ST PETER — Internationally known prisoner rights and peace activist Angela Davis said her activism and notoriety escalated in 1969 when she was fired from her first teaching job at UCLA for being a member of the Communist Party, USA.
She told a packed Christ’s Chapel at Gustavus Adolphus College that she had reservations about joining the Communist Party.
“Because I didn’t think they were radical enough.”
Davis, who calls for the abolition of the “prison industrial complex,” said the prison system is not only racist and can’t rehabilitate anyone, but fundamentally fuels other social problems, particularly violence.
“It’s a system of imprisonment that is driven by racism that has its roots in the history of slavery,” she said, noting that there are more black men in prison today than there were slaves in the 1850s.
The racist, violent nature of prisons, she said, creates a violent mindset that spills out to the streets and homes of American men and women. She said people view the victims of police brutality or racist violence as young colored men.
“But consider that in this country women are the most consistent targets of violence. Why can’t we make the connection about violence in intimate settings, abuse, rape with the violence that’s inflicted on the streets, inflicted by the police, inflicted by institutions?”
Davis spoke Saturday at the Building Bridges Conference. In its 18th year, the topic of this year’s student-led conference was “Sentenced for Life: Confronting the Calamity of Mass Incarceration.”
Davis’ political activism began at a young age in Birmingham, Ala., and continued through her high school years in New York. But after being fired from teaching — by a board of directors that included ex officio member Ronald Reagan — her notoriety and influence grew.
“I went from absolute anonymity to being the focus of media attention from all over the world.”