Cross-posted from the RYSE Blog.
I spent the last week of October in the Great Smoky Mountains of Tennessee, hiking, photographing the rivers and foliage, and taking in the stunning landscapes. While the trip made my RYSE post a bit late, it also deepened my understanding of the value of pristine mountains, specifically the Appalachias.
Because of their National Park status, the Smoky Mountains are safe from coal mining. However, as my readers know, hundreds of mountains in Tennessee, West Viriginia, Virginia, and Kentucky have been literally blown up by mining companies in search of coal. If you study mountaintop removal mining objectively, the environmental damage alone is hard to brush aside. But Appalachian mining is different from some “environmental issues” in an important way; it has a clear human element.
Dry scientific facts add credibility, and they will convince some people to support a movement. But they are more powerful when accompanied by a story that strikes a genuine emotional chord. History’s most well known social movements were not solely driven by cold logic or emotional appeals; they were charged by an element of humanity that was impossible to ignore.
That human element lives on in the voices of Appalachia’s residents. It is our job to highlight it.
As I walked along a ridge, with forested mountains rising all around, I felt the human element of mountaintop mining more clearly than I had before. The peaks of the Smokies are protected, but they are not so different from the hills that are fated to have their heads blown off by explosives.
After just a few days in the mountains, I feel a sort of connection to them. I know I’m not alone—the Smokies make up America’s most visited National Park. If I lived among those mountains, if my family had lived there for generations and had helped sew the rich quilt of Appalachian culture, the connection would be even more powerful.
And if someone were clearing the forests, burying the steams, and poisoning the communities that exist in these mountains, I would fight it with every nonviolent means at my disposal. Because it wouldn’t just be “the environment;” it would be home.
If you think this sounds sentimental, then you’re right. But many people across Appalachia are echoing these sentiments. You can hear them from people like Maria Gunnoe, James Hansen, and others who are part of the movement to end mountaintop removal.
Yes, this movement is about the environment. It’s also about human rights and equality. And, at its heart, it’s about human feelings. When communities are disrupted and drinking water is poisoned, when a person can be barred from visiting the graves of her ancestors, that is not just an environmental issue. It is a human issue.
I don’t believe that our world has grown so cold than human feelings no longer matter. Nevertheless, it is up to us to make them matter, to turn raw emotion into an organized force for change.
If you’ve ever wanted to be part of something big, now is a perfect time. You can begin by sharing your thoughts. How can we grow the movement and bring the voices from the frontlines to a larger audience? Questions like these are essential, and you can be part of the answer.