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Archive for October, 2009

FOR WHAT IT’S WORTH: A Call for Strategic Action

By Christopher Worth
Special to Huntingtonnews.net

Appalachia: Awakened. The call to action has come. We can no longer sit on our laurels and wait for change. The bureaucratic system has failed the common people from the eastern shores to the California coast, but none more-so than the geographical location called Appalachia. Nationally, the call is spreading. Our president used that bugle call to get elected. The resounding word is change. As a thinking person, I almost regret penning that word, because the word itself means nothing without action. But then again, the action itself means nothing without the word to give body to strategy. So this week, my call is not simply for “simple change,” but I call for strategic action. Last week’s article was resoundingly reflecting on ideas of escapism for me. Everyone needs a moment like that from time to time, but this week, in reflection, I realised that the only true escape is via engagement.

Let’s talk about two ways to galvanize. One is through strategy. Strategy, as I understand it, is a laying out of plans to enhance resources; through the enhancement of resources, finding ways to engage in physically enacting change. The underlying foundation for setting a strategy is to somehow record it, make it tangible, and have all members involved able to invest in it. The second focus for true engagement is action. Now, be careful, because we’ve used this word several times in this article, but here I will flesh it out more fully.

Action, when thinking about engagement, is understood by many people as a physical reaction against something or a physical reaction embracing something. I am thinking of the sit ins during the civil rights movement and marches against mountaintop removal. These physical acts are important. They leave a mark on the emotional and intellectual landscape. It is my belief that physical action can impact a situation to the point of changing the situations paradigm. With that said, I’m going to talk about two events that have happened within the past two weeks here in Huntington, WV.

One is CreateWV. An intellectual deluge of great ideas, and lots of talk, with buzzwords like “change,” and “renewable energy,” yet it was sadly too expensive for many to be involved with. For West Virginia, change has never come out of the bureaucratic system. It has barely been supported by an intellectual class of intelligencia, but the real class who has forced change in this great state are the workers. You must understand that I am not downing intellectualism, but I think America has learned that you must share ideas…you cannot SELL ideas. If a concept is for sale, it will soon be abandoned, because the true engagement is in the hands and the feet and the voices of workers, artisans, and students. CreateWV was out of reach for so many that whatever idea they proposed will not be able to find its feet because there isn’t any physical engagement. There isn’t any true application of CreateWV’s ideas.

Not that I have to point this out (or that I haven’t already), but the element that is missing within ideas of what CreateWV is or could be is an idea of application. Now, that’s not to say that local groups like Create Huntington aren’t doing their part, but I think as an overall state movement, CreateWV has to rethink who they want to engage, and they have to engage them on the physical level. The idea has to move beyond the drawing board. Now, I acknowledge that this is easier said than done, but that’s why this column is called “For What It’s Worth.”

The second gathering that happened here in Huntington happened just this past weekend, hence why I am writing this article later in the week. I needed time to digest what Power Shift is about. As I said in the beginning of the article, there is a call for change, and Power Shift as a nation-wide movement is trying to respond to what is not just a national crisis, but also is an international one. The same buzzwords that I listed before were alive and well in the halls of Power Shift, but the difference was that Power Shift Appalachia’s organisers said “Everyone come. Share what you have to bring to the dialogue and we’ll feed you three meals a day.” They didn’t only feed the participants, they were sensitive to the vegans and the vegetarians. That says a lot to me as I am a vegetarian.

Now, before you close down this article because you think “Oh, the hippies are crawling out of the woodwork…” understand that as I observed the conversations, I did not see any one subculture. I saw instead leaders; I’m not going to call them future leaders. I think to call them future leaders is to isolate them from the power that they have. The voices coming out of Appalachia Power Shift (both the young and old) are defining our structure, and they’re doing it NOW. We are Obama’s architects for America’s new age.

There are holes even in this group, though. Nothing is perfect. So many of these individuals have been pushed to the point of extremism. Their vocabulary is action first, strategy a very distant second thought. So as I became hoarse screaming about strategy this past weekend and many of the participants looked on me like I was trying to stifle their action, I thought of CreateWV and how loaded with language/strategy they are and not with action. With this, I realised that many factions in Power Shift here in Appalachia were ready to blow up the Parliament and pick up the pieces later. For what it’s worth, I ask “Where are those pieces going to fall?”

There are voices like mine within Power Shift Appalachia calling for strategy, and those voices need to be magnified because they will be heard. In conclusion, the time is now to bring strategy and action together. We can no longer keep the language of strategy within the hands of the elite, and we cannot continue to jump from one action to another as the foot soldiers and the architects for truly applicable chang

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Oct. 17, 2009

FOR WHAT IT’S WORTH: Thinking About Moving

By Christopher Worth
Special to Huntingtonnews.net

Sitting in a coffee shop in the middle of Huntington’s center of urban renewal, I have to tell you that I have started this article half a dozen times this week. I’ve had one lofty idea after another about a topic which I will not address at this moment. Instead, I want to talk about something that’s been on my mind…moving.

I have lived in Huntington for about 12 years now. As I’ve pushed my own way to see this place become the place that I knew and still know it could potentially be, my philosophy has always been that a place is not your physical surroundings alone, but more importantly, a place is what you make of it intellectually. I still believe that. I believe you can build worlds using the inspiration of the mind. So when I began to get the itch to move out of Huntington, I began to try to push it out of my psyche.

I love Huntington. In fact, I love the whole of West Virginia, but that love can only take me so far. Sometimes it feels as though I’m holding my understanding of this land and our people over my head like Atlas held the world. The weight of my understanding of West Virginia, and specifically Huntington, is not evenly distributed. We must begin to respect ourselves. We must begin to see the gifts that West Virginia has brought to a nation that forgets it, and it cannot be just in lip service. And we cannot simply build this state pride within our borders. We must share it with the whole of the world in order to eradicate stereotypes promulgated by outsiders. I’ve said this before and I mean it: being a young mind and trying to stay in this state is kind of like being a saturated sponge that Thor is wringing dry. And I’m not just saying this because of lack of jobs. I believe that jobs can be generated anywhere there are human beings. So I, for one, think that the excuse of “lack of jobs” in this state for low retention of young people is crap.

By the way, I will acknowledge that there are great changes happening in Huntington. I am a part of them. But this change cannot be held by a few. If it is, as I think it’s starting to look like it is, then we’re no better off than when the coal barons ran the city and it was called the city with the gold streets. Where did that go? It went the way of most things that are controlled by greed and self centeredness. So when I wake up, wanting to move, I ask myself, “Where?” and realize that the place where I am is always where I’ll be because I am real. And the reality is I want to feel real. No person should be a symbol of anything, and if we make that person into a symbol, he or she should be aware that they must share with the community, foster new growth through the community, and live for ALL people (not just the few with social, economic, and political power).

It has been said that revolution isn’t headed by the millions, but by the few. And to borrow from Phil Ochs, “The bells of change are ringing.” And the few that rise up are not going to be of the class that has been privileged before. The first will be last and the last will be first, some book says, and I second that, for what it’s worth.

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Oct. 5, 2009

FOR WHAT IT’S WORTH: Echoes of Blair Mountain

By Christopher Worth

A shot.

Boom.

It echoes off the buildings surrounding the courthouse in Welch, West Virginia. Seven times the body vibrates and then falls back to rest in a pool of blood which runs swiftly down the courthouse steps. This trickle of blood would signify a historic revolt which had never been seen on American soil and has never been matched on this same soil since. The death of Sid Hatfield served as the catalyst for a violent and bloody struggle to win the rights of the coal miners, and with them workers everywhere.

The miner’s march to Blair Mountain (known to history as the Battle of Blair Mountain) would be a triumph for the American worker, which I wish still had a strong historical reverberation for the country as it once did. Sadly, the coal industry has successfully sold the coal miner on adopting a passive nature, and I don’t know if I wouldn’t be on board with the comfortable life provided by the coal industry if I were a coal miner. But there’s a catch. The security that the industry projects is a mirage. The truth is that when the coal is gone, there aren’t any sustainable jobs for the community. When the industry has folded, there aren’t any more great benefits provided by the illusion. So as Wayne and I traveled this weekend with our companion, we witnessed the repercussions of an illusion.

Things that I’ve talked about before in these articles (and won’t dwell on long here): crumbling edifices, empty storefronts, and poverty stricken people. All these images are alive and well in the coalfields. But, for what it’s worth, there is a silver lining here. The coal does settle and clear. My companions and I found a new hope, one that (at least within my circle of friends), we had been trying to define for the longest time. Well, this weekend, around the fire in the backyard of a retired miner and an art teacher’s humble abode, the story of this hope started becoming clear.

Green jobs. These two words have been a liberal raft boat without definition for too long. People around this fire began making sense of the words. This article is too short to spell it all out, but it has to do with taking the refuse from the logging industry and turning it into energy, which will basically power new wind turbine technology. The idea also includes re-education, which involves the manufacturing of solar panels. Now you as the reader have the right to say, “Oh, Chris, your reporting on a pipe dream.” Ladies and gentlemen, I cannot stress more the fact that some great minds are trolling along, finding sustainable solutions that involve long term employment for West Virginians. The people around this fire, on this cold fall night, had a spark of application in their eyes. We will see green jobs in the near future. I see it on the horizon.

In fact, this conversation (both the intellectual and applicable side) is coming to Huntington. I am not talking about Create West Virginia, though we are excited about that. What I am talking about, however, is a gathering called Power Shift. It is coming to the campus of Marshall University and it carries with it real, applicable economic, social, and political change. As I am fond of saying…times, they are a’changing, even in the mountain state. Power Shift offers people a chance to be involved no matter what socio-economic background they are bringing to the table. For more information on it, please visit http://appalachia.powershift09.org/

Until next week, from on the road….

The Worth Brothers and Company

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