Water Day at the Oklahoma Capitol was hours long with speakers and attempts to train regular people how to talk to elected representatives and time to engage many of them, regrouping with conservatives, I mean conservationists. There was a time not so long ago when they may have been. Water issues for LEAD Agency ranged from Tar Creek's metals, Poultry Expansion and the effects on the Roubidoux Aquifer by BF Goodrich. (Tim Jones says it!)
Drew Edmondson provided proof of this when quoting from the Robert S. Kerr book, Land, Wood and Water. The Water protector organizations were delegated to the 1st floor of the capitol, and if you have been to the building, you may never have seen what felt like the basement, a place where the B-team and step-children could be left to not be a bother to the daily doings of the “real” people. But in that place, we grew closer and had the time to visit and understand more deeply the reasons these people came to speak out for water.
Yes, Drew Edmondson, who only months ago had sought the highest office in Oklahoma, was not speaking to the legislature, but to this hardy group of leaders who spend their days, spend their lives in the quest to protect the silent hope for the future, our shared water.
He began with a quote by Robert S. Kerr, a former Oklahoma Governor, “It is in our power, under the watchful eyes of God, to determine the physical form of the world in which we live. We can make it a paradise of ‘land, wood, and water’ or by neglect, permit it to become a desert. The choice is ours.”
The choice is certainly ours, but our elected officials may vote otherwise if they are never told how we feel about water and how our future relies on their being the best stewards of it while in power. So going in groups to visit our elected officials was a way to experience taking the people to the people in power. And to see that happen best was to see Berkley Ulrey, a 10 year old, take it to heart and stand right up there and ask to be heard. And BOY WAS HE!
Last Saturday at NEO the musical The Picher Project began and with each page the readers turned in unison, I found myself attempting to sit lower and lower in my chair as it became ever more apparent a character practically on every page was me. I know it because those were my own words spoken, things I remember saying decades ago, and as recently as the day before.
The choice is ours, as Robert S. Kerr had said, and to be captured in prose written by these talented “outsiders from New York City” for making those choices was humbling beyond measure. Their audience stayed as we had hoped and gave them feedback after the reading, but in different ways than we had imagined. The feedback was not from the audience, it came from individuals to individuals. People stayed and shared intimate feelings, stories of loss and yes, tears streamed as these were told. Lauren Pelaia, Quentin Madia and Alex Knezevic had done it, they had captured the essence of us, they had come to love Picher, and with their efforts, given a pride back that has ricocheted since their leaving.
The years have passed but Oklahoma should heed late President Eisenhower’s suggestions “we must make the best use of every drop of water which falls on our soil” and with that direction, Water people walked the halls of our capital, some with reservations, but the ten year old took the mission to heart and directed his message to representatives, their aides, to every keen person from 911 on the 4th floor rotunda and then well practiced, on seeing Governor Stitt, approached him on the move to relate how much he cared about the environmental missions for his very future. As it turned out, the Water protectors had been scheduled for time with the Governor who had not been available to meet with them, but instead heard our message from this child.
He made us proud, but think about it. What are we leaving him and the generations to come? The future will be bleak and the chicken houses empty without water, the aquifers left for the future cannot give what we wasted to cool the chicks in the hot summers, springs and falls on every day over 80 degrees. Didn’t President Eisenhower stress: ”best use of every drop of water?” Are we doing that?
Oil and gas extraction and agriculture are taking more than their share to help make us the waterless wasteland in the middle of the country and this will only lead to more hometowns which had promise and potential becoming places we use up and walk away from.
The Picher Project found that the heart and soul of a town can live on, but each one of these towns could have lived on. Extraction of our precious resources will leave us with no place left to live.
LEAD Agency represented our issues and our hopes with the incredible team we took to the capitol. These are serious times and our 10 year old Water Protector and his allies need your voices speaking up, too. Myself, I am pulling that "I like IKE" button out and wearing it proudly all day.
Respectfully Submitted ~ Rebecca Jim