It is hard to believe that it was only about a year ago that many of us were in Paris, France, at the 21st Conference of the Parties of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. The Paris Agreement, which came out of those talks, was adopted by 190 countries of the world and called “a historic turning point” in battling the effects of climate change in our lifetimes.
What a difference a year makes. Although the United Sates officially signed the Paris Agreement in September, the election of Donald Trump in November may turn back “the most ambitious climate change agreement in history,” as he has threatened to withdraw the United States soon after he is elected.
Any anxiety around this threat to indigenous and local communities is not unwarranted. Climate disruption is not something that would merely affect future generations, in many of our communities we are experiencing those effects now.
In fact, just last August my own home in South Louisiana was flooded by unprecedented and torrential rains, and as my young daughter stated at the time, we found ourselves “up to our ankles in climate change.” Today we are still trying to repair our home, as are many of our neighbors and friends. In the area in which we reside, more than 80 percent of the population live below the poverty level, which makes recovery from increasing climate disaster more and more difficult.
Yet here we are, one year since the Paris Agreement, and climate and environmental justice issues are now being singularly framed by the elite as a mere political issue. Do not be misled, regardless of Trump’s faulty analysis, climate chaos and environmental devastation is a justice issue that is, and will continue to be, borne by the most vulnerable of our societies. And while the same would be true under any administration, it is the incoming one’s inability, or intentional denial, of that fact which is most frightening.
Also concerning is that the President- elect seems to be okay with using his perceived power to destroy not only the individual lives of American citizens who oppose or criticize him, but the Constitution as well. In particular he has stated on several occasions his wish to roll back protections provided by the First Amendment regarding freedom to peacefully assemble, freedom of the press, and freedom of speech. His rhetoric flies wholly in the face of the Oath of Office that presently he will take in January, which states that the President will, “to the best of (his or her) ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.”
So, where do we go from here? How do we build, in what looks to be one of the most regressive and oppressive eras of our time?
First, I believe, we must recognize that birth and growth are painful exercises. The challenges which lie before us, are without doubt intense and many. There will be agony, accept it, but ultimately how we claim that pain and deal with it, is how we will define ourselves in the rise to meet the challenges before us.
The good news is that we do not have to recreate the wheel here. The treasures that our elders and ancestors have given us, lies not in any tangible piece of property, not in earthly riches or any economic or political system. It is a greater wealth – wealth as example, wealth as inspiration, wealth as knowledge, wealth of understanding – and it is abundant. We must now draw upon that strength found in those sacrifices, and the will to not only survive but thrive. We must keep ourselves close to that deep well, and draw upon those gifts in the days and years to come.
A great recent example of this can be found at Standing Rock, and the bravery that we have all witnessed there. Even in the face of harsh and aggressive acts of state violence, we have seen all of our peoples stand together with dignity to battle the Dakota Access Pipeline. While we can say that is something that originates from this place and this time, it is no different than the examples we have seen from other places and other times. And it is a lesson, that while they can injure and take possession of our flesh, they will never have our spirits, our identities, or our freedom. This has always been, and always will be, the most terrifying thing to those who wish to profit from our destruction. It brings them to their knees.
Additionally, we must also remember that birth and growth are also not passive deeds. We must then take ourselves to the battle grounds, and organize and educate – not only in the streets, the suburbs and on the Rez, but into the oceans, rivers and bayous, the mountains and valleys, the deserts and grasslands – everywhere where justice is threatened, so too must we be standing in defiance of that injury or assault.
Lastly, we must recognize the basic humanity in each of us. Yes, there will be arguments, frustrations, and challenges within our circles. Tactics will be different, skills will vary, leadership will shift and change, along with strategies and narratives. We must front load that understanding with respect to our leadership and within our vehicles of change, and give each other the benefit of allowance of growth, understanding, and opportunity to make mistakes along the way.
These are my thoughts. The biggest battle ahead lies not in any one place or even in any one four-year block of time, but in each and every one of our hearts. It is the battle to be fearless. The battle to remain truly free. The battle to keep our sense of humors and our identities. The battle to covet our hope, and to remain human in even the most inhumane of times. Holding on to these, is our best weapon. It is how we will win.