Real talk. Real walk. She occupies with grace, with fearlessness, and with a critical refusal that only comes after years in the struggle.
"We must never give up." She says in the Ivy League auditorium.
"We must never give up" she says among occupiers outside of City Hall.
What does a scholar-activist look like? She is a Servant Queen. Prophet Professor.
She delivered the keynote address at "Critical Refusals": The International Herbert Marcuse Society Conference, held at the University of Pennsylvania. After a talk before a packed auditorium filled with students, faculty, visiting scholars, and community members who rose to their feet in appreciative ovation, Angela Davis left the stage and along with a few hundred fellow sojourners, marched two miles from West Philadelphia, across the Schuylkill River, to Center City and Occupy Philly, where she spoke again. This time not from a podium, but from concrete with the engaging crowd repetition for those out of ear shot that has come to characterize occupy talks. She and more than a thousand others occupied with courage, warmth, love, songs, chants, raised fists, hope, and cries for justice.
Real talk. Real Walk. She spoke on an Ivy League campus and then spoke and occupied with the 99%.
I had the honor of being with Professor Davis earlier in the evening when she arrived in Penn's Irvine Auditorium about 30 minutes before her address. You can learn a lot about a public figure by paying attention to what they do when they are not speaking. Prior to taking the stage, Angela Davis was not hiding away in a green room, she wasn't going over her notes, nor was she busy conversing with the others with whom she would soon share the stage. She was with the people. She stood there and greeted person after person who wanted an autograph, to take a picture with her, or just to tell her how much she has inspired them over the course of their lives. She had to be interrupted and brought up to the stage or else she might have stayed on the floor all night.
The evening began with words of welcome from Andy Lamas, the popular Penn professor who was the main planner of the conference. He was followed by brief remarks from scholars Stanley Aronowitz, Ania Loomba, Arnold Farr, and his poet daughter Louisa Farr-Perry.
And yet old school activists will always tell you that there is no movement if there is no music. And the movement music that evening was brought by talented activist-artists, The Mahina Movement. Their latest release is entitled, "Speak the Fire."
That's just what Angela Davis did.
Fire can be used to burn, but also to warm, to cook and prepare as well as to bring light. She spoke fire. She began by talking about the importance of refusal -- saying "no" in the face of injustice. She went on to clarify that refusal must move towards a vocal and active "critical refusal" -- echoing the wisdom of her former teacher, the late philosopher Herbert Marcuse. "This", she continued, "is not an easy matter. We must work to transform the system, even while living within it."
Her remarks danced between the past, the present, and the hoped-for future. Like the best activists, she did not simply cry out against what is wrong, but she sang out for what could be. Her left hand held fire to burn, her right held fire with which to see.
At one point in her speech, which jumped between English and perfect French, she recalled a phrase that she learned some 40 years ago. She told the crowd how while in America, activists in the late 1960's were saying "Power to the People", activists in France were saying "L'imagination au pouvoir." "Power to the Imagination."
This is what we need most in America -- truly the entire world -- today. Imagination. Religious scholar Walter Brueggemann has called it "Prophetic Imagination." We need individuals who will not only occupy our streets, but also occupy our future. Brave soldiers of love who are crazy enough to dream of a world with no more war, no more violence, no more oppression based on the way people look, where they are from, or the way they were born.
The scholar - activist - prophet repeated the old graffiti wisdom of the 1960's;
"Be realistic. Demand the impossible."
When she finished we all rose to our feet to both salute Angela Davis as well as to stand in solidarity with the movement that has spanned generations. Then we marched right down to Occupy Philly.
We are still marching. We will not stop marching. Angela Davis has never stopped marching. But as her life has reflected, the marching which covers the most ground is that which involves both the feet and the mind.
And the heart. I think that's what I heard the most that day. "I love Angela Davis." Angela Davis loves too. Her march for liberation has lasted nearly 50 years. A journey like that can only be motivated by a heart full of love.
Like Angela, I hope that activists today will keep on loving. Keep on marching. Keep on occupying. Keep on imagining.
Power to the imagination!
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