Image: Youth of Oceti Sakowin calling on President Barrack Obama to reject the Keystone Pipeline in March 2015.
August 29th marks 10 years since Hurricane Katrina’s first landfall. Change the Course is dedicating the month of August to climate justice, highlighting the disproportionate impacts climate change has on front line communities. To learn about Change the Course and learn how you can envision a just and climate stable future, visit ChangeTheCourse.org
Honestly, I didn’t used to think about the future much. The future seemed like a luxury afforded only to those who could survive the present. It’s not that I was especially pessimistic, but when faced with the cold statistical reality of my life it was hard to imagine that I would be around that long. As a transgender person of color, I am statistically more likely to be murdered, denied health care, to become homeless, or to commit suicide. As an Indigenous person I have the legacy of 500 years of colonization (but also resistance) to carry with me on a daily basis. If you think that sounds heavy, you can start to imagine why it felt impossible to dream of a safe future.
Out of necessity, I have always known how the social justice issues I face were connected to environmental justice. The natural disasters facing our world — droughts, floods, hurricanes — affect those of us who are already marginalized. People of color, low-income folks, and people who live at the intersection of those identities have the most to lose in a future with increasingly intense natural disasters. I saw this connection because it directly impacted me and my Indigenous community broadly. The construction of the Keystone XL pipeline on my ancestral lands impacts the safety of my family in South Dakota. My First Nations allies in Alberta fight as fresh water from the Athabasca River is made toxic through bitumen extraction from tar sands. That toxic waste leaks and impacts the health of communities who have lived otherwise healthy lives for generations on the same land. And the extraction, development, and consumption of fossil fuels is what makes super storms like Hurricane Katrina possible.
The reason for this continued abuse of the land and people is clear. Racism is what makes the destructive impacts of dirty energy tolerable to those with power. They do not suffer the consequences and don’t see the suffering of my community as their problem.
It is easy to feel like I have no power to make change under these conditions. What is most devastating about the structural and social barriers I face is that I, too, have internalized the idea that I have no power. After a lifetime of explicit and implicit attacks, I had come to believe that my future is not mine. The last refuge of who I am as an individual, a member of my community, and as an Indigenous person had been colonized. Although structural inequity can be found everywhere, the enemies I fight are actually one and the same. The same people who ignore land rights and poison our communities try to suppress our voting rights and saddle us with debt.
The most tangible power I have in the face of these barriers, it turns out, is actually my imagination.
In order to exert my freedom and sovereignty, I have begun to dream. This dream begins by recognizing others’ fights as my own and seeing that the roots of environmental degradation are the same roots of oppression. It ends with a world in which we have not only stabilized the climate, met all of our needs for food, water, and shelter, and ended the violence that steals us away from our communities — we have also reclaimed the act of dreaming itself.
There is a power inside of us that is untapped, and yet vital to our collective future. It is easy to let that power be stripped away from us, and to internalize the colonization of our bodies, minds, and land. But once that power is awakened within us and we have shaken off the bonds of oppression, there is simply nothing that cannot be achieved in our collective imagination.
It’s time for all of us to awaken the potential of our imaginations and solve the toughest problems we face as a society. Help me Change the Course.