Angela Davis, Feminist Solidarity
In this lesson, students will explore the life and intellectual arguments of Angela Davis. Students will engage in a diverse set of activities to better make sense of the struggles of women and historically marginalized communities. Students will understand her call for social solidarity and explore issues of power, class, capitalism, sexism, racism, and other injustices within the context of American history through texts and a jigsaw activity. Students will look at issues ranging from broader critiques of feminism to prison industrial complex to the election of Donald J. Trump in 2016. In addition, students will develop a greater understanding of how intersectionality impacted and still impacts the feminist movement today.
1.Students will be able to analyze primary and secondary sources to better understand and feel historical empathy towards modern feminists and their struggle for equity.
2. Students will be able to analyze and synthesize primary and secondary sources to better understand the experience of women in the 1970s to present.
3. Students will be engaged in a series of activities centered around the life of Angela Davis to understand the interconnectedness of issues of power, racism, sexism, capitalism, and other injustices.
Students should be able to contextualize second-wave feminism in the context of the broader Civil Rights movements of the 1960s and be aware of first-wave feminism and the fight for suffrage, including critiques of the Civil Rights movement from the left. In advance of class, students should read a brief biography of Angela Davis.
1. 4 signs which say Strongly Agree, Agree, Disagree, Strongly Disagree posted on printer paper
2. Transcript of PBS Interview with Angela Davis (excerpted)
3. “Women’s March Speech” by Angela Davis
4. Quotes by Angela Davis (see below)
1. Do Now:
Direct students to examine the chart and respond to the following prompts:
- Which identities are most important to you as an individual?
- How do your competing identities allow for privilege? How do they inhibit it?
2. Use the barometer activity from Facing History and Ourselves to help students may sense of Angela Davis and her worldview. Read several statements from Davis out loud and ask students to move to the appropriate corner of the room (strongly agree, agree, disagree, strongly disagree). Ask students why they placed themselves in each corner of the room when appropriate. When doing this activity, it is important to remind students of classroom norms and guidelines for civility in the classroom.
Statements for barometer activity
- “The idea of freedom is inspiring. But what does it mean? If you are free in a political sense but have no food, what’s that? The freedom to starve?”
- “Revolution is a serious thing, the most serious thing about a revolutionary’s life. When one commits oneself to the struggle it must be for a lifetime.”
- “I feel that the reason why racism is so blatant and has been a part of the history of black people from the time we were first kidnapped from the shores of Africa is because it has helped those capitalists gain more and more profit. If you look at any factory or any plant – who does the worst jobs? Who gets paid the smallest salaries? It’s black people. So racism serves as a buttress, as a justification for super-exploitation. And I feel that if we’re going to talk about the total liberation of black people, we first have to liberate ourselves from the material conditions of our oppression.”
3. Students should read aloud the transcript (located below) between an interviewer for PBS and Angela Davis. This should be framed as a critique of capitalism and it should be noted that Davis affiliated with the Communist Party multiple times throughout her live. After reading the transcript, students should discuss the following questions in groups and then as a whole class.
Discussion Questions for Small Groups
1. How in this interview does, Davis argue for social solidarity? Why does she see this as the only path forward?
2. According to Davis, how has the black community evolved over time? What are the consequences of this heterogeneity?
3. In your opinion, how does one build social solidarity across social groups?
4. Students should be placed in groups of four. Teacher should explain the context of the speech, and the day after President Trump’s 2017 Inauguration. Students should read the speech together and answer these three sections.
Questions for Reading
1.Where does Davis touch on themes of intersectionality in this speech?
2.Why must supporters at this address (the Women’s March) look beyond the cause of women?
3. To what extent do you believe that coalition building amongst very different groups with competing interests and beliefs, a possibility?
4. Exit Ticket: In a famous speech at the Dolores Huerta Foundation, Angela Davis was quoted as saying
“Oftentimes today looking back, we think about discrete and distinct movements. We think that the Black movement was one movement and then that the Chicano movement was over here and then there was the Native American movement, but all those movements, and the individuals within those movements, were connected and we knew that one movement would not be successful without the other.”
Based on what you have learned today, assess the validity of that statement. In other words, does there need to be social solidarity to ensure success of each individual moment?
5. Following the Exit Ticket, the teacher should assign the homework below. This assignment intersects with identity, current events, and Davis’ call for social solidarity and allows students to accept or reject Davis’ call.
Based on what you have learned today about Angela Davis and intersectionality, pick an issue that you care about and analyze it from multiple perspectives, including those different from your own. Think about issues of race, gender, class, sexual orientation, religion, immigration status, ability, etc. and then respond to the following question:
- Based on your analysis, how might solutions differ depending on your perspective?
- To what extent does Angela Davis’ call for solidarity across and between demographic groups resonate with you? Why or why not?
- Do you find Angela Davis’ ideas to be radical? Why or why not?
Standards- C3 and Common Core
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RI.11-12.2 Determine two or more central ideas of a text and analyze their development over the course of the text, including how they interact and build on one another to provide a complex analysis; provide an objective summary of the text.
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RI.11-12.6 Determine an author’s point of view or purpose in a text in which the rhetoric is particularly effective, analyzing how style and content contribute to the power, persuasiveness, or beauty of the text.
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RH.11-12.4 Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in a text, including analyzing how an author uses and refines the meaning of a key term over the course of a text (e.g., how Madison defines faction in Federalist No. 10).
Analyze complex and interacting factors that influenced the perspectives of people during different historical eras.
D2.His.3.9-12. Use questions generated about individuals and groups to assess how the significance of their actions changes over time and is shaped by the historical context.
Evaluate how historical events and developments were shaped by unique circumstances of time and place as well as broader historical contexts.