It is with much confidence that I can say that the hopes, dreams and aspirations of the individuals and communities that make up Appalachian Voices represents the essence of the majority of American voices. Many people today feel that their input into the political system that governs our lives and our land is not represented anymore. Our government that was founded on the principle “of the people, by the people and for the people” has been usurped by powerful, special interests beyond our control.
America is a republic - a form of government in which both the government and the governed are ruled by law. It is a democratic republic in the sense that our government was carefully constructed so that “we, the people” could elect representatives who would protect our rights to life, liberty and pursuit of happiness by legislating the will of the people and defending the public domain or commons from special interests such as today’s corporations who pollute the air and water, destroy wildlife habitat, kill native forests and level mountains for short-term profits.
Early on, our founders stood against a great threat to democracy. Jefferson said, “I hope we shall crush in its birth the aristocracy of our monied corporations which dare already to challenge our government to a trial of strength, and bid defiance to the laws of our country.”
By the turn of the last century this threat became the central message of president Theodore Roosevelt who warned, “This country, its natural resources, its natural advantages, its opportunities and its institutions, belong to all its citizens. They cannot be enjoyed fully and freely under any government in which the special interests as such have a voice. The supreme political task of our day, the indispensable condition of national efficiency and national welfare is to drive the special interests out of our public life.”
Today, special interests, most of which are powerful corporations, have upset the checks and balances of American government. For decades, corporate interests have slowly worked their way, inch by inch, into our Congress and Senate and presidential administrations. Laws and regulations that were enacted to limit corporate abuse, protect wildlife, water and air quality, and to protect human health are violated by special interests.
This is why we do what we do. We are not ashamed to take a stand for what we stand on - the ancestral landscape of the American continent. There is no nobler vocation than one that works to protect, preserve and restore our environment. It is our cultural as well as natural heritage. The mountains, the air, the water, the forest and wildlife; these are the elements of our environment and God’s gift to all. The land is our natural capital. This includes not only essential life support systems, but the wealth of natural resources, the health of our economy, our recreation and ultimately our freedom.
A careful study of history clearly shows that individual and national freedoms have always depended on a people’s ability to maintain sufficient expanses of healthy native ecosystems and renewable natural resources and energy. Sufficient evidence is available to show that ecological collapse was a significant factor in the demise of many thriving cultures throughout history. Overpopulation, deforestation and the abuse of technologies played primary roles in numerous cases of “rise and fall.”
The freest peoples who ever lived were those self-governed by some form of democratic process, protected by laws, and with manageable populations that didn’t exceed the carrying capacity of their land. Their technologies did not overwhelm and crash their environments. Long inhabited, Europe’s economy became stagnant as the land wore out and the forests were cut. The New World was seen by European powers as a source of new wealth and trade. To the oppressed, it was an escape from tyranny and/or poverty. Most hoped to get rich from the unlimited natural resources and virgin soils of the wilderness of North America. These immigrants supplanted the existing cultures of Native America who, for thousands of years, had practiced sustainable subsistence on the plains and in the forests.
These pioneers also developed lifestyles based on subsistence and self-sufficiency. They engaged in combinations of farming, hunting, fishing, raising livestock, and gathering from the bounty of nature. This lifestyle was viable only as long as the soils remained fertile, wild game remained plentiful, and the extensive canebrakes and wilderness remained intact. In a world system based on the eternal expansion of people and economic powers, neither the wilderness nor independent farmers would endure.
The next two centuries changed the American way of life as continued mass immigration, a continually growing population, the conversion of wilderness to pastures, cotton plantations, free-ranging hogs and cows, deforestation and mining began the downward spiral away from subsistence and self-sufficiency. The 20th century saw the death of the small farmer to modern agribusiness and the demise of family owned businesses to corporate retailing giants. Alongside these changes came the rise of corporate power, the pollution of the environment, and the eradication of most of the American wilderness. Since modern agriculture is defined as “the use of the land to convert petroleum into food,” how can we continue to feed billions of people in the face of diminishing global oil reserves? It is estimated that the natural carrying capacity of the world is two billion. Today’s population is six and a half billion. It is time to become energy independent using clean technologies.
We have seen American society transition from a land-oriented, self-sufficient lifestyle to a society of wage laborers dependent on the corporate system that took away their grandparents independence. How can we resist the seduction of a system that kills us with kindness; liberates us into slavery; prospers us into poverty; and frees us into bondage?
The freedom of the frontier became the freedom of the countryside. The freedom of the countryside was abandoned for the factory and the office. But the spirit of the frontier and the thirst for freedom is not dead. They live in the hearts and souls of all who love the freedom of the natural world. These virtues that we, as Americans, hold dear, are embodied in the perpetuation of sustainable ecosystems that make up this continent. We were born in a vast, seemingly endless wilderness with a spirit and love for self-reliance and independence, rugged individualism and freedom. Therefore, preservation and restoration, environmental protection and sustainable energy development are patriotic and conservation is conservative. This is what we believe and more importantly, why we passionately do what we do.