The Alternative Historian


Thoughts, Ideas, and Other Musings by an Alternative Historian

Feeling Political - Episode Six, gabriel sayegh: Democracy is messy

The election is a double-edged sword. Many people are afraid, and legitimately so, but many people have also been radicalized. gabriel sayegh explains in this episode of Feeling Political that the future can go either way, and it’s up to us to decide. History can be a guide, but the short answer: Just do something. gabriel is co-director of the Katal Center for Health, Equity, & Justice ( and on the board of Project South ( Feeling Political is a product of The Alternative Historian. More information is at


FEELING POLITICAL - Episode Six, gabriel sayegh: Democracy is messy
Released: January 11, 2017
Length: 9:03 minutes


The excitement is being tempered by the general pall of terror that has seemingly come over a lot of the nation right now.


I don’t know about you…


Democracy is messy and to the extent that we believe that it works we have to step up in moments that we don’t like what is happening and organize.


But I’m feeling political.

This is a podcast series about emotions and politics and the actions we take. Or the actions we think we should take. Or the actions we wish we could take. I'm talking to people about how they feel and what they want to do based on those feelings. 

This week I’m featuring gabriel sayegh (SAY-ya), co-director of the Katal Center for Health, Equity & Justice. The Katal Center works on mass incarceration issues around the country. Gabriel is also on the board of Project South. This was recorded in November in downtown Atlanta. 

Here’s gabriel.

gabriel sayegh

gabriel sayegh, I’m the co-director of the Katal Center for Health, Equity & Justice.

It’s a scary moment. There’s a number of things that are legitimately frightening, not the least of which is the appointment of a bunch of white supremacists to the Trump cabinet. So those are scary things. 

I think there’s enormous opportunities for transformation right now, which is exciting. The excitement is being tempered by the general pall of terror that has seemingly come over  a lot of the nation right now. But I do think that there’s a moment of opportunity here.

The collapse of the Democratic Party, the collapse of the Republican Party in many respects, and the extensive questioning on the part the electoral process within the US amongst a lot of people on either side of things has opened up, I think, an opportunity to ask questions that we haven’t been able to ask in a long time. That part feels exciting because to the extent that people get engaged and meaningful grapple with some of the tough choices and questions that are at hand means we could turn in a direction that could be very constructive. It could also go to shit. So, who knows? But I’m optimistic, and I feel hopeful about it.

I have family members that voted for Trump. People that I grew up with, people from the communities that I grew up in that voted for Trump that feel very enthusiastic about Trump, and I don’t think it would be fair to categorize them as being virulent racists. Because that’s not what their position is, even if they’re white folks that need to grapple with racial identity issues. But that’s not the purpose. It’s that they’re pissed that the country has failed them and that the economic system does not work for them. They have been lied to over and over and over again. And when people are lied to over and over again, they come to realize that they’re legitimately and understandably pissed off. Those folks are waiting to see something constructive happen here. They think that something useful will occur. I’m highly doubtful that that’s going to happen. For those folks, I’d say, “Watch carefully what you’ve been promised. Pay close attention to what the promises have been and what the circumstances are that you live in and see if the actions and the words of the people in power match up. Because if they don’t you know something immediately is wrong, and you should take action around that. Or certainly question those folks.”

For the folks that felt like the world came to an end as a result of Trump being elected, first and foremost we need to take a step back and understand the course of history and the circumstances in which people who have fought for justice have found themselves in the course of history. If you think what it felt like to abolitionists in, I think it was in 1857 when the Supreme Court came down with the Dredd Scott decision when Abolitionists thought the Supreme Court was the only avenue through which they had available to end slavery. They shut that door pretty tight with the Dredd Scott decision. That must have been a devastating experience. Or the Plessy v Ferguson case in 1896 that codified separate but equal as a legal doctrine in the US. For folks that were coming out of the wake of the end of the Reconstruction era, and then to have that Supreme Court decision come down? That must have felt devastating. Think about what it must have felt like in 1968 when just months after Martin Luther King was assassinated…And we are sitting here in downtown Atlanta not far from the church where he first came up in but…when he was assassinated and then not long after that, roughly six months after that was the election of Richard Nixon on a tough on crime or law and order platform. People have fought through really hard periods.

A closer thing for me personally is the election of Reagan in 80 and then the reelection in 84. At the height of the AIDS era, when for queer folks, LGBT people in this country, when there were so many laws criminalizing the very existence of LGBT people, and the AIDS epidemic was destroying the heart of the gay community in many respects with people dying all the time, and Reagan wouldn’t even say the words. Then the country re-elects him. Can you imagine what that must have felt like if you were an organizer, an activist, or an adult at that time who cared about those things? And people fought on.

This is, yeah, this is a shit moment for a lot of people. There’s no doubt. But I think democracy is messy, and to the extent that we believe that it works we have to step up in moments that we don’t like what is happening and organize. If we don’t do that, we can’t then say that we believe democracy is a meaningful thing. The only way that it works is if we engage, and we engage with as many people as possible. I think we have to draw on this histories of resistance and the struggle for liberation, and freedom, and equity, and the things for many people in this country who don’t consider themselves activists but believe in America as a beacon of light and hope and freedom. If it’s going to be that thing, we have to make it that thing. It’s not static. It has to be that through a living engagement in our communities. People have got to get engaged, whatever that looks like for them. Whether it’s going to church or being part of a local block club or attending a meeting or documentary or discussion. Just doing is the main thing. Just do something and grow from there. I trust that once people starting do that whatever it is for them, people do what they can do. I think if all of us are doing what we can do, that’s a lot of drops in the pond. I think that matters. So, that’s what I would say.


That was gabriel sayegh, current board member of Project South and co-director of the Katal Center for Health, Equity & Justice.

I’m still gathering your voice memos. Already there’s more than enough to fill a couple of episodes, so act quickly to send in your thoughts. I’ll be editing them together for a special episode.

Take 3 minutes and record a voice memo on your phone. Tell me how you want to be identified, how you’re feeling in this political moment, and  your advice, if you have any, about what to do. Or you can ask questions. Or you can just vent. Email the file to It may help you feel better. Or it may not. It’ll definitely help me feel better.

You can find more information about this podcast at

The music is by Rebel Diaz.

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Feeling Political is produced by Daniel Horowitz Garcia, the Alternative Historian. The series will be part of the history podcast Change Over Time, coming in Spring 2017. Sign up on the newsletter at We are part of Amplify, an oral history podcast network bringing podcasting to the field of oral history.

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