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State of the Re:Union


State of the Re:Union is hosted by Public Radio Talent Quest Winner and performance artist Al Letson. With a journalistic, documentary-style approach, each hour-long program focuses exclusively on one city, region, or other community and features interviews, commentary, recordings, listener-generated letters, and music. Join WRVO over the next several weeks as we bring you episodes from all over the country. Here's a look at our upcoming shows:

The Southwestern Range: Sunday, March 23 at 7:00 p.m.

Among the most iconic landscapes in American is the Western Range, a stretch of millions of acres of land, much of it remote and still undeveloped, distinguished by low rainfall, but abundant ecological diversity. This is land that has been ranched by the same families for 4 and 5 generations, and land that has been home to Native Americans for literally thousands of years. Deep traditions tie people to this land. But in the 21st century, it is also contested ground. Development pressures threaten open space as the Sun Belt becomes an economic powerhouse. 

Credit stateofthereunion.com
Rancher Bill McDonald in southeastern Arizona

Border issues—surrounding both immigration and smuggling—mean life in some of these rural places has been transformed by violence and politics. And figuring out how humans should fit into the complex ecology of a place that is counted as one of the natural gems of the continental U.S. has involved battles that continue to divide Southwesterners. Adding another layer of complexity to all of this is the number of stakeholders who own land, each with a very different understanding of what it should be used for: private owners—who could be ranchers or developers, as well as average residents-- Native American tribes, state agencies that own land, federal agencies that manage public land (which is further divided between national forest, Bureau of Land Management land, and national wildlife refuge property). Of course, the ecology is unaware of these boundaries. But legally, politically, economically and culturally, these divisions play big roles in this region. However, new ways are being forged on many of these fronts, ways that involve collaboration, innovation, and the rediscovery and reimagining of history on… the new Southwestern Range. 

Portland, Oregon: A Tale of Two Cities - Sunday, March 30 at 7;00 p.m.

In every city, there are, in fact, many cities, many different versions of a place. Portland, Oregon takes that multiplicity to a different level. There’s the city that some residents praise as a kind of eden: full of bike paths, independently-owned small businesses, great public transportation and abundant microbreweries and coffeeshops. It’s the kind of place that’s been attracting young, college-educated, progressive hipsters in droves. 

Credit stateofthereunion.com
SOTRU host Al Letson on an energy-generating stationary bike at HopWorks Bike Bar on North Williams Avenue, with owner Christian Ettinger

And then there’s a whole other city. It’s the city where whole stretches of busy road are missing sidewalks, and you can see folks in wheelchairs rolling themselves down the street right next to traffic. It’s the city where some longtime African American residents feel as if decades of institutional racism still have not been fully addressed. It’s the city where getting a job is not as simple as posting your handmade leather bracelets on Etsy. In this episode of SOTRU, we spend time in both Portlands: the paradise, and what could be called… the purgatory. We ask: how did Portland get to be a hipster mecca? Who’s benefiting from that—and who’s getting left out? What’s being done about that? Who’s finding a way to join in? 


Tulsa, Oklahoma - Sunday, April 6 at 7:00 p.m.

Credit stateofthereunion.com
Downtown Tulsa, looking towards the Brady Arts District

Tulsa, Oklahoma sits at a crossroads of American identities. We travel to the middle of Middle America to see what happens when these identities collide. We explore one of the country’s deadliest race riots, an incident that the city spent a long time trying to forget; visit a lovingly-crafted museum dedicated to spreading poetry to rural Oklahoma.

And—in two special stories produced by This Land Press—visit a couple of churches, one struggling mightily to integrate and the other building a shrine for undocumented immigrants in a state with some of the harshest immigration laws in the nation.

The Hospital Always Wins - Sunday, April 13 at 7:00p.m.

In this special hour from State of the Re:Union, we take listeners to a place that exists in every American city… but most of us have never seen the inside of it. Back in 2004, SOTRU producer Laura Starecheski visited a state mental hospital in Queens, New York, called Creedmoor. She met an artist there named Issa Ibrahim. He had no perceptible symptoms: he was talented, charismatic, funny, engaging. To be blunt, he just didn’t seem like your typical long-term mental patient. But he’d been at Creedmoor for more than ten years already, with little hope of getting out. Why was Issa still stuck in the hospital?  Laura’s quest to uncover Issa’s story took almost a decade. In this special episode, State of the Re:Union takes a close-up look at love, guilt and forgiveness, revealing both the brightest and the darkest parts of human nature.