Stop Rockwool: A Case Study in Grassroots Activism

I’ve been thinking a lot about what it will take to change our political system in Virginia. Not only do we need to sweep the arrogant and corrupt Republican regime out of the state House and Senate, but we also have to change the way the Democratic party operates. When people feel like politicians and corporations have colluded to rig the system so that an average citizen has no power to stop them, people may feel helpless and defeated. What’s the use? Nothing will change. So why bother trying to change things? Why bother voting, because they’re all the same: corrupt. Maybe I’ll move to Canada, goes the old saw.

They want you to feel that way. That’s how they maintain control. Corporations like Dominion Energy and Rockwool cultivate politicians from the governor on down to the lowliest local development board so that they can prosper. Corporations are not people. They may be run by people, but they are a machine for consuming resources, flattening any competition, and producing wealth for a very few: executives and shareholders (and the politicians they’ve bought).

I’m also worried about Trump getting reelected, because if he does, I’m not sure our Democracy will survive as we know it. That’s a whole essay in itself, which I’ll back burner for now.

So what will it take to bridge the partisan divide we now face? What will it take to ensure that the people who came out for the first Women’s March and subsequent ones don’t give up the fight? What will it take to keep people involved in Indivisible groups like this one (and other progressive and/or nonpartisan groups)? What will it take to make our newly revitalized local Democratic committees and election volunteers continue to show up, donate their money to candidates and donate their time to campaigns?

Some of you may be following what’s happening over in Jefferson County, WV, as thousands of people have found common cause in fighting to prevent a toxic industrial factory from being built on a former apple orchard and across from an elementary school. Two 21-story smoke stacks spewing a million tons of pollutants annually, using 400,000 gallons of water daily, burning 100 trucks of coal and coal dust daily, requiring a 21-inch fracked-gas pipeline and a dedicated sewer line for their industrial sewer. That’s the threat. And here’s the response:

Republicans, Democrats and Independents becoming friends as they work tirelessly to research the facts, meet in homes and public places to strategize. Party and tribe don’t matter when you realize that yes, clean air and water matter to you. The health of your children matter to you. Your way of life matters to you. What is party in this? Irrelevant. You are for whoever will fight for you. You’ll canvass for the first time ever. You will paint homemade signs on sheets of plywood. Stop Rockwool. You will design posters and bumper stickers and t-shirts. You will attend packed school board meetings, city council meetings, county commission meetings, development meetings, town halls, street protests, fund raisers, picnics. You will babysit for your fellow activists. You will learn about karst topography, air quality studies, EPA limits. You will travel to Washington DC for a sit in at your U.S. senator’s office. You will call into radio shows. You will write letters to the editor. You will gather signatures on a petition of fully a third of all homeowners in Charles Town, more signatures than voted for the elected officials that you speak to on a regular basis, through phone calls, emails, and in-person appeals before a microphone in your allotted three minutes at the mic. You will record Facebook live streams to share what you have learned, to encourage your fellow activists. You will post comments on line. You will travel to New York City to attend conferences where Rockwool executives are speaking. You do not lose energy. Rather, you persist. You have to. Failure is not an option.

I have been amazed by the West Virginia pride of my new friends working together to Stop Rockwool from being built. The message they bring to you is this: Defend what you love. Work together and you can sweep the bastards out of office, run the arrogant polluters out of town, and build the kind of community you want to live in. We don’t have to settle for corporations calling shots, or politicians pressing their thumbs on the scales of justice.

There is no calvary coming. You are the calvary.

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