Imara Jones at Creating Change 2024 – REPLAY

On Saturday, June 20, TransLash founder and CEO Imara Jones moderated Creating Change 2024′s closing plenary in New Orleans, Louisiana.

Some very powerful discussions were had about where queer and trans people fit in our democracy ahead of the 2024 elections. Additionally, Imara and the panel discussed how trust fits into any social movement and our society as a whole. Watch the replay and access the transcript below:

CREATING CHANGE CLOSING PLENARY TRANSCRIPT FEAT. IMARA JONES

Raquel Willis: Ugh, it just, it feels so good to hear our people shower us with love and validation and affirmation and just fire to keep going. So we’re gonna continue this fire with a powerful and timely conversation. And it’s only just gonna scratch the surface of what we are going to be focused on this year. But we know you’ll take the nuggets and take it even further.

So I’m thrilled and honored, gotta slow it down, right? I am thrilled and honored to welcome my sister and trans icon, Imara Jones, whose platform and production apparatus TransLash Media has been recognized all the way from GLAAD to the National Association of Black Journalists.

And joining Imara is Task Force Executive Director Kierra Johnson, Executive Director of the 22nd Century Initiative Scot Nakagawa, Coya White Hat-Artichoker, who is the movement practitioner at Solidaire Network. Baby, we gonna get our titles in there. And Ash-Lee Woodward Henderson, Co-Executive Director of the Highlander Research & Education Center. Let’s go.

THE RISE OF FASCISM IN THE UNITED STATES

Imara Jones: So I’m gonna be generous with us on the clock. I may not necessarily follow the clock because I’m gonna also take back some time that I think is really important to unpack this. So I’m just letting y’all know and I’m letting the people running the clock know that. So when y’all start flashing it, you know, keep flashing it.

Panelist: What’d we say yesterday? fuck that, fuck that.

Imara Jones: Listen, I don’t even know why it’s up here.

So there are three big questions that I’m gonna ask of you all. And what I hope that we can do is give a sense of where all of these people who are experts in democracy from the bottom up think we are going.

How do we learn to work together and to trust each other at, at a time when trust is at an all time low, but at an all time high in terms of necessity?

And then lastly, what do we want to do? What should people be doing in this moment?

Those are going to be kind of the course of our conversation.

Now those are three big questions and a simple number three. But with all these people, it’s gonna take a minute to unpack. So when, as we’re moving through, I want you to know that there is a journey that we’re going on in this conversation and that we hope that we will leave here with a sense of what everyone can do if you want to do something.

So the panel, this panel has three big terms, right? Democracy, fascism, and a queer vote, right? Three big concepts. We could spend like the entire panel on any one of those particular terms, but we’ve put them all in the same panel.

And one of the things that we know is that even though the United States is a democracy, that in the course of the past 20 years, the United States has been sliding down the league table of democratic, of the strength of the democracy here. That’s a reality.

At the same time, we know that democracy here is complicated because it has always been tinged with authoritarianism. It has always been tinged with elements of the next word that we want to explore, which is fascism.

I think one of the little known facts of history is that the Nuremberg Laws, which were the basis for fascism in Nazi Germany, were actual actually modeled on the Jim Crow laws of Alabama.

So there’s a complicated history here, even as we move into another term, fascism, right? Which is about the dominance of the whole over the individual in all these ways. As someone on our panel said, if we were truly in a fascist country right now, we couldn’t have this meeting, we wouldn’t be here today.

And lastly, in between these two big concepts that are wrestling with each other right now, where do queer people fit and where do queer people fit in terms of making our voice heard? Not only in blocking the bad things, but in creating the world that we need to exist so that we can not only survive but thrive.

So against that backdrop, I just wanted to start with you, Scot, and I’m wondering, as this is at the heart of what your organization does, if you can just tell us what you see as the temperature right now. What’s the state of play?

Scot Nakagawa: Okay, well thank you for the question. The state of play: things are not looking good for us. When we at the 2nd Century Initiative. I have to remember which century I’m in, the 22nd century initiative, you know, assesses what the state of play is. We look at not just what’s happening in the United States, but what’s happening globally.

What we know is about 72% of the people of the world live under autocratic governments. That’s up from 46% just 10 years ago. So authoritarianism globally is on the march. And free expression, free press, fair and clean elections, are deteriorating all the way across the globe because of it.

Only a small minority of people in the world now live in countries that are actually growing more democratic.

So that’s what’s happening on the global stage. Here in the United States, we see that reflected in what’s happening in our politics.

And what’s important I think for us to recognize is that while what we’re facing here may not take the form of fascism, the march to authoritarianism here is being facilitated through fascistic politics, fascistic tactics, right? Divide and conquer, us versus them, naming certain groups as takers, as burdens upon society, as not legitimately here.

Evoking a mythic past, make America great again. Take America back, right? Basically telling us a story of a time, once upon a time, when an exclusive group of people lived in this continent because they were able to exclude others from citizenship.

It was, everything was just cool as can be, right? It is BS, but that’s the story they tell.

And in order to evoke a kind of a sense in people of entitlement, and the rage that’s necessary to drive them to purge the elements that they believe are actually holding them back from realizing that past in the future. And they are creating a context of unreality, basically of fake news, of every kind of false narrative in order to create a situation in which we are unable to tell truth from lies, fact from fiction.

In order for straw men, like one of our candidates for president on the Republican side, to be able to step up and say, I can clear this up. I am an only, I can fix this and I can do it on day one. And they are evoking, and this is really important for us, sexual anxiety and gender and race status anxieties among the dominant group in the United States.

Heterosexual, white, cisgender, and relatively financially privileged people. Making them adopt a sense of victimhood that justifies the rage that they feel over that falling status and what they might do in the name of it.

And all together in order to be able to put in place a kind of law and order regime, controlled by a straw man who can make all conflicts, stop, stabilize the economy and stabilize our politics by deciding who gets to play and who doesn’t get to play, who gets to have and who doesn’t get to have, that’s where we’re at, right?

They may accomplish their goals through elections, but they are building the base for their politics through these kinds of fascistic politics. And so we should be thinking about fascism. It may not be where we land, but it is one possible future for us, and get ready for it.

Imara Jones: Before I go to Ash. One of the things I think that is important to kind of clarify right now is when you say fascistic, what do you mean? Right?

Because some people will look at the United States and say it’s a fascist regime right now because of these, as you say, fascistic tendencies. So can you just talk a little bit about how you make the distinction between what you say are the tendencies or the tactics, what those are, and versus like how they can be used in a democratic context, right? Adding complexity.

Scot: Well, it might be more helpful for us to think about authoritarian versus democratic, right?

So, you know, a democratic government, however incomplete, however you know it may fail us, is based on the rule of law, is based in constitutional principles that we have at least at some level agreed to, that dictates what can and can’t happen.

So that individuals who have power can’t simply arbitrarily decide, you’re my enemy, you have to go, I disagree with you, you must be silenced. It is a system that is supported by competitive elections as opposed to single party rule. And that’s what democracy basically is, right?

It’s also importantly a process for arriving at outcomes but doesn’t guarantee us all of the outcomes we want. But it does give us a voice in determining what those outcomes might be.

An authoritarian government is one in which, or an autocratic government, in which one person basically makes all the rules. It’s ruled by man, not by law, right?

And that’s the situation that we’re headed toward that is exemplified in like every aspect of Donald Trump’s behavior. None of it is incidental, none of it is, you know. And similarly, you know, DeSantis and other candidates who are vying for that power, it’s absolutely at the center of the cult of personality that they are creating.

DEMOCRACY UNDER THREAT IN THE SOUTH

Imara Jones: But Ash, I think one of the complexities that you can speak to because you know your organization works on building democracy in an area of the country that has been the least democratic throughout the entire history of the country, right? Yeah. And one of the things that’s been a hallmark of that is the ability of people to figure out how to game a rule of law system in order to create hierarchy and hierarchy, which, you know, we are struggling with to this day. And so I’m wondering if you can talk a little bit about that, and then some of the personal ways in which you’ve seen authoritarianism show up even in the experience of Highlander.

Ash-Lee Woodward Henderson: Hey y’all. I came a long way for that weak ass “hey,” so we gonna try that one more time, especially if I’m gonna have to like, share my trauma with you to get you to believe what I’m saying.

So we’re gonna try that one more time. You ready?

That was not encouraging. Are you ready?

That’s better.

What’s good fam? For those of you that know me, you know my dad is a missionary Baptist preacher, so when I talk to people, I’m used to ’em talking back to me. You should feel free to do that as I share my experience.

So thank you, Imara, for this and Kierra, for your incredible work. Yeah. I mean, wave at me if you’re Black. What’s up y’all? Hey, friends. Hi. What’s going?

I think most Black Americans or folks that identify as African in America would argue that multiple things have to be true at the same fucking time. Because though I, I do agree, and this is the thing, the trick for anybody that watched fascism 101, you know that nobody agrees about what fascism actually is.

So though I agree with my comrade Scot, and we’ve had this conversation on a thousand webinars over the last few years that yes, the United States at this point is not on the federal level a fascist government. And yes, there is a fascist movement to take over the federal government. They haven’t won yet.

Now, zoom in to where I’m from, the great state of East Tennessee, right? Right. And I could tell you beyond a shadow of a doubt that the right wing trifecta is in full effect. And the MAGA authoritarian fascistic movement inside of of the GOP is ruling.

You don’t believe me? Okay, I can prove it.

Remember how hyped y’all were about the Tennessee 3? Anybody remember the Tennessee 3? All right, so shout out to the Justins and Gloria. Y’all know that those are three seats, right? And the Republican party basically said, y’all don’t get to govern.

Now let me show you how it’s political theater. Guess how many Democrats are in that particular branch of the government anyway? Somebody said three, it’s more than three, but it’s not even close to a majority, right? So those three seats weren’t gonna make me feel a whole lot more represented anyhow. Right? And then guess what? Everybody already knew they were gonna get back in the seats, right? So though it looks to be a democratic process, it’s just a whole bunch of political theater, right?

So for those of you that might be annoyed with the save democracy crew, which I am a part of, I get it. It’s a show. Okay? You still don’t believe me.

How many of y’all are like, fuck Joe Biden. Yeah, I know, I know, I know, I know, I know, I know y’all in here. Fuck Joe Biden, I agree with you and I don’t like fascism. Right? That’s also true. And this motherfucker out here condoning genocide, right? Shit is complicated.

Some things are obvious, right? Fascism is bad, some things should be obvious. Democracy is good and when everybody gets it, everybody, including the people I don’t fuck with, we actually tend to come up with better solutions to how to build society together.

So what that looks like in the South, the Dangerous Homosexuals of the South, can you just wave at me? Why does it matter that there are so many dangerous homosexuals in the South? Well, you know, it’s the highest concentration of LGBT. Y’all know we’re the majority, right? It’s not the Castro, it’s not the, you know, it’s not New York, it’s the South.

Panelist: That’s right. True.

Ash: Did you know that the highest concentration of Black people, where is it the highest concentration of Black people? South? South? Wow. Right?

And, and you can imagine that if the highest concentration of Black people and the highest concentration of queer and trans and gender nonconforming people is in the South, that probably a big ass chunk of Black queers and gender nonconforming people live. Where? Damn, ain’t that something interesting?

So if I was thinking about what, who I should be learning from if I wanted to, y’all, y’all get there. Just wait. I’m gonna give you an opportunity to shout. So if I wanted to fight fascism and you heard tomorrow say that like folks in the South have been dealing with fascists for a very long time and you wanna build democracy and folks in the South were like commies before most of everybody else was. How about it?

Ash: We’re building cooperative economics. We’re’re figuring out how to make a way outta no way. We’re showing up in social and political solidarity with one another in times and places that have been totally conceded by most progressives and the left while being totally taken over by the right wing.

Then maybe if I wanted to learn how to build democracy in a dire strait, maybe you should pay attention to the queers of color in the South.

To the question of, you know, what time is it on the clock of the world? It’s fucking bleak. You know my tradition, my faith tradition says that, you know, it’s usually darkest right before the sun comes up, right? And it’s that kind of dark, it’s like can’t see your hand in front of your face, right? I have friends in the education system in Tennessee that can go to jail for having books about Black people in their classroom.

I live in a state where I could go to jail for taking a bottle of water to the polls to give to a friend of mine who might be standing in line for hours because they don’t have enough voting machines. Y’all know if I vote for Joe Biden it won’t count. Did you know that?

Okay, lemme break that down real quick ’cause I know, I know I’m at time. Fuck the electoral college, right? So, but that’s whoever said it, wave at me. if you said electoral college, you right?

So basically what happens in my state, most Southern states is, you know, that whole one man won vote situation, JK jk. So I can go and cast a ballot for the next president of the United States and likely, you know, a lot of people will go, not a lot of people in my state, but some people in my state will go and vote for Joe Biden, right? All those people that vote for Joe Biden are gonna get outnumbered by people who vote for whoever the GOP nominee is, right? And when that happens, my state says, okay, the most democratic thing we can do is give all the folks that will go decide the electoral college, who the next president will be to the person who won the majority of the popular vote.

So what that means, all of the since, since the GOP nominee is gonna win the popular vote in Tennessee, then I get no electorate. Right? Now on the flip side, some of y’all live in places like Georgia. Any Georgians in the house? I figured y’all rolled deep everywhere y’all fucking go. So I figured it where one or two are gathered, there’s 20 Georgians. So I figured now if I was voting in Georgia, that might be a different ball game. ‘Cause guess what? You know, Georgia saved democracy in 2020.

You might not remember. You might not remember because, you know, white people decided they were gonna fuck it all up. And so the day that we were should have been celebrating on January 6th, white people tried to, you know, take over the government and everything. So not all of the white people, but some of the white people.

So if I lived in Georgia in November of 2024, my vote might count in a different way than, than my vote would count in a place like Tennessee.

And that’s also why the South is important to this conversation, is that the longer you continue to concede territory, not believing that in a place where the majority of Black people, the majority of queers live, is possible to play a significant part in building democracy, you will lose, right? As goes the South, so goes the nation, isn’t an opinion, it’s a fact.

So, you know, what I would say about fascism is that for some of us, it might feel like you live in a fascist state if you are queer or trans. If you are working class or disabled, if you’re fucking Palestinian or don’t have papers in this country for any number of reasons. If your identity is criminalized, which is a part of the fascist playbook, if you don’t know about the fascist playbook, if you check it out, like there’s so many reasons why you might feel like, yeah man, let this motherfucker burn. I get it. I get it. And if we’re gonna, if that’s going right, you can wave at me if you one of them people you like, let this motherfucker burn. You can be proud of that. I get it. I’m not shaming you.

And I’m saying if that’s where you at, then you need to have a strategy to keep my folks safe. Right? I’m with you. If we always do what we’ve always done, we gonna always get what we always got. I agree with you. So if you don’t wanna vote for Joe Biden, then you better make it politically impossible for somebody better not to win. All right? And if you are gonna vote for Joe Biden, you better do everything in your motherfucking power to make sure that he calls for a ceasefire or that he gives us reparations or a fucking child tax credit or something. Cancel student debt. He gotta give me something. He gotta gimme something, right? He’s gotta codify Roe, right? He’s gotta do something.

And it’s gotta be bigger than him saying he’s cool if I marry my girlfriend. Yeah, I know y’all in here too. The ones that was only with me when I was working to get y’all some marriage. And then once we got married, y’all was gone. It is bigger than that. It’s bigger than that.

So what’s that mean? What that means is, is like get in where you fit in. I know we gonna talk about this more in a minute, so I’m gonna shut up. But get in, get in where you fit in around this fight and fascism thing because like our actual lives literally depend on it.

INDIGENOUS PERSPECTIVES ON DEMOCRACY

Imara Jones: So Coya, nothing I think speaks to again, this complexity of wrestling with these contradictory tendencies in America than the experience of Native people in America. The fact-

Coya: (sarcastically) What? No, no, no.

Imara Jones: I mean, of course the fact that Native people have experienced genocide on this soil,

Audience: Still are, still are,

Imara Jones: I said have experienced that there’s no, ending to that, have experienced that on this soil, right? At the same time that Native people have developed a really complicated relationship with the democracy, right? With a balance between participating and resistance at various times and adapt strategy of survival. And as a person who, a friend of mine who’s Native said, you know, they’ve been trying to kill us for 500 years. We were here when they got here, and we will be here when they leave.

And so I’m wondering what do you think is really instructive about the way in which there has been this, you know, half a millennium strategy of cooperating and resisting and participating all at various times that is really relevant to the conversation today.

Coya Hope White Hat-Artichoker: Yeah. Thank you. And I appreciate the question. And also I appreciate my esteemed panel. These are very smart people. I’m happy to be among you. And I’m also like the clock. I just, oh, so I’m gonna talk fast ’cause I wrote notes.

And I enter the space as a queer Indigenous person who has been doing a lot of work in reproductive justice for most of my life. Thanks. And, and that’s important for me to talk about because I think in RJ we talk a lot about bodily autonomy, but as Indigenous people, we talk about sovereignty, right?

And I think as queer people, we talk about sexual freedom.

There is a connection to all of these things. There’s a through line, right?

And for me as an Indigenous person, it’s sovereignty, right? Because I, and I say that as a political term, like I always feel like saying autonomy is like I’m asking for that. But if I say sovereignty, it is inherent. That’s right. It is mine, right? And as a queer Indigenous person, I see us as queer folks seeking our, our queer sovereignty, right? Like, that is what we’re talking about.

Coya Hope White Hat-Artichoker: We’re talking about the ability to do what we want with our bodies, right? And as RJ folks, that’s what we talk about, right? And I bring this up because I know I committed, I say all this because I do enter this conversation from a different point.

As a Lakota person and as a survivor and as somebody who’s actively surviving genocide, you know, democracy has not historically worked out for us. It, it’s not, I cannot, you know, it’s not something that like feels as though it is gonna help me get to liberation.

And I think that’s the question on my mind is like, what does my community look like when it’s liberated? And I think that like I, I know I keep looking at democracy and being like, Hmm. So then I, you know, and I like tinker with it. And I have worked in electoral politics quite a bit, so I know it inside and out. But I, I feel like, you know, the question for me is like, what is it that I want? Right?

And so I, I feel like one of the things that has come up is that like, you know, democracy to me is a harm reduction model. Like it’s the least we can do to help keep our community safe. But if you ask me if it is going to liberate us, I don’t believe that.

And I say that as like, not to blow up the conversation, but simply because I can look at example after example, after example, right? And the most recent was the fall of Dobbs in my world, right? Legislation did not save us. The Supreme Court did not save us, right?

And I also enter the conversation coming from not only as an Indigenous person who has serious questions about democracy, but also like, are we, what are we striving for?

Again, to the question, like, I feel as though democracy is fundamentally flawed when the constitution, or what is it, the bill of, right? One of ’em says that we’re merciless Indian savages.

That is the Declaration of Independence.

Coya Hope White Hat-Artichoker: And that is fundamental to this country, right?

And I feel like part of what it means for America to succeed, and you can look at how tribes are treated and blood quantum, look into that. Like there is an ongoing project to erase us because then America will be complete as a project. Yeah.

And that is what democracy is.

It’s a project and it’s a good one, I think as a concept. Awesome. In application. I have serious questions.

And the last thing I’ll say is because, or the other thing I wanna tie it to is, you know, like, so I say harm reduction, and I’m like, are we looking at reform of a fundamentally flawed model? Or are we looking at revolution because I want revolution, right?

Because my people are not gonna continue to thrive under the current circumstances. We have not. Right? So the other thing that this brings up for me that I want to, there was this question of like, what do we wanna ask people? What do we want?

I was in Minneapolis when George Floyd was murdered and I was, I, it was very close to my home. And I lived through, I was in the riots, I was in the protests. And I want people to understand that like the state completely failed us for five or six days as a punishment for our protests. And because we burned a police precinct down, which has not been done anywhere else. The, yeah, I, I dig it.

But because we did that, the state intentionally punished us. They would not send the fire department, the police department. There was about 20 blocks where like, that’s why so many buildings burned in Minneapolis. The state failed us. They didn’t do it as like, because it fell apart. They did it as an intentional choice. And that is why like, that was a very scary time, right? And there were multiple things that were happening in white nationalists, and it was a very scary time.

But what I saw was community taking care of itself outside of the state. And I think if there’s anything that I would ask as an Indigenous person who remembers a time before democracy came to our shores, is I would ask you to interrogate like whether or not democracy is working for you, right?

And whether or not it’s the thing that we need to continue to like chip away at, or do we need to start to dream of what it looks like to build a world without the state.

(Audience Applause)

Imara Jones: Would y’all go to the church of Coya and Ash?

Ash: That would be something.

Imara Jones: That’s something. Oh, yes, I know was on. So kind of moving us on to the second question. Regardless of where you fit in on the spectrum, if you get in where you fit in, like you said, Ash, either to do what Coya said, which is think of revolution and building a better world and constructing that.

Or if you’re working to save democracy as it is, or if you are working to amend democracy, that’s going to be a project that you have to do with other people. What, where whatever you’re choosing to do, you have to do that with other people. It’s impossible to do by yourself.

And a key part of working together is trust, is finding faith in each other to do the very hard work of any of these things. All these, these things are hard, especially in the American context and especially for us. But we’re also at a moment of low trust.

We are at a moment where people don’t trust each other, don’t trust each other after a pandemic, which revealed the way in which some people are willing to put other people at risk just for their own benefit. That’s right. Immediate gratification. The way in which quite frankly, the war has exposed these really deep disagreements and people who you thought you were in common cause with. You don’t know if you’re in common cause with them anymore, right? All these ways in which there is low trust.

So Kierra, as the leader of the Task Force, which is this umbrella organization as a person who works like Coya and reproductive justice, I’m wondering if you can talk about how do you work with people that you may not fully trust and or how do you build trust? And what happens as in the abortion movement when you don’t and it falls apart.

HOW TO BUILD TRUST AT CREATING CHANGE AND BEYOND

Kierra Johnson: So glad to be up here with y’all, to have you in my life, to have you for this panel. This has been a long time coming. We’ve needed this conversation. So I’m glad it’s here with you.

I, for those of you who don’t know, I spent 20 years doing abortion rights work, reproductive health and rights work, sexual education work. And there are some real parallels between, right? The women’s rights, reproductive rights, and the LGBTQ movement. Both movements saw what many described as a win, right? We won abortion, we won marriage for a certain segment, right? Of the movement. That was the win. It wasn’t a win, it was, those were the wins, right?

Kierra Johnson: And we saw real divestment, right? Many of y’all felt it, right? Real divestment and energy and time and money and strategy building, right? And training and base building. That’s right. So after, when you think about we, the win of abortion, that was in 1973, which meant we spent decades divesting from organizing, right? We spent decades thinking the work was done instead of engaging with queer people of color in the South, for example, in meaningful ways where our people were leading and redefining what the next wins needed to be, right? That’s right.

So it’s, many of us are, we’re not surprised when Dobbs happened. Like many of our folk have been saying for a long time, this is coming, this is coming. We already know this. And same for marriage. How many of y’all knew, knew that there was gonna be a divestment from movement and organizing after we passed marriage? We knew it. That was a win. It could have been a win that catapulted us into future victories. That’s right. Right? That’s right. It could have been a win where we continued to use what we had built for the next win. And we didn’t, we lost the opportunity. Now the good part is we’ve got, we got more chances, right? But it requires us to think and do and be different. And we, and we’re in a, in a moment and a time where there’s not a lot of room for nuance that people really aren’t.

There’s a lot at stake in being vulnerable. We’ve been taken advantage of when we’re our most vulnerable. We’ve been targeted, right? Our vulnerability has been used to weaponize, right? Weaponized against us, right? Our trust, our belief, our hope, our work. And so Creating change is a real example of what the potential is. If we can really figure out how to leverage the brilliance from Georgia, from Oklahoma, from Chicago, from Tennessee, if we can really figure out how to work and listen and build as trans women of color and gay white folk who still fucking with us here. We know it’s been hard y’all, and it’s really great, right? Like when we think about what is here, this is rare, this kind of space, right? Like you, you don’t see it in a lot of places.

And the question is, what are we gonna do with it? That’s right. Because we can actually, all of these tactics, I don’t think there’s one tactic. There’s not, we gotta build like in every single way. The reality is, is that queer people have always taken care of queer people outside of the state. That’s in fact democracy. We always have. That’s right. We always have. That’s right. Black folks from the time we step foot on this continent, have always figured out ways to take care of ourselves to, to own our own language and religions and cultures. Right? That’s not new for us. Nope. That’s not new for us. So we’ve got to both fortify and take the risks of building outside of the state. And some of us want to take that power at the federal government, y’all. And we can do that.

The Working Families Party. How many of y’all are familiar with the Working Families Party? Listen, they are changing the game. And both working in partnership with folks who are building outside of the state, but they’re also taking power within the state. They are taking it. And so building trust, building tell it like it fucking is. All right, we’ve really been practicing here. I feel it. And we have a choice to make. We can trust in each other’s humanity. I’m not saying don’t be cautious. Ain’t never what they say, ain’t all, ain’t all skin folk kinfolk, right? But we can practice being vulnerable with each other. I said this earlier, like it’s really hard to fucking be wrong. I hate being wrong if we don’t tithe our trust to each other.

Now what y’all know about tithing? How much is a tenth percent? Y’all better say y’all went to the church. Y’all to church. Y’all listening. I’m not saying 90%, I’m saying 10%. What does it feel like to tithe just 10% more of your trust to a community that you don’t know about to an organization you disagree with to a person who offended you to a cause you’ve just been introduced to.

If all of us tithe 10% more of our trust, imagine how much more trust comes back. It’s a risk, but it’s a 10% risk, not a 90% risk. Right? We know we gotta protect ourselves and our peoples.

There’s no way around it though. We can’t build what we’re talking about here. We can’t take over. We talking about government takeover, y’all. I, you know, that’s is is this on the news? This, oh, don’t put this on the news. I don’t, I don’t have a file yet, but I feel like after this conference I made, okay, we talking about taking over government, we are talking about building deeply underground like the underground railroad, like abortions that were performed by nuns.

You know, we can’t, there’s no way to do that if we don’t start practicing that trust piece. It’s not possible. Yep. And there’s an opportunity right here.

Audience: It’s true girl. We do. Yep.

Kierra: I love y’all and I trust you and I do, I do trust you. And in a lot of ways, to be honest, for me anyway, it’s harder to trust than it is to love.

Audience: Yeah.

Kierra: Yeah. I had a lot of love at at home, a little less trust. And it’s something I’m practicing every day too. I’m quick to like not trust. I’m quick to assume that somebody’s coming for me. I’m quick to assume the worst, right? Like, and then because right, I’m an organizer, right? It’s like plan for the thing, right? And I trust you. I trust that we’ve got each other. I trust if you’re not there yet, you’re gonna work on getting there. And we can do that together.

Imara Jones: So before we move on to the, to the last question, which is what we wanna do, I wanted to jump all on this question ’cause I’d still feel like there’s an important difficulty that we have to talk about in this, which is that a lot of the people that you spoke about, Kierra, that walked away from the abortion movement, walked away from LGBTQ rights, walked away, are walking away from racial justice as we speak, right? Are not the people in this room. They’re not, they’re not these people, right? They are other people. Y’all messy, I mean, you know what? I’m gonna let them be messy. I heard it too, but I, I have a job to-

Panelists: Say that’s true.

Imara Jones: Let’s just say it’s true. Let’s just say it’s…No, no, no. I mean you can knock it down. That’s okay. Knock it down in the answer. Okay. Okay, okay, Okay. Okay. Let me set it up and then you can knock it down. Word. Let’s do it. I heard the messiness too, but I was, you know, whatever. I’m used to sailing through mess.

So the, the whole thing. So, but at the same time, those are still people and even if it is people in this room, let’s just be clear, right? Right. You still are, you still are in relative coalition. You are still in relative proximity with those people. So then how do you continue to build anything? Like you’ve spoken about the people in this room and opening up to each other, but I mean, what about the people outside of this room who walked away, who were here and who didn’t come back? It’s a jump ball. Anybody.

Ash: I’m having big feelings. You go, you can, well I don’t know about them.

Scot: I can tell you this. I am a 60, almost 63-year-old man. Okay? I have been in social movements for, for nearly 45 years. So when I started out as an activist, I did not know he was, once I moved away from Hawaii, which is my homeland, right? I landed in Portland, Oregon. And I would show up in the whitest major city in the United States in activist meetings and people would literally say to me, why do you keep talking about race? It’s such a minority issue. They would say to me, it’s okay that you’re gay. ‘Cause people can’t tell like just straight up right in your face, like hurt your feelings, kind of bullshit, right? But I never left those spaces because I wasn’t giving that to them, right? They had a platform, they had institutions, they had the ability to be able to mobilize people. And I wasn’t gonna just go like, you hurt my feelings and so I’m walking away. No, no, no.

Panelist: Fuck that!

Scot: Fuck that. Fuck man. So I stayed in, right? That’s the hardest part. You know, I mean I love you but you know, I don’t actually trust everybody. I love you all, but I don’t trust you. I don’t know most of you, you. But what I do know is that we need each other, right? And so in spite of that lack of trust, we have to take risks in order to be able to do the work we need to do together.

So that I think we can all stand for, right? We know that. We know that there are people we really trust. I have people I’ve been struggling with for decades and I know I can trust them and they have my back. But every new person is a new adventure. That’s right. You know? And so, you know, I love you. I mean I sincerely do, but trust is something you gotta win, right? And you win it by struggling together.

And in order for that to happen though, in order for the trust to develop, you have to be forgiving enough to accept that people are gonna make mistakes and sometimes they’re gonna fuck you because we are really imperfect people, right? We are a reflection of a very imperfect world.

We have all been taught to behave in all kinds of awful ways, as if that’s just normal. Yeah. So you know, that I would say about the trust issue. You know, I think we need to just continue to call people in no matter what.

And I’ll say this because you know, we got into this thing about democracy, right? And I wanna speak to that for a moment here. So, you know, all this talk about saving democracy does not reflect a critical perspective on what democracy has actually been for people. And I can say this as a person who’s from Hawaii, a state that the Democratic party dominates to the point where there are like I think four or five Republicans in the entire state legislature. And that might be the whole of like the Republican presidents in elected politics on the island of Oahu that has the second worst houselessness problem and the second worst housing affordability problem in the nation.

There is an ongoing slow moving genocide of the native Hawaiian people in Hawaii. Native Hawaiians are being driven out of Hawaii in massive numbers.

And you know, for those of you who moved to Hawaii in the pandemic, ’cause you thought it would be nicer there. It’s part of what, why that’s happening. That’s right. Right? That’s exactly right. So, you know, I mean preach God democracy is not all it’s cut out to be. It’s a highly imperfect thing.

But you know what it is is not the end but the perhaps a means to the end, right?

Because what democracy does for us is it gives us the right to protest, to organize and to dissent against our government legally.

And that we need in order to figure out how we get from here to a better place than where we are now. That’s what I am in fight for, right? Is to preserve those democratic freedoms so we can continue to fight again another day.

And as we fight and as we build our power, develop the capacity to see past democracy as we’ve been given to whatever comes next and what really could fully embrace us in our wholeness so that we can actually start to actually live free for real as if as opposed to free, as defined within the constitution of the United States, which is only free for some people and not for others. Right? So I would invite you to stay on that tip and not let it go.

The other thing I feel like is really important for us here is to recognize this, and I’m gonna say this to you because you are my queer family. Queer people are the linchpin in the struggle against authoritarianism and fascism here in the United States and across the world. The most critical constituency in my belief. Because queer people are from every walk of life, from every class, every religion, every gender, every race. We are in fact everywhere we are in relationship with everyone, we belong to every political party. We are a sleeping giant. That’s right. They decided to come tap, tap, tap on us with all this bullshit they’re bringing.

Well it’s time for us to wake up because if we do, I have seen it happen in my insanely long career. You can’t roll them back. You can put them on your heels. And queer people are in a stronger position. Don’t ever let anyone tell you otherwise. Yeah. Or in a stronger position to do that than any other constituency in the United States.

We are global in a global struggle. We are in every locality. We can in fact win despite, I believe it. I wouldn’t be doing this, I wouldn’t be wasting my damn time. I’d be in retirement if I didn’t think we could still win. So you know, one of the things that will happen in all of this is those democracy savers are gonna ask you to tamp it down. Right?

Fearful people are going to say stop polarizing things. Maybe shut up. Do not listen to them. Right? That is called obeying in advance, right to the autocrats demands. They want us silent and scared because it’s proof of concept.

If we grow silent and we get scared, they demonstrate that actually strong man politics works, all of a sudden all the conflicts go away. And all the people in the middle who are concerned about maybe this goes too far, that goes too far, get what they want, which is that things stay relatively the same, right? They want us to step back. They want us to let go of our institutions to give up on government because then it’s all theirs. They want us to withdraw from defining the key narratives of what it means to be in this country as people who are contributing to the society we are building here. Because if we do, they can define them.

All of that is why you’re seeing this incredible proliferation of political threats everywhere.

Scot: It’s meant to shut you up. It means to scare you. It means to get you to decide. I can’t run for a political office. My government’s not protecting me for the from this, so I must reject it. That’s what they’re doing. It is a specific part of the authoritarian playbook to play that game. So we can’t let them do that.

The more they come for us, the louder we are right? The more they point the finger at us, the higher we fly our freak flag. We cannot, yes. Let them roll us back. Yes. We stand on the precipice of history as the single most important organized constituency in this country.

Coya: Can I, and I know you’re next, but I would just. No next. It’s jumbo. I just sort of like, I agree, absolutely. And I know I said harm reduction, I’m like, it’s a both ends, right? Like one of the things I’ve been talking a lot about a lot with RJ activists is like we, part of what it means for us to think about what needs to happen is like it can’t just be destruction, it’s also about creation and what do we want, right? Not just what don’t we want. Yeah.

And I think that one of the things that has really struck me and in our conversations with the, and I was at a different conference actually over the last few days talking about this, is that, you know, we have to talk about white supremacy. Like we have to talk about it.

And we also, you know, we have to talk about anti-Blackness. We have to talk about anti-Indigeneity. And as movements, until we can do that, we’re still gonna run into the same walls around democracy. Right? And I say that because I’m looking and I know this community, well I’ve been here many times, but man, did we get our asses kicked around trans shit? And why? Because we won’t talk about blackness because we won’t make connections to gender.

We are unwilling to like wrestle with our own internal histories and it will always cut us off at the knees.

And so there’s, I think there is the, like, the pressure of what is happening outside. But I really, I have to ask us to look internally around how we respond to that when we, our house isn’t clean. Like, like we’re not there yet.

And so that’s part of like my concern is like, yeah, we need to like pay attention to that but also like the idea of trust. Like until we can like, ’cause the, for me as like an Indigenous queer woman identified, like I get really tired of the racism in the queer community. It’s, it’s why I left queer organizing.

So I just feel like there is a reckoning that we have to do around that. Where even if we don’t come to a conclusion, how do we start that and have those honest conversations? You know?

And I, I really appreciate that we were able to allow our Palestinian friends on the stage. ’cause that is uncomfortable, right?

Scot: That is a very hot topic issue. But I think being able to see our connections there matters. That took some trust and that was like a conversation, you know?

So I just wanted to put that out there. ’cause I feel like you’re right, we have like as queer people, we are everywhere. And at the same time we have not yet dealt with the same issues that this democracy is struggling with. Yeah. So I just, I, you know, I just like to keep it messy.

Imara Jones: So before we move on to the last question, Ash, do you have anything to add to the trust piece? Ooh,

Ash: I feel like I’m about to piss some people off. Oh don’t you. It might be you. So before I speak I’m gonna ask for permission to tell the truth the way I feel it.

Audience: Yes. Yes.

Ash: I’m asking. ’cause when I do it, I don’t, don’t come up in my DMs and all and adding me and shit. I ask for permission. Okay. And you said yes. Yes. You know, I think I can, I just, let me speak. I’ll use I, my partner would say use your I statements. So I’m gonna use my I statements. I feel like I would trust you more any, whoever you are. If I could believe that you weren’t basing strategy off of bad soundbites.

Coya: Off of what?

Ash: Off of bad soundbites. ’cause anything, any one of us say up here as an individual sentence might make you feel good. That doesn’t necessarily make it true. It doesn’t necessarily make it strategic. Right? Let me, let me break that down.

I know y’all mad, I’m sorry but I, I just feel like it’s really fucking important. Especially if we’re facing like literally this time next year we could be under a fascist regime. Okay?

So bullshit aside, democracy, like love you, and democracy isn’t just about the state frankly. And anybody who’s read a book about the Black organizing traditions of the US right? Would know that if, if we based our understanding of democracy just on the state, I mean what? Like what do you really believe that?

Do you like honestly believe that when I tell you that I’m fighting for democracy, you think I just mean the state? Because if so, then I can’t trust you.

What do I believe? Words mean things. Democracy means the rule by the people of the people. That’s it. Y’all can do that right here. I would trust you if you practice democracy. Now here what you saw wasn’t us being like charitable, you saw democracy.

I didn’t need the fucking state or to have a debate with you about electoral politics, right? To be like it’s right to let my comrades have the fucking mic for a minute. That’s democracy.

So like fine, you don’t wanna vote, don’t, I don’t care. Build something, right? Build the left. If you listen, ain’t my mama a black panther? Ain’t nobody more socialist than me. Okay? And if I was going to vibe that Black people’s liberation, queer people’s liberation, working class people’s liberation could happen outside of the state, then I would do everything in my power to make the state irrelevant. Do that. Right?

And for those of you, I’m not, because I’m about to piss one of the rest of y’all off. Because again, all that’s the thing about trust. It’s like dialect, y’all know what dialectics are. Alright? Dialectics just mean like things that are contradictory that exist at the same time, right? It’s like me being a Gemini, I am a living dialectic. That’s why we love each other. Me.

Oh god, sorry, I’m sorry I just wasn’t expecting to see you there. I just wanna be straight with you that you are in partnership with people you don’t like already. I said that y’all are in partnership with people that you do not like already. Okay? I promise because the united fronts for the things that we have to win, we’ve had to be in already, okay?

Marginalized and targeted communities do uncomfortable shit every day. Tell me what to do. I would say like what’s at risk here? What is actually at risk? I don’t actually wanna sit in a room full of lefties talking about white supremacy anymore. I want you to do something.

I don’t actually wanna sit and listen to my trans sisters talking about how fucked up gay spaces are, queer spaces are, because we don’t acknowledge our internalized transphobia, right? I wanna see us do something.

Trust is a doing thing, right? And the risk is if that we, if we don’t do the things that prove that we’re about this life, whatever the tactic is, I agree that we need a multi-tactical strategy. It’s gonna take the turn up team, it’s gonna take the base builders, it’s gonna take the political educators, it’s gonna take the policy and advocacy people. It’s gonna take all the direct services folks.

It’s gonna take everybody from the anarchist to the log cabin Republicans to turn this thing around dead ass. That’s what it is. And that’s gonna be uncomfortable as fuck.

It is uncomfortable, and evil deserves to be just as uncomfortable as I am in these unfucking familiar alliances. So like what that means is like we gotta like get used to being uncomfortable. Y’all. We gotta get used to like not always getting everything we want and not being like fuck movement just because we didn’t.

We gotta quit expecting that humans are gonna build a garden of Eden where all your feelings don’t get hurt all the time.

Movement is hard, y’all freedom is a constant fucking struggle, right? A millennial and it’s gotta mean, especially if there’s an abolitionist in the house, it’s gotta mean that we, when we, ’cause I fuck up every day when we fuck up ’cause I will break your heart inevitably, right? I outta all the bad sound bites I just gave you. Inevitably I’m gonna say something or I’m gonna do something that’s gonna hurt you and I’m sorry about that.

And when I do, I need you to hold me accountable to that shit. And I need you to give grace anyhow. Right?

I think what we’ve gotta recognize is as much as we might have some ideological beef in this room, y’all are not my target. Fascists are, right. And the right, quite frankly, ain’t out here in these streets quibbling over ideology. Nope, they not. The white nationalists and the Christian nationalists. That’s right. The secular and the religious. They ain’t fighting over ideology y’all. They got a project, project 2025 about to fuck our whole shit up. No, for real. And we in here talking about we need to have a conversation about white supremacy. Fuck that.

Whatcha saying? I told you what time it was on the clock of the world was like it’s the darkest it can get. What does that mean you should be responsible for? And if you can’t trust me enough, I think to your point, what my 10% can be is that whether or not I trust you with my whole life, I trust that you wanna fight a fascist. How about it?

I trust that you don’t wanna live under a fascist state. And I trust that you gonna do whatever the fuck it is you can do to make that not happen. Is that cool? Can we just, can we just do that?

We can fight about the rest of the shit January 2025. You feel me? We can fight about the rest of the shit January 2025. And I’m not saying that the shit you wanna fight about ain’t important ’cause it fucking is. If it’s important to you, it’s important to me. It might not be as important as fighting these fascists to me right now, but it’s important to me. I want you to be well.

Well you know at Highlander our young people say, I respect, I love you, I respect you and I want you to be free. We mean that shit, right? So I might not trust you, I cannot agree with you, and I’m will and I’m willing to be called in to 10% for the sake of being able to live to fight about the dumb shit another day. Okay?

Can we meet each other there? God almighty. It’s not about….we don’t have to like each other. I’m not begging you to, I’m not telling you to like people that hurt you. I love you too much for that. But I am saying some of this shit just ain’t that.

Did you hear Imara when she said one of our comrades lost over a hundred family members since October 7th? Some of this shit just ain’t that fucking important.

Like every day that we don’t get this shit right, somebody dies, some queer kid is fucked and we arguing about dumb shit. You know what I’m saying?

I’m asking you to reassess what your definition of risk is. My dad says if you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you always got. That’s the risk. ‘Cause what we’ve always got has not been good for queer and trans people. So I’m asking you to do something, do something different. Whatever it is you do.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

Imara Jones: So, well; unlike Lauryn Hill, Big Freedia was on time.

Ash: Shady. So shady. Y’all messy, y’all.

Imara Jones: It was shade. So that means that we actually have to end this panel because we are now eating into her time. And also then your time to enjoy Big Freedia. So that means that my last question, y’all are just gonna have to figure out another time, Kierra, for us to bring back these same people.

Panelist: Okay? I’m here for it. Yeah, I mean if not Vegas before Vegas. Yo, don’t throw, what y’all think about Vegas. Y’all coming to Vegas?

Imara Jones: So, will you all join me in thanking everybody up here?

And I just want you all to look around and to see the fact that everyone in here almost stayed an hour longer than this was supposed to go. Because you all thought that this conversation was important.

And more than anything, what people do is who they are. And that to me, even in this dark moment, is an act of hope. That’s right. So thank you all so much.

ABOUT CREATING CHANGE CONFERENCE

The National LGBTQ Task Force is dedicated to achieving freedom and justice for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer people, and their families through proactive, targeted, change-inducing initiatives.

Since 1988, thousands of people have gathered at Creating Change to strategize, skill-build, community-build, share, and renew their energies for the critical work of liberation. All of this while having fun dancing, spending time at the open mic night, gayme night, artist performances, exploring the host city, and making new friends along the way.

At the National LGBTQ Task Force, our colleagues are building a future where everyone is free to be themselves in every aspect of their lives. Today, despite all the progress we have made to end discrimination, millions of LGBTQ+ people face barriers in every aspect of their lives: in housing, employment, healthcare, retirement, and basic human rights. These barriers must go.

Through Creating Change and other advocacy programs, the National LGBTQ Task Force is training and mobilizing thousands of activists across the nation to deliver a world where you can be you. Learn more here.

Did you find this Creating Change resource helpful? Consider supporting TransLash today with a tax-deductible donationDid we miss anything? Let us know and we’ll update the guide with your suggestion, crediting you as the contributor.

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TransLash tells trans stories to save trans lives. As a trusted source for journalists, thought-leaders, movement activists, researchers, and those wanting to know about trans people, we produce narratives about and for the trans community—accurately and reliably. At a time when disinformation about trans people is being used to undermine democracy and human rights, TransLash Media serves as a beacon of hope through the voices that we share with the world.

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TransLash tells trans stories to save trans lives. As a trusted source for journalists, thought-leaders, movement activists, researchers, and those wanting to know about trans people, we produce narratives about and for the trans community—accurately and reliably. At a time when disinformation about trans people is being used to undermine democracy and human rights, TransLash Media serves as a beacon of hope through the voices that we share with the world.

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