The following quotations are from:
Angela Davis, Abolition Democracy
“The historian William Appleman Williams, in his very important little book, Empire as a Way of Life, spoke of an American ‘imperial history, imperial psychology, and imperial ethic.’ One could argue that Guantánamo and Abu Ghraib are exemplars of this imperial ethic and psychology. A psychology of utter contempt, disregard, dehumanization, and boundless hubris, on the one hand, and on the other, an ethics of impunity, asymmetry, and lawlessness. Are these not aspects of Empire as a way of life?
Yes, absolutely. But I still insist on the acknowledgement of the fact that the putative aim of this imperial project is to guarantee the rule of democracy. And this should be perceived as a glaring contradiction: the pursuit of global dominance by military means rationalized by the defense and spread of American democracy—or should we say capitalism? I find the underlying commodification even more menacing than the hubris, which is obviously displayed by the Bush administration and which many of us accept unquestioningly. The notion of democracy has been fashioned into something like a commodity that can be exported, sold to, or imposed upon entire populations.
The imperial dimension of this project is even more obvious when one considers the extent to which rights and liberties normally associated with democracy are cavalierly subordinated to asserting superiority and control over the peoples of the entire world. Consider how elections in Iraq are staged for the consumption of those in the United States. The right to vote, of course, is represented as the quintessential moment of democracy. Therefore we were asked to momentarily suspend our memory of what paved the way for these elections—the bombing, invasion and occupation that continues to cause deaths, maiming, destruction, the dismantling of institutions, and the desecration of one of the world’s oldest cultures. U.S. imperialism becomes even more menacing as it increasingly constrains our capacity to imagine what an authentic democracy might be. As the imposition of democracy is offered as primary aim of this military aggression, ‘democracy’ loses whatever substantive meaning it might have and is confined to the formality of exercising the right to vote. This limited notion of democracy—both for the Iraq and the U.S.—forecloses notions of democracy that insist on economic, racial, gender, and sexual justice and equality.” 79-81
“I think that there is a kind of identification between the American public and the president. This is what Williams calls the imperial psychology. I mean it is just staggering that despite Bush’s lying, deception, and manipulation, he manages to get reelected. When officers and presidents can trample on truth and law, as Arundhati Roy points out, we are in the midst of empire. Americans reelected him. Why? Isn’t this part of that imperial psychology?
A moral panic was generated by 9/11 and the subsequent specter of terrorism, which puts security at the center of all conversations, both conversations in favor of the war on Iraq and conversations in opposition to the war on Iraq. This focus on security as internal and external policing helps to manufacture the ubiquitous fear that causes people to ignore those dimensions of security that would require attention to such issues as health care, education, and housing, for example. The problem of the presidency is not primarily a question of deceit—most people, regardless of their political affiliations, and regardless of their level of education, take for granted the fact that politicians lie and deceive. Bush was reelected precisely because of the panic generated by the September 11 attacks and because of the ease with which we were all entranced by the images and rhetoric of nationalism associated with claims of U.S. citizenship. American exceptionalism is taken for granted and there is no popular discourse that allows us to understand that the superiority of the United States is grounded in exploitation and repression.
In the aftermath of 9/11, the ‘nation’ was offered as the primary mode of solidarity. That is to say, people were urged to seek refuge in their ‘Americanism,’ rather than to imagine themselves in solidarity with people throughout the world, including in those countries later marked as constituting an ‘axis of evil.’
Why were we so quick to imagine the nation as the limit of human solidarity, precisely at a moment when people all over the world identified with our pain and suffering? Why was it not possible to receive that solidarity in a way that allowed us to return it and to imagine ourselves more broadly as citizens of the world? This would have allowed for the inclusion of people within the U.S. not legally defined as ‘citizens.’ The production of the nation as the primary mode of solidarity excluded those within and without who were not legally citizens. The brutal attacks on people who appeared to be Muslim or Arab announced that racism was very much alive in the U.S. and striking out at new targets. So I suppose I am more concerned about the ease with which this moral panic emerged than I am about presidential dishonesty and deception.” 82-84
“‘Abolition democracy’ is a term used by DuBois in his work Black Reconstruction, his germinal study of the period immediately following slavery. George Lipsitz uses it today within contemporary contexts. I will try to explain briefly its applicability to three forms of abolitionism: the abolition of slavery, the abolition of the death penalty, and the abolition of the prison. DuBois argued that the abolition of slavery was accomplished only in the negative sense. In order to achieve the comprehensive abolition of slavery—after the institution was rendered illegal and black people were released from their chains—new institutions should have been created to incorporate black people into the social order. The idea that every former slave was supposed to receive forty acres and a mule is sometimes mocked as an unsophisticated rumor that circulated among slaves. Actually, this notion originated in a military order that conferred abandoned Confederate lands to freed black people in some parts of the South. But the continued demand for land and the animals needed to work it reflected an understanding among former slaves that slavery could not be truly abolished until people were provided with the economic means for their subsistence. They also needed access to educational institutions and needed to claim voting and other political rights, a process that had begun, but remained incomplete, during the short period of radical reconstruction that ended in 1877. DuBois thus argues that a host of democratic institutions are needed to fully achieve abolition—thus abolition democracy.
What, then, would it mean to abolish the death penalty? The problem is that most people assume that the only alternative to death is a life sentence without the possibility of parole. However, if we think about capital punishment as an inheritance of slavery, its abolition would also involve the creation of those institutions about which DuBois wrote—institutions that still remain to be built one hundred forty years after the end of slavery. If we link the abolition of capital punishment to the abolition of prisons, then we have to be willing to let go of the alternative of life without possibility of parole as the primary alternative. In thinking specifically about the abolition of prisons using the approach of abolition democracy, we would propose the creation of an array of social institutions that would begin to solve the social problems that set people on the track to prison, thereby helping to render the prison obsolete. There is a direct connection with slavery: when slavery was abolished, black people were set free, but they lacked access to the material resources that would enable them to fashion new, free lives. Prisons have thrived over the last century precisely because of the absence of those resources and the persistence of some of the deep structures of slavery. They cannot, therefore, be eliminated unless new institutions and resources are made available to those communities that provide, in large part, the human beings that make up the prison population.” 91-93