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Apr 26, 2021 in Book Review

"Freedom is a Constant Struggle: Ferguson, Palestine, and the Foundations of a Movement" by Angela Davis

If you cannot reach your ideal, you can fight for it for all your life anyway. Angela Davis, the civil rights movement activist, the professor, and the former leader of the Communist Party US, struggles for the ideal democracy. Starting from the early 1960s, she has always found the most acute issues in the society and put her efforts to change the situation. Nowadays, in her sixties, Davis focuses on several important problems including the one of the women's rights. Moreover, she considers violence and discrimination against females as a part of socially legalized violence. Additionally, she is involved in the main civil rights activities, including the contradictory Black Lives Matter movement. Angela Davis uses her skills of a writer to share her ideas with the public, and the book Freedom is a Constant Struggle published in 2016 includes her ten latest speeches, interviews and essays that make it really worth reading. In this work, the reader can find her memories about the civil rights struggle in the 1960s, the evaluation of the current events, including Hillary Clinton's election campaign, and the inspiration to fight for one's ideals. Furthermore, Davis talks about white supremacy in the modern American society, black feminism, and prison abolitionism. After more than fifty years of struggle, this remarkable woman remains one of the most revolutionary minds in the country, and the book introduces the mix of philosophy, ideology and life experience that can invigorate millions to fight.

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Summary of Arguments

It is not the first book written by Davis, but this work is a kind of anthology. It is a collection of her essays, interviews, and speeches that reveals her personality, life experience, philosophy, and beliefs. Cornel West, the author of the foreword, calls her a long-distance intellectual freedom fighter and highlights her contribution to the civil rights movement success in the United States. As the collection of several different texts, the book has no plot and no identifiable thesis statement. However, there is some development on the philosophic level. Since the author is the living eyewitness of the Civil Rights Movement evolution in the United States in the last fifty years, she can prove the history moves spirally. For instance, in the sixties, when Davis was a child, there were frequent artificial fires in black settlements. In 2016, when the book was published, the issue of police violence against black people was a burning one again.

Overall, considering the struggle for civil rights, the woman claims that it is a fight against any forms of racial violence and discrimination. Moreover, she tries to show that new times create new challenges for civil activists and some old problems still exist in the society, for example, racial violence. Additionally, Davis proves that social violence has the intersectional character and states that while the state has legalized some forms of violence, the illegal violence exists, too. In addition to the discussion of civil rights struggle in general, Davis propagates the idea that intolerance and discrimination against African Americans is a part of the global social process. That is why is important to join the social movements and to protect people's rights. It is clear that civil rights activists have made a significant progress since the 1960s. However, the struggle is a constant process because new times pose new challenges and problems.

About the Author

Angela Yvonne Davis is an iconic figure in the US civil rights movement. She was born in 1944, and she has been a part of a social struggle for all her life. Her mother was close to the Communists; consequently, Angela was introduced into socialism and communism when she was sixteen. Later in her life, she occupied the key positions in the Communist Party USA, and she was such a prominent leader that she had the problems with the FBI. Davis was also close to Black Panther Party, the controversial black social organization that officially protected the rights of black population; however, unofficially, it was involved in numerous crimes. Nevertheless, at the time, they were allies for the writer.

For Davis, all her life is a struggle, and her aim is ideal democracy (Davis, 2017). On the way to her target, the woman need to be really flexible as the fight changes, opens new perspectives, challenges, and methods. Thus, it is no wonder that Davis, with the Communist and black rights movement background, is a feminist at the moment. In her system of life values, the perfect democracy should be free from any form of inequality and discrimination, including the gender one. She is also an adept of black feminism, which claims the discrimination by race, class, sexuality, and gender are closely connected. Therefore, using her brilliant rhetoric and invulnerable logics, Davis notices, highlights and discusses any forms of discrimination that is clearly seen in Freedom is a Constant Struggle.

Summary of Contents

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In the work, Davis often refers to intersectionality meaning that every kind of violence has the same roots. In particular, the persecution of the black people, gender discrimination, attacks on gay pride have the same origin and are just social violence. The short review of the content of the book should help to generalize the ideas and contribution of every piece of the text into the work as a whole. Thus, the first part called "Progressive Struggle against Insidious Capitalism Individualism" is an interview in Hampton Institute in which Davis makes an emphasis on the importance of the collectivism. The woman states that it is hard to deny the significance of the individualism when it goes about the ability to make the personal decisions. However, when it comes to social changes, the individual alone is weak. Even Nelson Mandela, one of the prominent world leaders, told his main achievements were reached collectively (Davis, 2017, p. 3). The next interview named "Ferguson Reminds us of the Importance of a Global Context" considers the social importance of the recent murder in the city of Ferguson where a police officer killed a black man. With regard to the fact, Davis notices that the role of police in the society is to protect and serve. However, unfortunately, it has transformed into the legal form of violence. Additionally, the writer claims the situation is more or less the same in every country: the state institution created to safeguard the civilians turns to the most aggressive power. Davis continues to raise the issue of the state monopoly on violence that is employed mainly by police, army, and prisons. She states the persecution of the police officer who killed the black victim in Fergusson is not enough for global changes and returns to the idea of collectivism as the driving power for the social changes saying "you will always defeat your own purposes if you cannot imagine the people around whom you are struggling as equal partners" (Davis, 2017, p. 26). The idea of systemic transformations in the global society is the topic of the next interview "We Have to Talk about Systemic Change". Davis touches upon the topics of racial violence, the necessity of the systemic changes, the role of the president in the process, and says that no president can make a difference in the society but a well-organized movement only. The next part of the book is a speech at SOAS University of London, which Davis attended as a guest speaker. The talk focuses on the activity of the transnational security agency G4S which as she claims provides services and equipment to Israeli prisons. The woman also talks about the ill-treatment and systematic tortures of Palestinian political prisoners in Israeli. In her opinion, it is another argument for the necessity of systemic changes. The next lecture, "Closures and Continuities" almost repeats the content of the previous one; however, it includes an important statement about the women's role in the civil rights movement. Angela Davis mentions the fact that in the 1950s, more than 90% of black females were the house workers, but Rosa Parks and other women liberated them, as the black soldiers in Civil War liberated their brothers from the slavery (Davis, 2017, p. 67). The essay "From Michael Brown to Assata Shakur, the Racist State of America Persists" focuses on the racial violence. In the center of the story, there is Assata Shakur, human rights activist from 1960s, who was demonized again forty years later. The speech "The Truth-Telling Project: Violence in America" proves the fact of racial prejudice among police officers. Revealing the facts of real violence against the black people in America, Davis inspires people to struggle for their rights. The speech "Political Activism and Protest" from the 1960s to the Age of Obama" commemorates the history of the black movements and highlights the existing issues, praising the election of the black president. "Transnational Solidarities" that is another talk included into the book highlights that the human rights violations are almost similar in different parts of the world. Therefore, Davis believes that one needs to change not only the laws in one separate country but the minds of all humans. As for the given review, it is mainly focused on the speech "Feminism and Abolition: Theories and Practices for the 21st Century".

The Main Strength and Weakness of the Book

To begin with, the greatest strength of the book is the systematic view. It is obvious that Davis's experience of participation in civil rights movements has crystallized hew beliefs and opinions. As a result, her logic is invulnerable, and she is very persuasive. Moreover, she repeats her main arguments from one speech to other, sharing new facts and evidence to support her point of view.

At the same time, the main weakness is the focus on black people's rights. Without denying the importance of their rights protection, it is necessary to mention that violence in society can be directed at the individuals of all races. Davis is African American; therefore, it is natural for her to protect her own social group. However, her enthusiasm regarding the issue of racial violence makes the impression that violence between people of a single race does not exist.

Connection to Course Concepts

Some of the ideas mentioned in the book are closely connected to the course concepts. Firstly, it is the notion of the feminist thinking. Bell Hooks (2007) writes the feminism cannot develop without male allies because it is anti-sexism; it is for equality and not for women privilege. Davis, with her dream of the equality for all social groups, repeats this idea.

The Second important notion that needs to be considered is the one of collectivism. Davis is absolutely sure that an individual cannot change the society on his/her own, and it can be achieved only by the social movement. In support of this idea, Hooks (2007) writes about the sisterhood that is still powerful. Lorde (2006) also mentions "a ring of women like warm bubbles keeping me afloat" meaning the group of females who support each other. Davis believes in the power of such groups, and Lorde proves it in practice. Thus, the book of Davis his closely connected with the course concepts.

Reflection

Speaking about personal reflection with regard to the book, I would recommend it to the wide audience. At the same time, it is really advisable to read by civil activists, history specialists, and specialists in social sciences. First, Davis is a prominent leader of the modern history. Her experience and memories help to understand the world we live in now, and why it is like this. Second, she is a good speaker. Her speeches are always well-structured, and each argument is supported with the facts. Third, Davis has really done a lot in the fight for her ideals, so she deserves respect. This woman inspires the generations of the civil rights activists who can study her books to understand their movement better.

The book should also be a part of Gender Studies course. Davis is very honest when she says freedom is a constant struggle. The reason is that she tries to change the human society. From the biological point of view, homo sapiens is just a kind of mammals, thus, violence is natural for people as for any living species. However, human society should not be based on violence, according to Davis, and the state monopoly on violence is the main obstacle to this. The state proposes to punish violence with violence, in particular, imprisonment that makes it legal. Davis wants to put the abolition of prisons into the feminist frame because she believes the violation against women will continue until the given system exists. Furthermore, she looks at the very roots of the social violence and concludes that while any form of violence can be legal in the human society, there is no chance to stop the illegal ones. Thus, to struggle against the sexism and women discrimination, it is necessary to resist violence in general. That is why the book should be included into Gender Studies course.

Conclusion

To sum up, Angela Davis has more than fifty years of experience of civil rights fight. She started with the Communists in the 1960s, was a member of many prominent movements, worked as a professor in California University and published several books. She is an expert in civil rights, including those of females. The book Freedom is a Constant Struggle (2016) is the collection of her speeches, interviews, and articles. In these texts, Angela Davis shares her views on the civil rights in the contemporary society. She describes her fight against the penitentiary system as the state-legalized form of violence and claims the new time creates new challenges. Davis can be considered as a feminist because her struggle for the civil rights includes the women's rights, too.

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