Angela Davis urges unity against repression

CHICAGO – The Chicago chapter of the National Alliance Against Racial and Political Repression (NAARPR) observed the organization’s 30th anniversary by holding a banquet that highlighted the urgent need for “regime change” here in the U.S. and called for ending the death penalty and stopping the criminalization and militarization of youth.

The event, which included a dinner, awards, and a keynote speech by Angela Davis, was attended by more than 400 people.

Davis focused on the need to ally the “de-carceration movement” with the struggle against the death penalty. Furthermore, what is needed, she said, “is solidarity between workers in prison and workers in the free world.” She argued that the incarceration, detention, and custodianship of millions of potentially free workers is detrimental to the interests of all workers. Prisoners become “slaves of the state” and are forced into compulsory work programs. There they are a source of subsidized labor for the same corporations that lay-off workers in droves.

Davis also touched on the connection between the military and the prison-industrial-complex. Young people, she said, are “forced into the war apparatus in order to avoid a path that leads to prison.”

The NAARPR was formed more than 30 years ago in the wake of the successful international campaign to free Davis, who had been arrested and charged in a politically-motivated frame-up case. Davis, who was a Communist Party member, could herself have faced the death penalty. She is now a tenured professor at University of California at Santa Cruz, and continues to be a leader in the movement to dismantle the ever growing prison-industrial-complex.

The question of the night was how to unite the various arms of the people’s movement. “The same forces that attack labor are oppressing poor people,” said speaker Charlene Mitchell, a national co-chair of the NAARPR. The U.S., she said, represents only 5 percent of the world’s population but incarcerates 25 percent of the world’s prison population.

All speakers emphasized the importance of reclaiming the victories of past struggles and passing the knowledge of history on to our youth. Davis gave a pointed example: in North Carolina, 65 percent of all people charged with lynching are Black. She noted that the term “lynching” had become so co-opted that “Black children now believe that lynching is a fist fight.” Davis demonstrated her ability as a professor as she detailed the history of capital punishment and its relationship to the criminal justice system.

The night’s awardees included Aaron Patterson, who was released from death row after a long campaign led to his exoneration. Patterson spoke eloquently about the urgency of keeping up the fight for all the innocents who remain incarcerated.

The author can be reached at bkishner@pww.org