University professor and former Communist Party USA leader Angela Davis said in an interview that the refugee movement “is the movement of the 21st century” for radicals such as herself.
The 1960s’ queen of counter-culture activism was filmed walking through the streets of Berlin, Germany, during a May 14-15 visit listening to the problems encountered by African refugees living in the city. Many have been squatting in a former school since December 2012, but Davis was not allowed in, so she talked with refugee activists outside the front gate.
International Women Space, a left-of-center group, posted the video on Vimeo, showing the refugees voicing concerns about the German government with regard to their “demands for a school to be transformed into a community center for refugees,” Davis said.
The refugee activists told Davis of their demands for better health care, housing and food.
They complained of having to sleep 15 to a room in cramped quarters.
“Even German animals are living better than we refugees,” one man told Davis. “The dogs and cats that German people have, they have special food for them. They have …”
“Thank you so much, for telling us about your experiences here, and about the struggle around the school here,” Davis said.
“We know that the demands were to create a community center, a cultural center, that would be available to refugees, and of course the demands of the refugee movement are far vaster, because human beings deserve to be treated as human beings. All human beings deserve jobs, and housing and health care. So I want you to know that we are with you in your struggle,” David told the group. “And that we will take this information back to the United States and encourage people to support you as you move forward.
“As I was saying in the other meeting, the refugee movement is the movement of the 21st century. It’s the movement that is challenging the effects of global capitalism. It’s the movement that is calling for civil rights for all human beings, so thank you very much and good luck with your work.”
Watch video clip of Angela Davis speaking to African refugees in Berlin, Germany last week:
Davis, 71, headed the feminist studies program at the University of California, Santa Cruz, following her time as a leader in the Communist Party USA.
Davis, who came out as a lesbian in 1997, has also lectured as a visiting professor at Agnes Scott College in Atlanta, San Francisco State, Stanford University, Brown University and several other colleges. Earlier this year, she came to speak at Kennesaw State University in Kennesaw, a conservative suburban community just north of Atlanta. The university paid her $20,000 to speak and encountered a backlash from local Republicans.
Davis left the Communist Party in the 1990s to help found the Committees of Correspondence for Democracy and Socialism, which broke from the Communist Party USA because of the latter’s support of the Soviet coup attempt of 1991, according to Amy Lind’s 2008 book, “Battleground: Women, Gender and Sexuality.”
Davis encouraged the refugees in Germany to cultivate “a culture of resistance” focused on community organizing.
Since the fall of dictator Moammar Gadhafi in Libya and the resulting struggle for power there, Muslim refugees have been flooding from north Africa into Europe. Recently they have been arriving in boats at a rate of several thousand per week, overwhelming Italy especially.
Italy has taken in the boat people, offering food and temporary shelter while aiming to get fellow European countries to help with placement into permanent communities. Native-born populations have been divided in how to deal with the explosion in migrants coming into Europe but, like in the United States, any movement to block the entry of the refugees is met with accusations of racism and bigotry.
The U.S. takes in more United Nations refugees than any other country at about 70,000 per year.
But refugees are increasingly becoming politically active, as evidenced by their meeting with a professional Marxist organizer like Davis.
And it’s not only happening in Germany. Similar demands have been made among Somali refugees in Minnesota, where late last year a group of Somali women demanded that the county commissioners of Hennepin County stock the local food pantry with halal meat in accordance with Islamic dietary laws. Somali refugees in Seattle demanded better access to government-subsidized housing.
Passing the torch to a new generation
“The movements get recreated every generation,” Davis told the refugees in Germany. “Those today, they are the grandchildren of the activists back then, through organization, through music, the desire to resist, to speak out against the racism. Also the organizers. The organizers like you.”
She then issued more advice: Be tolerant of differing opinions and priorities among activists and avoid in-fighting against each other.
“There are always going to be contradictions. You have to work with those contradictions. … You don’t want everyone to think the same. You figure out how to work with those contradictions and make them productive.”
Davis was arrested, charged, tried and acquitted of conspiracy in the 1970 armed take-over of a Marin County courtroom, in which four people died.
Davis was closely tied to the Black Panther Party through her involvement in the civil rights movement in the late 1960s. She visited Cuba after her release from prison in the early 1970s and declared it a racism-free society.
“Only under socialism could the fight against racism be successfully executed,” she said, according to Mark Sawyer’s 2006 book, “Racial Politics in Post-Revolutionary Cuba.”
Her interests have included prisoner rights, Palestinian rights and now refugee rights. She is a retired professor and distinguished professor emerita with the History of Consciousness Department at the University of California, Santa Cruz. She was a distinguished visiting professor at Syracuse University in spring of 1992 and again in October 2010.
‘Excited’ to be teaching Marxism to young minds
Her research interests are feminism, African-American studies, critical theory, Marxism, popular music, social consciousness and the philosophy and history of punishment and prisons. Her membership in the Communist Party led to Ronald Reagan’s request in 1969 to have her barred from teaching at any university in the state of California. She was twice a candidate for vice president on the Communist Party USA ticket during the 1980s.
In a 1989 interview recorded for Washington University Libraries, Davis talked about her early days as a community organizer with the Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee in Los Angeles.
“And I was very excited about the work that we were able to do in the community,” she said. “Within a very short period of time we had hundreds of active members of the organization. I was the head of the Liberation School which I found extremely exciting, because I had always felt somewhat uncomfortable in the purely academic environment there I was able to teach Marx to community people, to young people.”