At Dartmouth, Angela Davis calls for radical embrace

Davis in 2019. Photo by Romerito Pontes/Creative Commons

[First published as “Davis calls for radical embrace” in our September 30, 1988 edition. Click here for a PDF version of the original.]

By Lynn Felici

Following an introduction which conspicuously neglected to mention that she was twice the vice-presidential candidate for the Communist party, Angela Davis invited the audience at Spaulding Auditorium to embrace as a long range goal, “radical, fundamental, structural change” in the United States’ political process. Recognizing somewhat tongue-in-cheek that it was undoubtedly subversive to call for the abolition of capitalism while speaking at Dartmouth, Davis nonetheless emphasized that nothing shy of that would suffice. To genuinely tackle the issues of poverty, disenfranchisement of the working class, discrimination against people with disabilities, racism, sexism, ageism and homophobia requires the formation of a viable alternative political party comprised exclusively of members of underrepresented groups, she insisted.

A more immediate goal, however, is the upcoming presidential election. Calling the Reagan reign as the most retrograde presidency in history, Davis predicted the further entrenchment of institutionalized hate if George Bush wins the White House in November. She lauded “Brother” Justice Thurgood Marshall for hanging on these past eight years in spite of illness and fatigue to ensure that all minority and women’s rights “acquired” thus far weren’t permanently eroded by the Reagan agenda. Four more years of Reagan through Bush and Quayle means four more years of white supremist rule, she warned. She asked us to reflect on whether we really want a president who swears the pledge of allegiance before each meal and before he goes to bed.

Davis cited examples of increased racism. She reminded the audience of the Dartmouth Review, and of the escalation of violence against blacks at university campuses and against gays in cities across the nation. She told of Dolores Puerta, Vice President of the Farmworkers Union, who had her ribs broken by San Francisco police last week as she attempted to hold a press conference at a Bush rally to challenge Bush’s position on farming. She told a story about Lavar Burton, the actor, who was recently stopped by police while driving on a highway in Northern California. The police informed him that he was stopped because he fit a “gang member profile.” Davis suggested that all black and Latino males between the ages of 18 and 30 fit the police “gang profile,” and she advised all of them to avoid Northern California. It would have been funny if . . . .

With amazing patience and composure, Davis suggested that she did not believe that the majority of people in this country are becoming increasingly racist or anti-gay or anti-women. In fact, she indicated, it is likely the opposite. She offered that this was possibly the first time in recent history that there was an anti-racist, pro-peace majority. She maintained that that is precisely the reason the powerful have become more reactionary, the police have become more brutal, the courts more conservative. She stated that the upsurge in racism and economic and gender-based oppression is a reflection of the policies of the Reagan administration which condone institutionalized injustice and invite racists to “come out.” A particularly stark example, she noted, is the presence of avowed fascists in the Bush campaign. A recent study from Boston documented the extent to which the Reagan administration and the Bush campaign is saturated with fascists. The organizer of the Republican National Convention, for example, is known affectionately in the GOP as the “axe man” for his publication of a pamphlet on how to circumvent affirmative action programs.

Her solution? Organizing. In a somewhat disappointingly pragmatic tone, Davis encouraged all people violated by Republican principles to bite their lips and make certain that Dukakis wins this election. Determined not to be mislabeled as a Dukakis supporter in the true sense, Davis resolved that by voting for Dukakis, the underrepresented will at least have a small voice in power. A Bush victory and a new Supreme Court will try to silence us, she said. She wished for Jesse Jackson.

Davis could not have been more emphatic about the possibilities that lie ahead if the Dukakis Democrats do win this year. Recognizing that the Democrats take the votes of farmers, the working class, women, blacks, Latinos, Asians, gays, persons with disabilities, criminal defendants, the elderly and the environmentalists for granted because there is nowhere else for them to go, Davis dared us to imagine a coalition party made up of all of them. She emphasized that banding together now in solidarity to elect Dukakis would create pressure for real substantive structural change for the next four years while broadening the movement for the eventual formation of a strong third party. Essential to this vision is that the traditionally underrepresented groups recognize their interconnectedness, she asserted. Oppression against one underclass translates into repression of all underclasses. She reminded us not to forget that the same people who scrawl “n——” on bathroom walls attack women in front of abortion clinics. Racism equals misogyny equals homophobia, she said.

Davis called on the coalition movement in the Democratic Party this year to take the election into its hands. Even if Jesse Jackson were the nominee, she said, we shouldn’t trust anyone in power to decide for us what the important issues are. With spirit rivaling Jackson’s Davis asked if the audience were all registered voters. With insight rivaling few, she called for the abolition of that requirement as the first fundamental structural change in a new government. She reminded us that impediments to voting have historically served only one purpose.

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