46 pages 1 hour read

Angela Y. Davis

Freedom Is a Constant Struggle

Nonfiction | Book | Adult | Published in 2015

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Summary and Study Guide

Overview

Freedom is a Constant Struggle is a collection of interviews, speeches, and essays by speaker, political activist, and scholar Angela Y. Davis, edited by French author and activist Frank Barat and dated between 2013 and 2015. Many of the essays in this collection coincided with or took place soon after the mass movement and protests in Ferguson, Missouri, after the police killing of Michael Brown in August 2014. The collection contains three interviews with Barat, six transcripts of speeches presented to a variety of audiences, and one published essay in the Guardian. This study guide refers to the 2016 Haymarket Books edition of the book, originally published in 2015.

Through the course of the collection, Davis discusses political movements throughout history up to modern day and covers a wide range of topics, including feminism, racism, and prison abolition. However, at its heart, Davis’s book is a call to action for activists of the present and the future. Not only does she want her audience to see how struggles for freedom are connected, but she also wants people to commit to a lifelong fight against oppression throughout the world. She advises her audience to deepen their understanding of what needs to be done as part of the struggle for freedom. The book’s title reflects her foundational message that we must be prepared and willing to engage in struggles for freedom that are continuations of historical movements and will bring us closer to a better future.

Summary

Freedom is a Constant Struggle opens with a series of three 2014 interviews between Davis, the interviewee, and Frank Barat. In the first interview, Davis emphasizes the importance of collective efforts in progressive struggles and discusses the ills of capitalism, using the global prison-industrial complex as a prime example. She builds on the idea of collective effort in the second interview, introducing the idea of global solidarity by noting the similarities between struggles around the world, such as Ferguson and Palestine, and argues for an understanding of structural racism rather than treating events such as the killings of Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown as isolated incidents. She picks up that argument in the third interview, arguing that society needs to work toward systemic change; she also highlights the importance of intersectionality in progressive movements and notes that understanding of other movements around the world offers a way of better building toward that goal.

Davis uses a speech a week after Nelson Mandela’s death to argue for collective effort rather than individualism, noting that the public treats him as a hero although he himself rejected individualism. She encourages support for Palestine by equating the Palestinian struggle to South African apartheid, and she compares the repression and imprisonment of Palestinians to mass incarceration in the United States. In a 2013 speech at Birkbeck University, Davis warns against viewing pivotal events in history as “closures” that give a sense of certain social problems as being resolved; for example, statues of Martin Luther King Jr. honor his life but draw attention away from the continuing struggles of the era.

In a piece for the Guardian, Davis argues that the concepts of “terror” and “terrorism” in the United States have come to encompass anyone who identifies with current fights against racism or capitalism. In St. Louis, Davis further discusses the idea of closure versus continuity and looks hopefully to new organizations that incorporate Black feminist theories and practices, noting a shift away from the focus on male heroes.

A speech at the University of Chicago addresses the importance of feminism as Davis voices her belief that feminism and abolitionism should inform each other. She also stresses that criminalization only reproduces the cycle of violence and calls on her audience to focus on systemic problems rather than individual perpetrators. Davis speaks to an audience at Davidson College about solidarity and interconnectedness between movements, then shifts her attention to the misconstruing of “civil rights” with “freedom,” which narrows our notion of freedom and obscures ongoing nature of the struggle; and she addresses the recent reelection of Barack Obama, seeing it as a symbol of progress but noting the work still to be done. Finally, Davis speaks to an audience in Istanbul, where she calls for international solidarity and draws a parallel between the situation of Black people in the United States and the Armenian genocide in Turkey. She concludes by stating that intersectionality—not just of identities but of struggles all over the world—is key to developing such transnational solidarity.

Through her analysis, Davis advocates for her vision of a future society rooted in abolition and a feminism that centers around intersectionality. At the same time, she points out pitfalls activists should avoid, such as the dangers of individualism and limited forms of thinking. While discussing the legacies of past movements for freedom, Davis demonstrates the power of collective effort and the continuities of many of the same problems that have existed since the era of slavery. Drawing from her own experiences from a lifelong dedication to activism and political movements, Davis connects movements for freedom across time and space. By the end of the book, Davis has woven together a large web of interconnections that display the commonalities between many struggles that she hopes will be the foundation of global solidarity.

Readers today may find many of Davis’s arguments and lessons that are within the context of a then-nascent Black Lives Matter movement have retained relevance in light of the Black Lives Matter protests in summer 2020 and international protests in support of Palestine in 2021.

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