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A Night Out

Updated: Mar 23, 2023

Red Dirt and Brownfields was not a place but a time.

A Geography professor, a filmmaker, an author, a photographer and an activist met unscripted to speak about a damaged place from their various perspectives. Each knew deeply, saw into, and knew the work that brought us together would not be completed in our lifetimes.

There was a great humbling repeated as each of these accomplished individuals quoted or referred to a thing said or done with my name batted about as if it was something worthy of remembering.

Red Dirt because the event was held in the heart of red dirt country, on the campus of the University of Oklahoma. Brownfields because someone chose to change it up and use the generic term for wounded place, known globally as a Brownfield where countries do not have the Superfund designation we use for sites in the US.

Each of the panelists brought notes and clearly had prepared with great thought what they would share with the public that evening. Myself, a few props and photos on the screen. But pulled together the way they knew our place, our water and our issues and how their work had made a difference and how we need their assistance into the future in the fight for clean water and environmental justice.

The quote above our panel read:

“Architecture is the thoughtful making of spaces.” ~Louis I. Kahn

Todd Stewart had taken photos and returned for a number of years as Picher faded from life after the tornado and turned these into a book. But he had returned again to help us with our Endangered River designation, photographing the children’s excitement when they found the frog eggs in Tar Creek, just as the “Boys of Summer” came jumping into the place they had chosen to swim. They kept returning there and as we discover a month later, the water stagnant and no signs of life because they had dammed the creek and stopped the flow.

It was Kathryn Savage who happened to be with us that day and jumped in with us to tear the dam apart, she who had come to see this damaged place while completing her book of essays entitled, Ground Glass.

Laurel Smith spoke with great expertise on what restoration means and when we might know it has begun or been achieved and her students’ connection with our untitled most neglected Brownfields: BF Goodrich and the workers oral histories and now the flood of stories we will be collecting from you. And our friend Bob Nairn there to answer the HOW it all can be done questions we should have anticipated coming.

Daniel Simon, the editor of OU’s World Literature Today hosted the event. But in the latest issue, dedicated to the people of Ukraine, the issue available that evening were these words that stood out to me:

“The city clings to us: we have to protect it like a child. A writer does this with words." ~Evgeny Golubovsky.

And further when Anna Streminska says, “Language, the word itself, has become a weapon.” These words take me forward to the work LEAD’s Flood surveyors begin in earnest this week. They will be engaging and asking about the city and how it clings to them, wraps itself in water and immerses them and all they possess and how it was for them, the times, the dates, the loss, the ways they ready for the next round. Your language will become our defense, these words perhaps weapons that can be hurled to an agency in power over the powerless.

For who can stop the water? Water goes and flows where it is allowed and can be held and released, or held and kept as the weapon to use to force a capitulation from a city that must be protected. The protection coming? For whom? For You.

Postcards, your choice who to send your words. We will furnish the stamps paid for by a neighbor, one you may never have met. We will bring the email address to send words, your messages to protect your city, the city that is wrapped by water when the flood sets in on her.

A cousin of mine and her family came to our Night Out. It brought her to tears afterward, telling me our grandmother, who she was able to spend countless hours with, hours I never had the chance to spend alone, not even one, that our grandmother would have been so proud of my work and how the humanities and other disciplines bring their support.

What I am proud to do is to ask you to join this work.

That work: the hope we must have in a future or face being paralyzed into accepting wrongs left untreated as the way the world will have to remain.

Let’s get to it. We can’t Stop the Rain, but let’s aim to stop the flooding.

Respectfully Submitted ~ Rebecca Jim

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