EDITOR’S NOTE: Among the many authors who will make shows at subsequent week’s Southern Festival of Books in Nashville, Tennessee is Tom Hansell, whose e book, After Coal: Stories of Survival in Appalachia and Wales, will probably be launched in November by West Virginia College Press. The e book is a companion to Hansell’s 2016 documentary film, which chronicles a decades-long alternate between coalfield communities in Wales and Appalachia. 

By Tom Hansell / The Every day Yonder

“EPA = Increasing Poverty in America.” 

This assertion is written in three-foot-high letters on a banner stretched over a bandstand in a public park in Pikeville, Kentucky. It’s June 2012 and I’m simply beginning manufacturing of the “After Coal documentary. The gang round me is dressed within the reflective stripes of mining uniforms or in T-shirts studying Associates of Coal and Walker Heavy Equipment. I’m documenting a coal industry-sponsored pep rally earlier than a public listening to on new water-quality laws proposed for mountaintop-removal coal mines. 

The speaker onstage is talking proudly of his household’s heritage within the coal industry. He concludes his passionate assertion with a query: “If we are able to’t mine coal, what are we going to do in japanese Kentucky?”

Good query. As a filmmaker who has spent my profession residing and dealing within the coalfields of japanese Kentucky and documenting coal-mining points, this is a vital and tough query to reply. My earlier documentaries “Coal Bucket Outlaw” (2002) and “The Electrical energy Fairy” (2010) had been meant to start out a civil dialog between staff within the coal industry and different neighborhood members a few shared imaginative and prescient for good jobs, clear air, clear water, and a secure working setting. Nonetheless, the conversations virtually at all times broke down as quickly as somebody identified the plain: the coal industry had lengthy been the one mannequin of financial improvement within the central Appalachian area. Extra examples of what life after coal would possibly seem like had been desperately wanted to maneuver the dialog ahead. 

As I struggled with the haunting query “If we are able to’t mine coal, what are we going to do?” the picture of Welsh mining villages rising from the ashes left by the coal industry captured my creativeness. I assumed that if I may simply be taught just a few particulars about how Welsh communities made the transition, then I may establish particular options to assist coal communities in Appalachia. Nonetheless, I shortly realized that the key to life after coal was not that easy. … 

Rocky Adkins a Democratic member of the Kentucky House of Representatives addresses a pro-coal rally in 2012

Tom Hansell

Rocky Adkins a Democratic member of the Kentucky Home of Representatives addresses a pro-coal rally in 2012

 Alone quest for options, in 1990, I started my profession at Appalshop, a rural, multidisciplinary arts middle positioned in Whitesburg, Kentucky—the guts of the central Appalachian coalfields. From my younger and naively privileged perspective, transferring to japanese Kentucky was an act of opposition to the materialistic consumer-driven world. I had a objective of residing self-sufficiently, fulfilling my wants with what I may make or develop, and shopping for as little as doable. And, as an aspiring environmental activist, the clear ethical traces across the points within the Kentucky coalfields, particularly strip mining, had been interesting. The battle name of union songs akin to “Which Aspect Are You On” charged up my little post-punk coronary heart. 

Nonetheless, my expertise at Appalshop shortly taught me that the struggles of coal communities weren’t as easy or simple as I had imagined. Working as a part of this inventive collective, I produced radio and video documentaries and taught neighborhood media workshops. As a younger artist and activist, I shortly absorbed Appalshop’s mantra of offering a platform for mountain folks to talk in their very own phrases about points that have an effect on their lives. I attended a whole lot of neighborhood conferences: college board, the fiscal courtroom, mine allow hearings, and union conferences. I additionally documented dozens of direct actions the place residents blocked roads to cease mining, took over authorities workplaces to protest the dearth of enforcement, and arrange picket traces to implement union contracts. 

Retired Welsh miner and labor chief Terry Thomas (left) meets retired Kentucky miner Carl Shoupe (proper). (Screenshot from the documentary, After Coal)

My experiences engaged on the entrance traces of the environmental justice motion in Appalachia progressively developed my understanding of the complexities of how tradition, place, and politics had formed the conditions I used to be documenting. I witnessed firsthand the unbelievable energy of neighborhood to help folks as they confronted threats towards their properties and households. Because of this, I expanded my concepts about self-sufficiency from an individualistic imaginative and prescient of every individual taking good care of their very own must a bigger imaginative and prescient of people residing in symbiosis with their neighbors and the pure setting—neighborhood self-sufficiency.

Collaborating in cultural exchanges at Appalshop additionally offered me with useful classes. Assembly artists from the mountains of western China and rural Indonesia opened my eyes to a few of the common challenges confronted by regional cultures in an more and more globalized economic system. I hoped that a world alternate with one other coal-mining area akin to south Wales may establish assets and techniques that may assist Appalachian coalfield communities create a future past coal. 

The method of making the “After Coal” documentary took greater than 5 years. Throughout that point, I realized to cease searching for concrete options and begin supporting an ongoing dialog about the way to create wholesome communities in former coal-mining areas. Worldwide efforts to deal with local weather change make this problem particularly intense for coal-producing areas. As our economic system shifts from fossil fuels, how can we be sure that locations the place fossil fuels had been extracted don’t proceed to bear an unfair share of the prices of extraction? 

I imagine there are as many options for all times after coal as there are residents of mining communities. I hope these tales from south Wales and central Appalachia will encourage folks to find options that work of their house communities.

Tom Hansell is a documentary filmmaker, educator, and artist who lives in Western North Carolina. He teaches Appalachian research and documentary research at Appalachian State College in Boone. 

See additionally: BEYOND COAL: Appalachia and Wales. Jim Branscome opinions Tom Hansell’s e book After Coal.

Used with the permission of West Virginia College Press. All rights reserved.