Tribunal Reflection from Appalachian Catholic Worker

Jeannie Kirkhope is a member of the Appalachian Catholic Worker and attended the May 10th Central Appalachian Women and Climate Justice Tribunal in Charleston, WV. Jeannie was also able to bring students from Xavier University to the event. These are her reflections. 


Ten college students from Xavier University joined me last week at the Central Appalachian Women’s Tribunal on Climate Justice.  During the previous days, they had seen the devastation of [mountain top removal/MTR] when they visited Kayford Mountain.  They had learned  about the history of coal and unionizing and got a better sense during their tour of Whipple Company Store.  They even cleaned up a bit of the aftermath of poverty in their service projects. But, they said the Tribunal “filled in all the blanks” for them.

All their experiences up to that point gave them a good understanding of why and how Appalachia is struggling so much. But the Tribunal introduced them to the “who’s.”  Hearing the women’s first hand-accounts and being able to meet and converse with them face-to-face “made it all real.” It’s where they found and felt most deeply the connection with the people of our region.  During our end-of-the-week reflection, the students were unanimous in their evaluation. They said the Tribunal was, “totally amazing!” – the highlight of their time in West Virginia. And, there’s no better proof of that than the fact that they’re still talking about it on Facebook!

I had met a couple of the presenters before, and am well aware of the stories, statistics and struggles. However, what was refreshing for me was the new, kinetic energy I sensed in the room.  These were not voices echoing out into the ether, or tears being shed only to be absorbed by the hills themselves.  It seemed to me, for the first time, we were actually being heard.

It’s no news that we women tend to talk to help make ourselves feel better. I suspect that’s why storytelling, like Minton Sparks’ stellar performance, is so prevalent and popular within the movement.  It can be a rejuvenating morale boost and can aid us in continuing on in the fight.  But when someone is actively listening to us and we feel there is potential for things to change, the healing process speeds up exponentially.

The UN representatives gave us a supportive, compassionate, safe space in which to express our fears, share our grief and expose our rage.  They gave us their word that they will raise awareness of our plight by taking it to the global stage. And, they gave us hope that, someday, this MTR nightmare will end.  A heartfelt thank you to them, and to OVEC and the other sponsors of the Tribunal.