Grounding and Wisdom from Mab Segrest

Against a backdrop of devastating climate chaosfascist victories, and war mongering across the globe, the far right in the United states continues to push their dystopian vision of a world without civil and human rights, where capitalism and racism are unchecked, working people die from lack of health care, women and other people who can get pregnant have no bodily autonomy, and every queer and trans person is pushed back into the closet under threat of intense violence.  The many gains of the civil rights movement, feminism, labor struggles, and queer liberation are facing organized backlash.

Image of Mab Segrest on right. Short white hair, glasses, blue shirt, open jean jacket, standing in front of trees. Blue sky behind. On left black text on light blue background, text reads: "We've lived through this. I lived as a felon under North Carolina sodomy laws. I lived as a sinner. I lived under a psychiatric edict that homosexuality was pathology. Many of us did, and we broke all of those things, and if we have to we can break them again." -Mab Segrest. Bottom right corner, Catalyst Project logo white on black background. wrench inside gear.

Earlier this year, participants in the 2022 Anne Braden Program were fortunate to hear from antiracist organizer Mab Segrest. Mab spoke about the scope and direction of the attacks from the right on reproductive rights, on transpeople, on queer people, and on public education. Rooted in her long history of anti racist struggle and of being out and queer in a time when, as she discusses, queerness was criminalized, Mab’s talk was not only a sober assessment of our current reality, but also a call to be fierce and determined in our fight against fascism and for justice.  

Many people we talk to are struggling with despair and trying to figure out how to continue the fight for the world we need and know is possible, when faced with what feels like overwhelming odds. As we navigate how to keep moving forward, we are fortunate to learn from elders who’ve faced dire circumstances and remained steadfast in the struggle for justice.

We hope that Mab’s words, shared here, will help you to have hope and determination for the days and years ahead:

There is a foreboding out there among many of us that something terrible is unfolding, and we have to acknowledge both that fear and that reality. It makes us too crazy not to put language to this reality. But that does not equate to giving up hope. I don’t think that’s how hope works. Hope kicks in when the odds seem long, or the closeness of the contest presents radically different alternatives and we see the consequences of different outcomes clearly. Hope is not needed when you have won the lottery. And perhaps there are other gears than hope, like determination or righteous anger, to kick into. We also have to have a sense of history. We have been here before. And as my friend Pam McMichael points out, we have been working on this. Think of the mutual aid programs in response to the pandemic, and ways to protect our communities without reliance on the state.

Increasingly there are going to be states that are really brutally restrictive of reproductive rights and attacks on trans people and our families and voting rights and processes and the humanity of immigrants. And should the Insurrectionists take over Congress and the electoral apparatus, they can make federal legislation and call elections for themselves. Now that’s the worst scenario, but a scenario whose possibilities are coming on pretty fast. So I think we should take them really seriously without being freaked out or overwhelmed about it all – a big lift I know.

One of the things I think we really need to do is to draw some firm lines. One of the slogans from the Spanish Civil War was “No Pasaran!” “No Pasaran!” “You shall not pass!” And I’m not so sure we’re that firm about where that line is. Like, “You motherfuckers cannot have this! You cannot have queer children. You cannot have our families. You cannot have our right to vote. You just can’t have it. You cannot have it.” I’m interested in discussions of where those lines are, and what we do to defend them.

I think it is helpful to have these conversations intergenerationally because we have fought these people and these issues before. We have won before and we may have to retake some of our territory. Like many of my queer generation, I lived as a felon under North Carolina sodomy laws. We lived as sinners according to many Christian denominations’ narrow interpretations of a few scriptures, and have been pathologized by DSM diagnoses. I grew up in a county where white people voted in the bank vault and Black PhDs were denied ballots because they “failed” literacy tests.

But we broke through all those strictures and we can again. We lived through them and we had families anyway, we had powerful communities and alternative kinship networks outside of marriage And we insisted on and invented life affirming spiritual practices even as we called repressive religious institutions to account. And many of those creations were much richer and more powerful than marriage that brought queer relationships into the terrain of the state. We have developed ways to work within and across movements to take into account multiple vectors of power (e.g. intersectional organizing) which should make more of us stronger allies because we have come to recognize the imperative not to leave any of us behind or trade any of us off for illusory/short term political gains. All of this is in our muscle and our spiritual memory. We form communities. We have parties. We make families. We figure out how to organize when that strategy might not be exactly altogether legal. As we used to say in the old days, “An army of ex lovers cannot fail!”

The arc of the universe may feel like it is out there whipping around a bit too much, but we know how to ride it. We love each other. We know our history. We practice courage. We don’t give up on people. We figure it out. And what we are figuring out is a new way of being.

One of the characteristics of fascism is that it isolates, it atomizes, it destroys connections. But we cannot let them destroy those bonds. Our connections are our most important tool and weapon and pathway to that future just over the hill.