As an environmental activist, my life has focus on air, water and soil. Each are gifts from the Creator. All elements we need for survival. To these I add the element of work for, with it we are connected to these, often immersed, sometimes impacted in ways we learn to live with, and for some our lives shortened because of our relationship.
When I wake up in the morning, hearing the birds, feeling a gentle breeze, walking out in the yard, knowing the soil beneath my feet has never been plowed, mined or in some way disturbed, no chemicals added or lying in a perched aquifer below lingering for decades. I take a breath, deeply understanding in what I inhale has no heavy metals, no styrene, no excessive molds, smelling only the fragrances of the wildflowers currently in bloom or on these warm days the delight of the pines reminding me of summers in the Black Hills or Rocky Mountains.
These privileges experienced every single day of my life get me up and put me in a good way to head to work to fight to make a wounded place and her people get just one morning wake up knowing their lives might also be free of man-made harms.
As Maryann Hurtt would say in her poem The Tar Creek Monster, "I didn't always look this way." My life's work, first as Indian Counselor for the Miami secondary schools and since then as executive director for the only non-profit organization in northeast Oklahoma dealing with environmental issues you may have seen me age before your eyes.
It has all been honorable work. Knowing we and the many others and the agencies who stepped in to address childhood lead poisoning, we have collectively reduced the number of children who are poisoned in their very own yards, school playgrounds and parks because we paid attention and pushed as a crowd for it.
Now, I am calling more of you back into play and asking you to want a different morning for them and yourselves. I want you to know what it is like to breath clean air, have safe soils in your yards and have work that is safe. And water running down Tar Creek safe enough you will encourage your kids to join you wadding in it these hot summer days.
No, you probably didn't wake up this morning thinking this was the day you would become an environmental activist, but you could give it a try.
You can dangle your feet in it by adding your name on the WE HAVE FLOODED ENOUGH WE WON'T TAKE IT ANYMORE signs you will see around town (if you haven't already!); you can drop by the LEAD Agency office and come in, make some buttons to wear DON'T FLOOD US; you can sign a letter asking federal agencies to get their act together and work for US (we can provide the letter). What else? If you like being outside, join a Clean up on Tar Creek or with a fellow activist at Riverview Park.
We are developing a STREAM TEAM, join it and we will be taking Tar Creek's "temperature" once a month. Be a Lay-Health Advisor, teaching your friends how to protect their children from lead poisoning. What about using your own skills to help us develop these materials with these messages. We need scientists, biologists and map makers, but also artists, poets, musicians to make all this hard, scary stuff ease into our lives a bit more gently.
You can be an environmental activist right there in your own home. You can call DEQ and get your yard tested for lead for free and made right if it needs it for free, then you can wake up like me knowing that part that place is safe. Maybe you remember KINGS X from your childhood. Your yard can be it. And you can make sure of it. Start small, go full blast. Give it a try, this place needs a whole bunch of us doing this work if we want to make sure the work gets done.
Keep your eyes open, notice your surroundings. Observe differences. Memorize the Hotline for DEQ 800-522-0206. The cool part of that is you can do it anonymously. BUT if you want to know what you saw, what happened to the who that was responsible, you can give your name and address and you will get a letter telling you.
Let's get this collective goal. It is not wrong to want what I have been waking up to all these years. Clean air, soil and water. I am privileged by where I live and to have the honor to work in a place with people who deserve a clean environment.
Respectfully Submitted ~ Rebecca Jim