On Wednesday morning, we woke up to a future that looked dramatically different for our country and our region. At RSP, this week has been one of deep reflection and reckoning with the new challenges to our work. On a personal level, the past few days have been a period of loss, grief, fear, and uncertainty. It is easy to feel depressed and dis-empowered by these election results, and there is real danger in getting trapped in a cycle of hopelessness and frustration. But we also now feel a spark of determination, a sense of urgency, and a pressure to act. Across Appalachia, we have all worked too hard and made too much meaningful progress towards a more just and sustainable region, to let it slip away. And, so, we at Rural Support Partners are issuing this call to action for ourselves and offering the following as a beginning set of next steps for the just transition movement in Central Appalachia.
First, we need a clear and collective analysis of the potential threats that the incoming administration could pose to our region’s communities and economies. This political transition raises broader concerns for our nation and planet, including: the repeal of the Affordable Care Act, destructive foreign and trade policy, oppression of marginalized communities, loss of women’s and LBGTQ rights, stripping of environmental and labor protections, abandonment of policies to combat climate change, and more. These are daunting challenges and will require broad national conversations and coordinated local responses. Appalachia, in particular, faces a set of new (or worsened) challenges to our region’s future, including: renewed emphasis on coal production despite lack of economic viability; threats to air, soil, and water quality; increased marginalization of already vulnerable groups; opposition to clean energy development; smokestack-chasing economic development as a way to provide promised jobs; and, the loss of strong federal allies – in particular, the ARC, the White House, and USDA Rural Development.
Second, we must build on and deepen the strategic connections between the incredible social change infrastructure that we have in this region and beyond. National networks such as National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, Opportunity Finance Network, BALLE, New Economy Coalition, and others will be organizing around policy priorities and can be allies for Appalachia. However, our greatest asset is our own unprecedented level of regional alignment and organization. Networks, alliances, and coalitions across Appalachia have built trust and relationships, developed an analysis of regional needs and opportunities, and aligned our strategies and vision… The Appalachia Funders Network, Central Appalachian Network, KFTC, Alliance for Appalachia, Philanthropy WV, Healthy Places NC, Just Transition Fund, WV Community Development Hub, Appalachian Transition Fellowship, WV Food & Farm Coalition, STAY Project, Appalachia Foodshed Partnership, Generation WV, Highlander Center, and the list goes on and on. Collectively, we are a diverse movement with real momentum and staying power, even in the face of a challenging political context. We know what our region needs, and we must stay organized and focused on pushing a transition agenda both within the region and at the national policy level.
Third, we need to challenge ourselves to do a better job of bridging social and political divides in our region and in rural communities in general. Many people in our region continue to feel marginalized from mainstream society and economy, and that feeling has gotten worse in recent years. In RSP’s work and in the transition movement more broadly, we have not done enough for the people who are hurting the most. The creation of more good paying jobs, a sense of ownership in Appalachia’s future, and feelings of empowerment that comes from dignified work and meaningful participation are some of the things that folks need to see and feel to make the transition real. For RSP, this means we must find new ways to work with people we disagree with politically; we must do more to foster civic participation and lift up young leaders; and, we must constantly push for justice and equity. This moment demands that we be willing to fearlessly stand up for the future of our region.
We offer this message to our friends and partners as a statement of conviction for RSP’s work, as well as a call to action for our partners. We truly believe that our connections and alignment are the bedrock from which positive change will continue to happen, and we see the current moment as the opportunity to reinforce that bedrock for the work ahead. If you, our regional allies, see the need and value, we want to take up our leadership by offering our services at no charge to pull together, plan, and facilitate a high-level strategy session across the networks advancing positive regional change in Appalachia, in the hope that we can coalesce our determination to continue this work and be prepared to lean on each other in the years to come. We believe that this time calls for us not to take a step back, but to engage and think big, together.
While we cannot answer individual email responses to this message, we are offering a space for you to share your thoughts/plans/ideas with us and each other on this open-source localwiki page.