This presentation was for an environmental organization’s planning meeting. It is about the courageous actions by people in and around Bokoshe (pop. 450) where the State of Oklahoma has permitted a fly ash dump to operate illegally for more than seven years. It is a call for immediate action by individuals.
I have been asked here to talk about Bokoshe, but I did that last year. Nobody cares about Bokoshe — at least nobody important. You wouldn’t want to waste your time on things that nobody important cares about.
Let’s talk about sports instead. Lots of important people care about sports. The difference between football and wrestling is interesting. In football the line man can’t score unless the running back can carry the ball. The running back can’t carry the ball unless the wide receivers can draw the defense. The wide receivers can’t draw the defense unless the quarterback can throw the ball accurately, and the quarterback can’t throw the ball accurately unless the lineman blocks his man. Unless all eleven men take the field there is no reason for anyone to take the field.
Wrestling is different from football. In wrestling each man takes the mat by himself. If he wins he scores for the team, but he has to win by himself. Nobody can help him. If enough individuals win, the team wins.
Sometimes life is like football, but life is always like wrestling. Every day you must face your challenges alone. Each morning you must put your feet on the floor and face the challenges of that day.
But enough about football and wrestling.
Lets talk about something else that important people care about — religion. In the middle ages, the Pope and the crowned heads of Europe ruled the western world as part of the Great Chain of Being. At the top was God, then the Pope, then the kings and other nobles and then the unimportant people. To disobey the king, or any other important person, was to disobey God and risk your immortal soul. But the church offered a solution, indulgences. For a fee, the Pope would declare in writing that you were righteous. The sale of indulgences kept the unimportant people in line and kept the important people rich.
A common man, an unremarkable priest, recognized the injustice of the sale of indulgences. He wrote an explanation of why it was wrong, and according to legend, he nailed it to the door of the church. In doing so, he challenged the authority of the most powerful man in the western world – the Pope. The Pope called him before the leaders of the church and the rulers of Europe. He faced more than the government. This unremarkable priest stood in front of all the power in the Western World.
He stood there in his place in the Great Chain of Being subject to the Pope and the King whose power towered over him. And he stood there in his place as a priest above all of his parishioners, farmers and peasants. He was asked if he would recant and accept the authority of the pope. All he had to do was go along with the important people. He could be one of the important people. He did not recant. He said he had told the truth and he could do nothing else. They threw him out of the church and tried to kill him. But he did not stop. He continued to tell the truth. He told the truth to the important people but they did not care.
He told the truth to common people, and by doing so Martin Luther changed the world. He successfully challenged not just a government, but the existing order of the western world. With his words, he separated the Pope, the top of the Great Chain of Being, from the supposed source of his authority — God. And he connected common people with that authority. The Great Chain of Being crumbled. It has been replaced with principles of freedom that are written into the United States Constitution and the foundational documents of governments throughout the world.
But enough about religion. Let’s talk about politics. Lots of important people care about politics
My parents caused me to be a Democrat. Bill Clinton caused me to become a Republican. George W. Bush caused me to want to be an independent. Obama caused me to be an Obamican. The year 2009 caused me to be a political agnostic. There may be a legitimate political party, but I don’t think we will every see it.
In my opinion, too many people in politics and government are just selling indulgences. You don’t have to actually do anything good. In fact, you can do a lot of bad things. But for a fee, you can get a piece of paper that says how good you are. Maybe it’s a signed picture of a U.S. President to recognize your contribution; may be it’s a carbon credit to absolve you from emitting green house gases; may be it’s a Farm Bureau membership to show you support farmers; may be it’s a Sierra Club membership to show you support the environment. Lots of these modern day indulgences are being sold. The money pays for lots of strategies, planning meetings, lawyers, lobbyists, and public relations firms doing important stuff in Washington, D.C. and Oklahoma City. It must be important stuff because that’s what all the important people talk about.
But enough about politics. I was asked to talk about Bokoshe, even if important people don’t care about that.
When I talk about Bokoshe, I am mainly talking about Dub, Susan, Tim and Sharon. There are others, but these are the individuals who take the mat every day. Since I spoke to you in 2009, these men and women have been standing in front of the important people and telling them the truth.
Susan, Tim, Dub and Sharon live next to a fly ash dump that operated in violation of the Clean Air Act for 7 years. Every 8 to 10 minutes a truck would dump and a plume of fly ash would rise up hundreds of feet in the air and the ash would settle onto the town of Bokoshe. The owner of the pit, Making Money Having Fun, LLC, also receives water produced from oil and gas wells — hundreds of truck loads each week. The water seeps through the ash and runs onto Dub’s ranch, into his stock ponds and into a creek that flows to the Arkansas River. MMHF has created a pyramid out of fly ash and oil field water that will be a source of contamination of the air and water for centuries. Susan, Tim, Dub and Sharon called all the important people — the Oklahoma Department of Mines, the Oklahoma Department of Environmental Quality and the Oklahoma Corporation Commission. The important people didn’t care about that.
In April 2009, Tim, Dub, Susan and Sharon went to a public meeting of the Air Quality Advisory Council of ODEQ. They went alone with no money, no plan, no lawyer, no lobbyist, and no environmental organization. They were told they could not speak to the council about their specific situation with MMHF. The important people didn’t want to hear about Bokoshe. The people from Bokoshe told them anyway. Due to the power of these individual telling the truth, within a month the ODEQ had determined MMHF had been operating illegally for 7 years. ODEQ has force MMHF to make some improvements.
In October 2009, Tim, Dub, Susan and Sharon went to a pubic meeting of the Water Quality Advisory Council of the ODEQ. They went alone with no money, no plan, no lawyer, no lobbyist and no environmental organization. They were told they could not speak to the council about the specific situation with MMHF. They were told there is nothing ODEQ can do. The important people didn’t want to hear about Bokoshe. The people from Bokoshe told them anyway. Because of the power of these people telling the truth, within 24 hours ODEQ had called the EPA and there was an inspector on the site. EPA has order MMHF to stop dumping oil and gas water at the site.
In January 2010 the people of Bokoshe went to a public meeting of their town council and asked them to join an action to permanently vacate MMHF’s permit to dump oil and gas water in the pit. I guess there aren’t any important people in Bokoshe because they wanted to hear about the situation with MMHF. The town of Bokoshe approved the action and the town of Bokoshe along with individuals will file an application at the Oklahoma Corporation Commission to vacate MMHF’s permit.
In November 2009, the people of Bokoshe went to the ODEQ board. They were told they could not speak about their specific situation with MMHF. The important people didn’t want to hear about Bokoshe. The people of Bokoshe told them anyway. The power of Tim, Dub, Susan and Sharon telling the truth is still at work. They have already changed their world for the better, and they are not done. They are not done telling the truth to important people. Governors, senators, cabinet members, agency heads and judges are going to hear the truths that they don’t care about, and there will be change.
I was asked to tell you what you can do for the people in Bokoshe. If you are an important person, I don’t think there is anything you can do. If you not important, you can take immediate action that is guaranteed to produce results. You can tell the truth and change your world.
If you want to, you can do it tomorrow. You don’t need money, a plan, a strategy, a lobbyist, a lawyer, or an environmental organization. I guarantee that you can meet this challenge all by yourself. First, you must look and see. Go to Bokoshe and have Susan, Dub, Tim or Sharon show you the fly ash dump. If you want, I will go with you. Second, you must listen and hear. Listen to the people who can’t breathe because of fly ash stuck in their lungs. If you want, I will introduce you. Third, you must tell what you saw and heard. Go to the meetings that the people of Bokoshe go to and tell the truth to the important people. Tell them that what you saw and heard is against the law and their job is to enforce the law. If you want, I will notify you the meetings and help you prepare remarks.
You can do this. You can look and see, listen and hear and tell what you have seen and heard. If you do it, you will cause change. If enough of you do it, you will change Bokoshe. If enough of you do it, you will change Oklahoma.