Civil rights activist Angela Davis speaks at Boca campus

The former Black Panthers member addressed the prison system and white supremacy in the U.S. as part of an event put on by the College of Arts and Letters.


Angela Davis adresses the crowd at the University Theatre during her sppech Thursday. Photo courtesy of Charles Pratt

Johan Vazquez, Contributing Writer

On a clear and cool Thursday night at the University Theatre, the Dorothy F. Schmidt College of Arts and Letters presented philosopher and political activist Angela Davis as the finale of its series of events relating to social justice.

Davis, who has a career in political activism dating back to the 60s — with her groundwork for intersectional feminism, the Black Panthers and The Communist Party USA — was met with enthusiasm and a long line to the theatre on the Boca campus.

“Maybe we need a Donald Trump to wake us up,” Davis said during the lecture. “Once he is elected and people rise up, we have to say, ‘Well, this is a good thing, because we never knew we had this kind of strength.’”

A particular group who seemed to hold this exact sentiment were five students in the “free speech” area, waving an Anti-Fascist Action flag.

Henry Calaway, a self-described anti-fascist and Marxist-Leninist, said he wanted to make it very clear he was in solidarity with Davis.

“We are showing this is a revolutionary space, a space that’s not open to white supremacists or supremacists of any kind,” Calaway said in reference to the recent events of white nationalist posters that were placed around campus.

The critique of white supremacy, Marxist anti-capitalism and prison abolition was a theme throughout the entire night.

As the audience filled the theatre and murmurs echoed, wondering what topics Davis might touch on, the lights dimmed and the keynote speaker walked on stage and was met with a standing ovation.

Ellie Vilakazi, a sophomore double majoring in philosophy and English, opened the lecture and spoke on the parallels between her home of South Africa and the oppression of blacks in the United States. As Vilakazi introduced Davis, she thanked Davis for her support of liberation movements not just in the U.S., but in South Africa and the world.

Taking the stage, Davis was met again with a standing ovation and for an hour discussed several topics, from the recent changes in the political climate, to the dismantling of prisons and a very clear message on the damaging effects of capitalism.

Starting strong and unapologetic, Davis mentioned her struggle against the prison-industrial complex, which convicted her and nearly put her to death before being acquitted. She also mentioned her excitement to visit FAU.

“I have been wanting to visit this university ever since I followed the story regarding the efforts to name the athletic stadium after the [for-profit prison corporation] GEO Group.”

Davis argued that prisons are places that we use to avoid dealing with the people we should work to rehabilitate instead. She also mentioned the problem of the “privatization of punishment,” which creates an economic system dependent on the conviction and exploitation of people who lack resources.

Finding the current prison-industrial complex to be the illegitimate child of slavery, Davis mentioned how appalled she was in the 60s when the prison population was around 200,000 people. Now it is close to 2.5 million, with the U.S. holding nearly 25 percent of the world prison population.

Davis also dove into race issues in the U.S. and the American presidency, citing her dissatisfaction with President Donald Trump’s handling of white supremacist groups.

“We know he wants to make America white supremacist again,” she said.

Hating to think of Trump as president, she also articulated how different groups must come together and overlook differences to deal with political actions that could bring harm to both.

Davis made the case to the audience that the university can be a place for political change and that it is the work of the educated person to ask questions from how we punish people, to the normalization of capitalism and even who we allow in our bathrooms. She also complimented the work of local branches of organizations on FAU’s campus, including Black Lives Matter and Students for Justice in Palestine.

As the lecture ended with a climactic standing ovation, a large portion of the crowd formed a line weaving across the lobby as Davis began to sign her most recent book, “Freedom is a Constant Struggle: Ferguson, Palestine, and the Foundations of a Movement.”

Vilakazi said that she was trying to stress the need for a unified America regardless of racial background.

“The point that I was trying to make is that black people need to be recognized as Americans, not Black Americans or African-Americans, but Americans. Latin people need to be integrated too into this, what it means to be American,” she said.

Johan Vasquez is a contributing writer with the University Press. For information regarding this or other stories, email [email protected] .