Forever an Angelic Troublemaker

Tatjana Rebelle continues to focus on community in their new role at Earth Charter Indiana.
Tatjana Rebelle speaking at the Indiana Sustainability and Resilience Conference held at the Campus Center at IUPUI on Friday, Feb. 17, 2023.

When I took on the role of Director of Equitable Initiatives at Earth Charter Indiana, it was important to me to ensure I stayed true to myself and my work as a front-line social justice activist and writer. Over the course of the years, I have had the privilege of facilitating tough conversations that have ranged from Bystander Interventions, Cop Watch Trainings, and How to Be Anti-racist During the Holidays.

My writing and spoken word have had me speaking in front of thousands at rallies to bullhorns on the Statehouse steps to venues and publications. I have decades of experience “speaking truth to power” and take being an “angelic troublemaker” seriously, to the point that my safety has been put in jeopardy on more than one occasion. 

I made the decision to move into environmental justice (EJ) work because it allowed me to take my anti-racism and anti-classism work in a new direction. Climate Justice is racial justice, and food justice work is a fundamental human right. I made the shift at the end of 2019 when I decided to prioritize my mental health and get off of the front line. 

I, like all of us, was witness to the world awakening in the midst of a pandemic during the lynching of Mike Brown. I watched, as we all have, as DEI became the new catchphrase, and everyone made public statements declaring their newfound insight into the reality of racism. June 2020 I wrote, “I wish I could say I was excited for the movement that seems to have pushed this city to finally act. I’m not. I have been a part of too many calls for righteousness and justice from the white community. Witnessed firsthand how quickly interest falls by the wayside.” 

Just this year alone, I have created space within the sustainability realm for BIPOC folks to be centered. I was called divisive and complained about by people that felt ambushed by doing the very things I intended, centering BIPOC folks. I also received some of the most heartfelt thank you from folks yearning for connection.

I have flown to New Orleans to be at a national green schools conference, yearning to connect with folks in my field. I was blindsided by the amount of folks that care more about buildings/profit than the youth who occupy the spaces and simultaneously found a small community of union workers and justice-focused folks that’s life’s work is people-centered.

Tatjana Rebelle looking off to the sideI have sat in the House Chamber with high schoolers to talk with their Representative – the very space that I’ve spent over a decade protesting within its halls and on its steps. I was confronted with my own biases, reminded about how complex humans really are, and the reality that I live in a state where the most harmful people have the most power.

This year in particular I have been grappling with my roles, especially now that I’m moving into more spaces with decision-makers. How do I stay grounded in telling the truth and advocate for true system change while being in the system?

One thing I do know is I am a disruptor. I will never not force people to confront the reality of why we are in this situation. I will never not advocate for shifting the focus from the status quo and pushing the needle for radical change. I know I am being put in these rooms for a reason, and it’s okay if I don’t know where it’s going to take me.

I’m going to seize the moments and opportunities I have been given, and I will do it my way. I have to remember that I can’t just focus on the folks that I piss off or argue with.

My joy comes from the communities I have surrounded myself with. The growers and anarchists. The youth who are brave enough to say no. The caretakers and nurtures. Those who speak of resistance and mutual aid. The disruptors and angelic troublemakers. It’s they who I cling onto and embolden when I’m in the spaces I’m an outsider in. It’s my community that reminds me that there is hope and real change happening, all around us. It is for them that I am most grateful. I just hope as time goes on, there are more of us who are ready to tilt the scales of change toward liberation and equitable access for all. 

Tatjana Rebelle (they/them) serves as the Director of Equitable Initiatives at Earth Charter Indiana. You can follow them on Instagram.

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