By Jan Worth-Nelson
“Mother Flint, my daughters said, we will be your courageous truth tellers…Mother we are your bedrock daughters, your breathing water, and your living fire. We will not rest until you are restored. Until you are healed. We are your radical hope.”
–Natasha Thomas-Jackson, “Flint and the Rock Daughter”
The Flint Water Crisis has poisoned children, created physical and economic chaos, caused political and social upheaval, desecrated trust, and imposed upon the city many heartaches.
But for one team of creative dynamos with deep Flint roots, out of the crisis — and in particular because of the women water warriors who emerged to powerfully challenge “patriarchal systems” — something different has flowered: a new myth offering basic truths not just for the troubled city, but for the nation and the earth.
“Flint and the Rock Daughter,” part poetry, part scholarly prose, part performance art, part eco-feminism and part psychological analysis, was created in a collaboration between writer, spoken word artist and executive director of “RaiseItUp” Natasha Thomas-Jackson, 35, and creative writer, musician and foundation administrator Steve Wilson, 66. They presented their formulation of the myth, including a spoken word piece performed by Thomas-Jackson, recently at a conference called “Seeing Red,’ sponsored by the Assisi Institute in Mystic, Connecticut.
As creative artists, both are interested in myths, which they describe as “the purest and simplest expressions of the collective unconscious.” They simultaneously found inspiration in Flint literally as “a hard sedimentary rock, a crystalline form of quartz that when struck against steel will ignite a spark.”
And in a small unlikely city named for that rock, they say,”a spark ignited the emergence of [what they call] the collective Feminine with a powerful chorus of feminine voices heard around the world. ”
For both, the Flint water crisis painfully hit home, and “Flint and the Rock Daughter” is personal.
Both say they are deeply motivated by issues of gender justice and women’s empowerment.
And they say they believe that the oppression of “The Feminine,” what they describe as “earth-based, nature-based, the yin/yang,” in stark contrast with General Motors corporate culture of the 70s, 80s and 90s, for example, is part of what laid down damage leading to the water crisis.
In thinking about the city and its travails, Thomas-Jackson and Wilson were startled by the relevance of an early 13th century myth, “The Rape of the Well Maidens,” from a French mythic poem called “The Elucidation,” in which after the keepers of the water, the Well Maidens, are raped, the kingdom falls into ruins for generations.
They noted the significance of the point, from a 2014 essay on ecofeminism by John Halstead, that “despoiling of the Earth and the subjugation of women are intimately connected.
“It is not a coincidence that when women are raped, the land becomes parched and desolate, and when feminine qualities are oppressed, the human mind is cut off from participation in mystery and left with a disenchanted world,” Halstead wrote.
In that myth, however, a kind-hearted King Arthur swoops in to save the day, taking healthy positive action to reverse the course of life in the kingdom for the Well Maidens and their offspring. But Thomas-Jackson and Wilson note that classic fairy tale happy ending “never really rings with authenticity.”
In Flint, on the contrary, it was the “Well Maidens,” the water warriors themselves, who saved (and are saving) the day, after betrayal by patriarchal forces — “a very different ending than waiting for male benevolence to provide the needed turn of events.”
“We weren’t saved by The Man,” Thomas-Jackson says. “Those women, who weren’t scientists, who made themselves into scientists because they had to–they were who saved us.”
“He spoke and I felt like everything,” Thomas-Jackson’s Rock Daughter says. “The man of industry could make me new…but things were not shiny like he said they would be….all these promises made by the industry man swelled into something monstrous and unchecked…and I began to bleed.”
“This narrative uniquely recreates the history of legends of the City of Flint along with compelling portraits of the courageous Flint women who gathered their collective energies to fight the patriarchy, bringing safety and finding solutions during a disaster — a man-made disaster…” Thomas-Jackson and Wilson write.
They contend that what happened in Flint is “another harbinger of the individual and collective desecration that occurs when we forget that our psyches, homes, communities, nations and worlds will not heal so long as we forget to understand, value, respect and integrate the immense strength, keen intelligence, and leadership of the Divine Feminine.” Building on the idea of the earth as mother, they point for example to the concrete walling off of the Flint River by GM downtown as a brutal violation.
“What I know now is that the man I loved feared me,” the Rock Daughter says, “the way that patriarchy fears all the mysterious magical and sacred places, fears the feminine, fears any space where its narrow understanding of the world is challenged. Fear any space where it is forced to confront its own wounds and heal.”
And in the water crisis, they see that “the courageous women stepping forward to call out the unclear, unclean and lead-poisoned water represent, in effect, a prison break, an escape of the feminine from its captivity within the patriarchy.”
“The truth is, it will be my daughters who will save me,” the Rock Daughter says, “my daughters, made of bedrock and courage, came to me…one by one…as grassroots activists, artists, teachers, mothers, healers, caretakers, stewards, lovers, conjurers, rebels and warriors.
“Mother Flint, they said, ‘The feminine hurt is an ancient hurt. Your collapse, your poisoning is the story of every place, every person, that has been persecuted, sacrificed, raped, exploited, maimed, sterilized, beaten, imprisoned, colonized, burned at the stake, hung from trees, enslaved, forced into internment and concentration camps, or denied full humanity.’
“But, Mother, we will not let the story keep ending this way,” the Rock Daughter promises.
Quoting author Jonathan Lear, Thomas-Jackson and Wilson declare their belief in “radical hope” which “anticipates a good for which those who have the hope as yet lack the appropriate conception to understand it.”
“We both watched radical hope play out in the streets of Flint over the past three years,” they write.
Thomas-Jackson, a Flint native who now lives in Davison, is a writer, activist, performance artist and co-founder and executive director of RaiseItUp, a sensationally successful Flint-based youth arts and awareness nonprofit organization that according to its website “promotes engagement, expression, and empowerment through performance, literary art and social activism.” The youthful social activists and poets of RIU have been featured in PBS Newshour, the Huffington Post, New York Magazine and at many conferences nationwide.
Wilson, of Grand Rapids, grew up in Flint. He was head of the Convention and Visitors’ Bureau featured painfully in Michael Moore’s 1989 “Roger and Me.” Later he was president of the Ruth Mott Foundation, and now, president of the Frey Foundation. His mother and sister still live in Flint and he returns often to play drums in a garage band with old friends.
With the subtitle, “A Feminist Exploration of the Flint Water Crisis,” Thomas-Jackson and Wilson said their narrative and analysis fit in well at the “Seeing Red” conference sponsored by the Assisi Institute. The institute, which describes itself as an “international center for the study of archetypal patterns,” is built around the work of psychologist Carl Jung. Long interested in Jung’s work, Wilson had recently completed a certificate in Jungian analysis through the Institute, and when he and Thomas-Jackson saw the call for submissions for the October conference, they thought their ideas might find a receptive audience.
The purpose of “Seeing Red” was, according to its website, “Illuminating the archetypal roots of feminine oppression through a deep integration of the analytic and artistic in order to give voice and image to authentic identities of women.” Wilson said he and Thomas-Jackson were told their proposal was “the best they’d ever received.”
“Truth is like a lion,” the two write, quoting an old proverb. “You don’t have to defend it. Set it free and it will defend itself.” Thomas-Jackson and Wilson say they passionately hope their “Rock Daughter” of Flint might powerfully capture that liberation in action.
EVM Editor Jan Worth-Nelson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.