A short history of direct action in Appalachia since 2000 (Yes! Magazine)

The first day of Harlan County train blockade, July 29, 2019, in which Blackjewel miners stopped a coal-laden train from leaving a mine until they got their backpay, coincided with other ongoing protests in Appalachia:

  • Day 89 of a 24/7 protest in Kingsport, Tennessee, over a monopolistic health care provider’s move to downgrade a hospital’s emergency services and close its neonatal intensive care unit, where sick newborns are treated.
  • Day 328 of the Yellow Finch Lane tree-sits in Montgomery County, Virginia, where two anonymous tree-sitters and a small support camp block construction of the 303-mile, 42-inch wide Mountain Valley Pipeline.

That doesn’t include the region’s widespread teacher strikes of 2018, or the campaign against mountaintop removal mining that shook the coalfields in the mid-’00s.

For Yes! Magazine, I wrote about Appalachia’s heritage of protest and direct action just in the years since 2000, and how this legacy is being upheld, largely by women. Read the full story at Yes! Mag.

A podcast about politics, culture, history & life in Appalachia

In late September, I soft-launched Blue Ridge Free State, a podcast about politics, culture, history & life in Appalachia. If you remember There’s Nothing to Do Here!, my regional zine 2003-05, it’s like that but with all the politics I’ve covered since then.

Since the launch, we’ve released six episodes, with more coming soon.

Subscribe on iTunes or on Stitcher.

Here’s a brief rundown on the first seven:

 

1: Our Nerds in Washington (w/ Amy Friedenberger)

In our first episode, we talk about why Donald Trump is campaigning in West Virginia. We also interview Amy Friedenberger, politics reporter for the Roanoke Times, about the 2018 midterm races in Appalachian Virginia.

 

2: Mountain State Melee (w/ Jake Zuckerman)

On this episode, we talk about Donald Trump’s recent swing through Appalachia for Republican candidates for US Senate, and why he’s trying to make it all about himself. We also interview Jake Zuckerman, politics reporter for the Charleston Gazette-Mail about the West Virginia teacher’s strike, Gov. Jim Justice’s recent PEIA presser, the Manchin/Morrisey race for US Senate, the Miller/Ojeda race in southern West Virginia, and how healthcare is playing as an issue.

 

3: Can Democrats win in a post-Trump Appalachia? (w/ Kyle Kondik)

On this episode, we talk with elections analyst Kyle Kondik, managing editor of Sabato’s Crystal Ball at the University of Virginia Center for Politics, about a variety of House, Senate, and gubernatorial races in the Appalachian region. We consider how opposition parties have fared in midterms since the 1990s, with a focus on Appalachia.

We also hear an excerpt with Mason and Madelyn Beck of Harvest Public Media from Us & Them, a West Virginia Public Broadcasting podcast about political and cultural divisions in America.

 

4: MDC—Marcin Dishes Candidly (w/ Deanna Marcin)

On this episode of Blue Ridge Free State, we talk about punk and LBGT history in Roanoke, Virginia, and how those two came together at the Backstreet Cafe.

We interview Deanna Marcin about the recent controversy of MDC’s show, how it was cancelled, and how it was rescheduled. She also talks about her journey as a transsexual woman, how she landed in Roanoke, how she came to work at the Backstreet Cafe, the atmosphere there in the years that followed a fatal shooting rampage, how she started booking punk and metal, and what’s happened since then.

 

5: Under Construction—Trauma, Urban Renewal, & 25 Years of Activism in Roanoke (w/ Brenda Hale)

On this episode, host Mason Adams interviews Brenda Hale, president of the Roanoke Branch NAACP. Topics include childhood trauma, urban renewal, politics, activism, the Confederate invasion of the 2015 Roanoke Christmas parade, and much more.

 

6: 2018 Midterm Election Wrap-Up

On this episode, Mason looks back on the 2018 midterms and how they played out in Appalachia. And he looks ahead to the podcast’s near-term future.

 

7: Mountain healthcare, from VW Beetle to Drone Delivery (w/ Teresa Gardner Tyson of SWVA’s Health Wagon)

On this episode, we interview Teresa Tyson Gardner of the Health Wagon, a free clinic serving a vulnerable population in Southwest Virginia’s coal counties.

Teresa talks about the past, present, and future of the Health Wagon, the challenges to addressing healthcare in the mountains—but also how that need drives innovation and creative approaches.

Also, Mason talk about why a Roanoke city school superintendent gave copies of JD Vance’s “Hillbilly Elegy” to all of her principals ahead of the 2017-2018 school year.

Schools, snow days & hungry students (Scalawag)

“I was working really late in my office on a Thursday night, and we had been closed for four days for snow, when my phone rang and this little boy said, ‘Lady are you going to open school tomorrow?’ I said, ‘I really don’t know, honey, but I’m going to make the call and it will be on television.’ He replied, ‘Please open. I am SO hungry.’ It was life-changing for me.”

👆 That’s Roanoke School Superintendent Rita Bishop talking about what goes into the decision to call off school for snow and other inclement weather. It’s a reason why city schools began opening cafeterias to students & their parents three years ago.

Buoyed by a USDA memo, other western Virginia school systems have increasingly been doing the same, including here in Floyd County, which twice this academic year have opened their cafeterias to the community on snowy days.

Read my story about that + how schools and non-profit organizations are increasingly partnering to feed children in economically distressed communities, at Scalawag Magazine.

Virginia Tech alumni winning in roller derby & the professional world (Virginia Tech Magazine)

I loved writing this story about four awesome people, alumni of both the NRV Roller Girls & Virginia Tech. Stephanie Beeman, Kacey Huntington Cappallo, Tori Elmore & Jen Stern are killing it in their professional lives and on the track as derby skaters.

They inspire me and encapsulate what I love about roller derby.

Read the story at Virginia Tech Magazine.

Appalachian Democrats try to claw their way back (100 Days in Appalachia)

Donald Trump’s 2016 election win put an exclamation point on two decades worth of political shift from Democrat to Republican in Appalachia. Except for urban centers and a few notable exceptions, Democrats have essentially been wiped from the map in the region.

Now, in an ever increasingly polarized political environment, can they make up ground by using the new president as a foil?

I looked at the early signs in 2017 for 100 Days in Appalachia. Read it here.

NRV & Bristol seek passenger rail extension from Roanoke (Roanoke Business)

Amtrak is running on schedule for its arrival in Roanoke next fall. Even as the Star City prepares to celebrate the return of passenger rail for the first time in more than 34 years, its neighbors to the southwest already are pushing to extend the service.

The service arrives as part of Amtrak’s extensions of its Northeast Regional service into Virginia. The commonwealth invests in state-funded train extensions that run to Lynchburg, Richmond, Norfolk and Newport News. The Lynchburg extension, which began regular daily service in 2009, outperformed expectations and sparked momentum that lead to the push westward to Roanoke.

Amtrak estimates it generates a national economic impact of $7.9 billion annually, supporting more than 110,000 jobs through its daily operations plus tourism and supplier impacts.

Local governments also desire the economic boost that goes with passenger rail, which tends to create a 3-to-5 percent growth in the number of annual visitors. While short-term construction and engineering jobs come with the line’s upgrades and related construction, that growth in visitors creates potential for a larger, more durable ripple, especially in the restaurant and hospitality industries.

Now, rail fans in the New River Valley and Bristol metropolitan areas hope to bring those benefits to their localities, too.

Read my story about their efforts at Roanoke Business.

How announcements of 2 new breweries validate Roanoke’s changing image (Virginia Business)

There’s been lots of talk about transitioning the economies of Appalachian communities from their historic base into the 21st Century. But what does that actually look like?

I’d suggest the Roanoke Valley as a possible example of economic transition. The railroad—which jumpstarted Roanoke as the city in 1880s—no longer is a big economic driver, but we’re seeing a cascading series of companies coming in to fill the void: Large production breweries, advanced manufacturing & more. Better partnerships between regional entities—think Carilion & Virginia Tech for one example—are generating new activity as well.

Clearly not all that success has translated equally to residents across town, but it does look like progress from the big-picture perspective. Certainly people seem more stoked to live in Roanoke now than they did a decade ago.

For more about what this transition looks like in 2016 Roanoke, read my regional profile in Virginia Business.

How the rebel flag plays into the 2016 election (Politico Magazine)

Growing up 20 minutes from Lexington, Va., and its numerous links to Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson, I’ve always had a fascination for the mutable meaning of the Confederate battle flag and its convergence of ancestry, race, history, politics & more.

That meaning has shifted again in the year since Charleston, those right on the edge of the flag debate have escalated the conflict, heightening contradictions and putting the flag back in the news on numerous occasions around the South & the rest of the country.

In this story for Politico Magazine, I tried to take a meaningful look at how the past year has changed the fight over the rebel flag, as well as how that all slots into an already crazy election year.

Read the story here.

The coal depression’s downstream effects (Roanoke Business)

The combination of competition from cheap natural gas, a decline in overseas construction and enforcement of federal clean air regulations have sent the U.S. coal industry into a tailspin.

It’s not just miners who are suffering, however, but also the various downstream businesses that support the coal industry. For Roanoke Business, I wrote about how railroads, equipment manufacturers and other support businesses are dealing with the slump.

Read the story in the April issue of Roanoke Business.

International market trends result in Volvo layoffs (Roanoke Business)

thousands of regional workers.

The list of layoffs and job reductions stretches through the years: 300 jobs in 2013, 50 in October, 700 in 2009, 650 in 2008, 1,075 in 2008. Yet regional advocates took solace from two economic development announcements in the past two years, including the investment of $69 million into a customer experience track in 2014, creating a projected 200 jobs, and an additional $38 million facility to accompany it, announced last year and creating 32 new jobs.

Any hopes that the announcements signaled an end to cyclical job reductions were dashed in early December, when the company filed notice it would lay off 730 employees in February. In early February, that number was decreased to 600.

My story about the whys and hows of the layoff announcement runs in this month’s issue of Roanoke Business, available online and at grocery stores around Roanoke and the NRV.