WASHINGTON WATCH ROUNDTABLE: The Political Activism Of ’60’s Revolutionary’ Angela Davis (VIDEO)

Roland Martin and the Washington Watch roundtable discuss the political activism of ’60’s revolutionary’ Angela Davis.

This week’s Washington Watch roundtable features Rahiel Tesfamariam, with UrbanCusp.com; Zerlina Maxwell, political analyst; Angela Rye with IMPACT, a principal there, a political action firm writer Michaela Angela Davis.

MR. MARTIN:  Right now, we’re joined by Rahiel Tesfamariam, of course, with UrbanCusp.com; Zerlina Maxwell, political analyst; also, Angela Rye.  She is with IMPACT, a principal there, a political action firm; and also writer Michaela Angela Davis.

And so I want to start with you.  This is a story that – a lot of people may have heard in passing “Angela Davis.”  They might have seen a t-shirt, or whatever.  But when I saw the documentary in New York at the Schomburg – it was a screening – there were so many things that folks really did not know.

And I want to start with Michaela because, Michaela, you moderated the Q&A afterwards.  And one of the things – you know, Angela Davis made it clear she was a communist.  What was interesting about this story [is] this really was a worldwide issue. This was not Black America.

MS. MICHAELA ANGELA DAVIS:  Yes, and that was what was so powerful, because so many of us think Angela Davis was part of the Black Panther Party.  First of all, she wasn’t –

MR. MARTIN:  Right.

MS. DAVIS:  — but then we also didn’t see the global impact of people in Russia and China and Germany supporting her, standing up for her, selling out Madison Square Garden.  That was completely cut out of my history of Angela, and I sought out to figure her out – right – you know, for obvious reasons.  I’m not her daughter.  Like, I got that straight, too.


MS. DAVIS:  But what was so powerful was the litany of voices – like, the white farmer that paid for her bail.  You know, this is what justice looks like.  It was global, and she was loved and supported globally; and we’ve never seen a black woman elevated like that, revered like that, loved like that by the world.  And that story was suppressed, and that’s why this documentary is critical.

MS. RAHIEL TESFAMARIAM:  Yeah, and I think another thing that’s – I don’t know if we’ve ever seen a black woman seen as a threat in that way.  I mean for me to see then Governor Reagan and President Nixon talking about her, the FBI looking for her – what does it mean for today, to raise a generation of young women that see themselves as political threats, intellectual threats, activist threats –


MS. TESFAMARIAM:  — and not much of what we’re seeing in the mainstream media, where they’re not much of a threat at all?

MS. ANGELA RYE:  My dad is a longtime community organizer, and he had the choice to name me, and I was named after Angela Davis.  And I think that, for me, what’s been very tough just growing up is – I haven’t seen the documentary, but the way in which she’s discussed and talked about in mainstream media is like she’s a threat and is like it’s very negative – as opposed to in my household, where she was a leader.  She was a champion for our rights – and for women.

MR. MARTIN:  But I want y’all to speak on this issue, because you talked about that issue of a threat.  I spoke to the folks at NSBE, National Society of Black Engineers, and I called the speech “It’s Time for 21st Century Black Revolutionaries.”  And what I said was that people forget this country – we had the American Revolution, and so it’s interesting when you talk about a black revolutionary, all of a sudden that becomes, “Oh, my God.”  That’s threatening –


MS. RYE:  Yeah.

MR. MARTIN:  — as opposed to other folks who are fighting for change, who are actually revolutionaries.  And –

MS. RYE:  And powerful.

MR. MARTIN:  — “Oh, no, no, no.  They were American patriots.”



MR. MARTIN:  And so when you think about – Zerlina, when you think about Angela Davis, when you think about others during that period, to sit here and somehow think that even today, that notion is still a threat – that shows to me all this “post-racial” nonsense discussion is absolutely irrelevant.

MS. MAXWELL:  Absolutely!  I mean nobody – as Michael Eric Dyson says, “You can’t be post-racial, but you can be post-racist.”

I think part of it is that we just focus too much on appearances, again, of women and not their power.  I think Angela Davis is a good example of someone who uses her voice to empower women, to be strong, to talk about the important issues and to fight back for what she believes in instead of just cowering and sort of, you know, going into how females are conditioned to be polite and not to “lean forward,” as Sheryl Sandburg would say.

And so I think that she’s just a great example for the next generation, and I hope that they’re paying attention, and I hope that they see the documentary and implement some of the lessons that she taught us.

MR. MARTIN:  Well, Michaela –

MS. DAVIS:  What’s really power- —

MR. MARTIN:  — does –

MS. DAVIS:  — oh, I’m sorry.  [Chuckles.]  What’s really powerful – we were all talking about this – is that she won.

MS. MAXWELL:  Right.

MS. DAVIS:  She won for real.  She’s not bitter.  She’s not broken.  She’s not broke.  She’s standing tall and able to tell her story in real time, and I think that’s really significant, because often we celebrate people after they’re gone.

MS. MAXWELL:  Absolutely.  Absolutely.

MS. DAVIS:  And she’s not just standing; she’s standing fly

MS. MAXWELL:  Absolutely.

MS. DAVIS:  — and fierce.  And her girls – Sonia Sanchez was there, and Kathleen Cleaver was there, and Ruby Dee and Harry Belafonte.  All these real revolutionaries were there, standing with her.  And now a whole new generation gets to see what radical thought really looks like, and she made it clear that when we have radical thought, they call us “militants.”


MS. DAVIS:  Right?  And they call white people with radical thought “intellectuals.”  And she’s also framed in this film as the fierce intellectual she is.  She spoke in German and in French, and – [unintelligible] – and was, like, the leading German philosophy scholar of her time.  And no one has told us that story.

We’ve seen the story of the afro.

MR. MARTIN:  Right.  And when you think about Angela Davis, when you think about the director Shola Lynch, she also did –

MS. DAVIS:  Shirley Chisholm.

MR. MARTIN:  — a piece on Shirley Chisholm –

MS. RYE:  “Unbought and Unbossed.”

MR. MARTIN:  — do you believe, though, that this generation understands those powerful women?  Or, do they think in terms that, in [the] present day, Beyoncé is powerful.

MS. TESFAMARIAM:  I think they’re both described as icons – Angela Davis and Beyoncé.  They’re iconic for different reasons, though.  And one thing we were talking about before the segment is just what does it mean to be iconic, because everything you do is to uplift the whole, to uplift the community.

MR. MARTIN:  Right.

MS. TESFAMARIAM:  The difference I would make between, say, a Beyoncé and Angela Davis is that one uses entertainment for individual purposes.  She, at the end of the day, is making money; and she’s building an empire for her and her family.  I believe everything Angela Davis did was for the betterment of a people and their struggle and community uplift.

MR. MARTIN:  In fact –


MR. MARTIN:  — she actually said –


MR. MARTIN:  — that.

MS. TESFAMARIAM:  — she says

MR. MARTIN:  She actually –


MR. MARTIN:  — said that, for her, it was about the collective –


MR. MARTIN:  — and it wasn’t about just an individual.

MS. TESFAMARIAM:  And it’s important to remember as we train another generation of young women to be the full of who they are.  To what end are they doing it?  So that their face is on television, their voices are heard?  Or, the Angela Davis paradigm, where you do it because you’re lifting other people as you climb to the top?

MS. DAVIS:  Everyone who can hear this, bring some young people to see “Free Angela and All Political Prisoners,” because children can’t raise themselves.

MR. MARTIN:  Right.

MS. DAVIS:  So, we’re responsible for bringing them the story.