October 28, 2021
By: Ashley Fairbanks

This is the work for the rest of our lives.

This is the work for the rest of our lives. - Photo

I don’t remember if it was the day of, or the day after.

We started at an intersection,

The one outside of the precinct that was finally burned.

That one that loomed there over us my whole life.

We started there.

Am I blending memories together now because I don’t remember if that was the same day that someone ran their car over a young person just a few feet away from me and the first time that the terror felt real, our separation from everyone else felt real as I read for the first time in a Facebook comment:

“This is what they deserve, standing in the streets.”

But we didn’t know what else to do besides stand in the streets because at least there we were together.

We took the highway for the first time.

It seemed so big and bold then, but it seems so normal now.

I remember how much bigger the road signs seemed, as we laid under them.

It felt so wrong to lay in the road and downtown felt so far away.

But I knew then for the first time

This is the work for the rest of our lives

This is the work for the rest of our lives

But I couldn’t understand what that really meant.

More than anything, my experience of climate change is the one that has happened inside of me. The fear and anxiety. The impacts on my choices, on my career, on my fertility, on my whole life. I carry it every day. I said the other day that it felt like walking through the hallway with an arm full of books. People rushing around you, as the books are falling, and you’re paralyzed.

I know, intellectually, all the things that have happened around me for my entire life that are also parts of the climate crisis. The storms. The droughts. The polar vortexes.

But I feel the impacts that live in my heart the most.

After that, it’s not data or statistics, the numbers of years until our doom, it’s the things that may seem small to other people but bring me so much grief.

The first year of my life where we couldn’t harvest maple sap.

My ancestors survived genocide and Indian wars and boarding schools and termination but our ways cannot all survive this.

What more will we lose?

I remember the first time I went to sugar bush, I was small.

And now I think about it and I wonder about the kids I won’t have, because I can’t bring them into this world because it feels wrong to ask them to survive it. I think about the years in the future there won’t be a harvest.

I think about our wild rice, our manoomin, at risk from the pipelines and mining and new algae that will thrive as the temperatures rise.

I think of our fish, at risk from invaders, take that how you will.

These are the pieces of us that our people worked desperately to hold on to, and what comes next wants to take them from us, too.

It feels too heavy to carry.

In the darkest moments I remember the words of Ricardo Levins Morales, when I laid my despair at his feet and he took a sip of coffee and reminded me that powerful forces want us to feel grief. They want us to live in despair because there is no power there.

I remember the words of a poem by his sister Aurora, words spoken by many before and after her, words that I’ve tattooed on my body:

Another world is possible.

There will be a society after ours. There will be descendants after our descendants. The planet will go on. The fish and the deer and the rice, and maybe us. There will be survivors.

We owe it to them, to fight for them. The way our ancestors fought for us. The way they dreamt us into the future. The way that they, in times of despair larger than I can ever imagine, they thought of us. They had the courage to go on.

This is what keeps me going.

I’ll keep believing. I’ll keep waking up and fighting. I’ll keep dreaming our future into existence.

That is the work for the rest of our lives.

This is the work for the rest of our lives.

And I am finally beginning to understand what that means.

Ashley FairbanksAshley Fairbanks is the Creative Director of 100% Campaign. She is a member of Climate Generation’s Window into COP26 Delegation. She is a passionate organizer for issues like stopping the Line 3 pipeline, indigenous rights, and police abolition. Learn more about Ashley and subscribe to follow her experience at COP26.