Former Lake City resident and history professor Dr. Christopher Esing organized a Women’s Suffrage event in Lake City in honor of the centennial celebration in this year of 2020. The October 3rd event began with an 8:30 breakfast followed by talks by several prominent women from the area, including OSFR board member Merrillee Malwitz-Jipson.
OSFR appreciates the good work that Dr. Esing performs in our community.
In a personal email Dr. Esing accurately described Merrillee’s participation: “It was such an honor to have Merrillee. She gave a wonderful talk, and I am greatly appreciative of her efforts. What an amazing environmental warrior.”
Well said and we agree.
Following is Merrillee’s talk, full of poetry and wisdom and truth:
Comments by OSFR historian Jim Tatum.
– A river is like a life: once taken,
it cannot be brought back © Jim Tatum
October 3, 2020
Florida’s Splendor: “Recognizing’ Nature’s Rights in a time of human folly”
Good Morning and thank you for inviting me to speak today Christopher.
Looking back over the past 100 years gives us guidance and so much perspective with women’s right to vote. As a grassroots organizer, local, state and federal politics are comfortable places in which I have fostered and encouraged others to learn and come participate in its process. It is here in these public government meeting places where resolute changes that govern our communities take place within form and function.
In my own lifetime, since 1965 when I first found myself on this physical planet, the voting rights for all people of color had been enforced. Beyond the right to vote the most significant thing the suffrage movement has supported was social change by civic engagement.
It is in that space that I build fortitude and determination to give attention to and protect the last remaining bits and pieces of Florida’s water resources. For me and the world’s inhabitants, all creatures and life forces great and small, water Is Life.
Florida is a swamp, a land of thousands of springs, a wetland paradise for all kinds of tropical and subtropical flora and fauna; a place where migratory birds soar high above the land looking for vast ribbons of rivers and circles of lakes and ponds. Wet, oozy, fertile and dank, a paradise like no other. A freshwater aquifer with water so sweet and abundant that Spaniards came from their continent far away and from the deep sea to quench their thirst and find eternal life. Indigenous peoples adapted to exhaustive heat to hunt and fish for centuries, navigating the vast wetlands in dugout canoes.
Our area of North Central Florida is where the only human path, surrounded by wetlands, was the land bridge known as Old Bellamy Road. A road connecting Tallahassee to St. Augustine. Our state’s governing location to the first known European settlement in the United States.
It is within this vestige of fertile soils that development came, land was cleared, farming took root and our abundant freshwater springs bubbled up in pockets in and along the riverfronts and within landlocked places throughout the old growth canopies of Columbia County and elsewhere in North Florida.
It is within this biodiverse forest of North Central Florida, on the edge of the Santa Fe River and tucked in between some of the most beautiful and prolific springs in the entire world that my family and I settled in to raise our kids and find our home.
It wasn’t long before I recognized that this river needed a voice, a natural system that was just doing its natural thing existing and teaming with life based on the freshwater flows.
However, there were human influences and damages that were changing the ecosystem before my very eyes in the most dramatic of manners.
Chemical spraying, land use impacts from nutrient loading coming into the basin from fertilizers, faulty septic tanks, sewage systems fraught with problems, and most significantly…. changes in land usage, development projects.
We have other impacts such as water depletion, from frivolous water usages, bottled water, wasted water, mining, and excessive irrigation.
We all need water, we need water to survive, but so does the very Nature that we live, work, and raise our families in. We are one with it, we are not apart from it, but a quick look around our human developments and it’s clear to see that we try to control Nature instead of understanding how to live within it.
It is in this understanding that a group of us from across the state have organized and begun the Rights of Nature movement in Florida. Recognizing Nature and giving it rights, much the same way we have given rights to the human species… In honor of this auspicious day, women and women of color and men of all colors have rights to vote in which such a right was connected to, ironically, property rights.
I own that forest, I own that field, I own that land around that river, that lake, that pond. Thereby creating a disenfranchisement with the rights of Nature to survive.
I can cut that tree down, I can turn on my flood lights, I can pollute the water, I can pollute the air, I can rape and pillage the land for materials in the land. You cannot tell me what to do because the laws allow me to do whatever I want to do to the land, as it is my land.
Recognizing that Nature must thrive; respecting its inherent right to exist; changes how we, as humans, live and serve within our perspective places on this planet.
As a woman and a mother, as a trained artist, I am keenly aware of what it is to create, to make a creation. Giving the river a voice gives anthropogenic qualities to Nature, a human side. The basic fact I believe is, that if we continue down the path of human folly and destruction, of androcentrism on this planet instead of the maternal creation role, we are going to languish in our own toxic demise.
The pandemic, pandemics in general, are an imbalance with Nature. They are not biblical. Humans are very much in control of our outcome in this situation. Wear a mask, get outside, breathe fresh air, do less with crowds, be more introspective. Think more, do less.
Our consumption and manufacturing has run amok. Just how much does one need to really live? Looking around our current situation and personal space…how much is useful and what will be tossed into a dump within a matter of certain time. We have over-extended sustainable growth, purchasing new luxuries and frivolity at the expense of the environment. Perhaps we would do well to mine the dump versus clear cutting and decimating virgin forests for natural resources to supply us with new products.
I encourage and mentor anyone who cares deeply about their community to get involved in the process. Attend, speak up, and be a voice not only for your neighbors and people, but for Nature.
Nature will support you if you take care of it as it exists in its most fundamental and natural state of being.
I am standing supported by the women who stood before me for the last several centuries to testify to life, to creation, to protect not only this generation but the next seven generations.
Nature needs us right now to foster it’s existence, to let it thrive and to give it an unwavering voice for life. Keep the forests intact, stop poisoning our water, keep the flows strong (be conscious of every drop you use) and live simply with Nature.
Vote, and continue to vote as your life and the next generations depend on you.