Davis, the American rights activist and educator, rallied a crowd of more than 850 fans to continue to fight systematic injustice against blacks, women and other minorities. She spoke as part of a celebration for the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.
Angela Davis says Donald Trump’s election was the start of a new civil-rights fight.
The activist and educator, who over decades has amassed international recognition for her criticism of racism in the U.S. prison system, rallied a crowd of more than 850 in downtown Seattle on Thursday for what she described as this era’s movement against systematic injustice against blacks, women and other marginalized groups.
“Since we learned about the election of Donald Trump, we have come to realize that the only way forward is unending struggle,” Davis, 72, said. “If there is to be any greatness on America’s agenda, it must be in the future.”
Council President Bruce Harrell and other city leaders, including Mayor Ed Murray, helped organize the Seattle Town Hall forum to commemorate the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s legacy, which followed a similar appearance by Davis in Bremerton on Wednesday. People packed the auditorium, welcoming the speech with loud applause and cheers.
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“It’s important for us to recognize that history is not in the past,” she said. “The purpose of our struggles is to extricate ourselves from the pull of the past,” an idea she said the Trump campaign slogan, “Make America great again,” works against.
Later, she added:
“Parenthetically, someone was asking me if we cried when Nixon was elected, and I said, ‘No, I just remember getting out on the streets.’ ”
In the roughly one-hour speech, Davis highlighted her past social-justice activism and reiterated her lifelong messages to dismantle the prison system, as she believes it is society’s short-term solution to deep, wide-ranging issues of violence, among other issues.
She voiced support for Seattle activists who oppose King County’s plan to build a youth jail in Seattle’s Central Area and tout community-based alternatives to incarceration, including restorative-justice programs. Dozens were in the crowd.
Davis applauded Seattle’s path to a $15-an-hour minimum wage, its educational institutions — she mentioned her first visit to the city was in 1969 for a rally at Garfield High School — and its activist spirit with its “persistent movements” that Davis said others look to nationwide.
Davis’ political activism gained national attention in the late 1960s when she was dismissed from her teaching position at the University of California, Los Angeles, after she expressed support for the Communist Party.
Years later, Davis was charged with murder, kidnapping and conspiracy for her alleged role in a deadly courtroom shootout in California. She became a fugitive, one of the FBI’s 10 most wanted. During that time on the run, Davis said Thursday, Seattle hosted a supportive poster, which said, “Sister, you are welcome in my house.”
Authorities eventually arrested Davis, and she spent more than a year in jail.
Activists nationwide rallied for her release, a significant part of the 20th-century Black Power Movement. She was acquitted in 1972.
That experience underscores her lectures now, which she shares around the world. She is also a professor at the University of California, Santa Cruz, advancing her research and writing on issues such as gender, race and imprisonment.
Attendees at Thursday evening’s free event lined up early, filling the auditorium to capacity. Dozens who couldn’t get inside waited outside, hoping organizers would let them in, in a line that wrapped around the block. Some inside attended a small reception before the speech. There, Davis briefly posed for photos and talked with fans.
Among those outside was Nicole Harris of Seattle’s Central District, who brought her two children, ages 5 and 10. She said she wanted them to gain courage and a taste of history with the experience.
Seattle is “a closeted city” sometimes for these sorts of discussions, she said. “It’s definitely needed.”
Community organizers have scheduled other events around the city this weekend to celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. Day. For example, on Sunday the Town Hall will host “Writers Resist,” at which more than a dozen writers will read their own work and pieces from celebrated American rights activists.