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.