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Archive for June, 2010

An Island In The Sky

In the heart of West Virginia, there is a piece of land that has been dedicated as a park. This park exists on the top of Kayford Mountain. The park is an island in the sky because all around the mountain there exist only craters where once had stood a chain of mountains in the Appalachian range. Kayford is the last standing link in what used to be a glorious chain of peaks and valleys.

The chain was slowly cut away by a mining practice called mountaintop removal. This type of mining is characterized by the removal of the tops of mountains to more easily access the rich coal seams running through mountain’s center. As a part of the removal process, the debris from the top of the mountain is simply pushed over the edge down into the valleys below (called valley fill). This process ignores the impact on the streams and the water table. They are further impacted because of the use of chemicals used to clean the coal as its harvested, leaching into the water and poisoning it. West Virginia is called the birthplace of rivers for a reason. It is within our mountain range that major river tributaries find their beginnings, and so as mountain top removal continues, so too does the poisoning of the water that feeds much of the US.

We can barely touch on the immense environmental impact mountaintop removal has in this article. What I want to do is talk about the people standing up against such practices, particularly Larry Gibson, who is the keeper of Kayford Mountain. He has fought long and hard to maintain his island in the sky. Just as important as protecting the environment, Larry and people like him protect a history, culture, and way of life, for it is within the coal country of Appalachia that the worker took a stand against the industrial barons. This historical moment is known as The Battle of Blair Mountain. The workers rose up to demand their rights and an end to economic, social, and political tyranny that showed its face as mass repression. As the workers attempted to break their chains, the system responded by dropping bombs..It is clear to me that the battle of Blair Mountain (which opened up so much possibilities for organizing worker’s rights) has,for the most part, been squashed by history.

Today the coal industry is planning to take the top off of Blair Mountain, thumbing their noses at the worker’s history. This is a last ditch effort by the coal company to rewrite history. They have convinced the mass population of West Virginia that they are the number one job providers in the state, a complete lie. The predominant coal extraction process only employs 16 miners per site, while a deep mine would have employed close to 200 workers. The coal industry that has made so much money on the backs of Appalachians has taken more than physical resources from this place. They have repressed culture and even human potential. Many native West Virginians do not believe that they could do anything outside of the mono economy.

West Virginia, Appalachia is full of creative, strong, persevering people. Folks like Larry Gibson and the numerous unnamed people standing up against this industry are examples of the possibilities. It is through their example that we can break this oppressive system that has made Appalachia into a third world region within the borders of the United States.

I call for solidarity.

For more information on mountaintop removal and people like Larry Gibson, please visit http://www.ohvec.org

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It has been quite a while since I last wrote. I have been collecting and gathering material, and now I would like to take you on a journey. As you may remember from previous articles, I have talked about envisioning the Huntington that we would like to see. Robust movements, music, art, and entertainment of all types alongside the ringing of cash drawers, the passing of gifts, the sharing of time. These are things which I have argued we are on the edge of being able to see; a revitalized community spearheaded by a sense of ownership shared by all community members no matter what social strata, age, or race, or economic background they may come from. I have said multiple times that this vision is indeed possible.

My brother Wayne and I have been in search of community. We have been collecting and gathering and will continue to do this through the summer. What we have seen are wonderful sights, belonging to places that have much of the same struggle that Huntington does. I will talk about one of these places….Louisville, Kentucky.

An Ohio River town, Louisville is 2 1/2 hours from Huntington. When we first arrived, I was perplexed as to what divided this town from my own, because besides its size and a few Fortune 500 companies that exist there, I did not get an overwhelming feeling of prosperity. In fact, within the first 10 minutes, I asked myself, “Where is everyone?” Louisville encompasses a large metropolitan area, and the crowds on the street did not reflect the size of the city. Until we came upon 4th Street, a location with an open air market atmosphere combined with the attractions normally found in a mall. As we came upon it, I was immediately struck by its visual simplicity and grace. The bustling crowds of people, the smell of food wafting up from several high end restaurants, and the sound of steel drums…all under a glass enclosure which had a very modern A-framed peak to it. The enclosure stretched via open steel beam the length of the street, meeting on either end with true art deco era buildings. What immediately came to mind after my rolodex of art history stopped spinning was the simple cost of the glass enclosure against these several beautiful revitalized buildings. How simple this idea was! How applicable for Huntington!

After having dinner at a Hard Rock Cafe, we then returned the next morning to get a better glimpse. What had been a bazaar full of well dressed 30-something year olds was, in the daylight, transformed into an art gallery with tents and their walls lined with original oil paintings stretching the whole length and width of the space. It was an amazing feast for the eyes, and showed another side of this public space. My brother and I went away from there with ideas spinning in our minds about possibilities for Huntington. To my surprise I got a call this Tuesday morning that has furthered my excitement for what i saw in Louisville and how it can be applied to Huntington.

A member of Create Huntington called me this morning to remind me that we had scheduled a meeting for 9:30 and that it was already 9:39. So, as is par for the course for this writer, I went screeching out my back door and down my ramp to a meeting I was already 10 minutes late for. Now, in Pulman square, sitting across from my friend who is a community organizer, Eve Marcum-Atkinson, we began our meeting. I had forgotten why we were meeting until shortly into the discussion and remembered that Create Huntington wanted to find a way to engage the visual arts in new ideas that they have. Last Saturday, community members began having a farmer’s market/open air bazaar between the visitor’s center and Pulman Square in the alley behind Mac and Dave’s. She asked me if I thought CCAMP (Cabel County Art and Music Project) would be interested in having a tent set up to display some artwork when they got the full bazaar up and running.

That immediately made me think of the morning Wayne and I spent together walking around 4th Street in Louisville looking at amazing artwork under a wonderfully modern glass enclosure. So, I did what I always do…I began ranting about it. Eve explained that kind of concept is on the drawing board for this space sometime in the very near future. What she was describing to me as the vision for Huntington’s open air market didn’t quite have this architectural element. I asked her to please go to my brother’s Facebook profile and look at pictures of the Louisville space for herself. As I moved away from that meeting today, I decided to go one step further. This article is submitted as my vision for the market for what it’s worth. I see an enclosure that may not have to do with high end corporate businesses, but rather highlights small businesses, local restaurants, and creative forces which Huntington is teaming with if one looks hard enough. It’s worth thinking about.

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Earthenwork 6

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Earthenwork 5

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Earthenwork 3

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