Environmental Justice Day by Day

Reel Camp for Girls Summer 2020

by Serena Ngaio Simmons (HWF writer in residence)

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The best thing about participating in these programs is being reminded that young people are incredibly aware and up to date on what is happening in the world. Young people don’t sugarcoat reality and they don’t try to make things pretty. At least not the young people of this generation, nah. They go for it, they tell it like it is, and they are down to learn more.

It’s also rad to see how eager some folks are to start pitching ideas right away and getting excited to make films about environmental justice. How they pay attention to the intricacies and make those connections between various social and environmental issues. I am grateful to be a part of something that allows me to learn from such awesome people and am happy that this space is one in which ultimately, we all learn something from each other. Everyone has something to offer. All roles are linked and necessary. Just like the movements that have been shaking down the very fragile walls of government and “law and order” in recent times.

It was only the first day but as I do with these camps, I can already tell these young people are going to shake it up. They are going to tell the necessary stories. They are going to add to the movement in this way. And I’m proud and grateful to be able to witness it. 

DAY 1: ALL ROLES ARE LINKED AND NECESSARY

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Today was an important reminder of collective responsibility and memory. Marginalized folks in particular (Black communities, Indigenous communities, those living in intensely militarized spaces, etc.) are heavily affected by environmental changes and damage done to the earth, and today’s presentation by members of the Sierra Club highlighted that. We cannot forget our relationship to this earth: for sure, many of us who are indigenous have direct, ancestral links to it. It is an ancient responsibility that we inherit as people who come from it in this way.

But we also need to remember our connections to each other. The absolute necessity of recognizing the ways in which we can support each other, our unique situations and where we can find linkages, and to always fight for all who need it. We lift the earth up as eldest relative and we lift each other up as relatives. We see our connection to the earth, then to each other, and we don’t forget how sacred those relationships are. All of us or none of us. That is how we get through.

DAY 2: TAUTOKO

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Today we spoke about extractive capitalism. The ways in which systems, ideologies, and mindsets that aren’t people-centered/community-centered enact violence on the earth and the people trying their best to live in concert with them*. How it strips away as many resources it can in the name of profit, “success,” “dreams,” and “progress.” How this leaves the earth in pain. Protesting in their own way. And the people hit hardest by this pain feeling the reverberations of every hit through environmental racism, displacement, becoming climate refugees. Through the products of environmental degradation and harm which manifests into severe mental, physical, and spiritual health problems spanning generations. And we are told to appeal to the system that is directly responsible for all of it for help. We are told to fix a system that is working exactly the way it was designed to.

And so the alternative? That’s the tough part. When asked on the spot what we would do differently, most of us can’t just say what we would do. That’s a hard question and it requires more than just one voice. It’s a collective vision and theres no way around that. But we do know that Decolonizing the mind and removing ourselves from the notion that all change starts with a few signatures on pukapuka is a good start. Is, in fact, THE start for creating lasting and sustainable change. Moving our focus from kāwanatanga (government, legislature, not of the people) to kotahitanga (unity, togetherness, The People, really). Asking ourselves, each other, the earth, what we need to imagine and how we go about making it happen. And we’re seeing so much of that very thing happening right now, out in the world and def in this camp.

With time and alongside one another, we can imagine these decolonial futures into reality. - Serena Ngaio Simmons, HWF writer in residence on Day #3 EJ Reel Camp for Girls.

*as a Māori I am inclined to refer to the earth, who I know as Papatūānuku, with she/her pronouns but I also recognize this is not the case for everyone. So I use they/them as a way to acknowledge and honor other stories/worldviews that differ from mine

DAY 3: KARAWHIUA

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Let’s just take a moment to like, be in awe. Just a moment.

There’s a pandemic. There’s movements fighting for the right to grow and sustain life in Black communities across the country. People are out in the streets organizing and at risk for both catching the virus and suffering further violence at the hands of cops. A new world is being built every second of every day. There is not a moment that goes by where a new idea and vision is being considered. And people are putting their ideas into practice. Things aren’t perfect; nothing ever is in the early days of revolution. But people are really doing their absolute best in the midst of such state-enforced/perpetuated chaos and destruction. And for the first time in my life, despite what feels like every force against us, it really feels like the foundation is being put down and it is STAYING.

And that’s how I feel when I’m in these camps during this time. I’ve always been inspired by the work young people do but personally, there’s something next level about being young, in school, in the middle of an international health crisis, and witnessing the absolute refusal of THOUSANDS of people, in the U.S. but definitely throughout the world in many places, to continue living the way we have been. AND to be able to still create during this time! Like! To be able to wake up, look at this world and feel all these things but decide to make some art anyways. And art that challenges, shapes, and adds to the overall archive that is being built in art and literally built out in the streets. I have spent the last two days watching these young people work hard in the middle of ALL of this, against the challenges presented by Zoom, creative decisions, time crunches, etc., to make the films they want to make. To do what they want to do.

And that’s what I’m saying. I feel like dreaming and crafting these decolonized futures has been in the works. We have been doing this. But in these times especially, it feels like we have to go for it. Full on. We have to build these sanctuaries, create barricades against cops, share resources, listen, make genuine safe spaces, raise Black voices up, reclaim native lands, and huli the system. Huli the WHOLE system. Build anew. Listen listen and listen. And sit with each other to figure out how to do that. And understand that when we go about laying the foundation, we are doing it with the intention of it staying. That we will guard the whare we are building at every second and will not take our eyes off of it. And that young people are the ones reminding us of this very necessary thing. They are listening, they are creating, and they are MOVING. They are telling us to make every action count. To keep going. To remember all of us or none of us. A better future for all or no future at all.

And how grateful I am to do whatever I can to support.

DAY 4 & 5: HULI

This camp was organized in collaboration with Sierra Club Oʻahu Group and made possible thanks to the generous support of the NoVo Foundation and Gerbode Family Foundation.

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