Activist Boots Riley speaks to University of Alabama students on Capitalism and Activism

Last Tuesday UA’s Department of Gender and Race Studies hosted a lecture by Boots Riley titled The Basis of Power.

The lecture hall was full for Riley, who is a musician, film director, and longtime activist. His most noteworthy form of activism can be seen through his 2018 film, “Sorry to Bother You,” starring Lakeith Stanfeild and Tessa Thompson. It examines the fight against capitalism in an overtly satirical way.

“I make my stuff for those who can possibly start a movement,” said Riley, when speaking on his film.

While the film turns into a sci-fi movie towards the end it is clear that Riley sees his movie is a reflection of America today.

In his lecture, Riley stressed the importance of organizing.

“A time were we [students] are figuring out how to shape the world. You can’t do things by yourself, there has to be an organization,” said Riley.

Imani Williams is a student entering the Gender and Race Studies Graduate Program, she attended the lecture.

“We have a negative connotation with the word radicalism and organization and like the idea of organizing,” said Williams.

Riley has been an activist since the late 1980s. He started his activism in his teens with the organization’s Occupy Oakland movement and The Young Comrades. He sees his work as a fight for all.

“Everyone thinks that they are not a part of the system, that they are the exception of the rule,” said Riley.

Aywen Chan is a graduate student in the Geography department at UA, as well as the former president of the university’s Students for Fair Labor. 

“I think it’s rare to see an individual who has had such a consistent track record of radical organizing,” Chan said.

Chan expanded on how many people seem to get burnt out on protesting and organizing after a few years.

“It’s really inspiring to see someone with a lifelong commitment to fighting for equity and workers’ rights,” Chan said.

Students and faculty stood in applause after Riley ended his lecture with his closing remarks, “Make a movement that is not only radical in vision, and not only a spectacle but has real teeth to achieve.”