Systemic racism, unfettered capitalism and environmental destruction have reached a boiling point in 2020.
There is no going back to “normal.”
2020 has been one of the most intense years of our lifetime. Yes, the world has experienced global health pandemics before, but never at the peak of our technological development. Yes, mass groups of people have taken to the streets to demand justice before, but not at this time, not in this way.
Things are different, and rightfully so. If “normal” refers to life before COVID-19, then normal across North and South America meant the ongoing targeted murder and imprisonment of Black, brown and Indigenous people and people of colour. “Normal” meant the ongoing expansion of unfettered capitalism, the destruction of the planet, gross inequality and the dominance of a 'profit over people' culture across the globe.
Normal meant that a man named Derek Chauvin, who had a history of violence against people of colour, could occupy a position that armed him with a uniform, a gun and a toxic power complex. It meant Chauvin was able to detain an innocent Black man named George Floyd and place his knee on Floyd’s neck for eight long minutes until he died face-down on the cement while Floyd and everyone around begged Chauvin to stop.
People have taken to the streets because that is how chemical reactions work. Ask any scientist. Do you ask fire why it blew up when it had alcohol poured into its face? Why do we question the reactions of people who are doing whatever they can with what they have, where they are, to speak out against injustice, to fight back against an armed military state, to take down corporate buildings in gentrified neighbourhoods where Black, brown and Indigenous people still sleep in the streets? Why do we question the ways victims of violence act out against their oppressors?
As academic, philosopher, political activist Angela Davis stated in a 1970 interview while she was detained in a prison in San Francisco for protesting the racist American state: “Because of the way this society is organized, because of the violence that exists on the surface everywhere, you have to expect that there are going to be such explosions, you have to expect these things as reactions.
“When you talk about a revolution, most people think violence, without realizing that the real content of any kind of revolutionary thrust lies in the goals you are striving for, not in the ways you reach them,” she said.
The media have focused on the buildings burned, but we must also remember what is fueling the fires: The pure rage of the injustice of George Floyd's death, a retraumatizing filmed event that reminded the world of every Black person who has been wrongfully killed without any kind of justice.
I would rather live in a world where the murder of an innocent person incites global outrage, than one where we are so numbed, so brainwashed, so desensitized that we do nothing, say nothing, feel nothing.
But while most understand the pervasive issues that plague our societies, we don't often hear about the solutions. We often consume the suffering of over-targeted and over-exploited peoples as a kind of poverty porn, the news of more death, more violence and more injustice normalized. While we need to examine the legacies of violence, dispossession and inequality woven into the fabric of today, we need to also uphold the knowledge systems, ancestral strength and resilience that will lead us into a better tomorrow.
We need to know that when we burn it all down, we will be ready and able to put people in positions of power who embody the principles lacking in today's world. We need to know that we will have alternative energy solutions, job opportunities, and laws and policies that protect and promote diversity, rather than condemn it. And we need to do the personal work necessary to be able to practice what we preach.
That's why, as managing director of the First Nations Forward, I started a Facebook Live interview series. Because as we cry for injustice and point to the problems, we must also uplift the solutions.
Let that sink in.
What that means, to me, is that ancient lineages, traditions and cultures have existed for thousands of years because they work. While civilizations have risen and fallen over time, leaders come and gone, laws written and abolished, there are still groups of people, across the world, practicing traditions, laws and protecting cultures that were practiced by ancestors thousands of years ago. And there are still people, who resist, grow, love and live, despite all the forces that would have it otherwise.
The First Nations Forward series welcomes Indigenous knowledge-carriers, chiefs, politicians, leaders, community members, elders to share their stories, knowledge and perspectives on how we got to where we are today and where we need to be going tomorrow. The conversations have, and will continue to explore, natural laws and governance, food sovereignty, various forms of ancestral resilience and healing, creative resistance and more.
There are ways for us to retain balance. There are solutions available to the current climate crisis, but in order for us to develop the kind of social cohesion needed to implement these solutions, we need to start listening to the right people.
This doesn't mean placing the burden on Indigenous people and people of colour, many of whom are trying to survive ongoing colonialism, industrial development or who are in the process of healing, self-determination, and the revitalization of languages, laws and lands. And it doesn't pretend that all Indigenous peoples want the same things or have the same ideas about conservation and development.
It means we need to take Indigenous knowledge systems as serious solutions to the environmental problems we face and make room for voices that have been largely ignored, misunderstood or demonized. It means we need to put people in positions of power who know these truths in their blood and bones.
I want to live in a world where the murder of innocent Black boys and men is not a normalized reality, where Indigenous women do not get murdered or go missing and turned into a statistic, where reconciliation means reparation, where people aren't shot with rubber bullets and tear gas for demanding accountability and change, and where every system of power is representative of the society it's meant to serve.
I want to live in a world that listens and respects the natural world, rather than trying to dominate, colonize and control it. I want to live in a world where diverse worldviews and ways of being are celebrated, and where at the very least, at the very very least, everyone has the right to BREATHE.