by Renee Marino
[This essay was originally published on DirtMedia.org]
Surely, you have heard of Greta Thunberg, but have you heard of Autumn Peltier? Autumn is a member of the Wikwemikong First Nation, of the Manitoulin Island in Northern Ontario. She is a water protector. Indigenous people, native to the Americas, along with Chicano and Latinx people, Black people, African Americans, Brown people, Asian Americans and LGBTQIA+ people have taken on “activist” roles, long before it was cool; whether protecting the Earth or their own lives and communities.
Autumn Peltier, Greta Thunberg, Haven Coleman, and countless other youth climate activists and groups have emerged on my timeline since the Climate Strike on September 20th, 2019. My own climate activism and learning surged at that time, and now as the movement for Black lives resists and endures, during a global pandemic, my own learning continues. An access point, and something that resonates deeply with me is the interconnectedness of social justice and climate justice.
Let’s pause for a moment to talk about protest. The history of protest, of strikes, boycotts, and all forms of non-violent direct action in this country and in the world is inextricably tied to the civil rights movement and to human rights. And how could it not be? If one body has a loud enough voice to disrupt the norm, imagine when tens, hundreds, or thousands of humans show up together for a cause. That’s an act of collective embodiment, a practice which is supremely empowering in and of itself.
We know the revolution will not be televised.
It will be live streamed, and tweeted about furiously. But the real revolution happens IRL. On the ground. With our feet. With our fingers, dialing and emailing politicians. With our voices, telling them what it is we will not stand for any longer. What I found at the climate march last year, and what I have been finding in our recent history, including the current movement for Black lives, is that the art of protest is still our greatest tool. It’s outright intuitive, and undeniable.
The first protest I ever attended was a march along 16th Street mall in downtown Denver in 2015. It was called “Sing Our Rivers Red” and was organized by Indigenous women and several groups to bring awareness to Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women (MMIW). This phenomenon is as old as colonialism, but the idea that this is occurring modernly, and at such high rates isn’t common knowledge. And of course, the same reason it isn’t commonly known, is the same reason it is still happening- patriarchy, colonialism, toxic masculinity, gendered violence, white supremacy, the culture of capitalism, the list goes on… The long list of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women is not publicized by mainstream media, thus further allowing for such atrocities to occur silently. Still, indigenous women have marched, or have done some kind of action consistently every year in Denver for the past 4 years to bring awareness to this violence.
On the day of the Climate Strike this year in Denver, there was to be a Red and Black Dresses art installation for MMIW on the 16th Street mall. Due to a lack of support by the City of Denver, it was taken down and destroyed, even though the proper permits were in place. The Red and Black Dress Installation was created and organized by the International Indigenous Youth Council, 350.org and Womxn of the Mountain — an educational organization founded by several women, including Renee Millard Chacon. I met with Renee and she clued me in to her group’s work.
The Womxn of the Mountain released this statement during the 2019 Climate March — “In an effort to support the narrative of bringing attention to Missing and Murdered Indigenous WXM, Black WXM, Trans WXM lives the International Indigenous Youth Council, 350.org, and Womxn from the Mountain are working together to bring art installations to Colorado to change the dynamic to correlate SOCIAL JUSTICE is ENVIRONMENTAL JUSTICE.”
Their main message? Social justice is environmental justice. This sentiment has been ringing in my ears during the weeks of Black Lives Matter protests. How can we take care of our planet, if we can’t even take care of our fellow human beings?
Walking back from an open mic featuring black artists in Denver at the state capitol, is when this realization dawned on me. The momentum of the movement for Black lives feels stronger and more visceral than the movement for climate action has been. I thought – Maybe we aren’t here to save the planet. Maybe our karma is actually just to save ourselves. Now, I am learning the lesson once again, that the two (the planet, and ourselves) are inextricably linked. Honoring the Earth and honoring life are one in the same.
I believe strongly in the power of art for our collective healing. Art has the ability to show the unseen- give voice to the silenced. There is pain in this unveiling of trauma, but we must be vulnerable, showing up in our lives with open wounds, for our pain to be seen and healed. As in life, so is art. We create what we want to be seen. I also see this principle of personal healing as the foundation of many feminist movements, where conversations become necessary for collective realization and solidarity — what we may think are our own private problems are actually widespread social issues. Then, out of the art of conversation, grows entire political movements.
There is oh so much trauma to address still, with the current and historic systematic killing, rape, and silencing of native, black, chicano, latinx, asian, trans, and migrant/immigrant people. There is trauma from the desensitization, silencing, and purposeful elimination of ways of living that don’t align with colonizers, with a white supremacy, with the U.S. American hierarchies of patriarchy and capitalism. Activists from Standing Rock are still facing life in jail. Prisons and policing uphold and perpetuate systemic racism. None of this is inseparable from the rape of the Earth’s resources. There seems to be a great inability of our “leaders” and politicians to see the harm we do to the planet, and the harm we do to others, as deeply connected to harm we are doing to ourselves.
However, addressing all of this and it’s interconnectedness is part of the healing. It’s not neat, or nice and pretty. Healing collectively doesn’t look like a group trip to Bali. There’s a reason we are now realizing that our systems are broken, and it’s because we still have so much harm to address. The harm of Wounded Knee and every instance of colonization, the harm of slavery and every instance of police brutality is the the part of the story of the Americas. Stories with great atrocities are not generally resolved, until the harm is addressed, unless they end very badly.
It is our very human choice — to see the past and acknowledge it, to see the future and consciously move toward it. Art helps us to remember that being alive, being witness to our own choices and process, is powerful.
If you are still reading, thank you. Full transparency- this article is my own healing. I can’t tell you how to protest, and I can’t tell you how to heal. That’s for you to decide, and I hope you’ll share that with me.
As movement continues throughout the world, and as we all face challenges like nothing we have seen this lifetime, I encourage you to dig deep. Our blind spots are places for more learning. Only once we’ve come into our own power, can we be of any help. Our experience and our intentions are prerequisites for our activism. To vulnerably expose your truth is right action. Look for ways to engage authentically. Ways that inspire you, ways that go below the surface of your own thoughts, and land somewhere in your body. Look in your own life. Who have you chosen as your friends? Who have you committed to as an ally? Protest, like art, is an ongoing process. It must be sustainable. As sustainable as breathing. As sustainable as love.
Please read the rest of the press release from Womxn of the Mountain below, which details the connection between MMIW and environmental exploitation…
“In an effort to support the narrative of bringing attention to Missing and Murdered Indigenous WXM, Black WXM, Trans WXM lives the International Indigenous Youth Council, 350.org, and Womxn from the Mountain are working together to bring art installations to Colorado to change the dynamic to correlate SOCIAL JUSTICE is ENVIRONMENTAL JUSTICE.
Womxn from the Mountain are cultural educators inclusive of all women from all backgrounds including those that identify as women. We believe that to transform towards a healthy futurein education, media, and for future generations for girls and Womxn, there needs to be an inclusive and more realistic approach to education now.
This directly means preparing the next seven generation for the social justice and environmental issues they are facing now. We offer educational workshops and curriculums to question are you “colonized or indigenous” in your concerns for the future of the next seven generations as an exercise to bring awareness into the connection to respecting the Earth and why it is sacred. Our Earth is sacred and honoring ALL Women is how we return to the sacred.
Several issues that are important to indigenous groups, including: 1) human rights and international law, 2) lands and territories, 3) biodiversity and conservation, 4) development strategies, and 5) culture, science, and intellectual property. For Indig- enous Peoples, conservation of biodiversity is not new; on the contrary, it is part of their own culture, history, and spirituality. We are here to correlate the issues of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and girls have long been a direct result of environmental exploitation and degradation. Large numbers of women go missing around factories, man camps, and truck stops around North America and there has been no policies changes to protect a vulnerable population invisible to the American identity. The political systems that have allowed environmental negligence and protection for these targeted populations are responsible for the exploitation of the land, resources, and womxn. Often times the same banks funding the projects, including detention centers, contribute directly to this plight of slow genocide. Furthermore the people affected are poor, lower class, people of color that do not have the ability to defend themselves with legal protections and privilege of more affluent people to say “no” to their local resources being exploited.
We are here today to support the narrative Social Justice is Climate Justice because we are all connected socially, economically, and environmentally like it or not and we need to change local and national policies to protect the sacred of our Earth and Womxn.We support a Green New Deal and a transformation of a change to 100% renewable energy which includes in immediate halt to all leasing and permitting for fossil fuel projects immediately, including fracking, coal and oil refineries. Adhering to environmental justice principles to ensure that that transition is equitable for fossil fuel workers and pollution-impacted communities; Honoring treaties protecting Indigenous land, water, and sovereignty from the impacts of fossil fuel industrialization; and Protecting and restoring biodiversity through sustainable agriculture and protection of half the world’s land and oceans–including habitat and wildlife corridors in Colorado. The exploitation of land and resources do correlate with the exploitation of women and Indigenous people. The transition must be and should be indigenous led, and more inclusive of the Indigenous narrative of how to steward and honor our Earth.A transition that invests in prosperity for communities on the frontlines of poverty and pollution, including reparations for the communities that have been most impacted by climate change and fossil fuel development. Welcoming those displaced by the cumulative effects of the climate crisis, economic inequality, violence, and lack of opportunity. A just transition for workers and communities who depend on fossil fuel jobs. Ensuring the protection of our air, water & land through enforcement of testing for toxins, pollution & other contaminants Protection and Restoration of Biodiversity Protection and restoration of 50% of the world’s lands and oceans including a halt to all deforestation by 2030.Protections for local wildlife including the implementation of wildlife corridors near major highways and development. Implementation of Sustainable Agriculture. Investment in farmers and regenerative agriculture and an end to subsidies for industrial agriculture.
List of Demands — We demand political officials and departments, the FBI and criminal justice institutions gather and report accurate data about out missing and murdered Indigenous and Black Wxm. We demand this information be easily available for public record for families and investigators across state and federal jurisdictions to bring justice to families and victims. We demand action from our elected officials and law enforcement to work with local communities to create safe spaces for wxm to go for help and protection, no matter their background.We demand our Indigenous and black Wxm community members and leaders be able to have equal representation in political offices to change and diversify the narrative to bring justice to the issues facing our communities.”
Renee Marino (She/They) is a radical community creator, healer in training, DJ, and supporter of all artists. She serves on the board of Street Wise Arts, a non-profit in Boulder, leveraging mural projects and street art education to amplify cultural diversity and engage in social advocacy. Renee founded Dirt Media in 2015, as a community publishing platform. Through Dirt Media, Renee has published collaborative zines, collections of art, poetry & music, and has produced interactive art events. Dirtmedia.org serves as an online publishing platform, featuring independent artists & writers in Denver.