A year ago on Thanksgiving Day was the eve of when everything changed for me. Things were stirring for a while before that. As my family went around the dinner table to say what we were all thankful for, I could think of nothing I was more grateful for than the generosity that I was seeing in full force. Family, friends, friends of friends, and strangers had donated nearly a truckload of supplies and hundreds of dollars for me and some friends to deliver to the water protectors at Standing Rock. There were even people who were specifically giving my friends and me cash for gas and food for ourselves. I was overwhelmed. It was so clear to me that just about everyone I knew wanted to do something—to show solidarity. It made my faith in humanity soar.
Truthfully, I was down to the last of my money this time last year. Most people probably would have felt completely irresponsible and terrified leaving their life and work in a time of financial instability to go and support a cause that seemed hopeless. I most definitely felt that. But I also felt in my bones that I had no other choice.
My heart steered me right. Because that experience changed my life. It led me to face the truths about the world we live in—a world that’s gloriously beautiful and wretchedly ugly at the same time. I’ve learned more in the last year than I ever learned in 17 years of school. I’ve seen indigenous people and their allies do powerful, intentional, and necessary work—from physically standing to protect water for all to filling City Hall chambers several days a week to call for divestment from big banks that fund oil pipelines to teaching their children what the establishment and mainstream media hide, so that the cycle of trauma can be broken. I’ve made serendipitous connections with like-minded people who also became some of my teachers.
One of the most important things I’ve realized is that protecting nature isn’t just about protecting land, water, and wildlife—it’s also about protecting people. Or at the very least, listening to and sharing their stories. Many of those who are most connected to the earth, sea, plants, and animals have been oppressed and silenced for too long. But also, you’ve got to tell your stories of awakening. You never know what kind of ripple effect your shared perspectives can have on others who are just trying to figure things out.
I’m just now remembering when the shift started for me. I must have been in 10th grade. This Filipino guy decked out in hip hop gear—a type of person the patriarchy would try to paint as a threat—was walking next to me down the hallway and started making small talk. He showed me his self-annotated alternative history book (pretty sure it was this book called Lies My Teacher Told Me) and talked about how Columbus wasn’t an explorer and trailblazer, but a brutal colonizer and rapist. Those few minutes didn’t set me on full activism mode right then, but they sure left an imprint on me. I started to realize something that I think I had always intuitively felt: that when you learn to think for yourself, you uncover truths that have been ignored for generations.
I think a lot of people know by now that Thanksgiving was founded on lies. Indigenous people were slaughtered by these pilgrims they purportedly feasted with. To some people, this American holiday is a National Day of Mourning. If you don’t know that, it’s time for you to do your own research and find out.
I swear I’m not trying to ruin anyone’s holiday fun. I’m not saying all Americans should abandon their Thanksgiving traditions. But it is important for all of us to consciously think about what it all means and what we participate in. Even just the simple act of acknowledging what’s wrong contributes to a movement.
When I was in high school, my dad thought it would be cool to slaughter live chickens in our garage for Thanksgiving dinner. I wasn’t even a vegetarian yet at that point, but I knew there was something inherently wrong about doing that just for fun—not because we really needed the chickens for food. The only thing that stopped him was me saying I’d skip dinner if he did it.
My point is, you have the power to stop madness just by speaking out, or acting in your most fearful moments. Do it for the sake of those who can’t—whether people, animals, the earth, the oceans, whatever. Everything we do or don’t do, say or don’t say, has the potential to either perpetuate or heal old trauma. And healing ourselves, our families, and the people we find connections with is the only way we rewrite history and change the world.