Fighting Back in Appalachia: It’s Been a Busy Summer
RAMPS formalized some of the work we do with Whitesville youth by launching the Youth Engagement Project (YEP). This project takes youth outdoors and up in the mountains where they harvest downed/dead trees for firewood and collect medicinal herbs. These products are sold locally and the program functions as an opportunity for youth to both earn some money and learn more about local forests. If you would like to support our youth program, please consider donating towards the cost of keeping our space in Whitesville, where local youth drop in all times of the day to hang out and find out what we’re up to.
Within our Youth Engagement Program RAMPS especially values Appalachian cultural skills that youth can use outside of our programs, facilitating the inter-generational spread of knowledge, and building resilience and self-determination within this community. We are excited to work with some youth to start a community garden, which will provide private beds for individual use as well as community beds that will grow food for Whitesville families in need.
RAMPS Aids AMP’s Efforts
RAMPS is taking to the mountains with cameras and water quality meters. We are working with The Appalachian Mountain Patrol, a training initiative that puts monitoring technology in the hands of local activists to enhance surveillance of mining activities with everything from hidden cameras to drones! In addition to documenting violations and grievances caused by coal companies, RAMPS is also filming with local folks to help tell some of our favorite stories of community self-sufficiency, resistance to coal companies, and mutual aid. Some of the youth we work with in Whitesville will soon be learning how to use video cameras so that they can choose whatever they think is exciting to film and collaborate on the project, too!
Kanawha Forest Coalition
Since the KD#2 mine was approved in May 2014, more than 20 mining violations and strong community opposition have accumulated. At this point, the only activity currently allowed on the KD#2 mine site is reclamation and maintenance. The DEP is allowing the company that operates the mine to perform “limited blasting” in order to generate material with which to “reclaim” the area that was mined last year. The Kanawha Forest Coalition is playing a watchdog role to make sure that the company actually follows DEP mandates. As part of the coalition, we’ve been keeping a close watch on the area to ensure that the 3/4 of the permit area that remains forested is not being impacted by the reclamation process, as well as continuing to monitor the water coming off the mine.
Stories From South Central
Stories’ work in the wake of the January 2014 MCHM spill revealed widespread human rights abuses inflicted upon the jail’s population during this crisis. This June, our work inspired the Connecticut State Senate President’s comments calling out the former executive director of the WV Regional Jail Authority, Joe DeLong, for his failure to protect prisoners from drinking toxic water. Though our work on this matter is far from over, those brave prisoners who chose to speak out have ensured that this travesty will not be forgotten.
The failed water crisis response was just one example of widespread abuse within the jail system. Stories is still staffing and funding a jail support hotline that WV prisoners can call to report on conditions, request legal help, and send messages to families and friends. We also provide courtroom support, visit and write letters to prisoners, and fight to keep the media’s eye on prisoner issues. In addition, Stories is now working with former prisoners who want to fight for better jail conditions, more decarceration and re-entry opportunities, and accountability for past abuses.
As part of this expanded work we are supporting current and former WV Regional Jail prisoners that are standing up and speaking out in response to the horrendous experiences during “the SRT raids.” Our friend Jamaa said, “never have I seen so many people dehumanized for no reason,” in his letter recounting one of these raids where the prison systems Strategic Response Team (SRT) practiced “tactical skills” for the mock prison riot competition. Hundreds of prisoners endured this abuse and several “unreasonable and excessive force” lawsuits were filed last week against the Jail Authority, various correctional officers, and response team members.
We have seen some hopeful progress recently in one fight that deeply influences prisoners quality of life: the West Virginia Department of Corrections has lowered rates on phone calls substantially, and we are pressuring the Regional Jail Authority to follow suit. As a result, this issue has seen front page coverage in the Charleston Gazette with further coverage via the Associated Press.
Stories from South Central is part of a growing movement to tie together the fights against the intertwined issues of mass incarceration and climate destabilization.
Preparing for the Fall
As Fall approaches, RAMPS is gearing up for more than just firewood sales! We are looking forward to seeing old friends and meeting new folks at our annual Fall Summit, this year from October 16th-18th. Join us as we celebrate the changing of the leaves on Kayford Mountain and discuss issues critical to Appalachia.
Look for more information on this event on our website soon. If you are interested in helping us plan the weekend, please get in touch. We hope to see you there!
Thank you so much for your continued support of our work; words of encouragement and financial donations both mean a lot to us!