Pan Appalachian Defender

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Mingo Organizing Project OVEC’s contribution to Mountain Justice Summer 2006

By Jen Jackson

Many of us dream of playing an active role in social change to create a more livable world. In Mingo County W. Va. a few of us have taken on the role of community organizers.
“An organizer must always be trying to work herself out of a job,” I’ve reminded myself a few times when figuring out the next step I should be taking. Our goal has been to meet people who feel their quality of living is suffering because of the coal industry. The effects of coal mining and processing seem invisible to most, but are poisoning folks’ water, rocking their houses off the foundations and quickly diminishing the hope of a livable future for creatures of any sort here. Once we meet potential leaders, we introduce those who have common complaints and interests.
As I drive down windy Route 52, gazing into the rocky and usually forested roadside, I remember the stories I’ve heard: of fish being cut open—appearing normal from the outside, but black as coal on the inside; of a hunted deer found rotting away from the inside out. Animals rotting on the inside, walking around with a normal appearance.
“Imagine what our insides look like after drinking this water for so long,” Debbie Murphy said, as I looked at the 13 bottles of pills sitting on her coffee table. “This is my life right here; I can’t live without these pills.” I am constantly surprised and inspired by the strength of Mingo County residents like Debbie.
Another new friend I’ve made here decided that, tomorrow, when she
sees her doctor, she’ll ask him to write a letter stating he believes her health problems are a result of drinking the bad water.
This summer, most of our organizing has been focused around well water apparently poisoned from slurry injections, a waste product of coal processing. With the injections occurring since 1977, this is a struggle folks here have been fighting since I was a wee one growing up in Virginia.
At first I felt wary of being seen as just another outsider environmentalist, but instead I’ve been energized by the contacts and friends I have made. Unity can be established because of the clear difference between what’s happening here, the conditions people are being forced to live with, and what people really deserve.
I see people daily who feel powerless--yet when asked what can be done, what do you think is the next step, what would you like to see in your community, they come up with impressive and achievable visions.
There is the Sludge Safety Project (SSP), organizing between Coal River Mountain Watch, Mingo residents, and OVEC. SSP is calling for alternatives to be used in place of dangerous coal sludge dams and underground coal slurry injections.
In late July, a Mingo County judge ruled that Massey must pay for bottled water to be delivered weekly to certain households, until pipelines bring city water into each house. The lawsuit and the city water are major victories the people, united and organized, created for themselves. The victory will build stronger community organizing.
There is still work to be done. What about other hollers that are about to be in similar circumstances? Slurry injections and impoundments continue to contaminate the area. What happens when enough of the tributaries feeding the Tug Fork, where Williamson draws its water, are poisoned? Will the city water coming through the pipelines also be too poisonous to drink?
What about the people who are being blasted off of their foundations because of mountaintop removal mining? And those being flooded out? Who should be paying the monthly water bill once the lines are hooked up to the houses in Merrimac, Lick Creek, Sprigg, and Rawl? What about the unwanted school consolidation?
I don’t see easy solutions, but I do see empowered people multiplying and uniting.


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