.S. prison system, said people must expand their minds and think of new ways to overcome racism, domestic violence, police brutality and homelessness.

“We need to break out of this ideological stronghold and free our imaginations to think about a future and in which we will have true security and safety,” Davis said. “This requires schools, it requires healthcare, it requires housing.”

People don’t need to accept systems and conditions that are blatantly wrong and hurtful just because they exist, Davis said. The 77-year-old grew up in Birmingham, Alabama, one of the most segregated cities in America at the time. 

“I'm so thankful that my mother, who was an activist and educator herself, pointed out that the organization of our lives by the powers that be was wrong,” Davis recalled. “It was not supposed to be the way people ordered their lives and conducted their relations with one another.

“She always asked us children to try to imagine the way it would be if we did not have this system of racial segregation, so she encouraged us to imagine a very different kind of future,” she added. 

Davis is especially critical of the American penal system — what she calls the prison industrial complex — and which houses about 25% of all the world’s imprisoned people. The system drains resources that could be used to stop evictions, solve mental health issues, build communities, and foster compassion, she said.

“We can definitely find much better ways of addressing questions of safety and security in our worlds, “ Davis said. “We do not have to have institutions of violence that actually serve to reproduce the very violence that we are trying to get rid of.”

And almost anyone can help make the world a better place, Davis said. Not everyone has to be an organizer, a leader or a spokesperson; movements still need artists, poets, musicians, she said.

“Reflect on your skills, your desires, your capacities and figure out a way to relate to the movement,” she said. “There are so many ways we all can contribute.”

Davis became internationally known in 1970, when guns registered to Davis were used in an armed takeover of a courtroom in Marin County, Calif., in which four people were killed. She was charged with three capital felonies, including conspiracy to murder. She was held in jail for more than a year before being acquitted of all charges in 1972. 

Since then she has written books, lectured, taught at several universities, and  was active in movements such as Occupy and the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign. Davis has received numerous awards and has been inducted into the National Women's Hall of Fame. In 2020, she was included on Time's list of the 100 most influential people in the world.