A standing room only crowd of nearly 2,000 people welcomed renowned activist and scholar Angela Davis to Detroit to celebrate the 40th anniversary of her acquittal on trumped up charges of murder, kidnapping and conspiracy. They were black, white, brown, young, old, gay and straight. The event, held last night at Fellowship Chapel on the city’s northwest side, was a powerful demonstration of the respect and affection Detroiters have for Professor Davis and her history of struggle for economic, racial and gender justice.
The program included a who’s who of Detroiters including Fellowship Pastor Wendell Anthony, Congressman John Conyers, Detroit City Councilperson Jo Ann Watson, Metro Detroit AFL-CIO President Chris (Christos) Michalakis, Retired Wayne County Circuit Court Judge and civil rights activist Claudia Morcom, Metro AFL-CIO Civil Rights Committee Chair Michele Artt and UAW Vice-President Cindy Estrada.
In his opening remarks, Rev. Anthony described the outpouring as “an expression of Detroiters’ love for activism and historical correctness.” Councilperson Watson called Prof. Davis “the queen mother of the movement” and brought a testimonial resolution from the Detroit City Council honoring her.
A common thread running through the remarks of all speakers was the importance of the November 6 election. Alluding to the fact that Prof. Davis had come to Detroit thirteen days before the election, Congressman Conyers said it was a “night where we not only remember history but plan how we’re going to make history…Dr. Davis, you’re right on time!”
President Michalakis emphasized the importance of the election to the “future of our democracy.” He called attention to three statewide ballot proposals. He called for a no vote on Prop. 1 which would allow the governor to impose emergency ﬁnancial managers on municipalities and school districts that he determines to be in ﬁnancial difficulty. These ﬁnancial dictators could usurp the powers of local elected ofﬁcials and unilaterally void collective bargaining agreements. He called for yes votes on Prop. 2 and 4. Prop. 2 would amend the state constitution to guarantee collective bargaining rights and prevent enactment of “right-to-work” legislation. Prop. 4 would create a home care worker registry for seniors and guarantee collective bargaining rights for home care workers.
Claudia Morcom introduced Prof. Davis. Forty years ago, Judge Morcom was a chairperson of the Detroit Free Angela Committee and recalled helping to organize a celebration of Prof. Davis’ acquittal at the state fairgrounds in Detroit which drew 10,000 people. She described Prof. Davis as “one who has never forgotten the idea that unless we’re united as a community of people – black, white, brown, yellow, we can never really accomplish anything, but if we do, we can accomplish anything.”
Prof. Davis rose to speak to a standing ovation from the audience. She recalled the rally at the fairgrounds and coming to Detroit many times in her role as a co-chairperson of the National Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression and for events such as the rally to save the Dodge Main plant in 1979. Her address was wide-ranging but emphasized the importance of the upcoming election. “As we go to the polls, she said, “let us recall that no one thought it was possible to elect a black president,” and while some are disappointed in the pace of change she cautioned that we should put that disappointment “into context.”
She challenged the audience to imagine what it would be like following President Obama’s election if we had taken to the streets the day after inauguration both to celebrate and to pressure him on the issues that we all care about.” She cautioned that “we should never expect to elect a president to lead us to the Promised Land…we have to do it for ourselves.”
Emphasizing the relationship between electoral politics and mass movement politics, Prof. Davis outlined a number of “issues that progressives have to force onto the national political agenda” including an end to all of the union busting strategies, the rights of undocumented workers and students, women’s reproductive rights, prisoners’ rights, the rights of the LGBT communities, and combating anti-communism and the growing “Islamophobia” brought on by the so-called “war on terror.”
As regards, the issue of “Islamophobia,” Prof. Davis spoke at length about centrality of the Israeli oppression of the Palestinian people to the discontent in the Muslim world. She challenged the audience to see themselves as “world citizens” and recognize “that Israeli apartheid…is just as bad” as that of South African apartheid. “It’s about time we stood up and recognized that an injustice anywhere…is an injustice everywhere.” She then concluded her address by saying that “we need peace, justice, equality, and socialism for us all.”
Following Prof. Davis’ address, Michele Artt spoke on behalf of the committee which organized the event, “Detroit Welcomes Angela Davis,” and asked for contributions to help defray expenses.
The last speaker, UAW Vice-President Cindy Estrada spoke of the importance of collective bargaining to Michigan workers and small business people. She related her father’s experience as a small businessperson whose success was dependent on the incomes his customers derived from their unions’ collective bargaining efforts. She made an impassioned plea for members of the audience to get involved in get-out-the vote activities in support of Prop. 2 and other union backed proposals and candidates.