Many years ago, my dad experienced a moment that occurred one afternoon in downtown Vinita. Two old Cherokee men were walking toward each other. My dad knew both and one had been away for ages. He heard this exchange occur without a pause in their steps as they passed each other, “You’ve been away.” And the other replied, “I come back.”
That’s kind of how quickly I was away this week. And how inadequately those words sum up the emotions and experience of the trip for the Climigration Network in-person Council meeting in New Orleans.
I sat for 2 days with people who are now more than images in a zoom meeting. They demonstrated their feelings with the other four community members who represented small communities or tribal villages facing devastating floods and climate losses, because many of them when speaking found themselves in tears.
We broke away one evening and went for a
traditional Cajan meal prepared by A Community Voice, though we didn’t break bread we did have corn bread muffins and ate together in a large room 8 feet below sea level in what one of the sisters called a “bowl” with the Mississippi River on one side and Lake Pontchartrain on the other, both always threatening to spill over as it had with Hurricane Katrina.
A Community Voice is a non-profit, like LEAD Agency, dealing with the issues communities shouldn’t have to tolerate, a constant threat of flooding. Their message was shared in humble ways as their spokesperson simply went around the room and reflected back the other facets of the whats they are doing or hoping to do. Ultimately, they have conceived the notion of land, elsewhere, land for their neighbors to retreat to in the face of an immediate danger, to wait for a flood to recede but also land to consider living on in the future, together.
This concept is familiar to me, as I remember the dream of Picher residents who wanted simply to move their town away from subsidence risk and chat piles, so they could stay together, only to have the idea nixed by the government. These folks are figuring out how it might be possible to do it on their own.
That same thing can happen to parts of Miami. When I first showed our FLOOD MAP to one of our city officials, the images you have now seen showing our risk, he said, “we have to buy land.” Yes, this is an answer if we cannot change the way the dam is operated and how GRDA allows their water to trespass on your property and they fail to compensate you for it. The city leadership also must not approve new structures to be built where we know they will flood.
We convened the second day of the Network in a corner room down near the Mississippi River, the river our flood waters find and acknowledged how Climate Change is causing the oceans to rise, land to erode and flood low lying areas. Droughts will create vast fires; more severe storms will impact the inland residents. The dye is cast. This is happening and more will follow and the communities represented in that room will feel it first, Puerto Rico, coastal Texas, and native villages in Alaska.
Then eyes turn to me. Our disasters don’t get women’s names like hurricanes. We have only initials to call out blame because the courts are determining our floods are MAN-MADE by an authority with no faces, no feelings, no remorse and no names.
Hearing this, around the room, the tears dried up and the wordsmithing began. They each had one of our postcards and they were writing with intention the words FERC might most need to be told at this moment in your lives, this little group of privileged, ethical and caring women you have never met lifted up your cause.
It is humbling.
These were people we have needed. They by the grace of our creator have found this little place on earth. What comes of it and them with us? The Climigration Network has found us. You may have other networks, connect them in, let’s widen our reach.
If you live in the flood plain complete your Flood Survey. Write FERC a message, tell your story.
I come back to hope. My only fear is your regret if you don’t put your shoulder into doing or saying a thing. I fear only what comes with silence.
Respectfully Submitted ~ Rebecca Jim