Yes it happened a year ago. And yeah we’re still talking about it. What would you do if you and your friends, children, and neighbors were forced to go without the use of potable water? What would you do if despite what state and federal officials told you, you were getting ill? How would you feel with the uncertainty of long term implications? Not something that can just be neatly swept under the rug of our memory. At least not for some of us.
We’re still organizing and advocating. There are people who still aren’t drinking the water. There has been a lot of progress in a short period, which would not have happened without the many advocacy organizations and everyday people who took a moment to retweet a message, share a Facebook post, or contact their political representatives at various levels of government. Progress could not have happened without those who helped others get access to water, or shared information with their neighbors. People wrote and continue to write Op-Eds about the importance of continued advocacy around issues of community importance. Water is just one of many areas of concern.
From my experience, there are a lot of similarities between the historical struggle for Black and Brown equality and the ongoing subjugation and oppression in Appalachian communities. Similar tactics have been used by an at times corrupt establishment to silence and stifle attempts to create sustainable and meaningful change in these communities. There are further similarities with disenvestment and poor industry diversification. However, in some areas the geography of Appalachian communities compounds these difficulties even further. So what is one to do? It is understandable that people living in such areas would be concerned about how they are portrayed and viewed by those perceived as “outsiders” including media outlets looking for a quick byline. Those of us who are indigenous to such communities, as well as some transplants, are concerned about how others view us and our struggle. Major challenges include finding a voice, coordinating voices of the masses, and then translating the “outrage” into something sustainable and actionable. I have said for a long time that oppressed peoples need to embrace the concepts of Kujichagulia (self-determination) and Ujima (collective work & responsiblity).
While many of us with families and other obligations, are not in a position to become full time activist (kudos to those who are able to do so. We need you!!!), there is plenty that we can do to help further initiatives and get our voice across. Whether we are talking about police brutality, underperforming schools, or environmental justice issues the basic tenets and organizing principles are the same. We have to reclaim our communities one day at a time, and pave the way for our children to engage and thrive in a Brave New World. Overcoming the vestiges of generations of oppression, misappopriation, and degredation is not an easy fete but it is a worthy endeavor which demands our attention and action.
I have my reasons for leaving certain areas behind physically, but that does not mean my heart, soul, and spirit do not still beat with my surrogate homes. It does not mean that I do not try to pay attention to what is going on and share what I know as much as possible. Upon moving to Atlanta, I was amazed at how many people never heard of our water crisis/chemical spill or the aftermath. People on the outside are sympathetic, they want to understand and know more. It is a two way street. We want people to be more understanding yet some of us are not willing to take the time to put in the work to build with others. This victory will not be won alone. It is a long process, and we must be in it for the long haul. If we don’t, who will? If we don’t, what will happen next? Those are questions worth pondering, not as a means of denigrating anyone but tas a mechanisms to challenge traditional notions of how things are supposed to be. The Elk River Chemical Spill may be over, but the work has only begun. Many more communities are in need of assistance in addressing impacted water systems, health issues, and lack of corporate accountability. Change is not an easy or effortless process. Sustained progress will require continued to dedication and activities to ensure longterm success. The sleeper has awakened.
A place to get more information or even to share your voice, ideas, and even outrage is the upcoming January 23 and January 24 “Looking Foward: Summit on Chemical Safety in West Virginia” https://www.eventbrite.com/e/looking-forward-summit-on-chemical-safety-in-west-virginia-tickets-14149121403?ref=elink