Cultural Democracy
, Issue number 33, Summer 1986
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One of the Striking 'Miners Took Some Equipment And Started Filming What Was Going On
Helen Lewis

I live in Virginia and I work in Tennessee, Kentucky, North Carolina, and southern West Virginia, in a territory I've defined in central Appalachia. I've been living and working in that region since 1955 when I moved there to teach in a small branch college of the University of Virginia in the middle of a coal field--That was a time of tremendous mechanization; people were moving out in droves, saying the coal industry was dead. I looked at the statistics and I saw the coal industry wasn't dead; it was still producing coal. It was the mechanization that was dispersing the people to Chicago and Cincinatti. So I began teaching and working with community groups to try to understand some of the basic changes that were occurring in the area. Because I found that my work didn't suit the University too well, and the University didn't suit me too well, I quit regular teaching about ten years ago. I came to the Highlander Center, what used to be called the Highlander Folk School in New Market. 1ennessee. Highlander has a long al1d notorious history of working with social movements in the South, from Civil Rights days to various problems of today -working with Appalachian communities to deal with strip mining, etc. We work with grassroots groups in the deep south and throughout the mountain region. Our work is "community-based" education, working to understand what's happening to our communities, trying to put new life in them, save them, or just plain surviving. We work with a variety of issues. It may be toxic waste, labor struggles, or with a group of women trying to set up a sewing factory in their community they might own and make a living from. . The other group I work with is called Appalshop, a media center in Whitesburg, Kentucky. I went to work with them because I am an educator. a cultural worker, and in education you use cultural symbols, images, filmmaking, slides - whatever you can use to help people learn and tell their own stories. Particularly in rural communities, people's voices have not been heard and they haven't had the facilities to tell their stories, so it seemed extremely important to try to get hold of how to use these media effectively for education. Appalshop and Highlander cooperate on a number of projects.

Many people have an image of Appalachia as a beautiful, isolated place where people sit around and strum on dulcimers and hillbillies are back in the hills making moonshine. Actually it's also the place of Oak Ridge and Union Carbide. There are toxic waste dumps in these beautiful little hollows. There is coal mining, industrialization, strip mining. Were not underdeveloped, we're peculiarly or wrongly developed. Were exploited. Both Appalachia and Nicaragua are Third World countries. Appalachia is an internal colony in the U.S. and we have been treated and used that way. This is one of the things I have busied myself with trying to help people there understand. Here's a situation where even though we're supposedly isolated in the backwoods, we are involved in what's going on throughout the world. AT. Massey was a small company that did not sign the union contract with the United Mine Workers last year. And so, although the UMW did not go out on a long contract strike against the mining companies, they went out against the small operators that did not sign - like A.T. Massey. Well, when you begin to look, you see that A.T. Massey owns a whole series of small mines all over southern West Virginia and eastern Kentucky. In turn, Massey is owned by Royal Dutch Shell, who is itself associated with the Flora Company that owns mines in South Africa. Well, the miners have gotten a real education about working for this small town coal operator who happens to be part of a big multinational corporation. They come to see how they're being forced into competition with slave labor in South Africa. They begin to understand what anti-apartheid means and start talking in very sophisticated language about the whole multinational economic situation. One of the striking miners took some equipment and started filming the strike and what was going on. At Appalshop we have helped edit his film and put together a piece with our professional equipment. Now we have a nice film about the strike with workers talking about how they are connected with and identify with what's going on in South Africa. Let me tell another story. I live in a small town. The people fired up there are a group of women - I've been seeing how all over the rural south women are coming forth and beginning to take charge of things. Now, unemployment is massive in the mountains, and it is everywhere. The mines are being reconsolidated, with a whole restructuring of the industry, a new mechanization - just like back in the 50s. Everybody's saying the coal industry is dead because everybody is unemployed. The coal industry is not dead. The Virginia coal fields are producing more coal this year than they have ever produced - but there are thousands of people unemployed. Well, they can't go to Chicago or Cincinatti this time. A

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CULTURAL DEMOCRACY means that culture is an essential human need and that each person and community has the right to a culture or cultures of their choice; that all communities should have equitable access to the material resources of the commonwealth for their cultural expression; that cultural values and policies should be decided in public debate with the guaranteed participation of all communities; that the government does not have the right to favor one culture over another.

THE ALLIANCE FOR CULTURAL DEMOCRACY supports community cultural participation. We believe in cultural pluralism, and understand the necessity to integrate the struggles for cultural, political, and economic democracy in the United States. The most important initiatives for cultural democracy take place on a grass roots level in communities, neighborhoods, and among activist artists and other progressive cultural workers.

Editorial Crew
Charles Frederick, Lucy Lippard, Neil Sieling
Design and Production Crew
Paul Borgerson, Bill Crook, Karen McAdams, Bonnie Rubenstein, Ron Sakolsky, Chuck Segard
Typesetting WordMasters
Printing Broadside Press

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