I am a current JOI Fellow working at United Interfaith Action in New Bedford.
One of my stories:
In the winter of 2010, I was sitting in Rick Handshoe’s trailer, listening to him talk about his home. Rick lives in Eastern Kentucky, and all around his house, coal companies are blasting off the tops of mountains, shaking the pictures of the walls, pushing the toxic sediment into valleys and streams.
Rick has dedicated his life to stopping their destruction. He calls, he writes letters, he brings the local inspector in his truck to see illegal valley fills and poisoned aquatic life. One year, he took a picture of a nearby stream every week for a year to show that it flowed year round. The work is all-consuming, and often a win is no more than a citation for a few hundred dollars to a huge corporation.
As he told story after story, I felt my anger at the destruction and utter disregard for people and their lives flare and harden. I was angry because I cared about Rick and the people around him, I was angry because I had never heard his story in two decades of being told to turn off the lights to “save the earth”, I was angry that I was a part of what kept this industry in business, and I was angry because these people were being so utterly ignored and I knew, in my own personal way, what that felt like.
Rick could bring the inspector around in his truck until the world ended, and nothing would really change. What gave Rick some power was that he was a leader in Kentuckians for the Commonwealth, an organizing group that put pressure on local, state, and national politicians, brought people together in a common cause, and gave Rick the support and the training that helped him develop. I was in Washington DC when I watched Rick and others get arrested in front of the White House, and I knew my place was not there on the city bus police rolled in to take people away, but behind him, supporting him.
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