Lisa Thompson


As Interviewed by Femi Makinde, March 27,2019

Lisa B Thompson: In Her Own Words

I first heard about apartheid while I was an undergrad student at UCLA in the 1980ís. I learned about what was going on in South Africa, and I was horrified to learn about the imprisonment of Nelson Mandela.

I remember going to rallies on campus and watching and listening to students and local organizers talking about the issues, we would chant and do marches on campus.

I believe that the most exciting moment was when word got out that we where taking over the major administration building. There would be no work getting done we shut down the whole building. We ended up sleeping in there overnight. It was crazy being in there at night, in a campus university building. There where teach-ins in different hallways and different graduate students where teaching the undergraduate students about the issues and other things about black history, and I was really struck by the bravery of my classmates. They where more advanced than I was I was probably a sophomore at that time, and they where very knowledgeable and strategic about how to get the attention not only of the university administration but of the L.A. media.

I recall the university police being on campus trying to break up the demonstrations also at one point, I think the students where going to take over a faculty building and they brought SWAT out. I remember looking them in the face of the young man that was on the SWAT time that was in charge of the area that I was in and he had a military rifle pointed at us and I was thinking: Oh my goodness heís really scared. Itís possible that he will out of fear shoot one of us or that if the gun slipped he could accidentally kill someone. Thatís when I realized this is a different kind of thing, that protesting isnít theater but that itís real and there are real people who are afraid, and he didnít understand that we where all unarmed and we where facing people with M16ís basically so it was pretty intense. I think they had intent on protecting the property of the university and that if we where to resist there was possibility of danger. They where pushing us back in a tactical line of officers a few feet apart with a rifle basically taking the perimeter back and pushing everybody out.

I would go during the day, I didnít want to sleep at night in the tent. The tent village they basically took over one of the quads at UCLA and they where there for months so we would bring them food and water and different things that they needed. People where also engaged with sit-ins and teach-ins, during that time too.

I would characterize it as it was an integrated public university but we lived segregated life, basically the African-American students spent a lot of their time together and socializing together, we had our own strong close knit community.

I did know (about apartheid) before I started protesting, and I think that was a really excellent strategy by the BSA to educate students first. Once you educate people about certain things like people are doing now about climate change it then makes sense this is the thing you feel upset about. You know about it first and then are much more willing to take action.
It made me feel that we had agency and power and not have to just live in a society or in a world that was unjust and without raising our voices, using our actions to challenge what we saw, and that at the time that it happened I really didnít believe that I would live to see Nelson Mandela be freed. Seeing that happened really gave me great joy.

I saw him when he came to Los Angeles and heard him speak and Iíll never forget it I was way up in the stands, not like I could touch the hem of his garment but it was striking to be in the same space as he was and it was a glorious night.