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‘If We Can’t Mine Coal, What Are We Going to Do?’

EDITOR’S NOTE: Among the many many authors who will make shows at subsequent week’s Southern Pageant of Books in Nashville, Tennessee is Tom Hansell, whose e e book, After Coal: Tales of Survival in Appalachia and Wales, shall be launched in November by West Virginia Faculty Press. The e e book is a companion to Hansell’s 2016 documentary film, which chronicles a decades-long change between coalfield communities in Wales and Appalachia. 

By Tom Hansell / The Daily Yonder

“EPA = Rising Poverty in America.” 

This assertion is written in three-foot-high letters on a banner stretched over a bandstand in a public park in Pikeville, Kentucky. It is June 2012 and I am merely starting manufacturing of the “After Coal documentary. The group spherical me is dressed inside the reflective stripes of mining uniforms or in T-shirts finding out Buddies of Coal and Walker Heavy Gear. I am documenting a coal industry-sponsored pep rally sooner than a public listening to on new water-quality legal guidelines proposed for mountaintop-removal coal mines. 

The speaker onstage is speaking proudly of his family’s heritage inside the coal {{industry}}. He concludes his passionate assertion with a question: “If we are going to’t mine coal, what are we going to do in japanese Kentucky?”

Good question. As a filmmaker who has spent my occupation dwelling and dealing inside the coalfields of japanese Kentucky and documenting coal-mining factors, this can be a essential and troublesome question to answer. My earlier documentaries “Coal Bucket Outlaw” (2002) and “The Electrical power Fairy” (2010) have been supposed to start a civil dialog between workers inside the coal {{industry}} and totally different neighborhood members a few shared imaginative and prescient for good jobs, clear air, clear water, and a safe working environment. Nonetheless, the conversations just about always broke down as shortly as any individual recognized the plain: the coal {{industry}} had prolonged been the one model of economic enchancment inside the central Appalachian space. Further examples of what life after coal might seem like have been desperately wished to maneuver the dialog forward. 

As I struggled with the haunting question “If we are going to’t mine coal, what are we going to do?” the image of Welsh mining villages rising from the ashes left by the coal {{industry}} captured my creativeness. I assumed that if I could merely examine only a few particulars about how Welsh communities made the transition, then I could set up explicit choices to help coal communities in Appalachia. Nonetheless, I shortly found that the important thing to life after coal was not that simple. … 

Rocky Adkins a Democratic member of the Kentucky House of Representatives addresses a pro-coal rally in 2012

Tom Hansell

Rocky Adkins a Democratic member of the Kentucky Dwelling of Representatives addresses a pro-coal rally in 2012

 Alone quest for choices, in 1990, I began my occupation at Appalshop, a rural, multidisciplinary arts center located in Whitesburg, Kentucky—the middle of the central Appalachian coalfields. From my youthful and naively privileged perspective, transferring to japanese Kentucky was an act of opposition to the materialistic consumer-driven world. I had a intention of dwelling self-sufficiently, fulfilling my needs with what I could make or develop, and looking for as little as doable. And, as an aspiring environmental activist, the clear moral traces throughout the factors inside the Kentucky coalfields, notably strip mining, have been attention-grabbing. The battle identify of union songs resembling “Which Facet Are You On” charged up my little post-punk coronary coronary heart. 

Nonetheless, my experience at Appalshop shortly taught me that the struggles of coal communities weren’t as straightforward or straightforward as I had imagined. Working as part of this creative collective, I produced radio and video documentaries and taught neighborhood media workshops. As a youthful artist and activist, I shortly absorbed Appalshop’s mantra of providing a platform for mountain of us to speak of their very personal phrases about factors that impact their lives. I attended a complete lot of neighborhood conferences: school board, the fiscal courtroom, mine enable hearings, and union conferences. I moreover documented dozens of direct actions the place residents blocked roads to stop mining, took over authorities locations of labor to protest the scarcity of enforcement, and organize picket traces to implement union contracts. 

Retired Welsh miner and labor chief Terry Thomas (left) meets retired Kentucky miner Carl Shoupe (correct). (Screenshot from the documentary, After Coal)

My experiences engaged on the doorway traces of the environmental justice movement in Appalachia step-by-step developed my understanding of the complexities of how custom, place, and politics had shaped the situations I was documenting. I witnessed firsthand the unbelievable power of neighborhood to help of us as they confronted threats in opposition to their properties and households. Consequently, I expanded my ideas about self-sufficiency from an individualistic imaginative and prescient of each particular person caring for his or her very personal should an even bigger imaginative and prescient of individuals dwelling in symbiosis with their neighbors and the pure environment—neighborhood self-sufficiency.

Collaborating in cultural exchanges at Appalshop moreover supplied me with treasured lessons. Meeting artists from the mountains of western China and rural Indonesia opened my eyes to various the frequent challenges confronted by regional cultures in an an increasing number of globalized monetary system. I hoped {that a} world change with one different coal-mining space resembling south Wales could set up sources and strategies that may help Appalachian coalfield communities create a future previous coal. 

The tactic of creating the “After Coal” documentary took better than 5 years. All through that time, I found to stop in the hunt for concrete choices and start supporting an ongoing dialog about how one can create healthful communities in former coal-mining areas. Worldwide efforts to take care of native climate change make this downside notably intense for coal-producing areas. As our monetary system shifts from fossil fuels, how can we make sure that areas the place fossil fuels have been extracted do not proceed to bear an unfair share of the costs of extraction? 

I take into account there are as many choices for all occasions after coal as there are residents of mining communities. I hope these tales from south Wales and central Appalachia will encourage of us to search out choices that work of their dwelling communities.

Tom Hansell is a documentary filmmaker, educator, and artist who lives in Western North Carolina. He teaches Appalachian analysis and documentary analysis at Appalachian State Faculty in Boone. 

See moreover: BEYOND COAL: Appalachia and Wales. Jim Branscome critiques Tom Hansell’s e e book After Coal.

Used with the permission of West Virginia Faculty Press. All rights reserved.

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