Thursday, November 4, 2010

A human rights survey!!

Hello ENGAGEers!

Please take our survey> for you about our human rights projects:

  • Have you been following the ENGAGE human rights group but not sure how you can use a human rights framework in your own education or organizing work?
  • Are you a student interested in learning more about human rights or getting others on your campus interested?
  • Would you be interested in hosting a human rights workshop in your community, campus, workplace, or somewhere else?
  • OR would you like to help develop workshop ideas and work with other ENGAGErs to use them around the country?

Please take this 5 minute multiple choice survey--we want to hear from you! See below for more history and context about this project

Based on several changes in the ENGAGE human rights working group --- the transitions report work currently wrapping up in Kentucky, as wellas personnel changes -- the working group has identified that our group is at a major transition point. Over the past year or so, the group's work hasbecome synonymous with the Kentucky project and collaboration with KFTC. However, as we no longer have a strong presence in Kentucky and thereforelimited capacity to build a long term base there, we are seeing a need to shift our focus away from place-based projects and toward the network. Ourvision is to develop into a a working group that integrates human rights into the ENGAGE network, whether it be collaborating with general members orbases on human rights based projects, developing or compiling human rights resources, or creating and facilitating human rights education.

Currently there is a group of HRWG members who is interested in creating human rights-based educational tools and workshops. Our interest is increating and implementing human rights education with bases and/or general members of the ENGAGE network. The first step in this process is surveyingthe network (you) to gauge interest in a project such as this. This 5 minute, multiple choice survey will ask your opinions about what you’d liketo see in a human rights workshop and what kind of support you’d need to pull one off. It will also ask if you are interested in working as a memberof our group to develop this workshop campaign. We look forward to hearing from you!

Again, that's

You can also contact for more information!

Your Human Rights Working Group

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Voices from Appalachia: Eastern Kentucky in Transition

I am proud to present
Voices from Appalachia: Eastern Kentucky in Transition. Congratulations to the report writers, Liz Aeschlimann, Becky Goncharoff, Vanessa Moll and Mariela Riches, as well as the countless others who have contributed to the report!!!

Hoping to build on relationships that were established in 2009 with the creation of
Voices from Appalachia: A Human Rights Perspective, ENGAGE returned to Eastern Kentucky in the summer of 2010. With momentum building around the emerging Appalachian Transition Initiative, KFTC and ENGAGE decided to use the summer’s resources to profile and tie together projects contributing to an alternative vision of economic development in Eastern Kentucky.

Voices from Appalachia: Eastern Kentucky in Transition
was researched late June to early August and written between August and September 2010 by ENGAGE members who lived in eastern Kentucky for the summer. It documents individuals and projects in the region working for an economic transition away from extractive industry and toward small scale, local economies.

For a copy of the report, please visit the ENGAGE wiki:

Or download the pdf directly here: Transition Report smallfile.pdf

Friday, July 30, 2010

Stage Fright is Completely Understandable When there is No Audience

Yes, Stage fright, that is what I am feeling....why? Today is the day! No not my wedding day that is a bit non-existent (from my view point) any who, today is the PREMIERE!!!! No, not another Twilight movie, god forbid. It is of AMI's (Appalachian Media Institute's) premiere or screening whichever you prefer to name it. It is tonight! I'm excited because it only like hour and a half away! My weeks of being in AMI, will be shown in the Appalshop theatre. I was in the collectors group, yes it is about collecting...but not what you expect., when and if it gets to be put online . ^-^

Other than that tid bit, a couple of days ago Pike County in Kentucky was horribly flooded..... visit the link below to get a hint of what happened....

So with this issue still being fixed and worked on. I haven't had the ability to do much as a power leader...yet! I'm not giving up hope! I'm doing my best to go to WV to the Alliance for Appalachia. Slowly, but surely getting things going in an actual set direction. This is all I have to report. Stay tuned for a tomorrows update!

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Where We Are At: July 10, 2010

Thomada is 20-year-old person, looking for work. Thomada lives in Hazard, Kentucky and has a family of miners and ex-miners, and others in the service industry. Last night Thomada dreamed of going to China. It was great. Thomada feels that school -- no matter the level he/she has gotten to -- hasn't mattered to Thomada's life. For vacation, Thomada wants to go swimming at the nearby lake. Skills include idea generation, talking to people, story-telling, among others. Thomada's struggles include paying for things, transportation, health in the family, other obligations that come up due to structural poverty, sometimes a lack of confidence/imagination BUT more like a lack of confidence in the current system, because it's oppressive. Thomada hasn't necessarily named this oppression yet, but would identify with the naming of it, because he/she's lived it.

Della is 23, unemployed, living in Pike County. Her dad and younger siblings are coal miners, and her mom is a teacher. Last night she dreamed about hiking. She has an associates degree in communication and is creative -- she loves making things with her hands. She struggles with confidence and money. She wants to vacation at the grand canyon.

Those were a couple potential readers of ENGAGE's next report. Right now, we've laid out the following potential experience for our audience:

-->First BAM! A great profile and photo and attention-getter: In the words of someone living in Eastern Kentucky, THIS is the need for a transition away from extractive, outsider industry economy to grassroots-led and grown economy.
--> Context and profiles: Naming the structural poverty, human rights issues, and oppression in the region
--> Roots of Solidarity Economy: Profiles of transition projects happening – divided into doing and supporting (business v. organizations v. projects) -- done in a way to show existing relationships and spark ideas for potential future relationships
--> Resistance happening: Esp. the Stay Project, vision profiles from youth…a visioning exercise
--> Summary of resources, tips, next steps (MACED< etc., list format)
--> Summary of Policy Recommendations

Throughout the report, we'll have policy recommendations relevant to project profiles, quotes showing how Eastern Kentucky's local history, culture, and youth can support a solidarity economy in the region, and first steps specific to certain projects.

The last couple of weeks, we have been frantically driving from county to county to catch youngsters to elders, carpenters to educators, and visionaries to doers, for interviews. We hope that this report can be useful for all of them. And we've been using this week to step back from the immersion in interviews (though continuing to some extent), to identify themes and objectives for this transition report.

In addition, the process of building this report has supported our long-term visioning for ENGAGE's presence in Eastern Kentucky. Why are we here anyways? We've held some very important check-in's with our most reliable partners: KFTC and Morehead State...But more on the results of that to come

And what does all of this have to do with human rights? Well, we would like to maintain this theme not only as an organizing tool, but perhaps an organizing principle. But like they say -- you can't just land in a region or a community and start organizin'. We hope that our presence here can serve as a wholesome orientation to EK for ENGAGE, and that together we can build a dream job for a lucky ENGAGEr here -- can we see solidarity economics, human rights, popular education, and food justice converging in Kentucky and ENGAGE's future...I'd like to think so!

Please give us feedback on our report visioning process thus far. We are in the process of writing a more detailed description of its goals, objectives, outcomes, audience, a distribution plan, etc. And the outline for the report is flexible (and obviously needs more detail). So your suggestions will be more than welcome on any of these aspects!!

And now we'll leave you with a little limerick love.

So things in the mountains are bad
And for youth there are few jobs to be had
But engangers made a decision
Supporting the young is our vision
So that life in Appalachia will be rad!

Thursday, June 10, 2010

From the Mountaintop

Around 15 hours after we moved into our new home in Nippa, KY, our group headed out for Mountain Justice Camp at Jenny Wiley’s last resort. The camp served as an orientation to the issues, the movement, and the people who surround mountain top removal coal mining. Our campground was settled on a valley fill created by the construction of the highway, nestled within a temperate forest, and overlooking the scarred Black Mountain. We attended different workshops throughout the day on topics ranging from MTR 101, cultural organizing in Appalachia, to facilitation (no CIEE, you will never escape us!). As we learned about the history of resistance we were told that this movement “stands on the shoulders of giants”, referring to the Battle of Blair Mt. and other legendary events that initiated this movement over the past century. At night we heard from residents from the coalfields, Ken Heckler (the only US congressmen to march with MLK!), Larry Gibson, and Wendell Berry. Wendell Berry offered words of wisdom concerning the sense of urgency so many feel in the environmental justice movement:

“I don’t think we can treat these ecological crises as emergencies. You’ve got to maintain the integrity of your own life… You’ve got to be able to stick for a long time.”

Over the four days we learned a lot about what it is we’re jumping into. It would be an understatement to say that coal is a contentious subject in this region. It has divided communities over what will be the future of Eastern Kentucky and the region of Appalachia. On Monday we attended a Kentucky Sustainable Energy Alliance (KySEA) meeting in Lexington. We were briefed on the past Kentucky General Assembly, where House Bill 408, the one that would pave the way for a renewable energy future was barely considered. We are learning that this is going to be an uphill struggle, but also that this movement is filled with a diversity of people working on all sides. There are those in suits who focus on policy and legislation, the young college activists who are educating their campuses, and those from the coalfields who lock down on mining sites so that the machinery cannot operate.

All of the things we have learned have made us even more excited for our project. After talking with Lisa from KFTC, we have decided to create a report that portrays a snapshot of alternative economic projects in the region. What we’ve found is that plenty of institutions have created statistical analyses of Kentucky’s capacity or suitability for industries other than coal, but none that are aimed at the community audience or pay heed to the cultural distinctness of Eastern Kentucky. We are so excited to begin profiling, interviewing, and learning from community members from all over the region who have already taken on that nebulous concept of “Green Jobs” and created sustainable work for themselves.

By Becky Goncharoff, ENGAGE Kentucky Base Intern

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

From Cornfields to Coalfields -- I'm in the mountains!

I arrived at Mariela's house in Lexington last Thursday. Since getting here, Mariela and I have had some inspiring and informative meetings in preparation for the upcoming interns, convergence, and overall development of the ENGAGE project here in Kentucky.

Just before coming to Kentucky I read an article in The Nation, highlighting the growing grassroots movement against unjust coal mining practices in Appalachia. The article pointed to the increasing success of this movement, as it focuses more and more on the effects of coal on people here in the region -- rather than solely the effects on the environment and climate change, oftentimes the focus at the national level. It has been helpful to read the news about the current political situation surrounding coal and then hear about it from the perspectives of various people and organizations in Appalachia.

I was able to meet Rick Handshoe on Saturday. Since Lisa Jackson's announcement about potential EPA regulations, it seems that people here are finding a few outlets where their voices are heard. Rick has continued on steadily, steadily monitoring his and neighboring communties' streams and water supplies, and reporting his findings as needed. But now, he has been able to speak directly with various influential figures in the world of coal and coal regulation. In fact, last week Rick didn't even have to report that the stream near his property became darker than is natural or healthy -- the inspectors came themselves. The mining company has attempted to hold back pollutant discharges with curtains, but seeing that these aren't working they are transitioning to aerators. He says these efforts are all a good sign -- small steps towards meeting regulations. But he and other community members are preparing themselves in case spoken promises are not kept.

On Monday (on the way I saw Reclamation --below), we were honored to follow through on KFTC organizer Kevin Pentz's invitation to the Alliance for Appalachia meeting at Natural Bridge State Park. We heard from about a dozen organizations about the major work they had been doing, and got to see in person some of the most active and influential activists in the region. We were able to give a short presentation about our project and to express interest in future collaboration with all of them. Everyone there was very positive about the reports and interested in further distribution. In fact, next time we should consider a kick-off party, and we should definitely put out a press release...!

Most organizations at the Alliance meeting seemed relatively positive, though cautious (maybe in shock?) about the recent political discussions. The organizations are all doing incredible work -- related to scientific and legal research, organizing and advocacy, media, etc. -- to educate themselves and others about legislation, the different directions (positive and negative) each piece of legislation could go, and the effects that will have on people and the environment. I cannot express my level of respect for those doing this work, especially those in mine-affected communities, where mentality, health, and relationships of the people there are not the most conducive to such hard work. As Rick said, he is not an angry person by nature, but sometimes you have to be the one to step up and get angry in order to get anything done. This alone can take a toll on one's energy.

It was also a real pleasure to deliver a whole stack of reports to the Floyd County Chapter Meeting Monday night. Audra, one of the members at the meeting, rushed off to distribute some to the library and various other places in town, and everyone took some to show around their community. I hope it also made for a good visual introduction to KFTC's work and the issues for one local woman, who was at her first KFTC meeting.

Beyond these great opportunities to meet active folks in the area, Mariela and I have been moving forward with planning for interns and the convergence. We visited Morehead, where the convergence will take place, the day after I got to Lexington. It is a beautiful campus in a small town, and I hope that especially everyone who has been involved with the human rights report can make it out to the convergence in order to support our relationships here and the project (register here!). On Monday we invited Floyd County community members, in addition to those present at the Alliance for Appalachia meeting.

All in all, I am overwhelmed at what this summer will bring!...much more to come.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Sounds of Solidarity

The sun was just rising behind the traditional Buddhist wat, when the Internet connection finally came through. I couldn’t help but grin when I heard the familiar twang of Eastern Kentucky voices. The skype call between villagers of Na Nong Bong in Northeast Thailand and community organizers of Kentuckians for the Commonwealth had officially begun. Each community has experienced similar struggles; a gold mine was built in Na Nong Bong 6 years ago, and the consequences of Appalachia coal mining have continued for over a 100 years in Floyd County, KY. Both communities have been organizing around their respective mining issues for years, but now they have decided to make a connection in order to share stories, support, and strategies.

I found the situation to be pretty surreal. I didn’t realize people in Thailand had even heard of Kentucky when I arrived 3 months ago, and I didn’t expect the two areas to have anything in common. They each talked about how the mine had made their water unfit for human consumption, destroyed their landscape, and broken old friendships. Ecological degradation, human rights violations, and hope for the future have created a relationship between the mountain communities.

The relationship between Na Nong Bong and Kentuckians for the Commonwealth is still very young. The conversation was largely focused on background stories. I hope that in the future community members can exchange organizing strategies and that they come to realize how they can assist each other. Despite their similarities, differences remain. Much of Kentucky’s energy depends on coal, where as gold is a commodity to be bought and sold. Kentuckians have been fighting mines for decades, whereas Na Nong Bong is new to the struggle. However, under a common language of human rights these communities can find solidarity.

As I listened to the conversation that spanned 3,000 miles, I thought about the power of solidarity. What if people from rural Thailand no longer thought of Hollywood and our other cultural exports when they thought of the United States, and instead thought of friends with a common struggle in the hollers of Appalachia? What if people in Eastern Kentucky realized that they have more in common with people in Isaan than their policy makers in Washington D.C.? There is immense power in making these types of connections across cultural and political boundaries that have otherwise separated us. Hearing each group say, “Our problems are the same,” and “We have friends across the world,” sent chills up my spine.

Members of our group often lament that our work we do in Thailand is much needed in the United States, and that we should be building relationships with communities at home instead of here. When it comes to mining, the struggle is the same. Some students from past semesters in Thailand were there in Kentucky, talking to their former host families in Na Nong Bong via skype. There need not be a separation between struggling for the recognition of human rights and the preservation of livelihoods in Thailand or the United States. It is the same struggle and the more aware we become of this connectedness, the more powerful our movement will be.

Written by Rebecca Goncharoff, current study abroad student with CIEE Thailand in Khon Kaen, Thailand. Rebecca is originally from Paris, KY and is studying at Transylvania University.