Arts & Culture

Freedom is a Constant Struggle Book Review

by Morgan Dyer

“Freedom is a Constant Struggle” is a short collection of transcripts of speeches by Angela Davis, a prominent political figure of the Black Power movement and a member of the Communist party. In her speeches she brings light to the actions of organizations like G4S, a Brittish private security company that is complicit in the Israeli state’s incarceration of Palestinian political prisoners. In her orations she draws constant connections between the militarization of the police in Israeli occupied Palestein, and the militarization of the police during the Ferguson Riots that began in Ferguson, Missouri, the day after the shooting of Michael Brown by police officer Darren Wilson. She makes a case for prison abolition, drawing connections between the modern prison industrial complex and the colonial institution of slavery. She references Michelle Alexander’s “The New Jim Crow” in building her argument that prison is an institution founded on racism. She offers the alternative of developing restorative justice frameworks as a means to imagining a prison-free society. She concludes that feminists replicate the violence they seek to end when they mistake prison as a solution to sexual violence. In considering how we might pull a diverse array of people into our freedom movements, Davis declares that we must extricate ourselves from narrow identitarian thinking and draw connections, so that men see the fight for women’s rights as their own fight, so that white’s see the fight for dismantling racism as their own fight. She references the ideas of Dr. Martin Luther King in his “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” and quotes him saying “We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny” to illuminate our mutual self interest. To Davis, this ties into the need to resist capitalism’s ideology of individualism, and the need to resist the depiction of history as the acts of heroic individuals so that we may reclaim our collective agency. She touches a bit on the historical process of colonization, and makes connections between the violence inflicted on the Palestinian people by the Israeli state, and the violence inflicted on Native American peoples by the United States Government.

Angel Davis

Illustration by Morgan Dyer

In her speeches, Davis acknowledges many different points of view. She promotes the idea of intersectionality, and makes constant connections between different groups and their struggles for freedom. She herself stands at the intersections of being black, a woman, and a lesbian, and she uses her unique perspective to break down illusions of seperatism among different minority groups. She says repeatedly that we need an intersection framework for our feminisms, an international framework, so that we might work together to liberate ourselves from various oppressive circumstances.

In one of her speeches, in chapter four “Palestine, G4S and the Prison Industrial Complex” she points to the fact that the US provides $8.5 million dollars a day to Israel in military aid. This is actually no longer true. As of 2016, the US government provides 38 billion dollars over the next ten years, amounting to 3.5 billion dollars a year, which is about $10,410,959 million a day if you want to look at it that way.

One of the big conclusions that Davis drove home in her speeches was that we must resist rigid identitarian thinking in order to realize our collective potential. We must find ways to persuade other people to look at our struggles for freedom as their own, because we are bound up in a web of mutuality. It follows that we must make connections between our freedom movements to build solidarity among different minority groups and advance our collective interests. Another point that she made was that we need an international framework for our feminisms. We need to always be making connections between the militarization of the police in Palestine, Ferguson, and the historical process of colonization and state violence. The only criticism she had of Michelle Alexander’s “The New Jim Crow” was that it lacked an international framework. The last point that I believe she was driving home was the need to resist the ideology of individualism, in favor of collective power. Part of this is resisting the portrayal of history as the acts of individual heroic male figures so that we can reclaim our collective agency. We must always remember that for every Martin Luther King, there is SNCC or the many black women that refused to sit at the back of buses before Rosa Parks. If we don’t resist the portrayal of history as the acts of heroic individuals, we lose our ability to imagine our own collective power.

I believe that her conclusion that we must resist rigid identitarian thinking is valid, but it is easier said than done. It is valid because historically, us/them mentalities isolate special interest groups and prevent progress. This happened when Caesar invaded gaul and took advantage of the infighting of various celtic tribes. It also happened when European Colonizers invaded the Americas. It happened within LGBT communities until the AIDS epidemic of the 1980’s and the activism of ACT UP which strung the LGBTQA+ acronym together and united those different groups of people on the understanding that this plague disproportionately affected all of us, and progress happened. That is a positive example. What if ACT UP organizers had not made those connections between those radically different groups of people? It would be a different world. It is easier said than done because it threatens my own understanding and security in my own identity, and I bet it does that to others as well. 

I think that her conclusion that we need an international framework for our feminisms is valid because, as she says, nothing happens in isolation. It is a commonly held truth that history repeats itself, and it would be foolish not to look at the historical connotations of different events and acts of violence. For example, it would not make sense to think about the colonization of the Americas by Europeans without thinking about the colonization of Europeans by the Roman Empire. It would not make sense to think about the militarization of the police in Palestine without thinking about the militarization of the police in Ferguson and even in Cairo. If we can make those connections, why do we often think of events and individual acts of violence as happening in isolation?

I think that this book is well written and put together. Angela Davis consistently drives the same conclusions home in all of her speeches in a cohesive and compelling way. I would recommend it to anyone who is interested in LGBT history, the history of different freedom movements, and anti-racist organizing.

Categories: Arts & Culture

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