We sat around the table, soot-stained, exhausted, and brimming with ideas. One of our members looked up, just as we were putting the finishing touches on our manifesto, and said, “Oh wow, it’s just a bunch of Burners who showed up for this, huh?”
A few terrible days before, the Almeda Fire had ripped through my hometown of Talent, Oregon, and its neighbor, Phoenix, destroying thousands of homes and businesses and removing most of the affordable housing in the Rogue Valley as cleanly as if it had been done with a scalpel. When the fire burned, it burned completely. Often there was nothing left. My family evacuated two different homes, and was gearing up for a third. But we were sick of running. And so we headed back in, pulling pump trailers and water tanks, loaded up with shovels and rakes, an excavator and a skid steer… and we started the long process of rebuilding our town.
It is a process that will take years. Perhaps a decade. But—like our other hometown—that process begins with a million tiny steps. First we dealt with the lack of electricity and drinking water. A charging station and a wifi hotspot were set up at the maker space, and then we went to work finding local wells that could be powered up with generators donated by a Burner-managed solar company. Our water treatment plant had been knocked out in the fire, and we had no way of knowing that the water we were tapping into would be water our community would have to depend on for almost two weeks. After 17 years of building temporary infrastructures on the playa and at festivals around the world, it all felt too familiar and too surreal. But we were ready then, and we remain committed now, to taking those invaluable lessons and that same creative approach to finding solutions that benefit our community.
And that’s how #RemakeTalent was born. Six weeks later, we are an organization with a focus on creating real-world solutions for affordable housing, working on equitable planning strategies with local governments, and rebuilding our communities with resiliency and sustainability in mind. It is our nonprofit mission to respond to an evolving situation with concrete ideas for how we can protect our vital community from rampant speculation and unchecked gentrification, affect change and inclusion within the planning process, and move forward in a way that serves all of us who call this valley our home. We are organizers and activists, builders, fabricators, urban planners, retirees, essential and migrant workers who share a direct stake in—and a concern for—our community’s future. The rebuild effort provides a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to work together, redress historical inequities, and grow our communities in a way that meets the needs of residents and businesses alike.
Though our organization is new, we are scaling up rapidly to meet an evolving need. Remake Talent is the result of people taking a moment to step back from providing direct relief to ask, “What comes next?” We are, like our valley, a mix of cultures and backgrounds, bringing our expertise and hearts to the table for the greater good. We have all been affected in one way or another by this cataclysmic event, but we will not be defined by it.
To learn more about our goals and strategies for accomplishing this—and to find ways to help (we need it!)—please visit www.remaketalent.org.
Cover image from Tucker Teutsch.