Filed under: Community Organizing, Editorials, Environment, Southeast
Hello from Whitesville! Summer’s here in Appalachia, and it’s been an unusually hot and rainy one so far. This is a long-overdue update on what all is new in our world. But first, a few words about this past week:
Here in the Coal River Valley, we didn’t get hit with serious floods last week, but several nearby counties saw historic levels of flooding. We’ve been volunteering to help clean out houses in Clendenin, in the northern part of neighboring Kanawha County. The extent of the devastation there is almost unbelievable – nearly two dozen people lost their lives! – but it’s heartening and powerful to feel Appalachian people coming together to support each other through this disaster.
This kind of event is not just a “natural disaster.” Like in the deadliest flood in WV history, the Buffalo Creek flood in 1972, human activity – specifically, resource extraction – is partly responsible. While it’s hard to tie any single event to global warming, climate change makes extreme storms more likely to occur, and we all know that burning Appalachian coal is a major contributor to climate change. More than 100 years of resource extraction (logging, strip mining, valley fills, unreclaimed mines) has ravaged watersheds, making runoff faster and intensifying the effects of flash floods. These intensified floods are then able to wreak more havoc because our political system prioritizes the economic “health” of the coal and gas companies and their investors, while neglecting roads, bridges, flood barriers, and other infrastructure.
We’re reminded of how important it is to build community resilience, autonomy, and power in the face of climate change to come, and the economic and ecological devastation that’s already here. We hope you’ll support us in doing so. If you want to get involved directly in our flood response efforts, drop us a line [at [email protected]]
We’ve just gotten the property and the go-ahead to build a community garden on a large lot a few blocks up the road in the center of town. Despite getting a late start to the growing season, we are dreaming big: fruit trees, medicinal herbs, raised beds full of vegetables, and a shed collecting rainwater off its roof. (This might not all happen this summer…) Our neighbors and supporters in Whitesville are raring to get busy building, tilling, and planting. Stay tuned for exciting #plantselfies in the coming months.
YOUTH ENGAGEMENT & CABIN PROJECT
School’s out, and that means kids are an even bigger part of our every day. We are so happy to have Rachel back for the summer to help with these projects! Recent activities and outings have included planting pumpkins at our friend’s farm, testing out donut recipes for a new kid-run business idea (the Whitesville Donut Patrol), and taking a field trip to Kayford Mountain to fly a drone and learn about mine reclamation.
Coming up soon: teenagers will be planning garden plots, building raised beds, learning to screenprint t-shirts, and (most exciting) we will be helping our young friends to build a log cabin, for community use, in the hills above Whitesville. This builds on the tree felling, hauling, and splitting skills we worked on last year, and we’re making all cabin-related decisions collectively (teenagers included!).
Our efforts to support, advocate for, and organize with WV prisoners are ongoing, with some exciting recent developments. In February, our friends at the WV ACLU filed a long-awaited lawsuit on behalf of inmates who were poisoned in January 2014 at Charleston’s South Central Regional Jail, and who we’ve been supporting for over 2 years. We’ve also helped bring attention and legal counsel to other instances of prisoner abuse and neglect at regional jails, resulting in some settlements and some cases moving to trial.
In June, we intervened at prisoners’ requests, and successfully pressured the WV state prison in Salem to allow Muslim prisoners to congregate together to pray before breaking their daily fast during Ramadan. We also participated in the Fight Toxic Prisons convergence in Washington, DC – shout out to friends with the Letcher Governance Project, for taking bold action (shown here) and leading local opposition to the proposed $444 million federal prison on an old coal strip mine in Letcher County, Kentucky. For more updates from Stories from South Central, check out the project’s website and FB page.
We are now the proud, cooperative owners of a great house right here in the middle of Whitesville! After months of raising money and repairing inside and out, we finally moved into the house in early May. It’s an old boarding house with a big kitchen, many bedrooms, lots of storage, and great spaces for meeting, eating, and working together. Right now we are working on installing appliances, organizing rooms, and settling in. We have set up a small library, a free store, and even a kids’ room with board games, a computer, and art supplies! Many thanks to everyone who helped with donations, loans, materials, supplies, skilled labor, and moral support. Come visit!
FESTIVAL ON KAYFORD – POSTPONED
The annual Solar Powered Music Festival up on Kayford Mountain, originally scheduled for this coming weekend, has been postponed. From event co-hosts Keeper of the Mountains: Due to the magnitude of the crisis we are now facing in WV, we have made the decision to postpone the music festival. We ask instead that each of you do what we do best: volunteer, donate, contribute as you are able to our communities as we begin the long journey of cleanup, rebuilding and healing.
We’ll be in touch when a new date gets selected. Till then, please contact us if you’d like to volunteer alongside us doing flood relief, or if you need help figuring out how & where to donate relief supplies. If you’d prefer to donate money to flood relief efforts, please choose grassroots nonprofits and local individuals instead of big bureaucracies.
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As always, we want to thank you for your interest and support. We couldn’t be here, doing what we’re doing, without everyone who has participated in actions and community projects in the past, and everyone who has lent a hand from near and far. We’re glad to have you standing with us, against extractive industry and environmental destruction, and for community resilience and power.
For the land and people,
P.S. If you’re in a position to become a sustaining donor, giving even a small amount every month, we would really appreciate it. Click here to sign up as a recurring donor online, or just make a one-time gift. You can also mail checks to the address below. We rely on donations, occasional small grants, and our own part-time/ seasonal employment to sustain this work. Thanks again!