McKaylee Steen, a graduate of Grove High School is now a sophomore at Vanderbilt and she invited me to speak to the NATIV student organization on campus, and since I would be there anyway, her Sociology professor Joe Bandy allowed me to speak in his class on Environmental Injustice. The classroom had real chalk boards, so I wrote only a few words on it, beginning with JUST US. Sounds like justice, but it is about us, just us, at our site, in the place we might be, needing justice for us.
When the class ended, I headed almost in a bee-line for the campus library and rode the elevator to the 8th floor and walked up and down the aisles, walking through history, stopping to read a chapter of the horrors of a work camp the Poles had to endure during WWII and how life was short for most who were brought there, but like the circles of Dante's Inferno, each section of the camp was only harsher and more deadly for those made to work there. And then I placed that volume back on the shelf and walked on through history, and on down to lower floors, discovering centuries old volumes of poets and novelists, waiting on the shelves to be touched again, opened and read. I do love libraries, and later that evening I spoke of the library, but not of these experiences there, but for it's height in relation to the chat piles we have left in our Tar Creek Superfund Site, so those attending the session could have a frame of reference. Because now really, if you were going to try to explain chat piles, it is the pile that makes one think of something very much smaller than the mountains of waste they actually are and have been. I also explained that our 26,000 acre superfund site has had only 600 acres of it remediated, which would be just twice the size of their campus had been cleaned up so far.
Just Us. I went to Vanderbilt University and I spoke about us, our place, our wounded place left over from extraction processes that made great wealth and will cost an equal amount to make her whole again.
The title of my evening session was "Roots of Resistance." The title caused me to reflect on my life's history, rooted in movements, cuttings of which became the compost breeding who I became. Those roots of resistance have bearing too, to hold on tight and push on through. In my lifetime there have been times when masses of people stood up and spoke out. They woke up and were heard and changed history, but then they went to sleep, or just went on living their lives. Standing Rock woke up a lot of people and guns have too. I went to sleep for awhile myself, but those roots of resistance were there and have been keeping me awake for the last quarter century, or maybe longer!
Learning and relationships, building and developing hope. Years ago I was given a Cherokee name: u s ti u ga ta which means "little seed." And I like to think it fits. I'd like to be part of planting those seeds of hope we all can nourish and someday enjoy. Some of those seeds are the words we share, just us.
We posed at the end of the evening session with a little sign an art student made depicting 3 letters: E P A, and the words beneath the letters stating simply: Every Person an Activist. To my recollecting, twenty three years students of all ages have been submitting art work that gives them voice about the environmental issues we face here, lead poisoning, superfund, cave-ins, air quality and certainly bad water needing to change to good. We have piles of these creations and most of them have kept their creator's name attached to the back of the work. But that little one with the E P A has lost her maker's name, almost to say Every Person can also be the Activist Artist who can make a statement and express an opinion.
And that is what I hoped to convey to the students at Vanderbilt, they might not have a Tar Creek and we certainly hope there are NO MORE TAR CREEKS, but they may have an impacted creek, lake, or street needing attention and when no one is speaking up, no one will know the place needs help.
It is humbling to be invited to go to such a prestigious institution, but the next invitation can be to you. Find out what is happening here, tune in, have an opinion, want it better, and start speaking out. We need to demand JUSTICE. Just Us. We can do this.
Respectfully Submitted ~ Rebecca Jim