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balancing the scales, June 10, 2013

Believing in ourselves and Appalachia’s Bright Future

we can build. They give us the ability to develop alternatives and make choices about our own future. A just transition and a bright future in eastern Kentucky is, in fact, possible – even in the midst of rapid economic changes in the coal industry and the broader economy. I do not have to tell anyone that coal jobs by Suzanne Tallichet are declining. Ready or not, transition is happening all around us, and it’s happening fast. My story began over 20 years ago when Given those realities, the big questions we I became a faculty member at Morehead face now include: What kind of future do State University teaching Appalachian we want for ourselves and our commusociology. Over the years my students nities? What steps can we take together from the region have told me that once to make sure that economic change isn’t they graduated, they would love to return just something that happens to us? What to their home communities, but there were can we do together to begin to shape a no jobs. Also during this time I researched just transition for ourselves in eastern Kenwomen and men coal miners working undertucky? ground. Many told me without hesitation that A just transition in eastern Kentucky is an they were working underground so that their children intentional effort to improve our quality of life, crewouldn’t have to. Instead, they wanted their children ate jobs, strengthen communities, and protect our to have choices and the opportunity to stay and raise health and environment. A just transition means that their children in the same communities where they many people must be involved, and many perspecgrew up. tives taken into account. It means taking steps to build For my students and for many of us, it is difficult skills, wealth and opportunities that stay here in the to envision more than a coal-based economy. But I bemountains. It means creating the conditions for our lieve we have the opportunity, today, to build a diverse communities to thrive, not just survive. and healthy economy here in the mountains. Eastern These ideas take on more meaning when we can Kentucky has many assets. We have a rich culture, an actually see and experience concrete examples. We abundance of natural resources, More Appalachia’s Bright can learn about what Elkhorn City is and innovative, serious-minded, doing to capitalize on its history and Future resources at hardworking people. These things gorgeous location. We can meet friends give us a foundation upon which from Pennsylvania who have restored KFTC’s Appalachia’s Bright Future conference in April featured many inspirational and insightful speakers. We’ll publish some of those presentations in issues of balancing the scales throughout the year, starting with KFTC Chairperson Sue Tallichet’s opening remarks.

Linda Stettenbenz: continued

(continued from previous page) and referenced the testimony at the hearings. He told us we were wrong – that he wasn’t only concerned about the wealthy – and that if we paid attention, we might be pleased with some of the upcoming further discussion. We were sitting right across from him where he could see us, and he made sure he was the first person to put a sales tax on food on the list of proposals to be discarded. When he did that, I gave him an appreciative nod. He still would pipe up occasionally about his concerns for the wealthy, but it was much more toned down. And when he did, I would shake my head no. I later learned that he’s a fairly powerful, wealthy man who had been chairman of a Federal Reserve Bank and who flies in from his residence in Florida on a private jet and requests a police escort. And that he had a reputation for bluster. He didn’t recognize KFTC at first (“Kentucky what?”) but he seemed to pay attention to the fact that we were watching him. The next couple of meetings I attended I continued to “bird-dog” the commissioners and tweeted about their discussions. Most of the folks on the commission are wealthy and therefore seemed to place the most value on what their wealthy friends want, then on what “experts” and societal narratives say, and hardly any on what matters to struggling people.

streams long polluted with acid mine drainage which are now being treated and used to generate e l e c t r i c i t y. We can hear about efforts to expand broadband access. We can listen to others describe exciting efforts to rebuild our local food economy. All of these stories, and so many others, are important pieces of a larger mosaic. No one strategy or project holds the answer. But taken together, they point a way forward. They show us what’s possible. And they give us every reason to work as hard as we possibly can to grow these ideas to scale to provide a foundation for our new economy in eastern Kentucky. To make meaningful progress, we need to build new power, and I mean that in every sense of the word. Imagine if eastern Kentuckians generated more of our own electricity from small-scale renewable energy systems – including micro-hydro, solar, biomass and wind. We’d create good jobs and keep money circulating locally. New power also means new economic power. Imagine if we built strong worker cooperatives, farmers’ markets, artist guilds and other locally owned businesses. Or if we didn’t just think about retraining workers, but also supported them to start their own businesses. And new power certainly means building new political power. Just imagine what could be possible if we consistently elected leaders who shared our vision and are dedicated to building healthy and strong communities. Wouldn’t that make a difference? All of us have got to find the courage to believe in ourselves and Appalachia’s bright future.

Philosopher Michel Foucault writes about the intersection of knowledge and power: “The problem is not changing people’s consciousness – or what’s in their heads – but the political, economic, institutional regime of the production of truth.” He says it isn’t even so much about actualizing human agency to confront a larger institution. Rather, he says, there are multiple and indefinite institutions of power. So the way that we build new power is by shifting that internal and external societal narrative of truth: the one that says people who are struggling and their stories have no value, and the one that says we have to pick a side to be on in order to participate politically. Our members have one-on-one conversations with people to dig our truths of what we really value out of the framework of traditional politicking. KFTC understands that power doesn’t just exist in the state capitol or in meetings of activists, but it’s all over the place, including our personal relationships. We help people who are struggling to build power by finding common ground based on what we value – even if it doesn’t contribute to the GDP, because after all we’re more than just identical units of production; and when you really think about it, what is the economy except what we value and how we value it – and to stand up and Members at a recent Central Kentucky Chapter meeting say we have value, what we value is important, and worked on messages to add to KFTC’s Kentucky Deserves Better Tumblr site. Sarah Martin shred her story. we are experts on the economy.

June 2013 - balancing the scales  

This is the June 2013 edition of balancing the scales, the organizational newsletter of Kentuckians For The Commonwealth