Category Archives: People

Hanging On

Sometimes, that’s all we can do

By Michael M. Barrick

Holding on

Hanging on with my sister, Mickey, as we celebrate her birthday.

LENOIR, N.C. – On June 20, 1952, Minetta Flint married William Barrick in Morgantown, W.Va. A year later, on June 12, their first child, Michelle, was born to the newlyweds, who were known among their friends by their nicknames – “Mike” and “Sparky.”

Michelle, who eventually earned the nickname “Mickey,” was followed by yours truly just under three years later, on April 22, 1956. Nearly six years later, our family was completed, as our little sister, April, was born on January 10, 1962. All three of us were born in St. Mary’s Hospital across from our garage apartment in Clarksburg, W.Va.

As Catholics, we were a relatively small family. Yet, with our grandmothers, aunts, uncles and great aunts and uncles, we had plenty of family close by and others scattered across West Virginia.

Then, the three of us grew up, moved away and started our own families. Every year we would take our two children to West Virginia and enjoy a freeloading vacation of great food, great company and never enough time to visit all the family and friends we wanted to see. And each Christmas was the family reunion.

But alas, a visit to West Virginia now is nothing more than a visit to four cemeteries in three counties to place flowers at the graves of all those people we used to share meals and laughs with.

Hanging on 2

Pondering something important, like what to drink next.

There’s nothing unusual about that. However, that doesn’t change the tinges of emotions I feel as I consider those souls who have slipped away – including our little sister April, who died of cancer last August. The Barrick family that started out at 483½ Washington Ave. in Clarksburg 66 years ago is now reduced to Mickey, who turned 65 this week (she doesn’t look it, but life isn’t fair) and me.

She and her husband David were in town visiting this week. She and I are both cancer survivors, against the odds. Why we live, and April does not, we do not know. Nor shall we drive ourselves crazy pondering it. It is what it is. How that huge family we were born into is now down to just the two of us is also something not healthy to spend a whole lot of time pondering. Again, it just is.

Yet, through the loss and sadness, our love for one another has grown beyond description, largely due to Mickey’s unconditional love for her quite curmudgeonly brother. We understand that we are indeed an endangered species. So, we do what Sparky, Mike and April taught us – We hold on to each other for dear life and laugh at life’s challenges and absurdities.

© Michael M. Barrick, 2018. Photography by Rick Carter.


Remembering April Renee

This poem is shared in memory of our dear “little” sister, April Renee Ball (WVU ’84) who passed away on Aug. 30, 2017. You may read her obituary here.

April obit photo

April Renee (Barrick) Ball

When, from St. Mary’s Hospital

Sparky returned home in the snow,

she carried with her

the scarlet-faced baby

that forever, to Mickey and me,

would be Little Sister.


Walking home from school with you

from first grade on,

I thought would last forever.

But then I chose a path in 1974

which, to this day, remains a mystery.


On a return trip home you smiled away

as the speakers in my orange Beetle

blasted Uriah Heap against your ear drums.


In time you found a man

I considered worthy – as if it mattered.

Together you gave me two of my best friends –

your daughter, your son

my niece, my nephew.


Though separated now by timely death,

apart physically but present in spirit,

the bonds of love between Little Sister, Big Brother and Big Sister

are held together by memories,

and our dearly departed Mother and Father.


With a prayer of joy and a tear in my eye,

I daily thank God

for January 10, 1962.

© Michael M. Barrick, 2017

JAM: ‘Building Community One Tune at a Time’

Inspiring program is preserving music, history and communities of Appalachia

By Michael M. Barrick


Strictly Strings. Photo by Martin Church.

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).


Strictly Strings on stage. Photo by Lonnie Webster.

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. 

JAM at Merlefest

Members of Caldwell JAM at MerleFest 2016

We envision a world in which all children have the opportunity to experience community through the joy of participating in traditional mountain music together.”


Strictly Strings as seen on the cover of their album, ‘High on a Mountain.’ Photo by Martin Church.

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.”


Caldwell JAM musicians perform for North Carolina’s legislators on ARTS DAY


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.”


Strictly Strings photo by Martin Church.

Read about Caldwell, N.C. JAM here. 

© Michael M. Barrick, 2017

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Nancy Posey Bringing Her Wit and Humor to Showcase

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.


Nancy Posey playing the mandolin. Photo by David Courtner.

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.


Nancy Posey reading poetry. Courtesy Photo.

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

The 19th Annual Caldwell Traditional Musicians Showcase will be on Sat., March 11 at 7:30 p.m. at the J.E. Broyhill Civic Center. Purchase tickets here from the Civic Center. 

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.

An Open Letter to W.Va. Governor Justice and DEP Secretary Caperton

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 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.

Tom bond

Lewis County Farmer Tom Bond tells his story in the Documentary Film ‘In the Hills and Hollows’ by Keely Kernan

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?


Jim Justice

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!


Austin Caperton

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!


West Virginia residents stand in solidarity against fracking at the first “Hands Across Our Land” fracking protest iin 2015. Photo courtesy of Doddridge County Watershed Association

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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The Eyes of a Child (Part 2)


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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The Eyes of a Child


If we all looked at the world through the eyes of a child, we would see only beauty.

© Michael M. Barrick, 2017

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Ken Hechler, an Inspirational Mountaineer

His life of service to West Virginia is an inspiration for all those seeking justice

By Janet Keating 


Ken Hechler, front, at a rally to end mountaintop removal outside the headquarters of Massey Energy. Photo by Vivian Stockman.

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 ( 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.

To My ‘Bernie or Bust’ Friends: Revolutions Take Time, Even in the Digital Age

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.

Bernie SandersBut 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.

NC gang

Some of the team, including the late U.S. Senator Robert Morgan (front row left) that worked to pass judicial campaign reform in North Carolina in 2002. Photo courtesy of Bob Phillips.

Wv gang

Some of the founding members of the Mountain Lakes Preservation Alliance, meeting in Weston, W.Va. in 2014. Photo courtesy of John Cobb.

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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