Legendary activists Angela Davis and Gloria Steinem sat onstage opposite each other on Thursday night to take part in a meaningful discussion that was as magical as they are.
It was a rare but remarkable evening. The two icons came together at the Brooklyn Museum in New York to celebrate Davis, who was honored as this year's recipient of the Sackler Center First Award, a distinction reserved for outstanding women who have broken barriers and made significant contributions in their respective fields. Both Davis and Steinem know a thing or two about that.
Davis is a leading freedom fighter whose legacy dominates throughout black history. Her work highlights the intersection of issues like race, gender, prison and politics, which brought her major attention in the early '70s for her radical activism and relentless mission to fight for the freedom of political prisoners everywhere. Steinem is no stranger from strong advocacy work, either. As a standout scholar and feminist icon who has always stressed intersectionality, Steinem's activism is just as significant.
On Thursday, before Davis accepted her award, the two sat down for a candid conversation on Davis' work and wisdom following a partial screening of a 2013 film titled, "Free Angela and All Political Prisoners." The film, directed by Shola Lynch, documents Davis' revolutionary life and powerfully chronicles the obstacles she overcame in fighting oppression (a fight she still pursues).
"What helped you survive?" Steinem asked Davis before an auditorium packed with remarkable women and social justice organizers.
"What made feel capable of getting up every day and moving forward was the fact that there were so many other people involved in the struggle," Davis responded. "This was not my struggle alone."
"I could only see myself as being one of many others and that helped me," Davis added. "I didn't feel alone."
During the conversation, Davis discussed the importance of community building and cultivating global connections. She explained how, oftentimes, people may see their struggles as experiences that are unique to them when support and solidarity from others are absent, and stressed why that unnecessary burden must be lifted.
"We are so much more than individuals," she said. "We're connected to people all over the world who experience the same kind of traumas. If only we can gather the strength and courage that comes from feeling a part of a larger community, then we can accomplish all kinds of things."
"We are so much more than individuals." Angela Davis
Steinem agreed. As one of the legendary leaders of the feminist movement, she said this is what movements are all about. In discussing the topic more, Steinem didn't miss the opportunity to ask Davis to share her thoughts on powerful present-day movements like "Black Lives Matter."
"Black Lives Matter, this is what we've been waiting for," Davis said about the urgent needs the movement fulfills among civil rights advocates. "This is a historical conjuncture where all the ingredients came together in an amazing way and Opal, Patrisse and Alicia (the co-founders of the movement) were able to read the times and understand that this is what we need at this moment."
As a seasoned activist, Davis said racism has been revealed in ways that she, and other elder activists, thought would have been "consigned to the dust bins of history" by now. However, while Davis said that may not be the case, she highlighted the need for social justice organizations like Black Lives Matter, the Justice League in New York and BYP 100 in Chicago to continue to develop strategies to confront and stand up against racism and oppression.
"All of this is connected and I think that is a moment when there is so much promise, so much potential," Davis said. "Of course we never know what the outcome is going to be, we can never predict the consequences of the work that we do. But as I always like to say, we have to act as if it is possible to build a revolution and to radically transform the world."