Angela Davis—scholar, freedom fighter, former political prisoner, icon and my personal hero—told attendees at the "Black Matters: The Futures of Black Scholarship and Activism" conference at the University of Texas at Austin that she is not so “narcissistic” to say that she won’t vote for Hillary Clinton.
“I have serious problems with the other candidate, but I am not so narcissistic to say I cannot bring myself to vote for her,” Davis said.
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The reactions on social media were swift and polarizing:
Davis also talked about the importance of this election, the need to stop Donald Trump at any cost, and that too much is at stake not to vote: “Too much energy went into the struggle for voting rights not to go to the polls.”
Angela Davis. On the current election.
A video posted by Jo (@jonubian) on Sep 30, 2016 at 4:39pm PDT
Davis has previously declined to endorse political candidates, instead staying true to an independent politic that centers the need to build a third party that is dedicated to the liberation of oppressed and marginalized people. In March, Democracy Nowˆs Amy Goodman asked Davis if she would be endorsing a candidate. Davis responded:
Endorsing? I don’t endorse. But let me say that, well, to be frank, I’ve actually never voted for one of the two-party—two major parties in a presidential election before Barack Obama. I believe in independent politics. I still think that we need a new party, a party that is grounded in labor, a party that can speak to all of the issues around racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, what is happening in the world. We don’t yet have that party. And even as we participate in this electoral process, as it exists today, I think we need to be looking ahead toward a very different kind of political process. At the same time, we put pressure on whoever is running. So I’m actually more interested in helping to develop mass movements that can create the kind of pressure that will force whoever is elected or whoever becomes the candidate to move in more progressive directions.
Goodman also asked Davis how she felt about Clinton’s use of the word “superpredator” (I outline the history of the term and Bill and Hillary Clinton’s racial politics in the ’90s here) and her impatience with black activists. Again, Davis responded:
I think it’s really wonderful that Black Lives Matter activists are participating in this electoral period in this way, forcing candidates to speak on issues about which they might not speak. And, of course, Hillary Clinton should have said, "Well, I was wrong to use the term 'superpredators.' What I know now, I didn’t necessarily know then." There are many ways in which she could have disavowed it. And we know, of course, that the Clinton administration was responsible, at least in part, in large part, for the buildup of what is now called mass incarceration with the passage of the 1994 crime bill. It seems to me that if she’s interested in the votes of not only African Americans and people of color, but of all people who are progressive and attempting to speak out against the racism of overincarceration, she would simply say, "I was wrong then," that "superpredator" is a racially coded term. It’s so interesting that she is—she tends to rely on a kind of universalism that prevents her from acknowledging the extent to which racism is so much a force and an influence in this country.
Also on The Root: “For the Record: ‘Superpredators’ Is Absolutely a Racist Term”
As I noted previously, Clinton did eventually acknowledge that “superpredator” was the wrong term to use and that the Clinton tough-on-crime policies of the ’90s had a traumatic impact on black and Latinx communities in particular. Bill Clinton, however, stumping for his wife in Philadelphia earlier this year, doubled down on the policies and HRC’s support of it:
“I don’t know how you would describe the gang leaders who got 13-year-olds hopped up on crack and sent them out in the streets to murder other African-American children,” said Clinton. “Maybe you thought they were good citizens, [Hillary] didn’t. You are defending the people who kill the lives you say matter.”
Hillary Clinton did not distance herself from those statements.
She has also voiced strong support for Israel, despite its violent occupation of Palestine. However, Davis, author of Freedom Is a Constant Struggle: Ferguson, Palestine, and the Foundations of a Movement, is committed to liberation for the Palestinian people.
Also of note, Davis began the evening acknowledging that they were assembling on “colonized land”—bringing the genocide of indigenous people into the space. This was particularly powerful in this moment as the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and other First Nations fight against the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline, a hypercapitalist project that threatens their water and desecrates their sacred burial grounds. The tribes and their allies have faced violence from security officers, yet neither of the two major-party candidates has even uttered their names.
These vast differences in ideology between Davis and Clinton seem as if they would pose a problem for Davis—and perhaps they do. But she still made her position clear today, saying, “We should have learned by now … the arena of electoral politics militates against the expression of radical militant perspective.”
Davis seems to have joined the ranks of justice seekers and freedom fighters who believe that stopping Trump—by any means necessary—should be the priority.
This, of course, does nothing to dismantle a political duopoly that continues to deprioritize and terrorize black, brown, indigenous and poor people. But it is a perspective that is gaining louder support as November draws near: that this election is different because Trump is different and that voting for third-party candidates—which is not synonymous with continuing to build independent parties—can wait.
The Black Matters bonference was organized by the University of Texas at Austin's black-studies department. Davis’ entire keynote can be seen here once it becomes available.
Editor's note: Click here to read the author's response to the controversy surrounding this article.