On Resilience.

 Victoria Barrett, 19, is a youth activist and plaintiff on  Juliana v. United States , the youth climate lawsuit brought by 21 young Americans against the U.S. government for violating their constitutional rights by causing climate change. She is just finishing her freshman year at University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Victoria Barrett, 19, is a youth activist and plaintiff on Juliana v. United States, the youth climate lawsuit brought by 21 young Americans against the U.S. government for violating their constitutional rights by causing climate change. She is just finishing her freshman year at University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Resilience. The capacity to recover quickly from difficulties; toughness. A word often used to positively characterize someone or something. A word often used to inspire the changemakers, the organizers, and the leaders. We often forget though, in our world dominated by social constructs and hierarchies, that resilience is not always grasped for or striven toward, it is necessary.

 Victoria's family in Brooklyn in probably the late 1970s. Her mom (pointing at the camera), her grandparents, her aunt, and her uncle.

Victoria's family in Brooklyn in probably the late 1970s. Her mom (pointing at the camera), her grandparents, her aunt, and her uncle.

 Young Victoria.

Young Victoria.

Some of us are blessed with the ability to withstand the unthinkable in our blood, in our brains, in our ancestry, and in our history. My mother migrated from Trujillo, Honduras to Brooklyn, New York, overcoming language barriers, racism, sexism, and xenophobia at the age of 16. Her mother made this journey before her, leaving behind a family, crossing an unknown land only to be subjected to a society that couldn’t even see her as human, for some paper money that we’ve determined is necessary for a fulfilled survival. They sacrificed to provide me with a life that could allow me mobility to be happy, to be “successful.” They understood giving up their own comforts to protect a life not even introduced to them yet. This is what we have been asking those in positions of leadership to do for years in regard to the ways in which we protect our land and our communities. This concept is so foreign to them that our leaders still act in ways that could cause irreparable damage to youth and generations to come. Resilience isn’t learned, it’s given to you by the adversities life has awarded you. This is why in order for us to appropriately fight the powers that hand away pieces of our environment for profit, we must enlist the people who have lived on the margins of society. Had the women in my family been born into a different reality, maybe an “easier” one, they would have never been gifted with their strength.

It took me 19 years of being latinx, black, and queer for me to realize that I had developed mechanisms for resilience that I didn’t even know I had. I was born existing as a person who would always need protection from those in power, and I’m not alone. This is sadly the case for many people who don’t fit the mold of what society upholds: people who are of color, people who identify as women, people who are poor, people who are queer. In today’s world we uphold resilience as a necessary tactic for change but ignore those who have been utilizing it to survive since the day they became themselves. The people on the frontlines of the issues that plague our society have been born with one of the most integral skills to fighting their misfortune. It is the responsibility of those with privileges, who recognize the issues, and have the capability to dissect gatekeeping language, to respect all of the inherent strength that already exists within marginalized communities and provide platforms for that strength to be shared and highlighted.

 Victoria at the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial on the National Mall.

Victoria at the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial on the National Mall.

The resilience of these communities is tested everyday, around the world: Inuit communities in Alaska facing coastal degradation, black communities in the Bayou facing rising sea levels, whole nations of people who are being relocated due to a climate disaster they haven’t even mainly perpetuated. When we consider climate disaster we have to consider that those being impacted have historically faced hostility from outsiders, “protectors,” and institutions implemented under the guise of “order.” We are at a point in our history where we see the faults of the imperialist world we’ve arrived at manifested everyday, whether through environmental racism, police brutality, gun violence, unfair distributions of wealth, or one of the many other injustices that exist in today’s international community.

Climate change impacts all humans in the way that it puts our main life support - our earth and her resources - at risk of degrading to a point of no return. This current situation comes as a result of major disregard for underrepresented communities. This major disregard for underrepresented communities comes as a result of the exploitative culture of those who could have instead learned from the people they colonized, those who could have learned the beauty in survival, those who could have learned the beauty in hardship, those who could have learned the beauty in protecting the generations that are to come next.

Climate change is impacting those who have the most to teach our culture and it’s time that we stand up and ask the figureheads tasked with representing a diverse array of human lives to listen to the people who know everything there is to know about preserving existence. We have to show our leaders that resilience is created in the communities that they ignore. We have to show the world that ignorance has been breeding strength for some time now and that we intend to use every single ounce of power we have.

 Victoria and a couple of her fellow plaintiffs at a march in Philadelphia during the Democratic National Convention in 2016.

Victoria and a couple of her fellow plaintiffs at a march in Philadelphia during the Democratic National Convention in 2016.

Caitlin Howard