Special to the Front Porch: Mara Eve Robbins is a resident of Floyd County, Virginia, and a stalwart activist in the movement against the Mountain Valley Pipeline. As we take a collective deep breath after defeating Sen. Manchin’s attempt to green-light the Mountain Valley Pipeline and move forward in our fight to defend communities, land and water, she shares a perspective rooted in experience and community in this guest blog.
When a person is faced with a threat to their life, health or liberation, hopefully they turn to their community for support. When a community is faced with a threat to life, health or liberation? It’s crucial to determine how we can turn to each other when everyone is grasping for capacity. Hope can feel like a luxury. It’s actually a discipline. We practice what solace, comfort and peace we can find in the midst of apocalypse.
In the summer of 2014, when my immediate community of Floyd County, Virginia, and those close to us first faced the threat of the Mountain Valley Pipeline, a 42-inch, high-pressure fracked gas transmission line, my daughter suggested messaging that I and others swiftly adopted: “Communities > Corporations.”
I wish that corporate America were not so corrupt, corrupted and corrupting. Often, though, my wishes acknowledge reality: corporate America IS corrupt. So are many of our politicians, regulators and other decision makers. Except that I know enough determined people now who are running for office, acting as regulators with integrity and bringing Brene Brown’s work on shame and vulnerability into leadership structures that I can hold a lot of hope for positive change.
Eastern Montgomery County is not the only place where tree-sits blocked the MVP, but Elliston was home to the Yellow Finch tree-sits for 932 days. That is the longest standing tree-sit on the East Coast, possibly the entirety of Turtle Island. We recently began to hold Circles of Protection near there, on the edge of the Roanoke River.
Curated by ARTivism Virginia to serve directly impacted communities, the Circle of Protection began in Union Hill in 2018 during that community’s opposition to the Atlantic Coast Pipeline and its proposed compressor station. The Circle of Protection gatherings continue to hold space for interfaith prayer, story and song. The potlucks are legendary and sometimes there is dancing. This gives local communities a standing invitation to welcome their neighbors into a space of fellowship and provides inspiration to both the newcomer and the long-term pipeline fighter. Usually the gatherings are one hour with food to follow, but in fall 2019 a larger, tri-state, two-day Circle of Protection on Bent Mountain was held. The Circle of Protection was reborn in Elliston, Virginia, in August 2022 in collaboration with POWHR and Preserve Montgomery County. Our next circle is October 8. All are welcome.
The September circle featured local Elliston pastor Ken Grey, who facilitated the day and offered this prayer:
“There is this place within you, that place that brings you healing, that place that brings you peace even in the midst of conflict and strife, that place that brings you hope even when all around you seems to be despairing. Find that place, find that light, kindle that light, allow that light to grow within you… Because we have peace, because we have healing, because we have hope, we also have joy. Joy is different from happiness because it is not an emotion. It is the knowledge that we only have to hold on and endure and we do not have to do that alone.”
Accompanied by the powerful voice of Bernadette BJ Lark and her heartfelt, righteous music, the profound sense of connection we felt bolstered our hope. I shared some poems, including one written immediately after the August circle.
Are you with me yet? Do you need data? Science? Would you prefer proof? Look at just a handful of the science we’ve proven about the project from the beginning. It’s astonishing how accurate we were — BEFORE they even began to build it. Look at the track record of Precision Pipeline or Global Security. Oh, and check out the national scandal Manchin and his backers have created. It’s almost as if they WANTED us, the often-neglected headwaters of pipeline resistance, to finally be seen, heard and believed. And we were.
On September 8 we showed up in D.C. from all the way up and down the proposed MVP route and beyond to demand justice. Crystal Cavalier-Keck, from the Occaneechi Band of the Saponi Nation, is facing the MVP Southgate Extension as it tries to bully its way into North Carolina. Cavalier-Keck spoke to Amy Goodman the day after the rally, saying:
“We were here yesterday to lobby Congress, but we were also here to have a rally, and we organized this rally in less than 30 days. And we were here to have our voices heard all across Turtle Island, which is the United States, to show that our fights are very similar, and we do not want this dirty deal that Senator Joe Manchin is pushing forward…We were here to uplift our voices, especially our Indigenous communities here on the Southeast coast. We are often invisibilized, and we’re not really listened to and heard here.”
So how do we hold hope? Hurt people hurt people. And yet, healing people help heal. Listening to each other, doing what we can to assure that everyone is heard — this makes a big difference. My Robin’s Hope trauma recovery group’s hashtags “#StopHurting #StartHealing” is a strong place to start. Because hurt people hurt the Earth. Healing people help heal. Many of us are doing the personal work necessary to forge and maintain strong relationships that surpass the urgency of the work we do in the moment. We clasp hands, even if they’re gloved. We stand together.
Compassionate conflict is still necessary. There will be far more ways to pursue solutions when we no longer need to stand in the way of projects like the MVP that are harming communities of all kinds. We will stand up for our mountains. Our water. Our birds. Our forests. Our creatures. Our organic gardens. And us! Our connectedness. Our belonging.
We won’t let ourselves be divided. We know better. We HOPE better.
Being connected to the community of resistance that has caught fire and built into a global movement is tremendously empowering. Being connected to my community of Floyd, a very rural Appalachian county with only one stoplight, is where my heart can go to ground. Where I can drink from springs that flow unpolluted and unimpeded. Where our daily lives are deliberately closer to the land, water and cycles of the seasons.
After well over eight years of staunchly opposing the MVP, I still believe that we will win. Why? Because we are still connected. Practicing the discipline of hope. Taking action with compassion. Caring for each other, our waters, our sacred grounds, our hearts and our stories. We are choosing to thrive in whatever ways we can. We are creating community that corporate structures will never know because they are NOT people. Though the aftermath cannot be tallied, we still know communities > corporations.
As we eased into our circle on September 10, 2022, weary protectors feeling more adrenaline than sleep, Pastor Ken encouraged us to pause. Though we’ve faced threats to our lives, health and liberation we can still: “Look around this circle and see each other’s faces, look into each other’s eyes. We each bring what is sacred to this place. When we see each other’s faces we know that we have found a friend, one who journeys with us to the place where we are called.”
We are called to create a better world for our children, our waters, our mountains, our sacred soil and our communities. And we hope you are, too. If you want to support? Please learn more by taking a look at Mountain Valley Pipeline 101 from POWHR, and consider joining a local group!