In Logan County, 20 students hosted an event that attracted candidates for the state house, senate and U.S. Congress. Participants from AFSC’s Appalachian Center for Equality asked questions on many different topics ranging from juvenile justice reform to diversification and job training for ex-coal miners. In addition to simply giving the public a chance to learn more about the candidates for public office, the young leaders saw the forum as an opportunity to spotlight candidates with solid policy plans and ideas that would bring the county into the 21st century and emphasize quality education for students that prepares them for emerging job markets (while ideally retaining and attracting families to the county).
In Boone county, students hosted a post-election community forum in November that brought out students, parents, teachers, as well as the newly elected county commissioner, senator and delegate for the district. Again the topics and questions raised by students were diverse, but some strong themes included: rapid identification and cultivation of new industries/job markets for the area that would (1) increase the tax base and (2) create new sources of revenue that could help save the crumbling school system; addressing mental health disparities for rural children residing in the county and greater region; creating a county-wide youth council that would take action on issues of social injustice, resource scarcity, etc.; addressing environmental issues ranging from escalating pollution problems to the dangerous potential consequences of unchecked climate change and deforestation happening in the area (which could result in more natural disasters like flooding and landslides); addressing the rapid increase in drug addiction and cases of opiate over-prescription/overdoses.
These are rough political times for all, especially in these impoverished counties of Appalachia. So while ACE doesn’t anticipate huge legislative victories this year, these student meetings and legislative forums are not just symbolic—we are building (sometimes unlikely) alliances with our students’ representative policymakers and strengthening relationships now so that good things can happen pre- and post-session. ACE participants certainly feel energized to keep these legislators accountable after officials made promises about what they intend to do for West Virginia communities.
- Liz Brunello
Appalachian Center for Equality Program Coordinator