Pan Appalachian Defender

Thursday, October 05, 2006

-United Nations Sustainability Commission Hit with Reality

She had never been on a train before in her life. She had rarely been beyond the borders of West Virginia and Kentucky . And now, in May, Donetta Blankenship was on her way to New York City , to speak before the United Nations Commission on Sustainable Development (CSD) as it reviewed its “Energy for Sustainable Development” plans.
Donetta was traveling with ten other coalfield residents, including Patricia Feeney, who, before she joined OVEC staff, coordinated this trip to the UN, working with several groups in three states.
The coalfield delegation—six folks from West Virginian, four from Kentucky and one from Tennessee—presented their stories to civil society caucuses at the UN and met with U.S. State Department representatives and officials in the Department of Energy. They put a human face on the real tolls of our nation’s apparent energy policy: “cheap” energy, at any, usually hidden cost.
One of the first things they witnessed at the UN horrified them all. Jonathan Margolis, head of the US state department delegation to the CSD, ceded his speaking time to a vice president of Pfizer Pharmaceutical, Inc. It seems our government thinks “sustainable” is about sustaining mega-corporations’ bottom line, instead of about clean air to breathe, clean water to drink, and societies where our kids have a chance at a healthy future.
Despite the rude start, overall, the trip was empowering for the participants. The coalfield delegation reminded the CSD, and delegates from all over the world, about human-level concerns. Some other people at the UN told them, “This is what the CSD is for— grassroots participation.” Our Appalachian Coalfield Delegation was the first group of impacted residents to participate in a CSD meeting! (The CSD was created to provide an avenue for grassroots participation at the UN. Before it’s founding, 14 years ago, the UN only recognized government delegates.)
The UN trip received quite a bit of publicity, including a spot on West Virginia Public Broadcasting’s Inside Appalachia and in the New York Post. A documentary filmmaker followed the group from Mingo County to New York City .
The delegation has commented that witnessing personal growth in one another was the best part of the trip. Bo Webb marveled on Donetta--shy Donetta, who was nervous the first time she spoke before state-level politicians. Here she was now, standing up in a room full of people at the United Nations, saying, “Excuse me, but I have to tell my story.” She was unapologetic and firm. She held up a jar of her water—black. She held up a picture of her family and explained how the sludge had made them sick. She inspired all on the trip.
Examples from the trip have inspired other communities to demand they be heard at all levels of governance. The group built alliances with communities in other regions of the United States and the world who are fighting the same cycle of exploitation and corporate takeover of their resources and lives— pushing them off their land, stealing their water.
The delegation left the UN with solidarity and ideas for strategy. They left revitalized and affirmed in the righteousness of the struggle we all share. They’ve already had a follow-up meeting, and they have started planning for the CSD next year, where they are preparing with other communities to lobby the corporate and government delegations more directly.
To each of you who donated to make this trip possible, thanks so much. Please consider supporting this effort again next year.


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