I go to a lot of conferences and meetings. This past Friday and Saturday, I went to the People Concerned About Chemical Safety’s conference entitled “Looking Forward.” The goals of the conference were to have residents have conversations about local chemical safety, look at solutions that have worked elsewhere, and be a part of local solutions to prevent water contamination. And there’s that common thread again….water contamination.
Last year’s chemical spill that poisoned the water of 300,000 of us here in WV and created a concern around what is coming out of our taps, was also an opportunity. An opportunity to take a look, not only at the most recent manifestation of lack of enforcement, neglect of infrastructure and a “customer service” attitude by public officials, but also to understand that water quality has been an issue in WV for decades. People in the coalfields have been denied the right to clean water for years. People who live in the fence line communities in “chemical valley” often find themselves concerned about what they are allowing their children to drink, and people in the communities around fracking have seen their quality of life threatened. And I think, over this past year we’ve seen some tearing down of walls between those “individual” struggles to really work together under the theme that “water unites us.”
Michele Roberts, one of the speakers at the conference, had the audience cheering on Saturday when she spoke of the need to “connect coal to the chemicals.” She challenged us to not think that “we have one issue over here, and another one over there” and for us to remember that “if you are fighting in silos, that’s when you are losing” and we must “lay down our silos, we must bring it together.”
I agree. I also know that it’s not always easy to do this. Everyone is very busy working on the issues they are the most passionate about. And that’s natural and valuable. But we cannot forget that all of our fights and struggles are related to other fights and struggles here in WV and beyond.
Together we can strategically work on issues where we have common ground. We can remember that the injustices in the coalfields are also being faced by those who are fighting a pipeline coming into their communities. That when they are destroying a community through fracking, they do it for the same basic reason as when they are poisoning the air around a chemical plant. That we have a systemic problem where profits are more of a priority than the people in the way. Particularly when those people are poor or people of color.
It’s challenging…but doable. I have faith that we, all of us, can make a difference if we stick together. In fact, I think it’s the only way!
I hope everyone has a great week, one where you have the opportunity to get involved.
PS: Special recognition this week to Maya Nye and the organizing team from PCACS that put the conference together. Great work!