There has been some relatively dire (and somewhat bias) reporting about Appalachia coming from the national media lately. But at least one news outlet is looking at a more broad and complete picture of the region – a picture that showcases the outstanding transition work happening all over eastern Kentucky.
Yes! Magazine’s Laura Flanders actually a few days in the region to get to the bottom of what our economic transition is all about, concluding that if we can successfully transition our economy in the region, any other region facing similar challenges can do it, too. She establishes Appalachia as the bellwether for the rest of the country, and uses historical context to show how we got into the situation we’re currently in, and what needs to change in order for us to move forward by talking with a few experts.
“It’s a lesson for the whole country,” said (Appalachian scholar and activist Helen) Lewis this June. “It’s not just us, a bunch of hillbillies. It’s very much a part of what’s happening all over. The questions here are the questions everywhere: Who owns the place? Where do the profits go? What can people do? Who has control?”
“The issues we face in Appalachia are the issues we face as a globe,” agrees Justin Maxson of MACED, the Berea, Ky.-based Mountain Association of Community Economic Development. It’s true politically and also in terms of energy: “If we can move past fossil fuels here [in the heart of coal country] that changes the debate everywhere” he adds.
Flanders goes on to note some of the organizations, businesses and programs in eastern Kentucky that are all a part of Appalachian Transition, such as Appalshop and all its programs, Whitesburg’s Summit City, the Shaping Our Appalachian Region initiative, the Stay Together Appalachian Youth Project, Community Farm Alliance, and the Appalachian Transition Fellows. And these are just a handful of the entities and programs that are a part of the movement.
Ultimately, the onus is on us as citizens and lovers of Appalachia to create a new vision for ourselves and then hold our leaders accountable to helping make it happen. It’s not an easy task given our intertwined history with coal, which Flanders sums up perfectly:
Replacing coal in coal country is like rewiring a state-sized home. From elections to electricity, the coal economy penetrated every system. Without coal, Appalachia needs not just energy change but systemic change and economic development of massive proportions.
We need action, and we need it now. Thankfully, more and more communities and individuals are getting involved every day, and the Appalachian Transition movement is growing exponentially. Let’s keep the momentum going – we just can’t afford not to.