ACE conference starts needed conversation

At the first ever Appalachian Community Economics (ACE) conference held September 19-21 in Abingdon, VA, participants brought that old maxim “don’t put all your eggs in one basket” into contemporary context. The conference focused on developing sustainable, local economies that don’t rely on coal.

Prior to the conference, participants had the option of taking a tour to one of two locations: the Powell River Project, a Virginia Tech-sponsored reforestation research site, or the Meadowview Community Center, which features a health clinic, an adult education program, and educational literacy program.

Friday evening, Tom Hansell of Appalshop provoked discussion with a preview of his new film, The Electricity Fairy, which parodies the instructional films of
the 1950s, and answers the question “Where does energy really come from?” by emphasizing the effects of coal mining and burning in central Appalachia.

Throughout the conference, wandering artist Francisco di Santis could be seen carefully selecting charcoal and colored pencils from his overflowing toolbox, talking with individuals and drawing their faces. Di Santis came to the conference to gather faces and voices for his portrait-story project, which strives to bring together the many stories of Appalachia. Once di Santis had finished his portrait, he gives it to his subject so that they can write their story on it in their own handwriting, bringing together art and voice, and allowing the art to become collaborative and deeply personal.

Over the course of the weekend, conference participants attended workshops on topics from local currencies to homemade wine. Everyone ate meals together, which served as an avenue for focused discussion on various topics. To keep the networking going in between sessions, grassroots environmental groups had a space share resources and information. Conference organizers expressed a deep interest in carrying the momentum generated there into future years and future events.

Anti-Coal Activist Receives Award

22-year-old Ivan Stiefel was recently announced as one of the winners of the 2008 Brower Youth Awards. Hosted by Earth Island Institute, six awards are given each year to young environmental leaders age 13 to 22. Winners receive a $3,000 cash prize, and participate in skills-building and mentoring workshops geared toward furthering their leadership development.

Stiefel spearheaded the creation of “Mountain Justice Spring Breaks” in West Virginia and Ohio. During these trips, college students opened discussions between government officials and local residents, and participated in public protests.

In 2007, the West Virginia Mountain Justice Spring Break focused on securing a safe school for the children who attend Marshfork Elementary, which lies only 50 yards from a coal silo. During the program, the West Virginia surface mines appeal board released a decision that would allow for a second silo to be built adjacent to the school. The week culminated in a sit-in at the governor’s office. The occupation led the Raleigh County School Board to formally request that the governor’s office help them secure funding for a new school. In March 2008, Mountain Justice Spring Break traveled to Wise County, Virginia, and Meigs
County, Ohio in protest of further mountaintop removal coal projects.

A panel of environmental leaders selected Stiefel and five other youth from among 122 applicants. “The winners of the Youth Award named for Brower are his real heirs,” said selection committee member Bill McKibben. “I’ve known many – and they’re changing the world.”


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