Mode of Program Participation
Community Organizing and Educational Programming
Building justice across polarized politics: how to communicate in an age of eXtreme rhetoric
Session Abstract or Summary
This participatory workshop explores ways to promote inter-generational conversations about economic transition in Appalachia that bring together people from diverse political perspectives. For decades, environmental and social justice movements have done important oppositional work as they mobilized to stop destruction of land and community. However, as the regional economy changes, new kinds of activism and dialogue are needed. In working for a just transition to a post-coal, diversified economy, many community activists find themselves working constructively with surprising new allies. Rather than an oppositional politics, a constructive politics is possible that is less fractured by “jobs” vs. “environment”, “right” vs. “left”. We can overcome such false dualisms as we move towards circular and sustainable economies.
Extreme political rhetorics have been cultivated in national U.S. politics, and many people feel a cultural identification with extreme political factions. In this participatory workshop, we explore techniques for community forums, movement-building, community organizing, and inter-generational dialogue, that help to defuse polarized rhetorics and identity politics. During this era of structural change in the political economy of Appalachia, we are particularly concerned to connect younger and older activists. We seek to listen to emerging needs and dreams of younger generations, while also transmitting the stories, lessons learned, and values of earlier movements.
The workshop is organized by the Alliance for Appalachia. It is based on techniques of experiential learning, in which we start from real life experiences of workshop participants, and then spiral in and out from personal experience to structural and root cause analysis.
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At-A-Glance Bio- Presenter #1
Betsy Taylor is a cultural anthropologist who has worked with participatory research projects in central Appalachia and India. She has authored numerous scholarly articles on community empowerment and leadership, environmental and social justice, and civic engagement. Her ethnographies focus on rural communities dependent on coal and forestry. She is co-author (with Herbert Reid) of Recovering the Commons: Democracy, Place, and Global Justice (2010), and Executive Director of the Livelihoods Knowledge Exchange Network (LiKEN).
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Gabby Gillespie is a community organizer living and working in Wise County, Virginia. After over a decade working with various activist groups toward collective liberation, Gabby took a position organizing with the Sierra Club in SWVA around economic diversification in communities struggling to find new opportunities where the dominant coal industry is in decline. Gabby comes from a long line of mountain folk and believes in the resilience of Appalachian land and people.
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Bill Price has lived most of his life in WV, much of it in the community of Dorothy in the southern part of the state. Recently, Bill’s work focuses on federal and state policies that work toward a just and sustainable Appalachia through a regional coalition, The Alliance for Appalachia. Bill is an organizer with the Sierra Club in the Environmental Justice program and the Beyond Coal to Clean Energy Campaign.
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Lyndsay Tarus is serving as staff person with the Alliance for Appalachia, where she works to coordinate economic transition activities around our region. In addition, she is currently a volunteer of the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition, an Alliance member group working on advocacy around mountaintop removal and safe drinking water. Lyndsay has a master’s degree in Public Administration from Marshall University, with a focus on governance in nonprofit organizations and public agencies
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Tom Sexton is a native of, and currently lives and works in Whitesburg, Kentucky. For over a year now he has served as the Eastern Kentucky Organizer for the Sierra Club’s Cumberland Chapter. Prior to that, he served two years as a elected member of the Whitesburg (KY) City Council, where he was instrumental in updating his city’s tax code, producing more than a million dollars in added revenues, and successfully fought housing discrimination against people living with disabilities. As a result of his experience serving in local office, Tom specializes in advocating for, and helping to create new economic opportunities for struggling communities in the former coalfields as part of his Sierra Club work.
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Alice Howell lives in Lexington, KY and is a long-term volunteer with the Kentucky chapter of the Sierra Club. For the past 4 years, Alice has worked with the Sierra Club organizer located in Eastern K, working in communities struggling with the negative environmental and socio-economic impacts of mining coal. The Sierra Club environmental justice program in Central Appalachia is a member group of The Alliance. Alice serves on the Coordinating, Steering, and Economic Transition Teams of The Alliance.