Noted activist, scholar, feminist, and former Black Panther Angela Davis joined a growing list of notable figures to speak to Occupy Wall Street participants Sunday evening.
Davis addressed the General Assembly of Occupy Washington Square Park, a smaller group autonomous of, but loosely affiliated with Occupy Wall Street.
At least 250 people gathered in a semicircle in front of the park’s arch as Davis read a prepared speech from her smartphone that she also delivered to Occupy Wall Street in Zuccotti Park later that night.
She told the crowd that the occupations taking place nationwide are “new strategies for democracy” and then called for a general strike on Nov. 2 to protest police brutality, including the recent the injury to Scott Olsen at Occupy Oakland. She asked participants to “Occupy everywhere” and to refrain from attending work and school.
Davis’ speech, which lasted for about an hour, tackled a wide range of issues including racism, homophobia, police violence, military occupations, and the prison industrial complex.
True to OWS form, Davis spoke to the General Assembly using the “People’s Mic,” which requires the speaker to pause after making a brief statement so that her words can be repeated verbatim by all GA members in order to amplify the words spoken.
Davis answered questions after her speech, including inquiries about whether people should vote in the upcoming presidential elections and how young activists can combat apathy among their peers.
In response to whether people should refrain from voting as a form of protest, Davis responded, “The two party system has never worked. It does not work now, and we clearly need alternatives.” Davis suggested that in the meantime, people should participate in the upcoming 2012 election to keep a Republican candidate from taking office.
Speaking over “Down with capitalism!” cheers, Davis said the public “should imagine a time when money becomes obsolete.”
“In the meantime, there is a whole range of issues that can define our radical struggle,” she said.
When a GA member asked what Davis thought of the language of OWS and what it means to occupy a space given the nation’s history of colonialism, she replied saying that OWS and similar movements have reclaimed the meaning of the word “occupy.”
“We turned occupation into something that is beautiful,” Davis said.
For Davis, a Birmingham, Ala. native, the speech was something of a homecoming — she attended Elisabeth Irwin High School, also known as LREI, in Greenwich Village as a part of a program that placed African-American teenagers from the south into integrated schools in northern states such as New York
Following her graduation from the program, Davis would go on to become one of the Black Panther Party’s most notable members, later landing on the FBI’s Most Wanted Fugitives List for her radical activist efforts.
Davis’ appearance in New York City yesterday was not her first to an Occupy Wall Street affiliate. On Friday, after speaking to the International Herbert Marcuse Society at the University of Pennsylvania, Davis addressed Occupy Philly, offering the same thoughts she shared in Manhattan.
Davis made her support of the movement known earlier this month, after being honored at the BET Networks Black Girls Rock! taping. On the day of show, Davis spoke about OWS and similar encampments nationwide. She told Ms. Drama TV, “People are beginning to stand up and beginning to recognize the extent in which the financial establishment and corporate capitalism is destroying our country.”
Shawn Carrié, 22, a facilitator with Occupy Washington Square Park, said that while OWSP stands in solidarity with OWS, it’s different because OWSP wants to address the challenges facing the Greenwich Village community, which is home to thousands of artists and students.
“Some of [the] issues are very specific to the geographic neighborhood,” Carrié, said, mentioning the increased frequency of tickets given to the park’s musicians and performers, which some say “takes away from the very spirit” that draws people to the park. He also mentioned NYU’s impact on the neighborhood, something that has caused dissent among residents for years.
Carrié, said Davis’s appearance was organized by OWSP’s education and empowerment working group. To date, OWSP has six working groups; OWS has about 75.
Davis is not the first activist to visit OWSP, Carrié, said. Last week, feminist author Judith Butler spoke to its GA.
The group has held general assemblies everyday since it first convened in mid-October. The last time The Voice wrote about OWSP, the group was deliberating setting up an encampment in the park, despite the public park’s midnight curfew.
On Oct. 15, after OWS participants took over Times Square, police arrested 14 people after they attempted to stay in the park after midnight, following a rally that drew about 3,000 to the park.
But Carrié, said the group has moved past deliberating a long-term physical occupation.
“We’ve moved past occupying the park and setting up an encampment,” Carrié said, explaining that the increasingly cold weather played a role in that decision. Their focus is on “engaging in direct democracy,” and reclaiming ideas.