Deep breath... If you've paid attention recently, my hometown of Wilmington, NC has faced a tremendous amount of upheaval mostly due to news that a cocktail of endocrine disrupting chemicals has been dumped in the Cape Fear River, Wilmington's tap water source, for more than 3 decades by Dupont spin-off company Chemours. I wish those words didn't still feel like a brick in my throat as I type them. That feeling has sat around much too long these days.
The photo above is me, holding my one year old son, Finnegan, at a protest. I can't say that holding signs in protests is something I do regularly but this day, I could see no other choice. Just out of frame my 5 year old daughter sat on the ground playing My Little Ponies and eating a bag of chips as we waited for officials to come out of a closed door meeting with the company representatives from Chemours. We waited to hear that having been caught, Chemours would stop discharging into the river. I don't know if I have ever been as angry or as scared as those first few weeks when the news broke and everyone clamored to find some sort of justification, solution, or just plain old information in general. Was the water safe to drink? Why would any of our representatives allow companies to use our river as their personal sewer? What will happen to my children as I drank the water during their pregnancies? How do I, as a mother, get rid of this crushing guilt of not being able to protect my children from something that should have been innocuous?
My daughter drew those doodles on my sign. She had her own sign as well. When she asked why we were going to the government building I told her it was because we believed in doing the right thing and sometimes doing the right thing is resisting. Safe is not an ambiguous word when it comes to water. "Safe" should not mean a little bit of poison, no, not even 140 parts per trillion of poison. "Safe" also doesn't mean we allow chemicals that have not been rigorously studied to be ingested by babies and pregnant women. "Safe" does not mean "may cause kidney cancer or thyroid disorder in some individuals." Our water should be safe and transparent. So, when those who have been hired by the public to keep our families safe choose profits over people, we strap our babies to our chests and we resist, as best we can, in whatever means we can. As an artist, I feel compelled to create out of every impulse of fear. My work allows me to navigate my anxiety in a productive way.
In that vein, I wanted to create a series to bring light in a powerful way to the humanity of this crisis. I wanted our representatives and the country at large to understand who exactly they were making their decisions for and who they were supposed to protect. I was lucky enough to meet Amy Herman at a city council meeting we both attended in protest of GenX. During that meeting, a member of Amy's extraordinary group of friends, Pete Herrmann, recounted his daughter's fight for her life at the age of four from stage V kidney cancer, Wilm's Tumor. I was brought to tears. It was then that the I realized the focus of this series should center on these families who understand, greater than any of us, what is at stake when our water source becomes tainted with carcinogenic chemicals. These families have walked a path so many of us fear and they feel adamantly about the work that needs to be done to clean up the Cape Fear River. I am humbled and honored that they chose to allow me to tell their stories here.