Contact: Amy Mei Willis, Southern Regional VP
Atlanta, GA—The Birmingham Civil Rights Institute announced it was canceling its gala and rescinding the Fred Shuttlesworth Human Rights Award that was to be given to activist and scholar Dr. Angela Davis, a vocal supporter of the Boycott Divestment and Sanctions movement for Palestinian rights.
As lawyers, law students, legal workers, and activists we are dedicated to the elimination of racism in all of its forms. Living in the South we know the importance of place, and how it interacts with our memories and narratives moving forward. Lest we forget that it is here, at the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute (BCRI), that one can look across the street at the 16th Street Baptist Church, a place that reminds us of the suffering and oppression of black people, and also symbolizes hope and resilience. It is deeply disappointing that BCRI has retracted the invitation and canceled the awards dinner for its Fred Shuttlesworth Award. Also, it is appalling that the award would be rescinded due to Dr. Angela Davis’s support of Palestinian political prisoners, and the nonviolent Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement.
The BDS movement is part of a long tradition of freedom movements using economic pressure as a non-violent tactic. This legacy is particularly strong in the American South. In fact, Omar Barghouti, a co-founder of the movement, points out BDS was“ inspired partly by the American civil rights movement.” The well-documented and internationally recognized violations of Palestinian human rights by the Israeli government and military are an intentional consequence of ideological, political, legal, economic, and military systems known better as Zionism. BDS is not, and should never be confused with, anti-semitism. Rather, it is our moral consciousness put into action. Suggesting that BDS is synonymous with anti-semitism invisibilizes Jews, including members of the NLG Southern Region, who oppose the state of Israel’s human rights record and support BDS as a non-violent resistance strategy. Palestine matters because ending colonialism matters. Palestine matters because we must stand up and say that all people have the right to dignity, and self-determination. Palestine matters because the fight against global white supremacy won’t be over until the structural inequalities throughout Israel/Palestine are addressed and made right.
This week the US Senate attempted to bring bill S1 to the floor that would attempt to silence the BDS movement and chill our freedom of speech. Dr. Angela Davis has always spoken truth to power, and devoted much of her lifelong activism to international solidarity. By connecting U.S. grassroots campaigns against state violence and racism to movement struggles in other parts of the world, Dr. Davis helps the world become more intimate. She brings us closer to understanding the nature of justice, and that the collective work needed to dismantle systemic injustice requires that we call out all oppression.
As Dr. Davis said, “the rescinding of this invitation was thus not primarily an attack against me but rather against the spirit of the indivisibility of justice”.
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The National Lawyers Guild (NLG), founded in 1937 as the first multi-racial, human rights bar association, is committed to ending white supremacy in all its forms; including within our own organization. NLG members provide mass defense legal support for community organizers participating in anti-racist direct actions and other forms of protests.
Above: Angela Davis with the Lewis & Clark Law NLG abolition group’s biweekly visit to McLaren Youth Correctional Facility in March 2018.