Monday, July 9, 2018

Lessons from Appalachia: Our Role in Caring for Creation

Appalachia is a suffering, exploited zone of people. The population is dropping because of a cycle of poverty perpetuated by work conditions and benefit-less jobs in the fossil fuel industry. The mechanization of extraction processes, while increasing profits for large corporations, has erased the need for human workers, triggering unemployment and discontent.
Yet there is beauty here, in the mountains, in the people that wave when you drive by, and in the biodiversity of life, even as it is threatened by devastating practices.
This beauty is not part of the narrative that is fed to the rest of the nation.
Stereotypes insist that these people are all backwards, white hicks who work in coal mines because they don’t know any better, don’t understand the fragility of creation, or don’t care. 
The truth, as always, is more complicated and more heart-breaking.
Appalachians are fully aware. How could a community be oblivious to the horrors of environmental devastation when entire mountain tops, perhaps their former homes bought out by a coal company, are blasted away for the “energy security” of the nation? Or when their water is contaminated by coal sludge?
Yet the political and economic power of large out-of-state companies is used to control the Appalachian narrative.
Coal companies emphasize the importance of coal to the Appalachian communities themselves, and any protests or lawsuits are easily paid off. If you don’t work in coal, what will you do? How could you argue with providing “energy security” in a nation so dependent on fossil fuels?
No matter how damaging the coal industry is to communities and the environment, coal jobs are temporary life-floats for many Appalachians. There are not a lot of jobs for unskilled laborers, and while coal jobs are transient, lack health benefits, and are dangerous and unfulfilling, they are temporarily well-paying and often the only option.
Coal companies also use environmentalists and the “War on Coal” as scapegoats for the discontent and unemployment in the region. It’s easy to believe that environmentalists are trying to take jobs away. And it is often true that the environmental movement is oblivious to the consequences Appalachians will continue to face if they are left behind in favor of the nation’s sustainability agenda.
Essentially, our current economic practices keep Appalachians in this place of poverty and destitution, and we keep them in this place when we contribute to these practices.
The current model of capitalism has created a buyer’s culture that pressures consumers to buy material goods and to amass wealth or else be marginalized, while marginalizing those who live near natural resources by exploiting them as a cheap source of labor and using their resources up. The only people benefiting are the rich and wealthy who are put into positions of power by this system. These are also the people dictating the narratives that are heard the loudest.
Our economy grows by exploiting both people and creation, and there is no easy solution to the devastation it causes globally or within Appalachia.
It is in some ways easier to think that the conditions found within Appalachia are simply due to an oblivious and uneducated population, but this ignores the history of the area. It ignores the peoples’ passion and love for their mountains. It hides the reality that our economic system creates areas of poverty like this all over the world so that others can live lives of privilege and plenty. The simple yet false narrative makes it easier for us to buy into these economic practices every day of our lives. 

While it is clearly dangerous to tell someone else’s story, to decide how their problems should be solved or even what their problems are, as outsiders, we can share the true narratives of Appalachia. These narratives aren’t written by the coal companies, the wealthy, or environmentalists. 
Gaining this understanding is the beginning of solidarity. It is the beginning of compassion and love. It is key to understanding that Appalachians don’t need our help in terms of weeding or mucking out stalls, these are short term projects that have allowed us to practice serving God, and they don’t need our sympathy. Instead, they need us to focus on the root of the problems that have led to their current conditions. This starts with our everyday actions regarding what and how we consume and our attempts at spreading awareness, so others can also bring light to the injustices of our economic system. This can be scary; it doesn’t end after a week of service work, it lasts the rest of our lives.
“If you have come to help me you are wasting your time, but if you have come because your liberation is bound up in mine, then let us work together.” -Lilla Watson

Slides from Jeannie's presentation about working for justice upon our return home.

Audrey Dawson

Monday, July 2, 2018

Music Inspired by Mining

Here are three songs from the late 1900s that lament the plight of coal miners. They were written by artists from England, Australia, and the United States respectively. They each bring up many of the themes that we learned about in Appalachia. 
We'll be posting a few reflections in the next few days, but until then see what you think about this powerful music. Enjoy. ~Audrey Dawson

Sting - We Work the Black Seam Together - 1985
This place has changed for good
Your economic theory said it would
It's hard for us to understand
We can't give up our jobs the way we should
Our blood has stained the coal
We tunneled deep inside the nation's soul
We matter more than pounds and pence
Your economic theory makes no sense
One day in a nuclear age
They may understand our rage
They build machines that they can't control
And bury the waste in a great big hole
Power was to become cheap and clean
Grimy faces were never seen
But deadly for twelve thousand years is carbon fourteen
We work the black seam together
The seam lies underground
Three million years of pressure packed it down
We walk through ancient forest lands
And light a thousand cities with our hands
Your dark satanic mills
Have made redundant all our mining skills
You can't exchange a six inch band
For all the poisoned streams in Cumberland
One day in a nuclear age
They may understand our rage
They build machines that they can't control
And bury the waste in a great big hole
Power was to become cheap and clean
Grimy faces were never seen
But deadly for twelve thousand years is carbon fourteen
We work the black seam together

And should the children weep
The turning world will sing their souls to sleep
When you have sunk without a trace
The universe will suck me into place

One day in a nuclear age
They may understand our rage
They build machines that they can't control
And bury the waste in a great big hole
Power was to become cheap and clean
Grimy faces were never seen
Deadly for twelve thousand years is carbon fourteen

We work the black seam together
We work the black seam together
We work the black seam together

Midnight Oil - Blue Sky Mine - 1990

There'll be food on the table tonight
There'll be pay in your pocket tonight

My gut is wrenched out it is crunched up and broken
My life that is lived is no more than a token
Who'll strike the flint upon the stone and tell me why?

If I yell out at night there's a reply of blue silence
The screen is no comfort I can't speak my sentence
They blew the lights at heaven's gate and I don't know why

But if I work all day on the blue sky mine
(There'll be food on the table tonight)
Still I walk up and down on the blue sky mine
(There'll be pay in your pocket tonight)

The candy store paupers lie to the shareholders
They're crossing their fingers they pay the truth makers
The balance sheet is breaking up the sky

So I'm caught at the junction still waiting for medicine
The sweat of my brow keeps on feeding the engine
Hope the crumbs in my pocket can keep me for another night

And if the blue sky mining company won't come to my rescue
If the sugar refining company won't save me
Who's gonna save me? Who's gonna save me?

But if I work all day on the blue sky mine
(There'll be food on the table tonight)
And if I walk up and down on the blue sky mine
(There'll be pay in your pocket tonight)

And some have sailed from a distant shore

And the company takes what the company wants
And nothing's as precious
As a hole in the ground

Who's gonna save me?

I pray that sense and reason brings us in
Who's gonna save me?
We've got nothing to fear
In the end the rain comes down
Washes clean the streets of a blue sky town

Uncle Tupelo - Coalminers - 1992

Come, all you coal miners

Wherever you may be
And listen to the story
That I relate to thee
My name is nothing extra
But the truth to you I tell
I am a coalminer
And I'm sure, wish you well

I was born in old Kentucky
In a coal camp, born and bred
I know about old beans
Bulldog gravy and cornbread
I know how the miners work and slave
In the coalmines every day
For a dollar in the company store
For that is all they pay

Mining is the most dangerous work
In our land today
Plenty of dirty, slaving work
Very little pay
Coalminers, won't you wake up
And open your eyes and see
What this dirty capitalist system
Has done, you and me

Dear miners, they will slave you
'Til you can't work no more
And what will you get for your labor
But a dollar in the company store
A tumbledown shack to live in
Snow and rain pouring through the top
You have to pay the company rent
Your payments never stop

They take our very lifeblood
They take our children's lives
Take fathers away from children
Take husbands away from wives
Coalminers, won't you organize
Wherever you may be
And make this a land of freedom
For workers, like you and me

I am a coalminer
And I'm sure, I wish you well
Let's sink this capitalist system
To the darkest pits of hell

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Heading Home

Yesterday, we spent the day giving back to the farm that we've spent the last week at. One crew, the river rats, cut a bunch of sycamore trees out of the river bank. Others worked on maintaining the labyrinth we walked through for future groups, on cutting away brier patches, and building a bridge. This work was important to ensure that other groups can come after us and benefit from this eye-opening experience.

The view from our farmhouse the morning of our departure.

Our group (without Maegan, who got picked up early :( ) just before leaving the farm. Jeannie Kirkhope was our visionary retreat leader (back row, second from right).

Little Round Top. Gettysburg, PA.

We'll be completing the last leg of our physical journey tomorrow, but a pilgrimage like this doesn't end upon returning home. We hope to share with you reflections from our experience over the course of the next few weeks. 

Sunday, June 24, 2018

Long day, all a little bit punchy....

Disclaimer: The tone of this blog post is not entirely serious, while the events are entirely serious.
We went on a Stations of the Cross hike today.  It's a good thing we brought up lots of water, because Annie was forgotten on top of the mountain for hours.
Our amazing behind the scenes gal, Audrey. She is always up at the crack of dawn without any problem. Unfortunately today she received two hornet stings on her hand in the outhouse and her scream echoed through out the holler so please keep her in your prayers.

                                                           West Virgina Trees. -Kurt.
We all really enjoyed walking around this circle today.
It was very difficult for some to find their way in the labyrinth today but we all worked together to make sure we all made it out safe and uninjured. -Maegan

"Pretty views but no food :(" -Jonah

"I couldn't keep my eyes off the butterflies in the other pasture" -Annie

"I was watching the dogs and following Annie, then I followed someone else." -Aidan

"We are supposed to say nice stuff, right?" -Conor

"It's more than a circle" -Lexi

"I'm not saying anything." -Chris

"I thought it was like one of those circles, you know? where it goes around and hypnotizes you???"       -Aidan

Authors; MB,LD,AD

Misty Sunday Morning

We went to mass this morning and attended a coffee hour with the local Catholics. This casual conversation gave us more insight into the culture and daily life of West Virginians and Appalachians.

Saturday, June 23, 2018

Day 3- On the farm

As day 3 approaches us, we are all a bit tired and ready for some rest, but we have been working on a farm that is owed by a neighbor, which is much more of a fulfillling task then resting. We have been able to help the owner clean up the land for all the animals, which is much needed. Another day of work in nature, and only a few days left.

Betty and Bill

You never know what or who you will encounter when leaving home. I believe that everyone on this trip so far has met someone that has either touched their heart or has given them a story to share. I have been lucky enough to have met two older people from Spencer, West Virginia. On our first day in town we went to the Committee on Aging. After a few games of Bingo we had lunch with the people there.  By chance I happened to sit next to a woman named Betty with a bright purple shirt and who was filled with stories and laughter. I never thought I would see Betty again. Which is a sad thought, but it was almost as if we were on an airplane sharing our life story with a complete stranger. But later that night when I was reading on the porch Jeannie called me inside. Betty was her neighbor and I was welcome to go over and visit her.

What happened next was a "tiny miracle". I was sitting across from Betty in her living room with a group of other students, surrounded by photos of her family. Generations of her family sat with us all as we talked. After she shared stories of her life, family, and the weather that we soon realized we had spent an hour sitting with her visiting. It was time for us to leave and hugs were shared among everyone. I felt that an hour of talking and a hug was not enough for Betty and I. I still wanted to hear about how her grand kids were doing and what her life was like when she was younger. I wanted to share with her our green mountains like she has shared hers with us. Which left me with one option that I knew was very important. I asked Betty for her mailing address so we could stay in touch. And now when I go back home, nestled back into the green mountains, I can continue my conversations with Betty. 

Just like I had said earlier, I was fortunate enough to meet two people that have touched my heart. We were back at the Committee on Aging on our second day. We found ourselves again sitting among residents of Spencer. Some we had seen before, others were new faces. While I was munching away on a PB&J an older man approached our group. We started out by exchanging stories and then eventually to exchanging names. This man's name was Bill. He told me about his life when he was younger and all the mountains and hills he had climbed. He told me about a canoe he had made and wished that he could take out on the water again. He told me stories of his wife who passed away nine years ago and all three of his children. I was truly compelled by every story and passing minute that I shared with him. We had been talking for so long that everyone had left and we were the last ones sitting at the tables. 

Our goodbye was a handshake and some good words of advice. He told me that when looking for "the one" never pick the first one. And because of that he was able to meet his wife. I will never forget Betty or Bill. Their love and wisdom will forever stay in my heart. Hopefully, I have touched them in some way too.  

-Bridget G

Quick Photo Update

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

First Night in West Virginia

After two days of travel, topped off with 30 miles of windy West Virginian switchbacks we have arrived at the Appalachian Catholic Worker farm. Although the hard work hasn't started yet, our spiritual journey has. We've started learning about and considering the Catholic Worker Movement, and tomorrow will spend the day with members of the community from 1st grade to senior citizens.
Stay tuned for updates tomorrow! 

Sunday, June 10, 2018

Country Roads to West Virginia

On 19 June, 14 pilgrims from Holy Family/St Lawrence and St Pius X Parishes are off to West Virginia.  Seemingly a mission trip, we really envision this journey as a pilgrimage.  This will be an encounter with God’s creation.  We will labor, learn and forge new friendships.  The exchange between people will open our eyes to the reality that we are all one, a universal community, under God.  We plan to experience our Faith and tell our story, and who knows what inspiration may return with us to Vermont.

Follow our adventure here!  We will try to post something every day.