The eyes of Virginia and the nation turned to Buckingham County yesterday as environmental and civil rights activists Rev. William Barber and Al Gore came to hear from residents about the toxic fracked-gas compressor station proposed in the African-American community of Union Hill.
More than 1,000 people, including many county residents, turned out for a town hall meeting that filled the gymnasium of the middle school to standing room only. The crowd was led in song for several rousing gospel tunes, and heard testimonies from local residents whose land and lives are already impacted by the proposed compressor station and Atlantic Coast Pipeline.
Additional links to re-experience the event
In remarks that brought the crowd to their feet in applause half a dozen times, Rev. Barber said the gas project is a “scandalous” example of the overarching racism still plaguing Virginia and the country. He called on Governor Ralph Northam to make good on his pledge of working toward racial reconciliation following public outrage over the racist photo in his medical school yearbook.
“Deal with the systemic racism. Voting rights. Economic inequality. You want to deal with racism, stop getting all excited over cultural things and let’s get down to the real issue about racism,” said Barber, a North Carolina preacher who co-founded the Poor People’s Campaign and now heads Repairers of the Breach.
Both Barber and Gore called on Gov. Northam to take action to stop the compressor station.
“It’s a reckless, racist rip-off,” Gore told the crowd, “the most vivid example of environmental racism.” It’s reckless because of the climate change impacts from drilling, transporting and burning fracked natural gas, said Gore. It’s racist not only because of the pollution industrial facility proposed in Union Hill but also due to the impacts to the largely Native American communities where the ACP extends into North Carolina. And it’s a rip-off because the ACP is not needed yet Dominion Energy ratepayers will foot the bill while shareholders profit.
“This pipeline should be cancelled. The compressor station should be cancelled,” Gore said.
Earlier in the day, the former vice president and his daughter, Karenna Gore, director of the Center for Earth Ethics, met with about 60 Buckingham residents and their allies in the historic Union Grove Missionary Baptist Church. They heard directly from community members, including Ella Rose, Marie Flowers, John Laury, Pastor Paul Wilson and several others. Rev. Barber arrived shortly after and heard a presentation from Lakshmi Fjord, the anthropologist who has led a years-long effort to document and highlight the history and demographics of the Union Hill community founded by freedmen.
During an hour-long site tour that followed, Rev. Barber and the Gores took in the landscape of the rural area, the farms and homes threatened by the gas infrastructure. They stopped at the home of Ms. Rose for a personal visit, where Rev. Barber gave a blessing, before the entourage headed to the middle school for the town hall meeting.
The grassroots group Friends of Buckingham and its allies — including Appalachian Voices — spent untold hours over the last couple weeks coordinating with the Barber and Gore teams to pull off this historic event. Everyone was thrilled by the turnout, the enthusiasm and support of the crowd, and the commitments from Rev. Barber and Al Gore that they will continue to stand with Union Hill going forward.