Category Archives: Politics & Government

North Carolina Law Enforcement Wrong to Target Pipeline Opponents

It is Duke, Dominion and EQT that are terrorizing people

By Michael M. Barrick

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Myra Bonhage-Hale, then of Alum Bridge, W.Va. holds signs with questions she had for Console about pipelines. This “activist” eventually moved out of state.

RALEIGH, N.C. – The North Carolina’s surveillance and counter-terrorism unit has conducted a “threat assessment” of opponents to the Atlantic Coast Pipeline (ACP), which is scheduled to be built in eastern North Carolina, according to North Carolina Policy Watch: “State Bureau of Investigation unit prepared “threat assessment” of Atlantic Coast Pipeline protestors.”

According to the article, “The state’s surveillance and counter-terrorism unit, the Information Sharing and Analysis Center (ISAAC), warned law enforcement officials that the Atlantic Coast Pipeline could attract “violent extremists” who are opposed to the natural gas project in North Carolina … .” If approved, the Atlantic Coast Pipeline will run more than 170 miles through North Carolina roughly parallel with I-95 east of Raleigh.

The law enforcement analysis could not be more misguided.

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Joao Barroso makes a point with neighbors in Randolph County, W.Va. He became an “activist” to protect hundreds of acres of his pristine land.

There are terrorists involved in fracking and related pipeline development – if that’s the word the law enforcement wishes to use – but they are not the opponents to the pipeline; rather the ones terrorizing people and the environment are the corporations building the pipelines. These include Duke Energy of Charlotte, Dominion Resources of Richmond, and EQT of Pittsburgh. The latter company is the primary developer of the Mountain Valley Pipeline (MVP), another controversial pipeline being built through West Virginia and Virginia.

The ISAAC would be well served to listen to this excellent interview of Ellen M. Gilmer, a legal reporter with E&E News by West Virginia Public Radio. Gilmer offers an analysis of the court battles involving both pipelines. One listening to it will see that pipeline opponents don’t have to resort to “terrorism.” Why? They are enjoying many victories in state and federal courts. Victories, in fact, that for now have shut construction of the pipelines down.

Opponents are not wide-eyed radicals and Gilmer knows it. How do I know? In 2015, I gave her a tour of the area in northern West Virginia where both pipelines originate. While living and reporting from there, I was covering construction of the Stonewall Gas Gathering line, a 36” diameter, 55-mile pipeline. Because it did not cross state boundaries, it did not need federal approval. Nevertheless, the pipeline’s builders were terrorizing people along the entire route.

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Justin McClain (L) listens as his father, Robert talks about the damage to their crops done by the Stonewall Gas Gathering Pipeline

As I took Ms. Gilmer around, I introduced her to the people most impacted by that project and introduced her to others whose land is threatened by the ACP and/or MVP. You’d have to ask her yourself, but I’m pretty sure she didn’t meet anyone that could be construed as a terrorist.

But, this is what she did see (or hear about because of time constraints):

  • A farmer in Doddridge County whose crops were destroyed because of improper erosion controls upstream during pipeline construction
  • Sick people throughout Doddridge County
  • The local newspaper is owned, literally, by gas and oil company owners
  • Citizens injured and killed by industry trucks
  • Residents leaving the state

These are just but a few examples. There are several more links at the end of this article. However, one moment stands out for me. It was at an event where the fossil fuel industry and law enforcement teamed up to intimidate local citizens simply curious about the pipelines as they were first announced. It was then that I knew the fix was in. The corporations got to the legislators, who then pressured law enforcement. Now it’s happening in North Carolina. It is beyond unnecessary – it is chilling.

What is fracking?
Fracking is a slang word for hydraulic fracturing, the process of injecting a fluid consisting of water, sand and chemicals at high pressure into shale. This fractures the rock, releasing natural gas, which is then extracted. In West Virginia, Ohio and Pennsylvania the Marcellus shale, a layer of rock 3,500 – 8,000 feet below the surface, is the object of fracking. The vertical depth of the formation is about 150 feet. Whether recovered or left behind, the frack fluid presents problems. The wastewater contains not only the chemicals added to the water, but also leaving minerals and radioactive materials recovered as part of the extraction process.

Failed erosion control 1

Failed erosion control on construction of Stonewall Gas Gathering pipeline in West Virginia Photo by Autumn Bryson

Pipeline construction

Fracking and pipeline construction are inexorably linked. Without fracking, there is no need for a pipeline. With fracking, all the risks associated with pipeline construction serve only to aggravate the impact of the process. So, there are many good reasons (see next section below) for people to oppose the ACP and MVP. The ACP is the longest, at more than 600 miles, terminating in Robeson County, N.C.

The companies seeking approval to build the ACP have harassed land owners wishing to protect their land from the devastation that would be caused by the ACP construction, not to mention the potential danger it poses for those living alongside of it. Having learned of what the people along the proposed ACP route have endured in West Virginia and Virginia, it is clear that the people of North Carolina need political leaders who will defend them, not consider them threats.

Fracking impacts and risks (Or ‘A Dirty Dozen Reasons to Oppose Fracking’)

Dead and injured workers (here and here), explosions on fracking pads (here), dead and injured motorists (here and here), destroyed wells and streams (here), dead livestock (here) and sickened residents (here) are just some of the public health and safety risks associated with fracking. Indeed, the list is rather long. The negative by-products of fracking include:

  1. Public Health Issues
  2. Water Use and Contamination
  3. Radioactivity
  4. Air Pollution
  5. Waste Disposal
  6. Site Development and Well Pad Activity
  7. Misuse of Eminent Domain
  8. Climate Change
  9. Traffic Congestion
  10. Potential Earthquakes
  11. Industry Instability

The people experiencing these events and tactics do not sound like terrorists. They sound like people who are being terrorized.

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A convoy of gas trucks rumble through downtown Weston, W.Va. at lunchtime.

Crony capitalism

This is not new to the fossil fuel industry. A century ago, during the West Virginia Mine Wars, as the coal companies worked to keep the unions out of the coal fields, they hired Baldwin-Felts detectives to brutalize the miners and their families. The companies also ensured that local law enforcement did their bidding.

Perhaps the most famous of these “lawmen” was Don Chafin, the sheriff of Logan County, W.Va., during the Mine Wars. According to the West Virginia Archives and History website, “In 1921, he mobilized a small army of deputies – later formally organized into the militia by order of the governor – which met the union organizers in skirmishes at Blair Mountain on the Boone – Logan county border and in the Crooked Creek section. Thousands of shots were fired and much blood shed but there were relatively few casualties. Once source says 47 were killed and more than 100 injured.

“Mingo County then the center of organizing activity, was under martial law. Union miners in Kanawha heard rumors that their comrades to the south were being mistreated. That started their march south through Boone and Logan. On their way they planned to break down Chafin’s non-union stronghold. Their favorite marching song was “Hang Don Chafin to a Sour Apple Tree.’”

ISAAC’s snooping proves beyond any doubt that efforts by the fossil fuel industry to get the likes of Don Chafin to do their bidding here and now remains alive and well. 

The proper response – A moratorium on fracking

Clearly, despite industry claims, it has much to prove before we can consider fracking and related pipeline development safe. So, the only option is to operate according to the Precautionary Principle. The Science & Environmental Health Network says about the Precautionary Principle: “When an activity raises threats of harm to human health or the environment, precautionary measures should be taken even if some cause and effect relationships are not fully established scientifically. In this context the proponent of an activity, rather than the public, should bear the burden of proof. The process of applying the precautionary principle must be open, informed and democratic and must include potentially affected parties. It must also involve an examination of the full range of alternatives, including no action.”

Based on this definition, the only proper response is a moratorium on fracking. A moratorium remains in place only so long as the burden of proof has not been met. Should the industry, as some point in the future, demonstrate that fracking does not pose a threat to public health and the environment, the moratorium could be lifted.

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Children suffering nosebleeds is just one public health hazard in fracking zones

Add me to the list

I’m a pipeline opponent. I’ve never pretended otherwise. My writing has been focused on holding the fossil fuel industry accountable for the death and destruction it has caused in Appalachia and beyond. But, I’ve never touched a soul, never issued a threat, never trespassed, never polluted streams or any of the other numerous horrors the fracking industry has done.

What I have done is exercise my First Amendment rights. “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press, or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

Motivated and informed by my understanding of liberation theology, I have spoken and written against fracking and related pipeline development. I’ve been part of demonstrations of assembly. In short, I’ve been one of thousands of pipeline opponents who have legally and appropriately petitioned the Government.

So, if that puts me on a threat assessment watch list, then add me to the list and watch away. I’m quite familiar with the fossil fuel industry’s tactics. The ISAAC list is one I’d be proud to be on. But it won’t stop me or any other pipeline opponents. Why? Because we understand that it is time that the people – not crony capitalists – run our state and nation.

© Michael M. Barrick, 2018

Curry Hedge and Johnson at conference

About 50 pipeline activists gathered peacably at the Preserving Sacred Appalachia gathering in April 2015 in Charleston, W.Va. Here, Tierra Curry (L), Susan Hedge and Allen Johnson lead a discussion on the sacredness of Appalachia. Photo by Keely Kernan

Other articles I’ve written about the Fossil Fuel Extraction Industry

ACP Would Require Extensive Mountaintop Removal

Atlantic Coast Pipeline Costs Outweigh Benefits, Claims Independent Study

Breaking Ground, Breaking Hearts

Citizen Groups Organizing in Response to Fracking

Citizen Groups to Unite for Water Justice in West Virginia and Beyond

Clarksburg Newspaper Editorial an Affront to West Virginians

Dominion is a Bully, not a Community Builder

Ecological Monitoring Group Challenges Virginia Governor to be Transparent about Pipeline Deliberations

Environmental Scientists, Activist Applaud Mountain Valley Pipeline Ruling

EQT Letter Characterized as Misleading and Bullying

Factual Reporting is not Always Balanced

Feeding the Military Monster

FERC Independence Challenged by Nonprofits

Fracking Forum a Time to Learn, Unify and Act

Groups Work to Bring the Public Voice into Gas Pipeline Projects

Health and Well-Being of Residents Being Subordinated to Fracking Industry

Incompetence and Complacency Increase Dangers from Fracking

Is This Fair?

Jury in Pennsylvania Fracking Case Sees Clear Value in Lives and Property

Learning by Listening

Lewis County Resident Issues a Plea: Wake up West Virginia

Natural Gas Industry Moves from the Absurd to the Profane

Natural Gas Pipelines, the Drumbeats of War and Our Sense of Entitlement

OVEC Publishes Newspaper to Reach 29,000 West Virginians

Pipeline Proposal Raises Questions that Beg for Answers

Pipeline Monitoring Group: FERC Not Doing Job on ACP

Poor Emergency Planning in West Virginia Puts Citizens at Risk

Proposed ‘New” Route for Atlantic Coast Pipeline no Better than One Rejected, Say Opponents

Putting Liberation Theology to Practice in Appalachia

Reluctant Activist

Seeking Dominion over His Own Land

Standing Their Ground

The ‘Deceived God’

Unity the Theme at ‘Preserving Sacred Appalachia’ Conference

Virginia Officials Agree to Demands from Advocacy Group about Pipeline Deliberations

Voices out of the Wilderness

West Virginia: The Rodney Dangerfield of the USA

West Virginia Residents in Heart of Fracking Field Join in National Action

West Virginians and Pennsylvanians Standing in Solidarity Against Natural Gas Industry

West Virginia’s Top Story in 2015: People and Land under Assault

Why People Deny Global Warming Clues

WVDEP Secretary Randy Huffman Acknowledges Political and Business Climate in Charleston Limits Agency’s Effectiveness

‘You Make Us Want To Leave’

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What Would Reagan Say? Oh, We Know!

The Republican Party, once Communism’s greatest antagonist, is now its biggest cheerleader

Still, as Wendell Berry teachers us, there is no reason to hate the Russian people anymore than Russians should hate us for Trump

By Michael M. Barrick

On March 8, 1983, Republican President Ronald Reagan, speaking to the annual convention of the National Association of Evangelicals, famously called the Soviet Union an “evil empire.”

This is the same Republican Party of Donald Trump and his buddy, Russian President Vladimir Putin, a former KGB officer. This is an astonishing turnabout in just one generation. The Republican Party, once Communism’s greatest antagonist, is now its biggest cheerleader.

While many Republican leaders have criticized the president’s performance in Helsinki, they do not follow up their words with action. So, they are enablers. It is noteworthy also that some of Trump’s remaining strongest loyalists are influential evangelical pastors. So, I’m quite disappointed – again – in our institutional and societal leaders. In the face of evil, they are silent. (Those who claim to be Christians might want to look up Ephesians 5:11).

Still, it’s a republic, so we have a voice, protected by the First Amendment. Obviously, this essay is such an example of exercising my right to speak freely. But I have another way, and you’ll find it on the back of my car. It’s a bumper sticker. It’s below.

Trump Putin

This message isn’t warmly received where I live and work – the heart of Trump country – from Western North Carolina through southern Virginia to all of West Virginia.

It’s controversial because people – as we know from “A Few Good Men” – just can’t handle the truth. I read. I’ve heard our own Republican Senator Richard Burr – chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee – say that the Russians interfered in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

Nevertheless, this “love note” left on my windshield while my car was parked at an elementary school in our county, provides insight to how people respond to this truth. Here it is:

Trump sticker note

There are two important things to learn from the mentality expressed in these words (I won’t call them thoughts). First, note the “Love it or Leave it” mentality from the 1960s. This person is asserting authority over me he that does not have. Why? We have an authoritarian president who he apparently voted for and worships. He craves – and emulates – the authoritarian approach. That’s the first step to Fascism. Secondly, and sadly ironically, this person will follow orders from Trump, even if they violate the Constitution one presumes this writer claims to love.

So, what do we do about this problem of having a president that is chummy with an enemy of freedom and who is doing all that he can to break up NATO and other vital alliances?

Applying the Wisdom of Wendell Berry

We apply the wisdom of Wendell Berry. (And Forrest Gump but hang on a minute).

As Berry wrote in his poem, “To A Siberian Woodsman,” published 50 years ago, we as a people must realize that despite Putin, there is no reason to hate the Russian people – anymore than Russians should hate us for Trump.

Berry, in his poem, introduces two protagonist farmers – an American (Berry) and a Russian. In this exchange, the farmers contemplate upon their common interests and concerns – their love of family, their love of farming, their respect for nature, and their respect for their fellow man. Implicit in the poem is that nationalism is an enemy to all people.

Berry begins:

You lean at ease in your warm house at night after supper,
listening to your daughter play the accordion. You smile
with the pleasure of a man confident in his hands, resting
after a day of long labor in the forest, the cry of the saw
in your head, and the vision of coming home to rest.
Your daughter’s face is clear in the joy of hearing
her own music. Her fingers live on the keys
like people familiar with the land they were born in.

Further on, he continues:

And I am here in Kentucky in the place I have made myself
in the world. I sit on my porch above the river that flows muddy
and slow along the feet of the trees. I hear the voices of the wren
and the yellow-throated warbler whose songs pass near the windows
and over the roof. In my house my daughter learns the womanhood
of her mother. My son is at play, pretending to be
the man he believes I am. I am the outbreathing of this ground.
My words are its words as the wren’s song is its song.

He then asks:

Who has invented our enmity? Who has prescribed us
hatred of each other? Who has armed us against each other
with the death of the world? Who has appointed me such anger
that I should desire the burning of your house or the
destruction of your children?

This is but a small sampling. Berry ends by asserting that no government should have the power to require us to participate in the destruction of families, homes, communities and nations.

So yes, it’s disturbing that President Trump is incompetent at best and compromised at worse. Or both. Let us not lose sight of the fact, however, that the Russian people are not our enemies. They’re simply fed a load of crap like we are. It’s up to us – the free people in this equation – to hold our elected officials accountable to seek the truth sincerely and immediately. Anything less is dangerous, even treacherous.

One more thought:

Here is another contrast between President Reagan and President Trump I’d like my Republican friends (it’s a shrinking group with articles like this) to explain: President Reagan’s “Tear Down This Wall” speech at the Brandenburg Gate in West Berlin, Germany on June 12, 1987. You can contrast it with anything Trump has said about building a wall on the Mexican border.

All of this seems perplexing until one considers the wisdom of another great American philosopher, Forrest Gump: “Stupid is as stupid does.”

© Michael M. Barrick, 2018

Virginia DEQ Ignores Requests for Pipeline Comments

Environmental groups accuse agency of ‘foot-dragging’

Va DEQMONTEREY, Va. – The Dominion Pipeline Monitoring Coalition (DPMC) has learned that the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) is just now compiling the thousands of emails and other comments citizens submitted during the comment period that ended more than a month ago.

This outrageous foot-dragging fits a pattern DEQ has set for months and heightens the likelihood of further damage to state waters by the Mountain Valley Pipeline (MVP) and the Atlantic Coast Pipeline (ACP) before the State Water Control Board has the chance to rule on the sufficiency of waterbody crossing reviews. The Board saw a need for this information way back on April 12, based on concerns that a blanket permit from the Corps of Engineers may not be adequate to ensure Virginia’s water quality standards will be met.

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Source: ACP website

On July 3, with no commitment from DEQ as to when the comments would be available to all, DPMC decided to acquire them and provide them online. We filed a records request on July 3, 2018, seeking copies of all comments sent to DEQ. The law requires the agency to provide records within five work-days or explain why it is not “practically possible” to do so in that time period.

That deadline fell on July 11 and that day DEQ told us it would not get us the emails within the required time or tell us when it would be able to do so. They said the emails had not yet been compiled so they could be provided electronically, due to technical difficulties. We then insisted we be allowed to review the emails in person on DEQ’s computers and were told this too was not possible. We reiterated that the law required better and that we would not accept DEQ’s failure to comply.

Suddenly, just two days later on July 13, DEQ gave us more than 7,000 emails. Apparently, the technical difficulties that DEQ claimed may require more than two additional weeks to solve were now solved – but only under pressure from DPMC. Why had those difficulties not been tackled and solved in the three months since the Board ordered the public notice?

We and Wild Virginia will make all of the comments available online and publish a summary within the next week. Where the Department has failed, we will pick up the slack.

We call on the Board to use this information and hold a meeting well before the currently-advertised date of August 21st and on Governor Northam to order DEQ to now move quickly to do its job. The repeated promises of transparency and sound science by administration officials have not been kept. It is now time for our officials to restore integrity to this process.

Courtesy Submission

Workshop Scheduled to Address Judicial Concerns in West Virginia

Topics include information about current judges, selection of judges, and threats to the court system’s impartiality

Courtesy Article

WV Citizens for Justice logoCHARLESTON, W.Va. – West Virginia Citizens for Clean Elections and the West Virginia Association for Justice are hosting a free workshop on the role of the courts in protecting the state’s democracy and citizens’ fundamental rights.

Through a series of interactive discussions and presentations, participants will leave with knowledge about who sits on the bench in West Virginia, how judges are selected/elected, threats to judicial independence, and actions to strengthen and protect the courts impartiality of our courts. An experienced judge, other legal experts, and facilitators from Wellstone Action will be in attendance to help community members learn more about this important and often overlooked branch of government.

Clean Elections WV“With civil rights and democracy increasingly under attack, the strength and impartiality of our courts may be the last mainstay for achieving justice on a broad range of issues,” said Julie Archer, Coordinator for West Virginia Citizens for Clean Elections. “Our rights as voters, parents, workers, and community members depend on the decisions of our elected judges, so it’s imperative that we take steps to ensure that our courts are fair and impartial.”

Welllstone logoThe workshop will be held Monday, June 18 in Charleston at the Four Points Sheraton and participants have their choice of attending either an afternoon session starting at 1 p.m., or an evening session starting at 5:30 p.m. The workshop is free and includes an appetizer buffet reception from 4:30 – 5:30 p.m., however, attendees are asked to register in advance at faircourts101.eventbrite.com.

Endorsing Price a Bad Idea

In the future, I will leave voting decisions to the electorate

By Michael M. Barrick

NOTE: 13 June, 2018: I amend my comments at the end of this essay in which I say I will vote for Price. I won’t. I made the mistake in 2016 of voting for a mediocre Democratic candidate for president in Hillary Clinton. I simply can’t repeat that error this year. There are now five political parties on the ballot in North Carolina. And the sixth option is to not cast a vote at all in this election.

LENOIR, N.C. – Just as early voting was beginning in April, I endorsed Philip Price for the Democratic nomination in the 11th Congressional District. He handily defeated his two opponents. Price received 41 percent, Steve Woodsmall had 31 percent and Scott Donaldson had 28 percent. As the winner, Price will be facing Republican incumbent Mark Meadows in November.

US Capitol andy-feliciotti-someguy-579740-unsplash

Despite Price’s strong showing, my endorsement was a mistake. I made it based on incomplete information. I recently learned that Price has had 30 arrests over 34 years in at least eight North Carolina counties. The arrests were for infractions from drug charges to traffic violations. Many of the charges were dismissed by district attorneys in some of the counties, but Price was found guilty on at least seven of the charges.

One can read details of many of those charges, including some extensive quotes from Price in the blog, Trappalachia Reports.  According to this article, Price proudly based his campaign on legalizing marijuana, largely based on his own experiences of being busted for possessing it. I applaud him for those efforts, for the war on drugs has proven to be a disaster and it is long past time to legalize pot. It is one reason I endorsed him. The other is that he seems to be a candidate that truly understands the working class.

However, I did not know that he was convicted for Driving While Intoxicated (DWI) in Rutherford County in 2007. Seven years earlier, in Orange County, he was convicted for an open container violation. These convictions reveal a reckless disregard for human life.

Marijuana possession, considering the increasing acceptance and legalization of it across the nation, is not my concern; what is my concern is Price’s admission that he hoped his legal troubles, especially from 2007, would not be consequential. According to the Smoky Mountain News, Price said, “These issues did not magically emerge. All of this is public record and has been for years. I talked to the journalist [Davin Eldridge, of Trappalacha] in January and assumed that this article would be coming out back then. I didn’t publicize it myself because I’m not proud of it.”

Rolling joint_thought-catalog-545969-unsplash

I understand not being proud of past mistakes. I’ve made my fair share. However, not acknowledging them up front when one should reasonably expect that they will become commonly known in a congressional campaign reveals poor judgment. His failure to be fully transparent from the beginning will now cast a shadow over his integrity – a failure that Meadows will almost certainly exploit.

I’ve learned from the Price experience.  I apologize to our readers. While I heard Price speak a few times, it was support he enjoys from a close friend that helped me decide to endorse him. I’m not blaming my friend; I have no idea what he knew. But I know I should have done more research before making an endorsement.

Of course, I will certainly not vote for Mark Meadows. His voting record is one that hurts working class Americans. But, he’s going to be tough to beat. That’s why the Democrat facing him should be the best candidate the party has to offer. While Price worked hard and had an impressive showing in the primary, he needs to make sure there are no more surprises awaiting voters. He is the party’s nominee. I will vote for him because I agree with him on the issues. I’m just disappointed that he thought trying to avoid his past wouldn’t eventually catch up with him.

He told both publications quoted above that he has learned from his mistakes and that what he has learned has made him a better person. That, he says, will serve him well in Congress. That’s probably what my friend believes. I can’t argue with that.

Still, to protect the integrity of The Lenoir Voice and the Appalachian Chronicle, as well as showing appropriate respect for our readers, I’ll cease the endorsements. I’ll just try and report as fully as I can on any candidates I profile. From there, I’ll simply trust the judgment of voters.

Just as Mr. Price said, we need to learn from our mistakes. Hopefully, we both have, as Mark Meadows needs to be retired.

© Michael M. Barrick, 2018. Photo of joint being rolled by Thought Catalog on Unsplash. Photo of U,S. Capitol by Andy Feliciotti (@someguy) on Unsplash

 

School Shootings and Our Culture of Death

Time to admit we are not a civilized society

By Michael M. Barrick

Ho hum.

More children and a teacher have been killed in a school shooting in Texas. We will express our collective outrage for a news cycle or two then go on about our business of letting it happen.

It is time, then, to admit that the school shootings – averaging at least once a week now in the USA – reveal that we are not a civilized society; what we have become, rather, are bystanders and even enablers to a Culture of Death.

culure of death yomex-owo-642587-unsplashThis is no longer a debate about gun rights or school safety. Rather, it is a debate about what has gone wrong in America. How have we come to accept a culture of death?

Here are just some of the examples of how we have come to accept and even embrace our culture of death.

  • Our granddaughter, who will have her 9th birthday this week, has lived in a nation at war her whole life.
  • Our wars have caused death and great emotional and physical injuries to tens of thousands of young Americans; and, hundreds of thousands of people in Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria and throughout the Middle East have died or been made refugees since we have launched our undeclared wars in the region.
  • Capital punishment.
  • Abortion.
  • A health systems industry instead of a healthcare system designed to care for every American
  • Environmental degradation, public health disasters and sacrificial zones for the fossil fuel industry.
  • Funding cuts to mental health services.
  • Poor and vulnerable populations shut out from basic government services.
  • Food deserts.
  • Storing our elders in warehouses to die when they become inconvenient.
  • Weekly shootings in our schools, along with mass murders elsewhere, as in Colorado, Florida, South Carolina and many other places.

We have truly reached the end of our rope on this issue. We need leaders who will help us come together. It can no longer be a binary choice. Children or guns is not the question before us. We have many questions that we have, up to this point, ignored. Can we sit at the same table? Do we have the courage to say we are a culture of death? Are we courageous enough to explore why? Are we willing to make the tough choices that show we value life?

Gun sebastian-pociecha-631796-unsplashRight now, those leaders are not found in legislative bodies, governor mansions or the White House. Those leaders are the friends of the very children being shot down. Let’s follow the examples of our children. They have proven to be far wiser than the elected adults. The students get what the “honorables” don’t – if we don’t stop school shootings, we will have demonstrated, beyond any doubt, that we value profit over life. Our children will grow up knowing their lives just aren’t important.

We must do better. Adults are screaming at each other, when we should be talking. We are setting terrible examples for our children. No wonder they have concluded the only option is violence. We must put every potential solution on the table, regardless of how unpopular.

culture of death FTR hugues-de-buyer-mimeure-325681-unsplashWhen Active Shooter Drills become routine exercises for school children – as they have – then we have clearly become a culture that does not value life. We are a culture of death. We needn’t look around anymore for leaders. They already exist. They are the students. We must lock elbows with them so strongly that the alliance can’t be defeated. We must all work to identify and address the root causes of our culture of death. Only then can we help turn our society into one that again values life – at all stages, in all circumstances.

© Michael M. Barrick, 2018. Cemetery Photo by Hugues de BUYER-MIME; Grim Reaper Photo by Yomex Owo;  Gun Photo by Sebastian Pociecha on Unsplash

Message Delivered: Public Schools Matter!

Rallying with teachers, students and friends exhilarating and humbling

By Art Sherwood

RALEIGH – I stood in awe with teachers, students and friends this past Wednesday when tens of thousands of us delivered a very clear message to the North Carolina General Assembly – Public Schools Matter!

That is why I am seeking to serve the citizens of Avery, Burke and Caldwell counties in the State Senate. The teachers are right! The legislature must properly fund our public schools.

Under Democratic governors such as Terry Sandford and Jim Hunt, North Carolina earned a reputation as a leader in public education. I want to help Governor Cooper restore us to that status. Participating in the rally Wednesday was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to do so. However, if given the chance to serve in the State Senate, I will have many opportunities to stand proudly in support of public schools for our region and all of North Carolina’s children – through votes that restore our schools to their once proud standing.

That is why I stood with:

Teachers, students and allies from Burke County.

Teachers, students and allies from Caldwell County.

A friend from church.

In short, a mass of humanity moving forward in support of public education.

I look forward to the opportunity to stand with them again, in the North Carolina State Senate.

Courtesy Submission

 

I am Going to Raleigh in Support of our Teachers

Concern for students, not self, motivates teachers daily and will in Raleigh

By Art Sherwood

child learning pan-xiaozhen-423533-unsplash (1)LENOIR, N.C. – I am standing in solidarity with the thousands of teachers expected to descend upon Raleigh on Wednesday. Here is why: When we need an expert medical opinion, we seek the best professional help we can. In short, we seek out a subject matter expert. Well, there is nobody more expert about the conditions faced by students in North Carolina’s public school classrooms than the teachers staffing those classrooms.

So, when they say it is time to march on the state capitol to be heard by the North Carolina General Assembly, they have my attention!

Do not let their detractors fool you. This isn’t about demanding money for themselves nearly as much as it is demanding appropriate funding for the students they teach.

The legislature has cut more than 7,000 instructional assistant positions. Imagine teaching a class of early grade students who need shoes tied, noses wiped, have bathroom accidents, crying episodes, come to school hungry, have varying learning styles and learn at different paces. Now imagine trying to keep these same children calm and on task to learn while tending to all those needs. That is just one example of what we expect of our teachers. They have the right to expect support in return.

The legislature lacks understanding about classroom management because few have set foot in a classroom since graduating from high school. People who attended school when the teacher stood in front of the class to teach while the students listened need to step into a classroom where every student’s needs are being met on an individual basis through centers and differentiation. In doing so, they will understand the need for proper class sizes and legislation that truly returns local control to the person most qualified to exercise it – the classroom teacher.

Art Sherwood primary

Art Sherwood

Those teachers need proper funding though. That isn’t the case, as North Carolina ranks 43rd in per-pupil spending nationally. Improving that ranking is a priority for teachers, as it should be. Underfunding our public education system is cheating our children.

Standardized testing is out of control. Teachers are beholden to legislators who have absolutely no experience in education and have hence created classroom environments where administrators, teachers and students are more concerned about teaching to a test than teaching critical thinking.

Meanwhile, Charter Schools divert funds intended for the public schools to entities not nearly as accountable as local school boards. They are often run by for-profit organizations that look at children as a commodity, not a student. So, money that should be reinvested in the public schools instead go into the pockets of the Charter School investors. In short, Charter Schools are essentially private schools funded with public dollars.

Finally, teachers are correct to ask for pay raises. As Kris Nordstrom with NC Policy Watch noted, “To truly determine the salary required to attract and retain talented candidates to the teaching field, the important measurement is how compensation compares in relation to alternative careers with similar educational requirements. That is, the salaries of North Carolina teachers are best compared against the salaries of other professionals in North Carolina with a bachelor’s degree or higher. This metric avoids the weaknesses of traditional state rankings and is more aligned with the data a talented university student considers when deciding which profession to pursue.”

It is no wonder teachers are marching in Raleigh. The people they care most about – the children they teach – are being short-changed. And they’ve had enough of it. That is why I will be in Raleigh standing with teachers this Wednesday. And, it is the single-most important reason I am seeking to represent Avery, Burke and Caldwell counties in the N.C. State Senate. I want to stand with them and the children they serve in Raleigh every day.

Art Sherwood is the Democratic candidate for State Senate District 46, which includes the Appalachian counties of Avery, Burke and Caldwell in Western North Carorlina. Learn more here.

Courtesy submission. Photo by HT Chong on Unsplash

While ICE Celebrates, Immigrants and Allies Grieve

CIMA calls for gathering to send message of disapproval

Matthew 25:31-46 – “…I was a stranger and you welcomed me.” 

Zechariah 7:8-10 – Do not oppress the alien.

Editor’s note: This is published so close to the event because the news release was just received this morning.

FLAT ROCK, N.C. – Compañeros Inmigrantes de las Montañas en Acción (CIMA) is calling on residents of Western North Carolina to peacefully gather at an outdoor celebration today at 11 a.m. that is being hosted by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) at The Park at Flat Rock at 55 Highland Golf Drive.

CIMA poster

Credit: CIMA

According to a news release from CIMA, “The community plans to gather to express their deep disapproval of this celebration after a week of devastating detentions and deportations led by the federal agency. Since this past Saturday morning, ICE agents stormed Latinx communities across Western North Carolina, leaving people traumatized and an estimated 25 people taken into custody.”

The statement added, “We are appalled that anyone would celebrate this recent ICE raid and the hundreds of people left reeling from this week,” said local organizer, Jay. “They have taken our community members, devastated families, and caused hundreds of people to stay locked inside their houses for days on end out of fear. We are grieving and they are celebrating.

Bruno Hinojosa, CIMA Coordinator said, “This is such an insensitive and inhumane expression of celebration in the face of such deep community trauma. Witnessing this event is not meant to be a confrontation or direct action, but an opportunity to peacefully gather and demonstrate WNC’s collective pain and organized resistance. We will not confront or attack these people but merely show them there are real people on the other side of their actions. We do not find this horrific week worth celebrating.”

CIMA’s statement continued, “ICE agents have been detaining people driving through their neighborhoods; while visiting community health centers; and simply leaving for work in the morning. Organizers throughout the area have been working since the launch of this week’s ICE operation to ensure that people are aware of their rights; to connect families with legal representation; to provide support for their basic needs; and to quell reports and rumors of ICE activity. Still, the terror instilled by this latest wave of immigration detentions has left many families in hiding and classrooms full of empty seats.”

Sanctuary poster FTR

Credit: CIMA

Want to know more?

According to the statement, “CIMA connects, strengthens and organizes communities to take action for immigrants’ rights in Western North Carolina. CIMA strives for inclusive communities with justice, freedom, and equality for all.” Additional information about today’s event can be found here .

© Michael M. Barrick, 2018

Cheers to Our Right to Vote!

Don’t bitch; vote instead, then toast to your freedom

Vote ftr

LENOIR, N.C. — Early (One-stop) voting started today in North Carolina. When I voted at about 2 in the afternoon in Lenoir at one of our county’s two early voting locations, about 75 people had voted. Two hours later when I went back to check the count, is was only about 85. While I await official numbers from the local Board of Elections office, it was reported to me that only about two dozen people had voted at the other early voting location in Granite Falls, in the densely populated southern end of the county.

These numbers are pathetic!

I have heard every excuse from people — still, after 2016 — in the last weeks as why they are not going to vote in the primary. I have yet to hear a good excuse. It’s simply a cop out. A lack of followership. Yes, that’s my new word. Not only do we suffer from a horrendous lack of political leadership, we have a lack of followership. Far too many people are still apathetic about a human right few have enjoyed throughout history.

But they don’t mind bitching. Allow me a quick digression to address that.

Cheers to Dad

In the photo above where I am cheering my right to vote, I am also saluting my father, who would have been 92 today. He would have been the first in line to vote today. That’s only one of a million reasons I miss him. The other is what a friend had to say when I texted the photo to her: “He always told things as he saw them.”

So, true to his legacy, I have three words for the non-voters: Don’t bitch, vote! That’s what Dad would have said. So, cheers to him, and cheers to our right to vote!

© Michael M. Barrick, 2018. “We the People” photo by Anthony Garand on Unsplash