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Archive for September, 2010

This semester I am in a class entitled “Environmental Justice,” which is, in all honesty, a pretty cool class; if for nothing else than the fact that it promotes interesting discussion.  In one of our classes we discussed the role of the government in assuring environmental justice and protection, and a common statement amongst my classmates was that the EPA could be trusted if people held the organization accountable because, after all they are the Environmental Protection Agency.  Even though I hated to do so, I decided I would be that kid–you know, the one that causes a few feathers to be ruffled–when I responded with The EPA is a total hoax.

My classmates were in disbelief that I, an avid environmentalist, would say such a thing about the government’s arm designed to protect the environment.  But here is the problem: the EPA really doesn’t do anything useful right now, at least in my view.  Last year at COP15 in Copenhage, Lisa Jackson met with youth from throughout the world and said that the US would do something to help them out, she said this even while mountains were being blown up throughout Appalachia, while people were being literally poisoned because the agency she was appointed to be head of would do (and still does) nothing.  Months later she declared that the EPA would put in place rules that would ensure no or very few valley fills would be permitted.  A few weeks later the EPA permitted yet another, heavily contested, MTR (mountaintop removal) site which would require a valley fill.  So, yes, I think the EPA does nothing, I think it has caved into big business and caters to their interests while only putting on a front of protection.

Yesterday’s protest, Appalachia Rising, only drew further attention to this fact.  Instead of paying attention to what protesters had to say; what they were forced to bring to the EPA because the EPA will not do anything when it goes to them, police forcibly removed them, trying to silence their message.  But the people of Appalachia and their who are being silenced will not go away, we will continue to bring this issue to the public eye, and we will continue to resist this poisonous practice until it is banned.  To quote Wendel Berry from yesterday’s protest “You don’t regulate an abomination, you stop it,” and until the EPA truly decides to live up to its name and be accountable to the people and not big business, we will be the ones stopping MTR.

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If you have been to a protest, or march, or any large sort of political gathering really, you have probably heard some sort of chant.  While people within the activist world sometimes make fun of these (“3 word chant!  3 word chant!”), a particular chant that i have always had some issues with goes: “This is what a police state looks like.”  In many ways there are states where oppression is carried out blatantly through the government, much more so than in the United States; increasingly, though, I find increasing evidence that the government is upping the militarization of society and caving into large corporations.

As an activist in Virginia, I was alerted through friends  at the Defending Dissent Foundation that one of the organizations I am in (Blue Ridge Earth First!, or BREF! for short) was identified as a potential terrorist threat (you can view the document here, but if the document should get taken down let me know and I can put up a copy).  To be clear, BREF! has certainly committed acts of civil disobedience, but an action affiliated with BREF! has never been violent.  In fact, if someone wants to take part in an action, they have to take part on a Non-Violent Direct Action (NVDA) training).  This is a knowledge that I carry ever time I get into a car, every time I see a police officer riding down the street, and every time I apply for a job or school.  My state, and I presume my nation, considers me a possible terrorist because I feel it necessary to stop the destruction of the environment.

Following this, one year later, Climate Ground Zero reported that it received this bulletin from law enforcement agencies operating in/with Pennsylvania (I urge you to read their coverage here).  CGZ was identified as a “militant environmentalist organization,” which, I presume, classifies those who take actions affiliated with CGZ as militant environmentalists.

When you look at both documents, the environmental organizations are all classified as threats because they target corporations and call into question government actions.  There is a clear double standard, and it is in favor of the corporations.  When activists associated with the Rainforest Action Network, also an organization singled-out in the PA bulletin, dumped 1,000 pounds of earth and rubble brought from Appalachia on the EPA’s lawn they were charged with creating a dangerous condition; yet when coal mining companies do this (and more) in Appalachia, those who oppose them are classified as militants and terrorists.

While I might not classify the US as a police state, I definitely feel as if we no longer have a government by or for the people; but a government which caters to corporations and is willing to take extreme and insidious measures to try and squelch dissent.

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So, as I have mentioned before; I am going to be going to Cancun this year for the next round of climate negotiations; and, understandably, there are certain things that I need to do for that to happen: I need to get shots and medicine, I need to talk to professors, I have to contribute to the group (currently I am helping to develop campaign ideas), the list is not exhaustive; but pretty substantial, and within it is fundraising (here are the links to my crowdrise and chipin, which are the two platforms I am using right now, does anyone have any other ideas for easy online fundraising?).

I don’t know why, but I can approach people at my school to ask for money; but when I approach friends and family in a fundraising capacity there is a bad taste left in my mouth.  I still did, because, honestly, I feel like even if they can’t donate then they can forward the email to someone who can; and friends and family are a great resource, but I still didn’t like doing it.  This feeling of unease isn’t confined, though, to fundraising; I don’t like talking about money in general, it feels pretentious and needy and all different sorts of things.  When I’ve talked to other people they have said the same thing, which makes me wonder how our culture became so obsessed with money.  It’s uncomfortable, but we can so easily center our lives around it.

Personally I recognize areas in my life which are very centered on money, which I don’t feel is right; however I feel as if I can also run-away from acknowledging money which leads to problems as well (Dad and Mom, if you are reading this I am keeping a budget, I swear!).  I feel as if our culture taught proper attitudes towards money, if we didn’t idolize it but instead treated it as the tool it is; then life would be so much easier.  Of course, that is easier said than done; but I think it’s something to keep in mind.

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Everything is Possible

Yay!  The second post, and a day after the first no less.  So the title of today’s post comes from Andrea Gibson’s poem Say Yes (the text can be found here).  I absolutely love Andrea Gibson, but the three lines from this poem that really stuck out to me at this moment are: “for refusing to believe in miracles / because miracles are the impossible coming true / and everything is possible.”  So, in line with that, I wanted to share what gives me hope to carry on in the fight against MTR.  It’s the fact that we are succeeding, and I really wanted to celebrate that.

On September 8th ODEC (the Old Dominion Electric Co-op) announced that a proposed coal fired power plant in Dendron, VA (which would be powered by MTR coal) would be delayed 18-24 months.  While this isn’t necessarily a death sentence, it is definitely a death rattle.  You can read the press release from Wise Energy for Virginia press release online.  We are winning this war that has been going on for decades!  Even though the future may seem dark there is so much hope, there is hope to be found in the people who are on the front lines, there is hope to be found in the Senators who stand up for the rights of people of those affected by MTR, there is hope in the academics who produce studies that prove the destruction of this practice, and there is hope in victories exactly like this one.  Moments like these make me feel so alive, so proud to be surrounded by people who will never stop until MTR is stopped and justice is found!

So today I celebrate this victory.  My heart is with everyone who has devoted so much of their time to stop this plant, I wish I could be with you physically to celebrate this victory; but since I can’t, know that you will be getting a huge hug the next time I see you.

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This is Why We Fight

So, this is the first in a series of two posts (this one coming out today, and the next coming out tomorrow, no really tomorrow, which is amazing given my posting irregularities).  Part of these two posts is the building off of the previous post in that I am including a relation to a song within them.  With that said, the title of today’s post comes from Regina Spektor’s song “One More Time With Feeling” (the lyrics can be found here).  I love Regina Spektor, and there are a lot of different interpretations float around about this song, but I generally connect it to finding something that will give any struggle you take on meaning.  All of that to say, today’s post is about why I have chosen to engage in a fight against Mountaintop Removal.

When I first visited a MTR sight I heard the story of 3-year-old Jeremy Davidson, who was crushed when an overloaded coal truck dislodged a boulder and sent it crashing through his home.  I met people whose entire livelihoods had been ruined because of MTR (contrary to what coal companies would have us believe, MTR does not create jobs, but results in job loss); I saw a landscape which once included beautiful, bio-diverse mountains decimated so that it looked like the surface of the moon.  Culture and ways of life were being wiped out, along with the 2nd most bio-diverse region in the world.  There was no way that I could know what MTR does, and how coal companies go about creating power in the regions where MTR occurs, and not take action.  For me, this is an area where environmentalism and human rights meet and mold into one issue that must be fought against for the future of the area, and the future of the world.  I really encourage you all to do research about MTR if you don’t know about it, because even though this is a huge issue to fight against, it is essential.

So, going back to “why I fight,” I fight MTR because I care about the people it most directly affects, I care about my future and I don’t want it to be dependent on coal, I care about global climate change: but what keeps me going is always the faces of those who live this experience and have organized against it and taught me so much.  I think finding what keeps you going in your own fights, or in your own organizing if you happen to be an organizer, is essential to avoid burn-out.  I also feel like it can help to focus your support network around an issue so that when you do burn-out (because everyone does) there is somewhere to turn to be rejuvenated and renewed, because on one level organizing has a lot to do with people and interactions; which should never be neglected.

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So, one of the songs of the summer for me was the song “Home” by Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros (you can find their lyrics here); and they are just an all around great band, in my opinion.  But this song especially stuck out to me because, not only do I connect it with the SPROG (the Sierra Student Coalition’s Summer PROGram) I trained at this summer; but also because of the themes it touches upon.

In the song, they sing about home being more of a concept than an actual place; a space defined by time and surroundings rather than a physical building or location.  As I am entering into my senior year at JMU this really resonates with me.  I feel at home with my family in northern Virginia, when I am with them, in the house I grew up in, I feel at home.  But I also feel at home when I am surrounded by my friends here at JMU– when I am sitting on a porch, smoking hookah and drinking a PBR while forgetting about the chapter I have to read for tomorrow.  I think that’s a weird space a lot of college kids inhabit; we are (in)dependent, it’s a time when we are letting go and so are our families.  One of the things I’ve realized, though, is that, at least for me, as I let go of those ties, new ones are forged in their place that are different, not necessarily weaker.  Now that I am faced with graduation I hope that process holds true for when I finally have to let go of school (which I am both terrified of, and cannot wait to do).  So–this is just nostalgic, but it sort of defines how I am feeling upon coming back for my final year of undergrad.

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