The United States of Entropy

Will you meet me someday past the sunset Known by the known, the dreamers of the dream

And stitch by stitch we work to tear the seam

“Someday Past the Sunset,” The Chris Robinson Brotherhood

When I was younger, I hated ripping seams. I would adopt a surly demeanor as I reached for the seam ripper and mutter profanities as I undid the stitches which had failed to please me. All that effort and time seemed wasted.

Now that I’m a little older, it doesn’t bother me to tear out that which doesn’t serve. I am grateful for the chance to undo and re-do, to get one step closer to fine. I don’t get frustrated; I feel peaceful as I make the slashes and tug the pieces apart again, knowing they’ll come together smoother after correction.

I think in some ways, this reflection connects to current events. We find ourselves in a situation where many of the previous ways do not serve, and have to tear our mutually constructed reality apart to make it fit. It’s become clear that things in the beforetime were put together in such a way that those at the margins suffered the most. The stitching had been set to skip over them, and even when they grasped the edges, it could never hold.

Now things are falling apart, fast for some of us, in slow motion for others. Some of us feel anger, some disappointment. Some feel fear, while others feel drive. What an opportunity we have been given to practice mutual aid while offering support and liberation. Doing the work, even when it’s messy, because in the end, we’re all we’ve got. Tearing seams, trimming old pieces, cutting new ones to fit, and making sure no one is left out this time. Squaring up in multiple senses and dimensions.

I’ve always loved how the backside of a quilt top resembles stained glass when held up to the light. The seams we keep hidden become borders holding bursts of color and beauty, a pattern in reverse.

Things that need undone and redone will continue revealing themselves as we keep moving forward. Even when we feel like we’re standing still, we are emerging with purpose, with the directive to survive. And if that’s all you can do right now? It’s enough.

Pax vobiscum,

Selah Raines

Remember the Mine Wars

This Veterans Day, I want to remember a special group of fighters commonly overlooked in military remembrances: our brave ancestors who gave their blood in the WV Mine Wars to secure their livelihoods and our labor rights. Those who fought on the side of right during those battles were soldiers just as much as any other soul who ever wore a uniform, and many of us still carry their fire in our bellies.

“In probably the largest armed labor uprising in American history, perhaps as many as 20,000 miners marched 90 miles and engaged in a two-week battle with more than 5,000 Logan County deputy sheriffs, mine guards, and state police. The Battle of Blair Mountain ended when President Warren G. Harding placed the region under martial law, and ordered 2,500 federal soldiers and a bombing squadron into the state. ” The Mine Wars, e-WV

So I send this song out in memory of the miners and their families. You are not forgotten, and we will never stop in our quest to protect these mountains.

“There’s a hole in this mountain, and it’s dark and it’s deep
And god only knows all the secrets it keeps
There’s a chill in the air only miners can feel
There’re ghosts in the tunnels that the company sealed”

Thank you Steve Earle for writing this; come on back to Mountain Stage anytime.

–Selah Raines

Testament

The biggest testament you can be is action.

Tyler Childers

It’s been an eventful few weeks here in Appalachia. On Sunday, Sept. 22, we went to the Circle of Protection at Bent Mountain, VA, to meet with pipeline fighters from five states. It was a great opportunity to work on building regional solidarity. I got to meet many of the good people from POWHR – Protecting Our Water, Heritage, and Rights, an organization in which I serve as Steering Committee member and one I’m proud to be part of. Bent Mountain was a good, if brief, opportunity for fellowship and checking-in with people from several states who are on the front lines of property rights, cultural attachment, and protecting water.

When you see Maury Johnson, ask him to tell you the story of this WV Water Staff!
I appreciate Maury bearing this artifact dedicated to waters of West Virginia.

A week later, we lost April Pierson-Keating. April was one of my confidantes, and sometimes when I’m half-awake, I’m still thinking about what I can’t wait to tell her when I see her next. I’m holding on to that feeling. April’s family and friends came together to honor her relentless tenacity and loving heart at the Buckhannon Opera House on Oct. 18.

Mara Robbins and MJ Clark, water protectors. Stay tuned in the next few weeks for MJ’s story. She was inspired by April to make this ensemble dedicated to water.

Mara wrote a poem with deep resonance and shared it with us at the ceremony. I share it with you below:

Water
For April Pierson-Keating

Scientists are exploring consciousness
as an alternative to intelligence
when experimenting with communication
between plants. Or a supplement?

The key is water.

Hard to speculate for long, caught between
images or confirmation of whatever it is
you’re doing, through us, so many of us
exploring the option of consciousness

(as if it’s water)

beyond evidence and the evidence of you
beyond the intelligence of assertion that plants
could actually respond in ways we deem responsive…

…and all I can think is water.

We all think “water.”

We all sense the water of your life
coursing through our sore, tired hearts
still lost with the loss of you, yet pounding
with the rhythm of action in the face of grief.

We all feel water.

So forget the citations and the petitions
for a moment, forget the presentations
and the litigation, forget the crucial legislation
and the upcoming election. Forget the system.

We all need water,

a long drink of what you meant to us.
Hands cupped over a sweet spring, dripping
with intimacy and salty with the way
in which these fallible eyes leak into our dreams.

We dream of clean water.

And we will carry your dream like an anchor
over our shoulders into the thick resistance
of one more fracking well, one more pipeline,
one more circumnavigation

with this broken boat

mended by our many hands. Hammer, friends,
and nail. Bring the wood and the warped wisdom.
Bring talk and time and tenacious tactics,
our delicious diversity,

bring our cherished water

into collective containers for our missions
and give us permission to mistake
what we take to be purpose
for our free will to translate into freedom.

May all waters be free.

And may we, your beloved community,
explore your consciousness within our own
as we choose wisely, though your eyes,
though our bodies still flowing with the work

still to be done.

Going Rogue: Resistance in the Age of Appalachian Petro-colonization

From the time of colonization onward, Appalachia has been subjected to the exploitative whims of the ruling class. Blood spilled down the mountains for centuries, culminating in the determined spirit of modern inhabitants of the region. We may be slow to anger, but we will not rest until we set aright injustice. 

The timber, rail, and coal barons have been relentless in their onslaught, stealing our bountiful natural resources for pennies as our people eke out their existences on the narrow margins afforded those able to work themselves to the bone. Perhaps no other state in the region has suffered more at the hands of oligarchical forces than West “By God” Virginia. Subjected to predatory practices, our landscapes have been razed and dynamited for the almighty dollar by out of state corporate landowners perpetuating the colonial paradigm. Citizens find themselves in a state without clean air, clean water, or many opportunities for living better than their predecessors. The damage done by coal and timber companies has now been exacerbated by the development of shale gas, resulting in hundreds of millions of gallons of our freshwater being used in frack wells- water which will never be clean again.

These constant assaults on the landscape are the equivalent to being under siege in a war we didn’t choose, but one we will not back down from nonetheless. The ranks of the opposition continue to swell as new industries join in the destruction of the mountains.

We will not back down.

As dangerous and unnecessary pipelines close in on us, we will stand our ground and hold industry accountable. The natural gas industry has overrun our farms and tainted our wells, attempting to run us out of the mountains, but we’re fighting back.

To that end, I’d like to invite you to join us for the Circle of Protection at Bent Mountain this Sunday, Sept. 22. Registration is required. Resisters from WV, VA, and NC will also be hosting a Climate Emergency: Tri-State Pipeline Strike. We will be occupying the Wells Fargo Plaza outside the Wells Fargo Bank at 26 Salem Ave. SE, Roanoke, VA 24011 on Sept. 23 beginning at 10 am. This is the only pipeline strike in the region, and we welcome all in solidarity.

#NoMVP #NoACP #D2TP!

Like the Phoenix, we will rise

Regional Solidarity: Healing, Sustainability, & Survival in Modern Appalachia

“It’s time for us as a people to start makin’ some changes.

Let’s change the way we eat, let’s change the way we live

And let’s change the way we treat each other.

You see the old way wasn’t working so it’s on us to do

What we gotta do, to survive.”

Tupac Shakur, Changes

This song came on the radio on my way home from The Sustainability Forum at Sweet Springs Resort Park in Monroe County, WV. People from across the Virginias came together Aug. 16-18 for informed discourse and strategic planning. The main objective of the gathering was to establish a Sustainable Corridor Initiative encompassing the mountainous border regions of both states. Notable presenters presented information from a range of fields. I was only able to make it to the Saturday portion, and was thrilled with what I discovered. In the morning, Fritz Boettner of Sprouting Farms sparked a lively discussion detailing the need for equitable food production and distribution in the region. Autumn Crowe of WV Rivers highlighted the necessity and benefits of maintaining high water quality. Allen Johnson spoke to the spiritual side of fighting for what is right, and Bill Wolf of Preserve Craig gave a fantastic account of how cultural attachment to place has been strengthened by MVP’s refusal to acknowledge its existence.

Allen Johnson of Christians for the Mountains provides scriptural guidance on how we can help Earth and each other through unity and collaboration.

This discussion of cultural attachment really resonated with me. The attachment we have to these mountains is what keeps us coming back home, no matter how far we wander. Traditions, practices, and stories, as well as kinship patterns, combine to tether us to the places of our hearts. Seeing the land you love literally get dynamited and the waters which sustain you turning red with sediment changes a person. Being in the blast zone of the pipelines made me realize I’ve got to fight, and I’ve got nothing left to lose. Going to Sweet Springs helped me see I’m not alone.  When MVP first came through, I was emotionally devastated, as I am surrounded by MVP (and Stonewall) in all directions. Being the first person in two generations of my family to own their own home and land, I was proud of what I’d manifested for myself- a beautiful two-story farmhouse deep in the woods of Braxton County. I had to go back to therapy and grieve my house, the rivers, the streams, and the forest. I’m recovering now and building resiliency.

In the evening, Barbara Volk led us in circle to share reciprocity. Barbara is President of the WV Herb Association and a wise woman. Sitting in circle is always beneficial for me, even when I’m just listening to others. I’ve been working with circles for several years, and always relish the experience.

Circle at Sweet Springs. Photo by Maury Johnson. I’m on the left, and Barbara is on the right.

I can see now that resiliency is an integral cornerstone of the future for Appalachia. Feeling power rise from loss instead of despair, being able to turn the corner and keep going are what we have to do to survive. Together. There are numerous small gatherings in the Appalachian region geared toward this, and I’d like to invite you to one: The upcoming Circle of Protection on Bent Mountain in Virginia on Sept. 22. Water protectors from West Virginia, Virginia, and North Carolina will gather for interfaith blessings, fellowship, and small group strategy campfires. This event is sponsored by many regional organizations, including the Interfaith Alliance for Climate Justice. Take your place in the Circle of Protection for the benefit of these mountains and waters we call home. We can’t wait to see you there!





Diversification in WV: New Capitalism and the Illusions of Change

Through failure to diversify our economic development base, we have arrived at the point of having 10,000 homeless students, with no state budget redress for this crisis on the horizon. We are losing population faster than any other state in the country, and between the lack of employment and poor water quality, it’s no wonder. We talk about “College and Career Readiness,” then have closed shop doors and ghost towns to offer upcoming graduates. In short, when “new capitalism is global in real time,” WV has failed to keep up, and we have made sure we are designed for failure.

Although there are “new capitalism” jobs in our state which would fall under “substantial value-adding work,” many of them, based on computer programming and analytics go unfilled for long spans of time because Computer Science is NOT a required course offering in the state, and there is also no clear pathway for k-12 teachers to become certified to teach such courses. Additionally, the existing internet infrastructure in WV is the worst in the nation (worse even than Hawaii, which is an island halfway across the world), meaning that most of our citizens cannot engage with materials and tasks the way people in other states can, and are missing out on the opportunity to hone skills which are valued in a global, technological economy. As noted by Catherine Cobb Morocco and Judith M. Zorfass, “technology and progress have become indissolubly linked in the minds of many parents, educators, and policy makers,” however, actually PROVIDING equitable technology to our citizens has not been a high priority here. Our legislature was too worried about gay people and raw milk to adequately address our tech deficiencies. Our internet at home has been so slow this weekend, we can’t even watch GIFs. It takes 3 minutes to load a photo. Living in a “Technology Innovation Zone” where cows graze under the sign apparently means same old, same old.

No, we counted on coal, oil, and gas, and we will embrace them unto death, apparently. Our legislators want control of what and how we teach, especially in regards to what they see as the fairy tale of global warning, and want to make sure we don’t conflict with corporate interests who line their pockets.

I was extremely disappointed to see Jim Justice receiving a recommendation from WVEA when he ran for governor, as I view him as an instigator of the same problems we’ve always had. He’s borne out this expectation with dramatic flair, and I’m pleased to see Stephen Smith challenging him and encouraging us to become leaders.

So what can you do when all seems bleak? Find others who are moved to act in whatever capacity they can. Look at who is working to effect positive changes for WV– groups like Our Children Our FutureWV Sierra ClubHoller Health Justice, and Fairness WV, to name a few. Find your path with heart and become actively engaged as we strive to manifest a brighter horizon.