I am sitting in an airport on my way back to North Carolina from an all too short trip home to Maine where I had some painful business to attend to. Nevertheless, it was lovely to be home. The trees are just beginning to bud in Maine and the forsythia is just now blooming in the chilly air. Spring has already sprung in Appalachia, and not a minute too soon because these next few weeks are going to be full-speed for all of the strong and brave people fighting for the watershed of more than half of the United States and the homeland for many by trying to end the devastating practice of mountaintop removal coal mining.
Mountain Justice Summer Training Camp begins this Friday and will go until the end of next week. This week-long training camp is to introduce new activists to the issues and provide a place for seasoned activists to share their strategies, get re-charged, and find interns and garner supporters. I will be facilitating the conflict resolution work throughout the week and offering three workshops: Activist Self-Care, Community Conflict Resolution and Peace-keeping. I will also have an open tent where people can sign up for individual pastoral counseling if desired. A full schedule and directions are online at www.mountainjustice.org.
Three weeks from now, I will kiss my new kittens goodbye yet again and head up to West Virginia to participate in a historic 60-mile march from Blair Mountain in Logan County, commemorating the Miner’s March on Blair Mountain ninety years ago. In 1921, over 12,000 coal miners converged in Marmet, West Virginia and attempted to march to Logan as part of the efforts to force the coal operators to recognize the United Mine Workers of America. The miners wore red bandanas around their necks, and these “rednecks” inspired many throughout our country (and gave us a title to be proud of but often used in a derogatory manner). When they got to Blair Mountain there was a horrific battle where the United States military turned on its own people and shot and even bombed the miners. The miners’ bravado carried them through the efforts which took more than a decade more for working conditions to improve through a union. The mountain is still full of shotgun shells and bunkers and riddled with history. For a short time, it was on the Historical Register and somehow just recently, coal companies managed to get it de-listed. Amazing really.
The original march on Blair Mountain was a line in the sand in 1921, and again today since history is about to be further degraded because Massey Energy and other companies have plans to blow up Blair Mountain for coal! There are multiple mountaintop removal permits on the docket, so we are marching, again, in the steps of those brave miners to draw national attention to the atrocity of the current conditions for workers and the environment. The march is organized by descendants of the original organizers, “Friends of Blair Mountain,” and Appalachia Rising, which includes many environmental, labor and faith groups throughout the region and country. We will be marching from June 5 through June 11th, walking between 10-12 miles a day and singing songs and sharing stories at night. On June 11th we will culminate the march with a big event so if you have never heard Kathy Mattea perform, or met Larry Gibson, or felt that feeling of doing something bold and beautiful in a time of strife, come join us, even just for the last day, we would love to have you. There is more information online, where you can also register, at http://marchonblairmountain.org/.
As you most likely noticed, I haven’t written since Judy Bond’s death when I predicted that this was going to be a watershed year. How true that has been. My marriage dissolved soon after I wrote that post, and only after trying everything we could. I filed for divorce in February, and we formally separated the same morning as the tsunami if you can believe that. I just testified in court this past Monday, hence closing the book on a tragically short marriage, instead of the life-long and happy or at least bearable one which I had so hoped. I am sure you can imagine how much turmoil this has brought about for me personally. I didn’t think I needed to tell everyone, but it turns out that holding it private was keeping me from saying anything at all. My voice doesn’t blossom when silenced (nor does yours), so here it is.
One of the key factors of Eco-Chaplaincy is encouraging a culture of self-care to help embolden and aid organizing. I have been taking my own guidance to keep any other conditions that I can control in my life steady during this time of traumatic transition, so I am still living in Swannanoa, NC and have continued to find solace through the creation of pottery at a community pottery studio in Black Mountain. I even created an online store to sell my pottery at www.etsy.com/people/sarahsunshinestudio. I specialize in making small moonshine and tincture bottles, as well as mugs and dinnerware, so please check it out!
I am still involved with the efforts to end mountaintop removal coal mining, and I look forward to further developing the Eco-Chaplaincy Initiative as a thriving non-profit and/or creating or finding a stable job as an eco-chaplain. I am open to any leads or suggestions as to how to go forward in a way that will help me contribute to life in our world in a meaningful way. Meanwhile, I have been struggling to financially support myself as a barista, and engage however I can in this work. I have facilitated a number of meetings and mediations, offered individual pastoral counseling in person and over the phone, and am getting ready for these big events coming up. My great mother Mary Vekasi even joined me in Washington D.C. this April for the Alliance for Appalachia’s Week in Washington where we lobbied all of the elected officials from Maine. It was fun and powerful too.
Clearly, I have committed to too many events to be able to work much at the coffee shop this month, which has been my only real source of income. As you can imagine, money is really tight, so if you or anyone you know is able to make a tax-deductible contribution to the Eco-Chaplaincy Initiative, I will really appreciate it. The names of any donors who make contributions of $25 or more will be entered into a drawing on July 4th for a piece of my pottery, and anyone who contributes $150 or more will receive a free piece of homemade pottery (a bowl , mug, moonshine jug). With gas prices the way they are, and rent due, I’m sure you understand that anything helps.
Any donations can be sent in the mail to the Eco-Chaplaincy Initiative, PO Box 890, Swannanoa, NC 28778 or made with a credit card through paypal online at www.ecochaplaincy.net/donate.
If you want to support me or my work and would like to do that through purchasing pottery directly, please shop online at www.etsy.com/people/sarahsunshinestudio and/or contact me about creating custom dinnerware sets.
I hope that spring is blooming within your heart and that our paths cross soon.
Love and Solidarity,
Sarah M. Vekasi, M.Div.
Sarah M.Vekasi, M.Div.
PO Box 890
Swannanoa, NC 28778