Opinion Advocates for ideas and draws conclusions based on the author/producer’s interpretation of facts and data.
Today is Independence Day—an acknowledgement of White settlers gaining their freedom from British colonizers in 1776. Many people now recognize the hypocrisy of July 4, after learning about the enslavement, exploitive labor, theft, and genocide of countless Black, Brown, and Indigenous people who have not reaped—and still do not reap—the benefits of this same freedom. Still, many Americans will put aside their conflicting feelings to enjoy the paid day off from work with parades and cookouts.
This fraught holiday is a time to reflect on the lessons we’ve collectively learned over the past year, holding close the truth that we need each other to survive and to thrive. Today, we need to decry the continued colonization of the United States, reject the American ideal of individualism, and continue building systems that strengthen our relationships with each other and with the planet.
The past year and a half has shown us the real priorities of our federal government, when it failed miserably to protect people during a pandemic and the subsequent economic fallout, but was swift to mobilize military troops against people demanding accountability for horrific police killings. Because of these compounding layers of crisis and violence, people had to work quickly to protect one another.
This culmination of events has led to a broader wave of consciousness around how White supremacy and capitalism work in tandem. And it has led to a greater willingness for different communities to come together to keep people safe.
We need to recognize that interdependence is essential.
One of the most concrete examples of community care in response to the pandemic is the mutual aid networks that were built early on and sustained. In Navajo Nation, there was rapid organizing to get and distribute personal protective equipment, make sure people had water and electricity, disseminate basic information to people without Internet, and create alternative solutions for those who were suddenly shut out of receiving essential services.
Gofundme, CashApp, and Venmo became essential tools of survival, with millions of dollars funneled from individuals and small organizations into the groups working to protect people protesting in the streets. This support was essential for bail funds, basic supplies, and legal fees, as well as distributed to individual people in need of immediate financial assistance.
Ten months into the pandemic, organizers of color once again mobilized their communities to the polls. Although the new administration is also flawed, we at least have a new baseline and political climate. That’s why organizers are moving with urgency now, while we have more room to push for proactive policy change instead of constantly defending against direct attacks on our communities.
As we recover from four years of a fascist, authoritarian government, we need people to internalize the lessons of the past year, not return to a “normal” that didn’t serve. We need to be in community and continuous conversation with each other so we’re at worst ready to mobilize for the next crisis, and at best moving forward together toward true transformation.
We still have a long way to go—in the U.S. we’re still under the grip of colonization. People have little to no say in where their tax dollars go, which is why we’re paying exorbitant amounts of money to fund oppressive police forces, corporate tax breaks, military intervention in other countries, and propping up the fossil fuel industry.
Meanwhile, stolen Indigenous lands are still being exploited, and the U.S. government frequently violates its own treaties and legislation when it comes to free, prior, and informed consent or environmental permits for pipelines.
One of the most critical ways to dismantle ongoing colonization is to return land to Indigenous people. As its rightful stewards, we know how to care for the planet, to make it sustainable for all life. Returning land to Indigenous hands would have a ripple effect on addressing other crises: shutting down the extractive industries that are fueling climate change, removing the violent state that defends them, and building sustainable water and energy systems for all.
Sometimes crisis can bring about opportunities for transformative action. The past year has proven we are capable of meeting great challenges with humility and innovation. If we continue to strengthen the systems we’ve built, we can expand them even further.
Let’s take this time to reflect on the lessons we’ve learned and encourage even more people to join us in building sustainable systems that actually work, instead of trying to reform broken systems that continually fail us.
Jade Begay is Diné and Tesuque Pueblo of New Mexico. Jade is a filmmaker, communications and narrative strategist, and Indigenous rights and climate activist. Jade has partnered with organizations like Resource Media, United Nations Universal Access Project, 350.org, Indigenous Environmental Network, Bioneers, Indigenous Climate Action, the Women’s Earth and Climate Action Network, Allied Media Projects. Jade also worked with tribal nations from the Arctic to the Amazon to create multimedia, develop strategies, and build storytelling campaigns to mobilize and increase engagement around issues like climate change, Indigenous self-determination, environmental justice, and narrative change. Jade is the Climate Justice Campaign Director at NDN Collective.