Abolition Feminism: Dreaming a New Reality
2022, Equity + Justice, Community Building
Angela Y. Davis
Through her activism and scholarship over many decades, Angela Davis has been deeply involved in movements for social justice around the world. Her work as an educator – both at the university level and in the larger public sphere – has always emphasized the importance of building communities of struggle for economic, racial, and gender justice.
Professor Davis’ teaching career has taken her to San Francisco State University, Mills College, and UC Berkeley. She also has taught at UCLA, Vassar, Syracuse University the Claremont Colleges, and Stanford University. Most recently she spent fifteen years at the University of California Santa Cruz where she is now Distinguished Professor Emerita of History of Consciousness – an interdisciplinary Ph.D program – and of Feminist Studies.
Angela Davis is the author of ten books and has lectured throughout the United States as well as in Europe, Africa, Asia, Australia, and South America. In recent years a persistent theme of her work has been the range of social problems associated with incarceration and the generalized criminalization of those communities that are most affected by poverty and racial discrimination. She draws upon her own experiences in the early seventies as a person who spent eighteen months in jail and on trial, after being placed on the FBI’s “Ten Most Wanted List.” She also has conducted extensive research on numerous issues related to race, gender and imprisonment. Her books include Abolition Democracy and Are Prisons Obsolete?, and two books of essays entitled The Meaning of Freedom, and Freedom Is a Constant Struggle: Ferguson, Palestine, and the Foundations of a Movement. Her most recent books include a re-issue of Angela Davis: An Autobiography and Abolition. Feminism. Now., with co-authors Gina Dent, Erica Meiners and Beth Richie.
Angela Davis is a founding member of Critical Resistance, a national organization dedicated to the dismantling of the prison industrial complex. Internationally, she is affiliated with Sisters Inside, an abolitionist organization based in Queensland, Australia that works in solidarity with women in prison.
Like many educators, Professor Davis is especially concerned with the general tendency to devote more resources and attention to the prison system than to educational institutions. Having helped to popularize the notion of a “prison industrial complex,” she now urges her audiences to think seriously about the future possibility of a world without prisons and to help forge a 21st century abolitionist movement.
Recap of Abolition Feminism: Dreaming a New Reality
By Victoria Barclay, MA Student, UBC Department of Sociology
Dr. Angela Davis and Dr. Gina Dent, two of four co-authors of the new book Abolition. Feminism. Now., joined SFU Public Square and The Circle Project for a keynote where they discussed the process of writing, and the importance of art and visuality in the incarceration movement.
The event opened with Gabriel George and his family from the Tsleil-Waututh Nation welcoming Dr. Davis and Dr. Dent with a traditional Coast Salish honouring ceremony. The George family prepared and cleansed the space by laying cedar, which is known as the tree of life and is sacred to Coast Salish Peoples. The family wore blankets –– to cover their hearts and to protect and signal to their ancestors that they are working –– and honoured the doctors with blankets as well. The George family chose to cover Drs Davis and Dent with blankets as a representation of love and strength because of the work they do. They also honoured the scholars/activists with two songs: the Coast Salish anthem, also known as Chief Dan George’s Prayer Song, and a victory song of celebration.
The scholars/activists began their keynote by discussing their writing process. Dr. Davis shared that she expected the writing process to be easy — until she and her fellow authors realized they all came from different fields, wrote differently, and thought differently. Despite wanting to give up because she thought it was impossible, her co-authors wanted to continue. Upon completion of the book, Dr. Davis noted that the writing process reflected what the book represents — differences producing unity— the power of which is overshadowed by conversations on putting differences aside to create unity.
Dr. Dent stated that abolition feminism is, “absolutely necessary.” She explained that she and her colleagues wanted to write about abolitionism in a way that decentered the United States, as well as uplift the feminism that centers the incarceration movement.
Dr. Davis voiced her ambivalence with the term intersectionality, as it is often used as a catchword without examining or explaining what is meant. She made clear that feminism means anti-racist, anti-capitalist, and anti-colonial, and that it does not only refer to women.
Art and visuality is a critical element of abolitionism. Dr. Dent said, “we wouldn’t be able to deal with incarceration without dealing with what we know and see.” Abolitionism is a way of interrupting what we know, and art helps us build the new world we want to participate in. Dr. Davis noted that artists are at the forefront of radical change as art helps us feel before we know what we feel.
Dr. Dent problematized the notion of only using documentaries to portray the incarceration system. For a film festival, she instead wanted to use cartoons and feature films to show how incarceration is inside us all.
“[Abolitionists] want to live in a time of abolition,” and have the, “experience of being free,” Dr. Dent said. On this road to freedom, as Dr. Davis shared, we uncover that, “freedom is the road, and the road is infinite.” Art helps us to embody this process.
The final question posed to Drs Davis and Dent during the Q&A was, what is your blue-sky day?
Dr. Davis: Listening to music. Travelling to another space. Building a movement that will radically transform this world.
Dr. Dent: Being face to face with another group of people. Losing track of time and experiencing the beauty of that day.