by Serena Ngaio Simmons (HWF writer in residence)
I will admit something: I am 26 years old, a graduate student, and I am still learning. This is important for me to write not just as a personal reminder but also because it feels timely. It feels necessary. The times we are in: millions of people across the so-called U.S. and the world are revolting against oppression and the status quo, where people are advocating for and honoring the sacredness of Black lives and experiences, a pandemic is revealing the absolute fragility inherent in the governing body of the so-called “greatest country on earth,” as well as the outright neglect and disdain for the physical and mental health of the people living within its borders. Forests are burning, Black, Brown, and Indigenous peoples are experiencing the worst of an economic shutdown and the absence of public health measures, and we are living in perpetual trauma mode; we are always on edge, always waiting for the other shoe to drop, to learn a new, scary fact or to drop everything and run to someone’s aid. There are very few breaks right now and it is safe to say that not a single one of us has all the answers. We just do our best every day and support each other in doing the same.
While we don’t have answers, many of us have ideas. We have visions. We have imaginings of a world beyond the fatal, colonial one we’ve been given. Specifically, the youth have ideas. I’m not sure at what point academia convinced me that I somehow know more than others because I am older and sitting in a classroom for two and a half hours talking about some dude named Hegel; it was always wrong though. I do not know more because I am older. I certainly don’t know more because I decided to be sad in a classroom for two and a half years to acquire an extra piece of paper.
If the Reel Camp shows me anything repeatedly, it’s that young people already know. They’re already learning, picking things up quickly, researching, taking the time, and applying it to their unique situations. They are aware of how they move in the world and they tell stories about it. When educators and community members give presentations on this camp’s theme of Reproductive Justice (RJ) and the supremely intersectional nature of it all, they pay attention, they take notes, and they apply it to what’s happening in the world. They are very aware of what’s going on and they don’t need any more from those of us who decided we somehow have a leg up because of age or some self-appointed credential. More importantly, what these young people do with film, in particular, is something that we could all learn to do in some capacity during these massive world-building times: imagine.
There is definitely a magic in being able to read or hear a story and picture it in one’s mind: it is a whole other thing to be able to see exactly what someone else is envisioning. What one is imagining something to look like. That is what is so amazing about film and these films especially. Not everyone decides to make films that focus specifically on the future and what it looks like; rather, what I mean by imagining, is these films beg us to take a second and think about what it would mean to live in a world where our bodies, voices, experiences, and choices mattered? What does that love and respect for our bodies, voices, experiences, and choices look like? How do we enact that right now, in this moment, in our lives? What are all of the elements of those stories and how do we honor all of them? Especially as Black, Brown, and Indigenous peoples, as well as LGBTQI+ folks. What does it mean to make room for those stories and let them join the fabric of all the other powerful stories contributing to our collective liberation? How do we use these as fuel for our thinking, our drive, and our unending fight to huli corruption and injustice? These are important questions for us all to ponder as we continue to draft the plans for a decolonized future.
My last point and I’ll yield the soapbox. I’m sure there are many of us who continue to operate under the assumption that RJ largely has to do with safe birthing practices, childcare, sexual education, and safe sex practices. For those from my generation, who endured the painful experience known as abstinence education, RJ is perhaps something we came to learn about later on in life or outside of school on our own after those dreaded library seminars. And to be fair, it makes sense to still have that assumption to an extent: individual birthing choices, discrimination against Black, Brown, and Indigenous peoples choices regarding birthing and childcare, as well as a sustained effort by federal and local governments in the so-called U.S. to rip abortion, contraception, and basic education away from people are ongoing problems and they are active forms of violence. We still have to fight for what should be very basic things, even after so-called “protective measures” have been passed here and there. It is necessary, however, to remember that RJ also includes taking care of and fighting for those who are with us right now.
In addition to new life and the right to raise future children as one sees fit with safety, love, and protection, it is also important to sustain and uplift our relatives who are already with us on this plane. To take care of the elders who are with us right now, the parents who are working hard to raise children at the base of the Hellmouth known as the U.S., the people my age who are working three jobs, going to school, and managing depression and anxiety while also organizing and being in community, and young people who we many think are at home sitting bored in front of an online lecture but who are actually participating as active architects in this decolonized world-building that is currently taking place. RJ means creating a world for future life to thrive, for choice to be the norm, and it means taking care of, nurturing, and following the lead of those already here who are carving the path to that world. RJ means listening. RJ means making space. RJ means future building or there is no future. Young people got this. They always got this. They are creating these films that imagine love, choice, safety, and equity and they are roadmaps for us to follow. It is imperative that we start recognizing that, honoring that, and listening to that.
Read more about the camp here.