Inspiring program is preserving music, history and communities of Appalachia
By Michael M. Barrick
LENOIR, N.C. – The Junior Appalachian Musicians (JAM) program says on its website “We’re building community one tune at a time.”
That’s a fact, as I saw it on display last night here at the 19th Annual Caldwell Traditional Musicians Showcase. There, among many other great musicians, we saw and heard the group Strictly Strings, which was born out of the Boone, N.C. JAM affiliate. (Learn more here: Strictly Strings Carrying on the Old-Time Tradition).
Below each photo are statements from JAM’s website. We hope these photos and insights will motivate you to click on the links above and learn more about this vital educational music program that is preserving the history, traditions and communities of Appalachia. If you have a chance to see Strictly Strings or any JAM shows of the roughly 40 affiliates in southern Appalachia, do it! You’ll see and hear history come alive.
We envision a world in which all children have the opportunity to experience community through the joy of participating in traditional mountain music together.”
Our mission is to provide communities the tools and support they need to teach children to play and dance to traditional old time and bluegrass music.”
We believe that children who are actively engaged in traditional mountain music are more connected and better prepared to strengthen their communities for future generations.”
Read about Caldwell, N.C. JAM here.
© Michael M. Barrick, 2017
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Calls her role as emcee a mere ‘footnote’ to the Caldwell Traditional Musicians Showcase
By Michael M. Barrick
Note: This is another installment in a series about the 19th Annual Caldwell Traditional Musicians Showcase. A list of previous articles is below. The Showcase is scheduled for Sat., March 11 at 7:30 p.m. at the J.E. Broyhill Civic Center in Lenoir, N.C.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Anybody who knows Nancy Posey – whether as a co-worker, friend or fellow wanderer through various poetry readings and art exhibits – is keenly aware that she is no footnote, wherever she may be. Yet, as we opened our conversation about her role as emcee in the 19th Annual Caldwell Traditional Musicians Showcase, Posey’s first words were, “I’m just a footnote.”
Posey, who taught for years in the county’s public schools and at Caldwell Community College & Technical Institute, is now living in Nashville, where she is teaching at her alma mater, Lipscomb University. She spoke by phone from her home there.
Patrick Crouch, of host group Strictly Clean and Decent explained why he’s thrilled to have Posey travelling hundreds of miles to corral the two dozen-plus musicians scheduled to perform. “She is a lifelong musician with a passion for humanities. Nancy plays mandolin, sings, writes poetry, attends workshops, conducts workshops, and supports live art before she has her first cup of coffee. After that, she gets busy! We are delighted to have Nancy as our emcee for Handmade and Heartfelt.”
Posey added that Crouch didn’t give her a choice. “He said, ‘We won’t fire you. You have to quit to get out of this gig.’” That’s just not an option she shared. “I can’t resist. It’s the big bucks.” Turning serious, she pointed to the sense of community she continues to share with Caldwell’s musicians. “About eight or nine years ago I started to learn to play the mandolin. Part of the reason is I like hanging with musicians. I’ve always enjoyed music. I’ve had a chance to learn many ways to play.”
Posey continued, “What the Showcase does to highlight Caldwell’s music in wonderful. I don’t think people know how much talent is saturated in that corner of the state.”
Well before Posey takes the stage as emcee on the night of the Showcase, she will make sure she’s well acquainted with all of the performers. “I learned to get there early during rehearsal time and meet them. I sit out there and watch and talk to everybody.” She noted, “They’re not all about themselves. Everyone is about the other people playing. It’s a mutual admiration society.” She added that before sound check, she will have watched videos, visited websites and other sources to learn as much as she can even before meeting those musicians she doesn’t already know.
The audience, she said, “Will be surprised with the range of genres.” She added, “So I just can’t stand up there and tell bluegrass jokes. Though I will.”
What the audience doesn’t see is one part of the Showcase that Posey enjoys the most, because it reflects upon the overall tenor of the show. “I enjoy the back stage banter and seeing the level of professionalism. It’s something to watch everybody getting ready to get on stage, the way they conduct themselves with one another.”
As an educator, it isn’t surprising that Posey enjoys showcasing the younger musicians, such as the Caldwell Junior Appalachian Musicians (JAM) program and an emerging group that writes most of the music it performs. “I really look forward to the JAM musicians. Showcasing that program is so important for the community.” She added, “I’m tickled to see Sycamore Bones. I’m looking forward to seeing them on the big stage. They are some young talent that needs more exposure.”
Even though the Showcase is finishing out its second decade in the community, Posey observed, “I’m always hoping there will be new people that hear about it every year. Some people I see every year. I love the idea that there are people will be exposed to this for the first time and want to come back.” She concluded, “It’s amazing to me that Kay and Patrick can put together a different show every year drawing from local musicians. There are a lot of talented musicians there.”
Asked if she had anything to add, she explained why she would be only a footnote. “It’s Kay’s red cowboy boots. I just can’t compete. She raises the bar.”
© The Lenoir Voice, 2017.
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Previous 2017 Showcase Articles
Handmade & Heartfelt: Theme of 19th Annual Caldwell Traditional Musicians Showcase inspired by area musicians
Jimmie Griffith Exemplifies Showcase Theme: Music is handmade in Caldwell County and is heartfelt from his native Brazil
Showcase Information and Performers
This year’s concert will include eight groups or individuals. The total of musicians performing will be around two dozen, in addition to JAM members.
Strictly Clean and Decent with Kay and Patrick Crouch and Ron Shuffler.
Caldwell Junior Appalachian Musicians performing traditional string music.
Ridgeline: A bluegrass band featuring Jim Matheson on guitar, Mike Nelson on banjo, Tim Greene on mandolin and guitar, April Flanders on fiddle, Larry Wright on bass, and Jimmy Houston on guitar.
MaisCeu featuring multi-instrumentalist Jimmie Griffith performing Brazilian music.
Max Waters playing Southern gospel, jazz, and blues piano.
Strictly Strings performing old time and contemporary string band music. The band is Kathleen Burnett on fiddle and guitar, Anissa Burnett on bass and fiddle, Willow Dillon on banjo, fiddle, bass, and cello, Caleb Coatney on mandolin, banjo, and guitar, and Cecil Gurganus on guitar, fiddle, and bass.
Caldwell Junior Appalachian Musicians performing traditional string music.
Sycamore Bones with Cory Kinal, Andrew Massey, and Abigail Taylor performing original music.
Darren Bryant and Justin Clyde Williams performing country music.
Nancy Posey will be the emcee for the evening.
On behalf of all West Virginians, I challenge you to serve the people, not your cronies in the fossil fuel industry
By S. Tom Bond
Note: I have penned the following Open Letter to Governor Jim Justice and Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Austin Caperton; I encourage you to do the same or join us in signing this by contacting the Mountain Lakes Preservation Alliance at MLPAWV@gmail.com or use the contact page.
Editor’s note: Both Justice and Caperton have long careers as energy company executives and have records’ – including recent firings at WV DEP – that the state’s environmental groups find counter to the DEP mission as does the Charleston Gazette-Mail. To get a sense of how things operate in Charleston, read this admission by former DEP Secretary Randy Huffman that the DEP is compromised by crony capitalism.
Dear Governor Justice and Secretary Caperton:
How is the air down there in Charleston? Still clean? Do you plan to move out into the country near some of the new Marcellus drilling industry? Maybe near a compressor station with eleven of those big engines, roaring and belching 24 hours a day?
Or perhaps near a well pad where there is 24 hour light and noise and chemicals and diesel smoke with lots of PM-2.5 coming out the exhaust. Particulate matter 2.5 microns or less is now known as a cause of Alzheimer’s-like effects, you know. Going to bring along your grandchildren and your Mom along? Families like that live out here, and the young and the old are particularly susceptible to toxic chemicals, smoke, fumes, and dust.
Maybe you are like the famous story on Rex Tillerson, who has inflicted that kind of misery on many thousands of people. Then he complained when a water tower to enable fracking was erected in sight of his own piece of earth.
Do you think those who drink water without the taste of chlorine shouldn’t complain when their well is poisoned with a complex mixture of water slickers, detergents, and anti-oxidants, antibacterial compounds, and God-only-knows what else? Maybe they deserve car-busting roads and interminable delays when they use public roads too?
I can see you demurring all the way from here. I think that you are like Rex Tillerson, the ultimate not-in-my-back-yard guy!
So you are going to govern the state for all the people. For all the people of West Virginia – like John J. Cornwell was governing West Virginia for all the people, including the miners, at the time of the battle of Matewan? Oh yes! Those corporations provided good living for officers and investors, but not miners. It’s been like that since West Virginia was established. Wealth carried off, mostly north and east, but occasionally to build a motel in Florida.
So I’m being a little hard on you. You are just doing it to bring jobs, jobs, jobs, you say? You do realize gas and oil extraction are capital intensive and labor weak, don’t you? That once the drilling is done by those fellows brought in from elsewhere, they will go away and leave few permanent jobs? You certainly know several companies are developing automated drilling, so drilling labor will go the way of coal labor, too.
Oh yes! Obama killed coal the fable says. You really know better than that, don’t you? Coal companies, going to more mechanization, especially long wall and surface mining that can use huge equipment, killed coal jobs. That Obama fable was a tool, using prejudice and diversion of the truth, to affect voters who were slow to catch on.
What moral code do you have that allows collateral damage to rural residents in peacetime to profit private industry? Forget for the moment all the externalized costs, the true cost of the extraction, the damage to other industries, global warming, destruction of surface value for farming and timber, recreation and hunting. What justifies forest destruction, land disturbances, public annoyances, and public health for fossil fuel extraction? Especially when last year 39 percent of new electrical capacity was solar and 29 percent was wind power. (Coal has been showing a decrease for the last two years.) There is no CO2 from the renewable resources!
How do you decide people are unworthy of protection? Simply because of rural residence? Those who can’t afford to move elsewhere, or too attached to the family plot?
Hey guys, people out here are probably more astute than you think. Some of us don’t think very far ahead, and few are articulate, but, given time, it all becomes too clear.
West Virginia has the highest rate at losing population in the nation. We have the lowest ratio of employment to employable people in the nation. College kids have been heading for the door, and so are a lot of high school grads.
Is corrupting the environment and allowing the wealth of our state to be carted off by favored industries your best game? That is the past, present (and future?) of Almost Heaven! We country folks keep hoping for better!
S. Thomas Bond is an eighth generation West Virginian writing from his farm in Jane Lew, W.Va. He is a farmer and retired chemistry professor. He is interviewed in Keely Kernan’s Documentary Film, “In the Hills and Hollows,” which is about the impacts of the fossil fuel industry in West Virginia.
Postscript: Please note the irony of the slide show of beautiful West Virginia scenery on the governor’s website. Let’s not let him have a pass on using the state’s natural beauty to disguise the extreme damage he has done to the people, environment and legal system of West Virginia. – M.B.
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In our last post, The Eyes of a Child, I wrote that if we all looked at the world through the eyes of a child, we would see only beauty.
Then a reader hit me with a dose of reality, pointing out that is not the case in Syria. I would add Haiti to that list, as well as dozens of other nations. So, to correct the narrow view I offered, I share this photo for your consideration.
The choice is up to us. We can wage peace, or we can wage war.
© Michael M. Barrick, 2017
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His life of service to West Virginia is an inspiration for all those seeking justice
By Janet Keating
SLANESVILLE, W.Va. – West Virginia and the nation has lost a true hero and people’s champion. Former Congressman Ken Hechler died at his home in Slanesville on Dec. 10. He was 102.
There are politicians, public servants and then there was Ken Hechler, a man in a class all of his own – military man, historian, educator, politician, activist and, my personal favorite, “hell raiser.” Those who knew him are familiar with his uncompromising commitment to justice and the betterment of all people in West Virginia, but especially for his advocacy of the health and safety of our nation’s coal miners. OVEC (Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition) members may know him best for his passion for democracy and our iconic mountains. As a lifetime member of OVEC, Ken was often a speaker at rallies to end mountaintop removal where he sang “Almost Level, West Virginia” his parody of the popular John Denver song, “Almost Heaven, West Virginia.”
I came to know Ken in the late 80s during my first-ever plunge into environmental issues as a member of the Huntington Tri-State Audubon Society – working to “save” the Green Bottom wetlands, the third largest wetlands in West Virginia near Huntington, where the pre-Civil War home of General Albert Gallatin Jenkins still stands. Ken, as a Jenkin’s historian and then Secretary of State of West Virginia, was familiar with Jenkin’s history and so joined with our coalition urging the state and federal government to consider managing the former plantation home, its wetlands and its significant Native American archaeology for a higher use beyond simply a hunting ground. Not surprisingly, the media portrayed the issue as hunting vs non-hunting (though some folks were very concerned about birds of prey which frequented the area like Bald Eagles as well as the historic Jenkin’s home).
After several years of butting heads with both state and federal agencies, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers agreed to hold a public hearing where Ken and others faced off. Despite a room full of several hundred angry, shouting hunters, Ken stood his ground and voiced his concerns. In the end, a reasonable compromise was reached where the wetlands were expanded, the Jenkin’s home underwent renovations (and was managed for a brief time by West Virginia Division of Culture and History), signs were posted to alert hunters to the presence of protected birds of prey and native species were planted to provide wildlife habitat. Undoubtedly, Ken’s involvement garnered greater media attention and raised public awareness to the issue, than we otherwise would have had, a valuable contribution. Presently, Green Bottom Wildlife Management Area has become a well-known location for bird watching and hunting, although the Jenkin’s home, despite the millions spent on its overhaul, is boarded up and no longer open to the public. Nevertheless, every time I visit Green Bottom, I am thankful that Ken lent his time, energy and “notoriety” to this unique site.
When the issue of mountaintop removal reared its ugly head, Dr. Hechler eagerly joined with community members and environmental activists hoping to end the destructive mining technique. He was a member of Congress during the catastrophic failure of the Buffalo Creek sludge-dam in 1972 that killed 125 West Virginians, a tragedy which eventually led to the passage of the Surface Mine Control and Reclamation Act in 1977 (SMCRA). This bill, however, continues to be a failed attempt by the state and federal government to regulate surface mining by the coal industry. Ken was greatly concerned when the final version of the bill legitimized mountaintop removal (MTR) which was supposed to be an exception rather than the rule when it came to strip-mining; MTR was only to be used when a flattened mountain provided land for authentic economic development. While coal companies by law are supposed to return the former mountains to “approximate original contour,” unfortunately, states regularly issue permits with variances to that provision. As it turns out, Ken foresaw the destruction that would follow the passage of SMCRA – hundreds of thousands of acres of denuded, flattened mountains along with more than 2,000 miles of annihilated streams and disappeared communities. A favorite phase of Ken’s, “Akin to putting lipstick on a corpse,” was how he referred to strip-mine reclamation.
A notable event in Ken’s effort to stop MTR was his participation in 1999, while WV Secretary of State, in a re-enactment of the historic Miners’ March on Blair Mountain that preceded the 1921 Mine Wars. In 1997, the West Virginia Division of Environmental Protection had issued what would have been the largest ever mountaintop removal permit in the state. At risk were not only the mountains and the small community of Blair, but also one of the most historic labor/history sites in the nation, where about 7,000 miners determined to organize a union were met with great resistance and after five days, halted by 3,000 armed “militiamen” organized by Logan County Sheriff Don Chaffin. This was the largest battle on U.S. soil since the Civil War where eventually the U.S. Army and U.S. Army Air Corps were called in.
A courageous Dr. Hechler, 84 at the time, joined the reenactment with a number of others (OVEC’s Laura Forman, Carol Jackson, CRMW’s Judy Bonds, Larry Gibson, Jimmy Weekly, and Cindy Rank to name a few) supported by several organizations including OVEC. For many people, the application and issuance of a mountaintop removal permit at historic Blair Mountain, which could literally erase the dark history of mining, underscored the sheer arrogance of coal companies as well as the complicity of government agencies. While the reenactors were not met with guns and soldiers, they were, however, harassed every day by miners and others who pelted them with eggs, and much to everyone’s horror, also shoved and kicked Ken.
From a story about the confrontation during the re-enactment by reporter Rick Steelhammer, Ken stated: “I tried to think about Gandhi and Martin Luther King and how they would react. It’s important to retain your cool, but it’s difficult when people begin to wade in and rip up all your signs, throw eggs at the back of your head, grab away your West Virginia flag, and trip and kick you.”
That incident led to warrants and arrests of those who committed violence and eventually landed some people in court, though not in jail. One of the Logan County perpetrators of the harassment eventually ended up serving in Governor Bob Wise’s administration. I still smile when I think about Ken holding a sign at a protest that said: “Kick me and get a job with Bob Wise.” And recently, the D.C. District court upheld the U.S. EPA’s decision to rescind the permit for mountaintop removal on Blair Mountain, another people’s victory in which Ken participated in a major way.
Ken Hechler’s legacy though far-reaching (and incalculable) was also at times very personal. In particular, his influence on Larry Gibson, another mountain hero, was very special. Ken often traveled with Larry to colleges and universities throughout the country to talk about the impacts of mountaintop removal on land and people of Central Appalachia. Because of Ken’s encouragement, Larry went back to school to improve his reading and writing skills. Having become quite a duo, both Ken and Larry were interviewed by “60 Minute’s” Mike Wallace, who came to West Virginia to produce a segment on mountaintop removal.
Through nearly two decades, Dr. Hechler, admired by so many, continued to answer the call, showing up at events, protests and rallies – the most notable one, a rally and protest at the Marsh Fork Elementary School, in Raleigh County, where he, along with actress Daryl Hannah and NASA climate scientist, James Hansen, were arrested in a non-violent, direct action to draw attention to the great need for a new elementary school. A massive and dangerous coal waste impoundment loomed above Marsh Fork Elementary School adjacent to a coal silo, a coal processing facility and a mountaintop removal site. Coal River Mountain Watch’s Ed Wiley began urging state officials to build a new elementary school after he picked up his ill grand-daughter who told him, “Granddaddy, this school is making us kids sick.” After 6 years of tenacious organizing and advocacy, a new school was opened where Ken Hechler had, once again, stood shoulder-to-shoulder with those most impacted.
As someone who was deeply concerned about the state of our country’s democracy, Ken became active in campaign finance reform issues, especially when “Granny D”’s (Doris Haddock) began her epic 3,200 mile journey/walk from California to Washington, D.C. to elevate the need for supporting the federal McCain-Feingold bill. If passed, this legislation would help reduce spending on political campaigns. Ken walked more than 500 miles with Doris who turned 90 years old by the time she arrived in the nation’s Capital. When Doris arrived in Marietta, Ohio, Ken Hechler was on hand to greet and welcome her as she made her way across the Ohio River to Parkersburg, W.Va., to speak to supporters.
In 2006, Granny D and Ken spoke at a regional mountaintop removal summit dubbed “Healing Mountains,” that OVEC and Heartwood (a regional organization that works to protect public lands from abusive practices) organized. Doris and Ken reminded us that if we want to win our issues, we needed to be more inclusive and supportive of people of color. You may recall that Ken was the only member of Congress that participated with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in the Civil Rights march in Selma. Union supporter, environmentalist, statesman, writer, historian, teacher, husband, father and add one more label – civil rights activist.
If you still need convincing about what an amazing man that Ken was, he had the most incredible memory of anyone I’ve ever met. My hunch is that Ken spent his remarkable life making really good memories.
Dear Ken, we know that you, of all people, have earned your eternal rest. Well done. You will be sorely missed.
This article originally was published on the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition website. It is reprinted with permission.
Janet Keating is the former Executive Director of the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition (www.ohvec.org) who retired September 2016 after 24 years with the organization. Her latest endeavor, Green Shepherd, LLC, offers consulting and other services to environmental and social justice non-profits.
Bernie ignited the spirit of revolution, but it is left to others to strengthen and sustain it
By Michael M. Barrick
When Senator Bernie Sanders spoke at the Democratic National Convention on Monday night, the cameras repeatedly captured images of Bernie supporters in tears. I was sad also, as I have been a solid Bernie supporter since shortly after he announced. I was sad to see what I felt was the best candidate have to concede; I was sad for the young people who had invested so much in his campaign. Mostly I was sad because I knew the revolution he had ignited had been slowed down.
But it is not dead. I had to keep reminding myself of that throughout Bernie’s speech. Unlike the “Bernie or Bust” crowd though, I began to realize that the Democratic Party was still making history and the Republican Party wants to turn back history.
Speaking of history, it is its lessons that also give me hope that the revolution is not dead. One example should encourage all of those who supported Senator Sanders – the Civil Rights movement. It began with the earliest abolitionists of the 18th century and led to the Civil War. It provided us with the 13th, 14th and 15th amendments to the U.S. Constitution. The Civil Rights movement fought against the KKK, Jim Crow and separate facilities. Its leaders were murdered. Presidents had to call out the National Guard to allow those in the movement to exercise their basic human rights and civil liberties. Still, the movement stayed alive and successfully fought for the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. In 2008, the Civil Rights movement saw the culmination of its centuries of work in the election of Barack Obama as President of the United States.
Yet today, the Black Lives Matter movement remains controversial. This is proof that revolutions, even when they have clear moments of victory, are never over. That is because they are about ideas, not people. Yes, the people implement and embrace the ideas, but it is the power of the ideas that ensures that any revolution or movement will succeed. Great leaders die. Great ideas don’t.
That is an encouraging truth, but also a sobering truth. It requires of the revolution’s participants unwavering commitment and intellectual honesty. In short, for the revolution to be sustained, it must be defined. That is why Senator Sanders ignited the spark. It was already smoldering. The Occupy Wall Street movement was just one ember in the movement. The growth of social and environmental justice groups across the nation and globe are evidence of grassroots movements everywhere to protect the most vulnerable among us and the environment which sustains life.
So, the movement is not dead. But we must not lose focus of what started it – income inequality, crony capitalism, and a corrupt political process.
These problems – too long ignored – have led to compromised and failed governmental and societal institutions. With so many in poverty, with so many struggling with college debt, with others unable to afford college at all, with people working multiple jobs, with multiple generations living under one roof, with black people being targeted by police, with police being targeted by domestic terrorists, with health care being hijacked by the insurance and pharmaceutical industries, with our reliance upon fossil fuels, with climate change, with crumbling inner cities and infrastructure, with voting rights under attack – with this many problems and more being ignored – we can say for sure that the revolution is not dead.
Has it suffered a setback? It would seem so. But if we wake up to President-elect Trump on Nov. 9, the revolution will be in the crosshairs of the executive branch, and the weapons of war in the hands of a megalomaniac.
So, before you turn your back and “walk out,” stop and think. And remember this – there is not an “app” that you can download to any of your digital devices to make this revolution happen any faster. You must intentionally engage others in your community. Listen. Learn. Strive to understand before being understood. Be nice. Treat others as you want to be treated. Run for office. Read. Think for yourself. Don’t buy into conspiracy theories; that is intellectual laziness. Besides, the “bad guys” aren’t as organized as conspiracy theorists suggest. They just lack scruples.
As an aside, I will note that perhaps the greatest thing about participating in a revolution is the friends you make along the way. I share two photographs below from my own journey. The first, from 2002 at the old state capitol in Raleigh, was taken as we were working to have the North Carolina General Assembly pass a judicial campaign reform law. It did. Among those in the picture are some folks who remain good friends. Others, such as U.S. Senator Robert Morgan, in the front row on the left, have passed along. Indeed, Senator Morgan died earlier this month. But his legacy as an independent thinker and my memories of him live on. In fact, they inspire me to keep fighting until, I too, draw my last breath. The other photo was taken 12 years later in Weston, W.Va. In that photo are several people who became friends because of our common call – ending fracking and related pipeline development in the Mountain State. I was privileged to work with these folks and others to form the Mountain Lakes Preservation Alliance.
While I am back in North Carolina again, I have not given up the fight in West Virginia. My friends deserve better, so we stay in touch and look for ways to help and support one another, even though separated by distance. Presently, I am heading up the campaign for Art Sherwood, a progressive candidate for the North Carolina State Senate. He is determined to move North Carolina forward again after six years of incredibly mean-spirited and regressive GOP leadership. I have already made many good friends in just the two months I’ve been with the campaign.
These people are just a few of the thousands I’ve been privileged to meet over 44 years or so of hell-raising (I participated in my first political campaigns in 1972). I can’t begin to put a value on the relationships. We encourage one another. We sustain one another. So, please don’t abandon the revolution. You’ll not only be cheating society, you’ll be cheating yourself.
There is no question that we need a revolution. The American Dream has fragmented us into tribes. (Ironic, huh?). Our original national motto was “E Pluribus Unum,” which is Latin for, “Out of the many, one.”
The truth is, we are too diverse of a nation to ever be truly one ethnically or racially. We are too set in our ways on religion to ever be of one mind on that, nor should we be. We will always debate the proper role of government. But, if we are to survive as a nation – if we are to thrive as a community of people – then the revolution must continue. But it must do so calmly, patiently, and peacefully.
And, it can only be done in the context of community. Or, it will fail.
© Appalachian Chronicle, 2016
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Richwood Mayor Bob Henry Baber praises community spirit, asks for help and prayers for ‘Appalachian brothers and sisters’
By Bob Henry Baber
Note: This first-person report is adapted from a recent Facebook post by Bob Henry Baber, the newly elected mayor of Richwood, W.Va. He also served as mayor about a decade ago.
RICHWOOD, W.Va. – It’s been over two weeks since the “Thousand Year Flood.” Today, for the first time, I will have the opportunity to go door to door to the 200 families who have been devastated by the flood. I have been unable to do so due to the barrage of issues ranging from the destruction of our roads and sidewalks, our water intake above the falls, and managing the logistics of assessing the town’s needs, and documenting them so that we can receive 75 percent reimbursement from FEMA. We have to match the other 25 percent with volunteer hours since we do not have any money to do so.
Thank God hundreds upon hundreds of volunteers have shown up whose hours we can count. I believe the damage is over $10 million. We have no Rite Aid, no drug store, no grocery store, no ball parks, no playgrounds or equipment, and on and on. And two of our three schools have suffered substantial damage.
We have had to close our redistribution center for cleaning supplies, food, and toiletries at the Red Gym because its floor has to be removed and replaced. We are going to move to the old furniture factory as soon as we can get massive amounts of mud out of it, have the fire department hose it down, and sanitize it. We have never received emergency housing for the displaced because federal law prohibits placing such entities in the flood plain, and that’s all we’ve got.
Many people mucked out their home, bleached, and moved back in, only to be told that their walls and floors must be torn out and the structure dried lest they be inundated by black mold in future months. The lucky have campers; the others are on their own. Proud Appalachians as we are, only two people used the Red Cross Shelter that has now pulled out due to lack of utilization. Many have left to join families in adjoining states who left years ago to find jobs. Others have moved in with friends and neighbors. Others have left their homes as is and departed for parts unknown. Our very high senior population has been resilient, but some are disoriented and distraught.
Because of our loss of coal jobs, and the emergence of Summerville as a regional economic hub with Wal-Mart and surrounding spin off stores, hotels, and restaurants some 40 minutes away, our people are too poor to afford flood insurance. We have no jobs. Chris Mondross and his wife, for example, had to give up their insurance years ago. They are in their 90s. Their house had two feet of water in it. They have lost everything. There are dozens like them. Middle class people.
What we have here and in our sister cities of White Sulphur Springs and Rainelle is an Appalachian Katrina, albeit on a far smaller scale. Yet it doesn’t feel small to me. It feels all encompassing.
Having said all this, I can tell you that bolstered by volunteers, the town has pulled together in every way and I am blessed to be the Mayor of Richwood. Many of you are too far away to help, but donations of construction materials, computers for our kids, appliances large and small, food, cleaning supplies and money(!) can be sent to:
Richwood City Hall
6 White Ave
Richwood, WV 26261
Or you can contribute to the Nicholas County Foundation/Richwood flood relief online or call (304) 872-0202.
We are your Appalachian brothers and sisters. Pray for us. Our region – which was already economically, culturally, and politically devastated – has now been hit with an unprecedented natural disaster.
Thank you for your consideration, pass the collection plate and God bless you all.
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World War II veteran Robert “Bob” Morgan captivates audience at Caldwell Heritage Museum’s ‘Coffee with the Curator’
By Michael M. Barrick
LENOIR, N.C. – Speaking conversationally with remarkable recall, captivating memories and fascinating details, Caldwell County resident Robert “Bob” Morgan enthralled the audience of about three dozen at the monthly “Coffee with the Curator” event at the Caldwell Heritage Museum.
Mr. Morgan, 91, relaxed in an easy chair as if sitting in his living room. Gesturing with his hands, eyes sparkling, he preceded many of his stories saying, “Back in those days…” He punctuated his storytelling with numerous pauses followed by, “Now, that’s a story in itself.” And off he would go, telling the story that had interrupted his thought, wrap it up, and then return to the previous recollection. Read the entire article here.
Public health, environment and property rights under siege from crony capitalism; people respond vigorously, despite odds
By Michael M. Barrick
BRIDGEPORT, W.Va. – While the fossil fuel extraction industry has dominated West Virginia’s political system, economy and communities since it became a state in 1863, the assault upon public health, the environment and property rights in 2015 by corporations and the Mountain State’s legislature was historic. Not since United States senators were appointed by legislatures, in the days when corporate robber barons owned the coal fields, the railroads and the politicians, and efforts to unionize coal miners were met with government-sanctioned violence, has there been such a blitzkrieg of shenanigans and skullduggery unleashed upon the state’s citizens.
Yet, the people have responded energetically. Easily outgunned by corporations, outspent by PACs, and surrounded by apathetic neighbors possessing a sense of inevitability that the energy industry will have its way in West Virginia, many citizens and groups have fought the attack vigorously and widely. The events of 2015 affecting the ecology of West Virginia is about far more than policy, it is about people – about those people making a difference, whether for well or ill.
While corporate interests and most of the state’s mainstream media promote a continued reliance upon what is essentially a bust-and-boom economy, more and more voices standing in opposition to the status quo are being heard. With solid evidence of harm to public health, damage to the environment and abuse of eminent domain from the industry – particularly through fracking and mountaintop removal – more people are joining forces to hold government, industry and even the church accountable.
These stories are not necessarily listed in chronological order and are not offered as a ranking of importance. Instead, it is an attempt to assess the whole year much as one would look at a quilt after it has been completed.
The top stories
- The “People’s Capitol” no more
- Influence of religion a mix of the hopeful and disturbing
- Mediocrity at West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection
- Eminent domain abuse
- Public health threats
- Environmental degradation
- The people respond
- The Don Blankenship trial
- Poor and biased press coverage
The “People’s Capitol” no more
The gold-domed state capitol along the Kanawha River in Charleston is known as “The People’s Capitol” because of its openness to the people. While that is changing physically this year as security officials add metal detectors and other security steps, the event that really denied the people access to their government was the takeover of the legislature by the Republican Party. Not that the GOP has a patent on arrogance. The Democrats had grown entirely too comfortable after more than 80 years of control. Their arrogance was on display for all to see. All one had to do was visit the offices of the legislators before the GOP takeover. The Democrats had the largest offices and those in special authority – such as the speaker – had not only their titles but names affixed to the doors. As I walked through the capitol on a snowy February day in 2014 just a few weeks after the Elk River spill, I was pleased with how many legislators made themselves accessible; more than a few seemed genuinely interested in serving the people. However, the display of arrogance on the office doors by the party’s leadership was disturbing. It was clear proof that the lure of power had seduced them to promote themselves, not serve the people.
So, in a sense, the Democrats got what they deserved in November 2014. Unfortunately, beginning in January 2015, so did the people of West Virginia. Why people vote against their own interests is beyond my comprehension. For instance, coal miners voted for the very people who protect men like Massey Energy’s Donald Blankenship (more about him later) and are doing all they can to destroy the United Mine Workers (UMW).
Additionally, the GOP is pushing for “Forced Pooling” legislation that would rob landowners of their most basic rights. That issue died in the legislature on a tie vote in committee last year and is a legislative priority for the GOP this year when the West Virginia legislature convenes on Jan. 13. Forced pooling allows the gas industry to force landowners to allow gas companies to access the gas under their land even if the landowner doesn’t agree to it so long as a certain percentage of their neighbors have agreed to sell. And, despite the devastation done by the Elk River spill in 2014, the Republican-led legislature rolled back vital provisions of the West Virginia Storage Tank Law. This led to weakened oversite, restrictions on public access to hazardous chemical information, and loopholes which severely undermine the stated intent of the law. (Read the full story here).
Influence of religion a mix of the hopeful and disturbing
In West Virginia, approximately three out of four people identify themselves as Protestant; only seven percent are Catholic. As with political parties, these two major Christian sects hold quite disparate views on ecological issues; indeed, within each denomination, congregation and parish, one can find division about what the faith teaches regarding environmental stewardship.
Evangelicals and fundamentalists generally hold a “dominion” theory of stewardship. It is not only reflected in sermons, but is referenced by energy industry officials as justification for their attacks upon public health and the environment. Indeed, a leading energy industry executive shared that view here in Bridgeport in March. Executive Director Corky DeMarco of the West Virginia Oil and Natural Gas Association said, “God didn’t want us to be farmers, or this place would look like Kansas. God put us here in these mountains that are 450 million years old with the best coal in the world and the most natural gas in the world. And we have a responsibility, and I think companies like Dominion and others have seized on the opportunities that these mountains have provided and will continue to do this.” (Read the full story here).
Yet, Allen Johnson of Dunmore, who leads the evangelical organization Christians for the Mountains, took several other evangelicals and reporters to Kayford Mountain, West Virginia’s most infamous mountaintop removal site. As a result of this effort, national publications noted that some evangelicals are serious about creation care. (You can read articles here and here). Another, not available online, was published by the conservative Christian World magazine based in Asheville, N.C. Explaining the outreach, Johnson said, “It’s a lot easier to preach to the choir, so to speak, than to step across the divide, but that is what is needed in our polarized culture – build trust, tell stories, show, listen, find common ground somewhere.”
Catholics, however, have become accustomed to their clergy – in particular the bishop – to be a prophetic voice for the land and its people. Indeed, the West Virginia-based Catholic Committee of Appalachia (CCA) has published two pastoral letters by the Catholic bishops of Appalachia – “This Land is Home to Me” in 1975 and “At Home in the Web of Life” in 1995. Both of these letters were signed by the Roman Catholic bishops of the region. So, for the last 40 years, the Catholic laity has become accustomed to its leaders standing up for the poor. Not in 2015 though. Instead, the CCA felt compelled to challenge West Virginia Bishop Michael Bransfield – as well as other Appalachian Catholic bishops – for not supporting the pope strongly enough when the Vatican released the pope’s ecological encyclical in the spring. (Read more here and here).
Indeed, in December, the CCA published what it characterized as a people’s pastoral. It explained, “For this third letter, called a ‘People’s Pastoral,’ the planning team did not seek the signatures of the region’s bishops, but rather sought to lift up the authority of the people, their stories, and earth itself as an expression of the Roman Catholic Church’s teaching of the ‘preferential option for the poor.’” (Read more here).
In short, while the church leadership has abandoned its prophetic voice in support of the people they are called to serve, the people in the parishes and congregations are filling the void. In addition to the CCA pastoral, several other examples demonstrate this.
In April, during the week of Earth Day, North Carolina-based St. Luke’s United Methodist Church joined with the West Virginia chapter of the Sierra Club and West Virginia Interfaith Power & Light to hold a two-day conference at the Catholic-owned St. John’s XXIII Pastoral Center in Charleston. The conference included people from various faith traditions, scientists, educators, preservationists, educators, artists and others. The theme of the conference, “Preserving Sacred Appalachia,” was organized out of a faith-based view of environmental stewardship, but was intentionally designed to welcome people from all walks of faith and life. (Read more here).
That same week, Shepherdstown Presbyterian Church was a first-place winner of Interfaith Power & Light’s annual Cool Congregations Challenge. The church earned its award for being the top renewable role model in the nation for, among other reasons, having the largest community-supported solar system in West Virginia. (Read more here).
In August, at its annual gathering, the West Virginia Sierra Club chapter considered how it, as a secular group, could apply the ecological encyclical by Pope Francis to its preservation efforts in West Virginia. That gathering led to the writing of this article.
Mediocrity at West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection
While the church, as an institution, was offering mixed messages on environmental stewardship, the state’s primary agency charged with protecting the environment for the people of West Virginia was sending a clear message – it is, at best, mediocre. In fact, its acronym – DEP – is referred to sarcastically as the “Department of Everything Permitted” by public health experts and environmentalists. In 2015, it was unresponsive to citizens expressing concerns about the health impacts of mountaintop removal. (Read more here), and its leader was unprepared for and even hostile to questions about the most basic of safety considerations regarding the impact of the energy extraction industry. (Read more here).
Eminent Domain abuse
Among the most egregious attacks upon the people of West Virginia was the misuse of eminent domain by the energy extraction industry. This is not surprising though, as without approval from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) to build the Atlantic Coast Pipeline (ACP), Mountain Valley Pipeline (MVP) and others in the future to extract gas from the shale fields of northern West Virginia, the industry will not be allowed to use eminent domain to seize the land of private landowners. Without that weapon, the energy industry is facing billions of dollars of losses already invested in what the industry obviously considered a slam dunk.
In March, Pittsburgh-based energy company EQT sent out letters to landowners threatening legal action if they did not allow EQT access to their property for surveys. The company’s lawyers argued that the pipeline would serve the interests of West Virginians, so eminent domain should apply. (Read more here and here). Opponents saw it differently and won in court – for now. (Read more here).
Public Health threats
Whatever one’s political outlook, it is generally agreed that a basic function of government is to guard the public’s health. This is part of its mission to “…promote the general Welfare…” as stated in the Preamble of the United States Constitution. Again though, even fulfilling this most basic responsibility of government seems beyond West Virginia’s capability – or willingness.
As already noted above, West Virginia DEP Secretary Randy Huffman out-of-hand rejected the Precautionary Principle as a reasonable, scientific method of protecting the environment and public health. This, despite clear evidence from health experts about the dangers of fracking and mountaintop removal (read here and here). The facts are supported by personal stories of destroyed lives from the extraction industry. (Read more here).
Those attempting to stop the environmental degradation caused by fracking and its related infrastructure got a good taste of what they will face should the Atlantic Coast and Mountain Valley pipelines receive FERC approval. Because those proposed pipelines would cross state lines, FERC approval is required. However, beginning in the spring and going well into the winter, another pipeline – the Stonewall Gas Gathering (SGG) pipeline – was constructed, traversing only about 56 miles of West Virginia. Hence, as an intrastate pipeline, FERC approval for it was not required. The SGG was built by Stonewall Gas Gathering, LLC, which was incorporated in Delaware on June 4, 2014. SGG is a subsidiary of Momentum (officially M3Midstream), based in Texas and Colorado. The Stonewall Gathering line is part of Momentum’s Appalachian Gathering System (AGS). The SGG connected to the AGS in Harrison County and terminates in Braxton County, where it connects to the Columbia pipeline. It runs also through Doddridge and Lewis counties. It began operation in December, but in the process disrupted the lives of thousands of West Virginians, harassed opponents, and caused significant damage to farmland, streams and roadways.
The West Virginia DEP did issue several Notice of Violations to Precision Pipeline, the company that built the pipeline. However, it did so only after numerous complaints from citizens. (Read more here).
As has already been demonstrated, the extraction industry operates from a position of arrogance – of “dominion.” In the next section are several links to stories about people and groups who learned this hard lesson and immediately began responding. Before reading those accounts though, you might want to refer to the articles, “A Dirty Dozen Reasons to Oppose Fracking” and “Filmmaker Finds Compelling Story in Her own Backyard.”
Citizens stand up to crony capitalism
Despite this relentless assault upon public health, the environment and property rights by the unholy alliance between government and business – known otherwise as crony capitalism – no small number of people and groups have organized and coordinated efforts to safeguard their human rights. The outreach has even extended across the states bordering West Virginia, as alliances have been formed with people and groups in Virginia, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Ohio and Kentucky.
As a result, I was fortunate to meet some incredible people giving completely of themselves and resources during the year. Following are a few examples.
The McClain family, farmers in Doddridge County (about 8,000 residents), though quiet and deferential people, stood their ground against the industry for ruining some of their crops. (Read more here).
Also in Doddridge County, residents joined with folks from neighboring counties to demonstrate their solidarity against the fracking industry. (Read more here).
Earlier in the year, a landowner in the mountains of Randolph County was a one-man army fighting Dominion Resources. He is working to protect some of the most pristine mountain valleys in West Virginia. (Read more here).
Also early in the year, several environmental groups challenged FERC to abide by its charter and deny approval of the pipelines because they would benefit private shareholders, not the people of West Virginia. (Read more here).
In a proactive response to the industry, a Harrison County couple modeled, for the public, their homestead powered by solar panels. (Read more here).
As the year came to a close, dozens of people and groups gathered in central West Virginia to learn more from each other and to coordinate efforts to oppose the fracking industry. (Read more here).
The Don Blankenship trial
The year concluded with the conviction of former Massey CEO Don Blankenship on charges brought by federal authorities because of the Upper Big Branch mine disaster that killed 29 coal miners in Raleigh County in April 2010. Sadly, the jury found Blankenship guilty on just one misdemeanor count brought against him – conspiring to willfully violate safety standards. The same jury found him not guilty of securities fraud and making false statements. His lawyers have said he will challenge the verdict. So, in light of the expected appeal and mixed verdict, it would seem the opportunity to send a message that crony capitalism would no longer be allowed to kill West Virginians was missed. Hence, it is an important chapter in this story of West Virginia’s reliance upon the fossil fuel mono-economy. Still, while it was covered by media from the United States and beyond, I consider it less important of a story than the stories above, in particular the response by average citizens to the assault they and their land face from the energy extraction industry.
Poor and biased press coverage
These are serious times requiring serious and devoted people. While I generally try not to be snarky about the mainstream media, I must say that I was quite disappointed that West Virginia Public Broadcasting considered a little dustup about pepperoni rolls as one of the top eight stories in West Virginia in 2015. Now, I’ve transported more than my share of pepperoni rolls across state lines. But the debate over fracking – a debate that continues savagely in every corner of the Mountain State – is a far more important story. Yet, this important issue did not even make the list from West Virginia Public Broadcasting, which claims to be committed to “Telling West Virginia’s Story.”
In this instance, it failed miserably.
Meanwhile, in Clarksburg, which is at the epicenter of the fracking industry, the city’s only newspaper – The Exponent-Telegram – has an owner who also owns interests in oil, gas and coal companies. The newspaper, which touts itself as “The Independent Voice of North Central West Virginia,” had not disclosed this conflict of interest to the public, even as it served as a cheerleader for the energy extraction industry. (Read more here and here).
The point is this: The Fourth Estate has become part of the establishment. Just as our three branches of government are intended to serve as a check and balance on the other two branches, so too, since the Revolutionary War era, has the press been counted upon to serve as a fourth check on the three branches of government. Now though, the courage required to honor that legacy is rarely found in a newsroom or TV studio. In short, the modern press, whether for-profit or not, will not challenge government, church and academia beyond the boundaries which might hit them in the pocketbook.
Consequently, it does not report what we truly need to know.
So, it’s up to the people. Last year left social justice and environmental activists exhausted, even burned out. Yet, the battle continues. While 2015 was not a good year for the people or environment of West Virginia, 2016 offers hope. It also offers great peril. The extraction industry has unlimited resources – cash, marketing departments and lawyers – that groups fighting for justice simply can’t match. The industry is working 24/7 to assault the people and natural beauty of West Virginia. So activists cannot rest. They are gearing up for a busy year, beginning with the legislative session that convenes next week. They have doggedly fought the industry hard in 2015. However, if they do not get additional manpower this year – an army of volunteers – 2017 will likely be too late to keep West Virginia from becoming an industrial waste zone that is unsuitable for any living thing.
© Michael M. Barrick/Appalachian Chronicle, 2016
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