• Ngaio Simmons

Connections - EJ#2 end of camp reflection

In the brainstorming for how to begin this reflection, the one thing I couldn’t seem to get out of my mind is the weather we experienced during this camp. In the two previous camps, we either endured consistent heat and humidity at all hours or we were sheltered from the heat while also being submerged in the intense cold of air conditioning. This camp was markedly different in that we seemed to experience all forms of weather (ones we can actually have in Hawaii, that is) within a single week. The only consistency was the inconsistency: heat, chill, rain, heat followed by rain followed by heat, and so on. It had been a while since I had witnessed such massive and constant shifts in the weather since this summer started and I couldn’t help but notice how it was different in some way everyday. It became so apparent as to effect filming on some days, leaving the team to try and figure out how to manage despite the unexpected elements.

And it’s fitting, I suppose, that we have this strange display of weather shifts during the second Environmental Justice Reel Camp. When we are once again thinking about the detrimental and oftentimes lethal impact of human-made/greed-driven industry on the earth, sky, ocean, air, and spirit. When I wake up to notifications from NPR that yesterday we were still in the middle of a pandemic but today we are at the beginning of a literal global meltdown. Places like Oregon and Washington that are used to cooler temperatures are now enduring never-before-seen heat waves and temperatures. An oil pipeline in the Gulf of Mexico bursts and, like something I thought I'd only ever see in cartoons, the ocean has literally caught on fire. Black, brown, PoC, and Indigenous peoples throughout the so-called U.S. and the world are still suffering physically, mentally, and spiritually from the exploitation and degradation of their lands, homes, neighborhoods, and ways of living due to capitalism. And here we are at Church of the Crossroads. In our little slice of earth. Watching the weather change abruptly and without warning. While it's smaller than these larger events causing havoc throughout the world, these happenings are not occurring in isolation. They are connected. They are part of the chain.


This is essentially the message I got from Mango Media Productions film. The film, titled Paper Plane, opens with a person writing a positive and well-meaning message into a paper airplane before folding it up and sending it out into the world for someone to find. The intentions are good and the person clearly means to brighten someone’s day with a nice reminder but we quickly see that sending a paper airplane out to float in the air isn’t the best idea. Through animation, we follow the journey of the airplane and see how actions like this can lead to the airplane becoming lost, lost to litter, litter to an additional piece of pollution, and another problem we need to combat in the ongoing fight against environmental injustices. We see a protest taking place along the side of the road where the signs are calling for change and for passersby to pay attention to what is happening to our planet. The airplane guides us on this journey the entire time: from beginning to end, we are being shown one of the many reasons why we should care about how we carry ourselves and live in concert with this planet that we call home. Even an action as seemingly small as letting a paper airplane float out for someone to find can find its way into the most dangerous of situations. Link by link, a chain is created.

This is not to say that I believe only individual actions are to be held responsible for the current climate crisis we find ourselves in. I do not believe that climate change, redlining, environmental racism, land theft, and industrialization are maintained by the individual choices of everyday people. As Lauren reminded us on the second day of the camp, the roots of these issues can be traced all the way back to about 100 companies in the world. While I do think we can all benefit from shifting in the ways we do certain things (we can definitely stand to not litter, that should go without saying), I also recognize that sustainability and “going green” are things that have become increasingly steeped in privilege. Not everyone has access to $150 jeans made out of recycled water bottles or farm-to-table meals for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Most people have to make do with what is available and it is a luxury to consume things that don’t have at least one hazardous ingredient included in the mix. This is also not saying that the way “living green” is presented is healthy or rooted in good and sustainable practices either. Most things we are shown by influencers and lifestyle coaches that promote “better living” or “healthy eating” exist only because Black, Brown, and Indigenous peoples labor, land, foodways, and cultures were stolen, appropriated, and twisted for these purposes. The entire way we approach our contributions to turning the tide of the climate needs to be re-directed and we need to listen to the communities who suffer from these things directly and who have already been leading the fight which is, once again, Black, brown, PoC and Indigenous communities.


What I mean when I write ‘chain,’ ‘connection,’ and ‘link,’ is that nothing in this fight is on its own. Nothing that happens within the realm of the environment finds itself lonely and without company. Everything is connected. While places and situations may feel individualized, they all share a common thread and that is environmental degradation brought on by extraction. Destruction. Capitalism. This is the message I got from the film. Just like the airplane goes on this extraordinary journey, makes all of these stops along the way, and leads to this outcome, so do all of these events we see happening around us in the environment today. What has been happening. What will continue to happen. Everything that feels like an isolated event is just another linkage in a long-running chain in this fight. We can trace it all back to the companies that run the world. That displace Indigenous peoples. That run whole communities out of their homes. That harm and maim forests, trees, and our more-than-human relatives. That literally take lives. There are many strands but they all lead back to the same source. Capitalism and greed. Lust for power. The idea that the earth and those who call it relative are things to be conquered.


And it is scary. And it can feel hopeless. And while I have essentially written what feels like albeit a more prose-like reiteration of the apocalypse, the film also shows us that connection can also go the other way. We know the source of the destruction. We know that all the cables lead back to the one Giant Machine that is these companies and these evil people who want to harm and destroy. But we have other roots that start in love and lead to kinship. We have strands of care, joy, and sharing coming from the earth and connecting to thousands of communities throughout the world. We have people who see the need for change link up with others who see the same and they create their own networks of consciousness. Connections stemming from love for each other and this planet. Intersections rooted in care and devotion to better ways of living. Intricate patterns that lead back to culture, spirit, and basic bloody decency as the source. With this as the backbone, we get things moving. We get people listening. We keep growing.


Things seem bleak. But we must remember that destruction is not the only network around. That we have connections too. And we won’t stop making them.


To see more pictures click here.