A full transcript of Dr. Davis' remarks can be found at Works in Progress.
Dr. Angela Davis:
When I accepted the invitation to speak at your commencement, I responded in the affirmative because I wanted to associate myself with a college that has a deeply progressive tradition. I wanted to associate myself with students, faculty and workers who defend the integrity of the environment, its resources, its plants, its human and its non-human animals, and who encourage others to engage in sustainable living practices.
I wanted to associate myself with an institution that continues to defend the spirit and legacy of one of the most prominent members of its community, Rachel Corrie. And I think that each graduating class should take a moment and reflect on her courage her generosity.
And I'm happy to hear that students and faculty on this campus, in the context of a 21st century resistance to Israeli apartheid, are following those who stood up against South African apartheid and are raising the demand for divestment.
This is a burgeoning movement, and you here at the Evergreen State College have the opportunity to provide progressive leadership to the rest of the country. As the anti-South African apartheid campaign was spurred on by those universities that divested early on, Michigan State University, in 1978 I believe, Columbia University, the University of Wisconsin. And of course, eventually virtually every school in the country followed their leadership.
Your education has provided you with tools to recognize that solidarity with progressive Palestinian people is also solidarity with progressive Jewish people in Israel.
And I should point out that I attended a university as an undergraduate which was founded in the same year as the state of Israel, Brandeis University, the majority of whose students were Jewish. And it was there as an undergraduate with my Jewish classmates that I learned how to express solidarity for Palestinian people. I will never forget that.
Remember also that, while everyone now praises Nelson Mandela and expresses joy that the people of South Africa were finally able to defeat apartheid, Mandela was not always recognized as this legendary defender of democracy. In fact, he was represented initially as a pariah, as a terrorist. Amnesty International did not initially support him because of his association with Umkhonto we Sizwe. So I want us to recall that history, to think about it in a complicated way, and to be aware of the important role South Africa is playing in calling for the support of the Boycott Divestment and Sanctions movement.
And I just want to share with you a very moving statement by Archbishop Tutu, who recently sent a message to the mayor of a town in Australia. The city council of that town decided to divest, and received a great deal of criticism as a result.
"Dear Mayor Fiona Byrne of Marrickville, New South Wales, Australia
"We in South Africa, who both suffered under apartheid and defeated it, have the moral right and responsibility to name and shame institutionalized separation, exclusion, and domination by one ethnic group over others. In my own eyes, I have seen how the Palestinians are oppressed, disposed, and exiled. We call on all our Jewish and Israeli sisters and brothers to oppose the Occupation and work for equality, justice, and peace between the river and the sea in the same way that so many South African whites took risk to oppose the crime of Apartheid."
And he concludes by saying, "Sometimes taking a public stand for what is ethical and right brings cost, but social justice on a local or global scale requires faith and courage."
If there is a skill we all need to acquire as we attempt to move forward in the 21st century, it is the ability to identity and act on an awareness of the links and connections across the range of issues we identify as crucial for democratic agendas today.
And so, those of us who call for freedom for Palestine acknowledge the connections between the attacks on the Palestinians in their own country and the racist discourse that relies on unquestioned acceptance of Islamophobia, which in turn is interpreted as necessary for the success of what has been represented as a global war on terror.