The Southern Appalachian Mountain Stewards (SAMS) is a local community group in Appalachia, VA dedicated to stopping the destruction caused by surface coal mining.
I work with SAMS, a group of local activists who are outraged by the devastating effects of surface coal mining in the coalfields of Southwest Virginia.
Surface coal mining, also known as strip mining, often takes the form of "mountaintop removal" which is exactly what it sounds like. To remove the coal from thick seams running through mountain ranges, huge equipment removes the tops of mountains, removes the coal, and dumps the mountaintop into the valleys, covering streams and healthy water. This has horrific affects on the air, water, land, economy, and health of all those who live near these mine sites.
I came here in August 2006 to work with community members and aid them in their struggle as much as I can. Since I have joined the fight, I have become the Secretary and Treasurer of the group, as well as the only member under the age of 30. Our group has grown from a dozen to over 30 in the past few months and our treasury has grown from around $100 dollars to several thousand, all from private donations.
I helped establish an office space for SAMS and staff the office several days per week. I continuously work to recruit new members, manage memberships, and coordinate communication among members so we can all work together.
I also manage the group's accounts, pay the bills, and take care of other business-related matters.
Projects I have helped organize through the group include public forums among community members who oppose a proposed coal-fired power plant, organizing activists statewide to support the cause and push for clean energy on campuses, and organizing rallies to bring SAMS's message to the rest of the state.
The experiences I have in the past 9 months have more educational than all my years of school as I have learned things that could never be taught in a classroom. I have learned how to listen and empower those who are affected by such acute ecological devastation. I have learned how to organize students and other activists across the state to be united in one, crucial struggle.
I have learned that when you step into a community, it is not yours until you make it yours, and so I have made the coalfields of Virginia my new, permanent home.
But the most important things I have learned have come in through my ears and gone straight to my heart. These people, the mountains of Appalachia, and the life that breathes through them have been the greatest teachers I could ever learn from as well as the greatest ones to serve in my work.