This guest post is by RU undergraduate student and SUST major Beeka Quesnell, who is working as an intern at the Southern Appalachian Mountain Stewards in the coal-mining mountain region of southwest Virginia this summer. Back in Chicago, Beeka is an environmental sustainability associate with the Physical Resources Department at Roosevelt, an intern in the bird division of Field Museum of Natural History, and a student activist for environmental and social justice.
Cultural shock can be defined as “the personal disorientation a person may feel when experiencing an unfamiliar way of life due to immigration or a visit to a new country, a move between social environments, or simply travel to another type of life” (Wikipedia). For a long while I didn’t realize that this was a phenomenon that could occur within a move in the same country. But this came to light for me when I moved from Chicago, IL to Appalachia (pronounced as Ap Uh Latch Uh), VA. Despite the cultural shock that I have experienced, much more has happened and it has all been very positive! I have met amazing, dedicated and incredible people in this region of the country where there is a struggle going on between keeping coal around and protecting this region’s beautiful mountains that provide a quality of life to many people in the area.
I am interning with SAMS — the Southern Appalachian Mountain Stewards — a non-profit “organization of concerned community members and their allies who are working to stop the destruction of our communities by surface coal mining, to improve the quality of life in our area, and to help rebuild sustainable communities.”
Since I have been in Appalachia for nearly a month and a half now, I have seen various components of this mission statement set to action. I have seen community members and those from various organizations, based both locally and nationally, fight together to stop the destruction being faced in coalfield communities such as Appalachia. I have also seen the effort going into restoring this beautiful area of our country, for reclamation has to follow such destruction in order to keep the area vitalized and whole. I’ve seen such beauty while canoeing, hiking, and camping and especially while attending the Mountain Justice Summer Camp, where dozens of activists came together to partake in a week-long camp featuring various workshops to help teach us and sharpen our skills in our organizing around both social and environmental issues, or even both at the same time since they greatly interlink.
So far my duties as an intern have varied greatly, but they have all contributed to the larger goal and mission of SAMS. For the first couple weeks, aside from getting settled and acclimated, I went to the Virginia Department of Mines, Minerals, and Energy to retrieve several different permits. SAMS could request the permits, but the costs associated are a lot compared to putting in our own hours into pulling the permits ourselves. This task has included pulling permits, inspections, complaints, notice of violations, and cessation orders.
All of this helpful in the larger scheme of things because it contributes to when SAMS takes out lawsuits on these coal companies and holds organizations such as the DMME and the Office of Surface Mining (OSM), etc. accountable for properly regulating these coal companies. I have also attended several meetings including our very own SAMS member and board meetings as well as AppalCEED meetings — Appalachian Communities Encouraging Economic Diversity — which is a campaign of SAMS; and I have also attended some informal public hearings on related issues.
It is sad to think that I only have a month left here in Appalachia, but I feel that this work and type of environment that I have been experiencing and living in has greatly impacted me in many positive ways. I am going to miss everyone I am currently working with, such as those in the picture to the left. (I was there for this small protest, but I was the one who took the picture.) The protest was held at the A & G coal company office in Wise, VA and we were there to deliver 300 petitions asking Jim Justice — a billionaire “coal baron” — to clean up his act. This act was a part of SAMS and their Justice2Justice campaign. For more information on this campaign I urge you to visit http://www.justicetojustice.com/.
I am not sure what the coming weeks will bring, but I am anticipating some meetings, more time to focus on writing a grant, and a great deal of fun to hopefully include a few hikes as well!