Radical futures

Last night Kyle and I went to the Radical Futures event to benefit The City School, Black and Pink, and Critical Resistance. Although the Berklee Performance Center’s seats were pretty cramped (on the other hand, its acoustics were awesome!), we greatly enjoyed this conversation between Angela Davis and Noam Chomsky, ably moderated by Vijay Prashad, which also featured performances by the Foundation Movement, Project Hip Hop, and a third artist we did not get to see.

There were eight hundred seats in the auditorium and the show was sold out. The audience was a racial mix, with whites predominating, and looked to be largely students. We were a progressive bunch—Angela Davis got a huge round of applause for questioning automatic support of same-sex marriage as an institution. (The word “indigenous” also got loud applause, suggesting a certain knee-jerk quality to our attention. At another point, Davis observed that we’re all getting a bit too comfortable with the term “intersectionality.”) Here are some of the topics discussed, with inexactly transcribed quotes.

Busing. Chomsky: “Busing and other integration programs were designed to set poor people against each other and to prevent white working-class people from understanding their situation politically.” He went back to the theme later: “Busing was created by nice, decent, liberal people whose class attitudes were so engrained I don’t think they even realized what the were doing.” Studies have shown that “well-intentioned busing programs were one of the main factors driving the white working class to the extreme right.”

Drugs. Chomsky: “Driving under the influence is far more lethal than drugs. But all of it pales totally when compared with the major drug dealer, tobacco.”

Obama. Davis on progressives’ disappointment with him: Many thought it unimaginable that they would live to see the election of a black President. “And after that, many of us thought it was unimaginable for a black man to act like President of the United States, which, after all, is what he is.”

Racist and intimate violence. Davis on her work in the sixties: “I think I thought then that progress would come in a much more obvious way—that there was no way this kind of racist violence would persist twenty, thirty, forty years later. What hasn’t changed is the assumption we make too often that individuals bear the responsibility for this racist violence.” After George Zimmerman’s arrest, she pointed out, “All the [protest] activity stopped. As if the arrest of one person could revese the whole history of racist violence against black and Latino people.”

Davis then went on to draw connections between the structures of our society, especially the prison industrial complex, and the cycle of violence among intimate partners and families. “Family and intimate violence continues to keep pace with the institutions of structural violence in the world.” Mass incarceration, she observed, is a diversion strategy which prevents us from making these connections by focusing our energy on the arrest and incarceration of perpetrators. “The heteropatriarchal family is inconceivable without its role as a haven for violence against women.”

Palestine. Davis: “Abolition of prisons should also involve open-air prisons. . . . I don’t think most people in this country really know what is going on in Palestine.” Chomsky: “Everything that Israel is doing, it’s doing because we allow it to.” He noted that the atmosphere in colleges has really changed: years ago he had to have police protection even to give a speech about Palestine at MIT, and now “you can’t get a hostile question.”

Chomsky also addressed the question of why the U.S. persists in supporting Israel. “How much do Palestinians contribute to U.S. power, and how much does Israel contribute to U.S. power? [The difference is] infinite. If you don’t contribute to U.S. power, you have no rights, by the most elementary principles of statecraft. In fact, the Palestinians have negative rights,” because they stir up a desire for solidarity and thus threaten the American status quo.

Media self-censorship. Chomsky: “You couldn’t get that kind of obedience in a totalitarian state. And it’s voluntary . . . it’s internalized.” Prashad: “But people know Kim Kardashian went to Bahrain.”

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