It’s Bigger Than Just Divestment

Jessie Braverman:

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Photo by Ritza Francois

People talk about having life changing experiences, which I never really believed would happen to me. I don’t think I can say that one specific moment has immediately changed my life, but I do think some things that I have seen and experienced have changed my future and the decisionsthat I will make. Spending a week at Mountain Justice Spring Break in West Virginia and witnessing the effects of mountaintop removal and fracking while I was there affected me in really powerful and haunting ways.

On one of our first nights in West Virginia, anti-fracking activist Diane Pitcock generously invited us to her home to sit around a campfire, play music, roast marshmallows and see the destructive and polluting fracking operation that is taking place on her property. Diane’s dedication to tellinghers and other’s stories is really inspiring, and stems from the harassment she has received from the industry. It’s almost impossible to describe in words how walking onto her land for the first time felt. She is being diligently watched every second of every day, and her space is continuously being invaded. Right outside of her house is a radio that is constantly playing the workers’ intimidating conversations at a loud and corrosive volume. (For more information on Diane and her organization, you can visit http://www.wvhostfarms.org). Discussing and learningabout the destruction that the industry causes in the classroom is really important, but I don’t think you can fully understand it until you actually see it destroying life right in front of you.

Visiting Kayford Mountain, where Larry Gibson’s legacy will live on forever, brought up similar feelings for me, although they manifested in a very different way. What I saw at Kayford Mountain was death. The guts of a once rich and thriving mountain, stripped of its existence, cold, bare,and exploited. The insides of a mountain screaming in pain, terrorized by poison filled machines and a money hungry industry. Diane’s property tells a different story because it is still full of life and is still hanging on. Yes, the use of dirty energy is destroying our futures, but it is also taking effect NOW. People are fighting for their right to clean food, air, and water, and to exist TODAY . Diane’s imperative fight is something that is still surviving and triumphantly striving to live.  Her dedication is inspirational and gives me hope that change is still possible, and we can help her and so many others by working to support them and spread their stories.

Not everything that I experienced at Mountain Justice was as heart-wrenching as seeing the harm caused by these destructive forms of extraction.  I witnessed the unwavering strength of the West Virginian natives who are fighting for their lives every single day and who are some of the mostspirited and inspiring people I have ever met. I feel so honored to have stood next to them in this fight, and to learn from their stories and hopeful words. I am only here to stand in solidarity with them, and to raise their voices to ensure that their stories are heard. They are doing their part to save their families, their homes, their state, and the rest of the world, so we need to continue to do ours.

People are living with fracking wells in their yards, contaminating their food, water, air, sight, and right to live, while I am living in this peaceful bubble that Ithaca often seems like. I feel like I should be doing more to fight for environmental and social justice by living in Appalachia and using my privilege to physically halt the devastation being caused by energy extraction. But I know that I’m not at that place in my life right now and I can work to change and inspire the community I am already living in through the divestment campaign. It is what is beneficial and necessary for my community right now, is accessible to me at this point in my life, and is my way of fighting here and there at the same time. We are standing in solidarity with those who can no longer live their lives because the industry has stolen their rights and freedoms away from them, and I want to ensure that my institution isn’t contributing to this devastation. Let’s stand in solidarity with those on the frontline, and demand that our institutions divest from the injustices that the fossil fuel industry are forcing upon innocent people, families, and communities.

“Aint’ no power like the power of the people, ‘cause the power of the people don’t stop!”

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