Land reform is a global issue – and a particularly complicated one in Appalachia, where there is so much inaccessibility surrounding knowledge about who owns the lands, who owns the mineral rights, what issues exist surrounding taxation, and many other unanswered questions. Working on land reform in Appalachia feels so good, but it also feels slow and like I could only begin to chisel away at the tip of the iceberg in a year. When the iceberg is violent colonization, years of economic and racial oppression, classism, and unimaginable ecological destruction and extraction (unless you live here and have seen the effects of mountain-top removal, fracking pipelines, mass clear-cutting and timbering, etc) that feels a bit overwhelming at times. I think the scariest part about talking about land reform in Appalachia, is thinking about what it will take to make it happen. If folks want to lobby about land issues, or chain themselves to mining equipment, or knock on doors and have call-in campaigns, I support all of those things. If folks want to get involved in local governance, or even if they are just trying to get by and don't have a lot of time, energy, or resources to invest in political issues – all of these struggles have value and are a piece of the end goal. But I wonder if any of them bring us that much closer to what we want. Sometimes I wonder if land reform must mean the demise of capitalism – I think it probably does. I wonder when land reform is a tangible means to an end that people have access to, when people can thrive in Appalachia, when there will be reparations for indigenous folks who both left and stayed in this region, and when these things are something more than just radical ideas we talk about with like-minded friends and comrades. I wonder when we can feel safe and not afraid to look in the face of our oppressors and say 'These. Are. Our. Demands'.
Right now, there is a national prison strike happening from August 21st- September 9th. I am so proud of those folks on the inside for taking a stand against their oppressors and saying just that: These are our demands. I can't write a blog for the internet and not think about those folks and their bravery, strength, and resilience right now. You can read more about the prison strike here: https://incarceratedworkers.org/campaigns/prison-strike-2018.
To connect two issues for the sake of it, if you haven't already done so, I'll just say; land reform can't happen without the abolishing the prison industrial complex. Prisoners aren't messing around when they say slavery never ended – it just continued with the 13th amendment and when you hear xenophobes and racists talking about how people overseas are taking our jobs, feel free to remind them that actually, people in prison are doing what-used-to-be a lot of our jobs, usually for very little or even no money at all. Corporations you probably support use prison labor to make their products, offer their services, or otherwise funnel money from free labor to huge corporate systems. In this region, everyone talks about labor and jobs (and revitalizing these today-ineffective economies, whether they were once dependent on coal, now dependent on tourism, etc.) yet there are so many of these modern-day plantations where people work for little to nothing at all, and for most of us on the outside, it is easy to spend all our days without even thinking about those folks, who are literally locked away from society.
Read this interview about the prison strike with Kevin "Rashid" Johnson, currently serving a lifelong sentence in Red Onion State Prison, a maximum security prison in Wise County, VA, facing solitary confinement and other inhumane forms of repression for speaking out about the prison strike here: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2018/aug/23/prisoner-speak-out-american-slave-labor-strike
Prison expansion has impacted the region of Appalachia specifically, and a lot of folks on the inside here face a number of issues such as no access to public transportation or airports when they get out, are locked away in remote areas that make it hard for their family to visit, are in prisons with a number of inhumane environmental conditions, not to mention the vast amount of horrible, evil abuse that happens in prisons in our region. I don't have the answers to land reform in Appalachia – and I love that my job is to strategize and learn from folks about what they think the answers are. But for me, I hope we start with the prisons, or at least, we get to them pretty early on.
In solidarity with the prison strikers in Appalachia and worldwide--