Friday, April 26, 2013

The Macklemore and Ryan Lewis Adventure

We camped out for tickets...

Screen shot of Lisa's Facebook status about our campout! To make bigger, click photo.

WRTC grad students in a sea of 2,000 or so undergrads. It was our last night to be "irresponsible college students." We kept reminding ourselves of 9PM, at 1AM, at 1:07AM, at 1:11AM, at 7:30AM. At first, it was a rush. It didn't matter that the gas heater burnt a hole in the tent because we had a gas heater to keep us warm. It didn't matter that it was 20 degrees outside either. All I have to say is thank god for hot hands.

For the majority of the night, we cared most about our time together, the awesome nachos with the fresh jalapenos, and Zoolander in a warm auditorium. But after the movie, our crankiness meter escalated with the cold. Bright side? We had a tent and had shelter from the snow. Others weren't so lucky.

You couldn't sleep. Tent was too cramped. Neighbors were too loud.  But after 14 hours of "waiting in line," we made it. In the University Business Office, I took off my gloves and held my Macklemore and Ryan Lewis ticket in between my fingers, the only 10 extremities I could still feel. Other 10? Not so much.

Work was busy. School was busy. Life was just busy. Isn't it always?

April 8th came, and I didn't want to go to the concert. I had a blog post due the next day. I was up for work early that morning, hadn't slept good the night before. Lots of excuses. I just wasn't feeling it. I wasn't feeling it through the opening act either until the guy said, "I'm not a rapper, I'm an English architect." I got chills.

Never have I ever thought about rap or poetry in that sense before. I was mesmerized and started paying more attention to the man's lyrics. Then, it came time. Opening act finished, and he introduced Macklemore as an artist who is bringing content back to rap. I firmly believe that statement, and if you don't believe me just read this blog post. It's by a fellow WRTC grad student, and it's received over 1,000 hits on the Graduate Student Association blog that I edit.

A few songs in, when Macklemore wore a concert go-ers beaver fur coat for "Thrift Shop," I kicked my lame self in the ass for even doubting my plans for the night. This song, that I literally CRANK-UP every time it comes on the radio was the reason why I waited 14-hours in the cold for a ticket.

But that song was just the beginning.

I witnessed history that night Macklemore and Ryan Lewis took the stage. Macklemore's introduction to "Same Love" brought tears to my eyes. I weeped at that man's concert because I am so proud of the generation that I'm a part of. Some say we don't have manners, that we're the "trophy generation." I see it on Facebook all the time: Everyone gets a gold star doesn't set you apart...just a bunch of spoiled college kids addicted to their iPhones and their computers. Nobody gets outside.

Quite frankly, I think it's a bunch of crap.

We're not changing the world, but we are making change. Walk to JMU or EMU's campus and 9 students out of 10 will be able to tell you a cause that they actively support: Animal rights, acclimating local refugees to the area, mountaintop removal mining, mentoring underprivileged children, marriage equality...

Marriage equality. That's the cause that united thousands of us the evening of Macklemore's concert. "Same Love" was next in the set-list, and Macklemore said I want everyone to raise one finger in the air who believes that it's all the same love whether you're a woman who loves a man, a man who loves a woman, a man who loves a man, or a woman who loves a woman. The crowd roared. Cliche acknowledged, I could barely hear myself think.

In unison, every member of that sold out concert raised that one finger in the air to symbolize that love is love, there is only one love and it's the same love. I've always loved JMU, but I never felt that JMU Pride that everybody talks about until Macklemore asked us to take a stand in this civil rights movement. Everyone literally stood up to listen to this...poetry.

"Can't Hold Us" came on before or after that song.

I can't remember. The night is an adrenaline-pumped blur, but I do remember feeling that neither the floor nor the ceiling could hold us. Everyone was jumping in the air. The convocation center had this insane energy that just permeated through your bones and into your heart. I'll never forget that moment. I felt pure joy.  

As I start a new adventure in my life, I have this renewed enthusiasm about my generation and what my generation can offer to the "real world" that we're about to enter.

Now I know why I waited 14 hours for a ticket. Macklemore isn't just a rapper. He's an artist who uses the English language to motivate and create social change. He's a role model for me, and I respect and support the direction he's headed. I hope that some day the words that I write can create that same magnitude of change.


What's Going On?

What's the Problem?

Environmentalists want to end mountaintop removal mining (mtr), a form of surface mining that blasts off the tops of mountains to access the seams of coal within. Below is a video of an mtr blast.

Mountaintop removal mining has leveled an area the size of Delaware.

Mtr miners and their supporters want to keep mining despite the affects it has on the land and the health of people who work and live near mtr sites.

End mountaintop removal mining and surface miners are out of jobs and must find a new way to support themselves and their family. Continue mountaintop removal mining and mothers give birth to children with genetic defects. Cancer rates continue to increase, and families lose their homes to rock-slides and flooding.


What's the Solution?

There is no perfect solution to solving the mountaintop removal mining problem. There will never be a winner in this fight, but a "better" solution is education.

This brief video explains how I learned about mountaintop removal mining and the Keeper of the Mountains foundation as well as how education will affect future awareness about mtr.

Education got me involved in the mountaintop removal mining advocacy movement. I learned about mtr because of a Legal Writing research paper, and now I am using the media skills I have learned in Writing for Nonprofits to create awareness for this cause.


Who does this affect?


Mining for coal is a cultural paradigm in Appalachia, and it's damn near impossible to change a culture. Just ask Elise Keaton, the new fundraising director for the Keeper of the Mountains foundation. Keeper of the Mountains is a non-profit that aims to protect the Appalachian mountains and the people of Appalachia through education and environmental activism.

Elise, a native West Virginian, was put in her position by the original Keeper, Larry Gibson. Gibson passed away in September 2012 of a heart attack at his home, Kayford Mountain. Gibson was shot at, arrested on multiple occasions, and ostracized in his community because of Kayford, but he believed in this fight. The land he lived on is worth a large sum of money to the coal industry, but Larry didn't want to lose his beloved Kayford Mountain to mtr.

Gibson recruited Elise to the anti-mtr cause because he saw a spark in her. This fiery blonde with a West Virginia draw understands the coal culture: “I’m a Constitution carryin’ union worker’s daughter. I believe in life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness just like the rest of ‘em," Elise said these words to me as we walked across a ridge that exposed a moonscape that was once a mountaintop. “I have nothin’ but respect for people that work to support their family, but when your rights infringe on mine, that’s when we have a problem.”

In this audio story, Elise Keaton, the fundraising director for the Keeper of the Mountains foundation discusses what motivates her to keep fighting for this cause.
The rights that Elise is talking about are one's right to clean water and right to clean air. Many Appalachians are drinking traces of selenium and even arsenic when they get a shower or pour themselves a glass of tap water. They're breathing in mercury and other carcinogens when they walk out for the mail or drive to the store with their windows down. Exposure to these pollutants causes astronomical medical bills and the lowest life expectancy rates in the country.


Why is this important?


The friends of mtr don't want to hear that the companies that sign their paychecks are also signing their death warrants. People, especially those of my generation, are processing the consequences of mountaintop removal mining, though. "The young people get it, Aimee" Elise sighed heavily, "They understand why this is important." Elise and I had this conversation as we studied a reclamation site. I use the term reclamation loosely. What the coal company calls reclaimed, I call a half-assed attempt at re-birth. The former active mining site looked more like a Christmas tree farm in July than a future habitat for animals. Besides the wind, the land was silent. "How many birds do you hear, Aimee?" "None," I replied. The silence broke my heart. I'm a hiker and spend my weekends in Shenandoah National Park. I see bears forage for berries, deer frolic in meadows, and birds chirp in lush green trees. This place was different. Since I got off the interstate earlier that day, this place reminded me of death, and I witnessed the wounds that caused that death: the razed mountains and the dirty water, plus the sad town that surrounded it all.

This slideshow has pictures and several statistics outlining the various consequences of mountaintop removal mining, including destruction of land, presence of chemicals in groundwater, and high poverty rates.


When will there be a solution?


Mountaintop removal mining is a wicked problem. Poverty is a wicked problem and so is cancer. War is a wicked problem too. Wicked problems are problems that don't go away. "Solutions to wicked problems are not right or wrong. They are simple 'better,' 'worse,' 'good enough,' or 'not good enough,'" Jeff Conklin, a non-profit scholar stated this in his article "Wicked Problems & Social Complexity."

Education is a "better" solution when it comes to mountaintop removal mining. The Keepers family realizes that everyone can't visit Appalachia, so they brought their message to the road, traveling across the country to educate our nation’s college-aged youth about this form of mining. Connecticut, Kentucky, and North Carolina are just some of the states that Keepers speakers have visited as a part of their On the Road Again program.

At On the Road Again speeches, representatives for Keepers tell personal stories to educate listeners about how coal affects the mountains, streams, ecology, health, and heritage of the area. The speakers hope that their stories inspire listeners to take action: action like sharing statuses about mountaintop removal mining on Facebook, unplugging a laptop charger from the wall when the computer has a full charge, and e-mailing politicians.

I attended an On the Road Again speech at JMU in January 2013. If interested, please read my blog post about the experience. The On the Road Again speech, as Keepers hoped it would, drove me to action: I've shared mtr-related Facebook statuses, I now unplug my laptop charger from the wall when my computer has a full charge, and I've e-mailed my congressperson and President Obama. I also joined a photo-petition organized by an environmental legal non-profit called Earth Justice.

photo-petition entry  
When I started researching mountaintop removal mining, the first thing I discovered was this photo-petition. After reading about the topic, I submitted my photo and story.
This petition was innovative. Instead of signing at the bottom of a long list of names, I uploaded a picture and a short description on why I support the mountains, and I was 1 of over 13,000 people who signed the mountain heroes photo-petition. Other famous mountain heroes include Woody Harrelson, Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., and Larry Gibson. The personal and educational stories that encourage mountaintop removal mining awareness take many forms:

This Prezi outlines the various ways that media is being used to create awareness for mountaintop removal mining.


What's Next?


E-day—it’s upon us, and the "e" is for education. Mountaintop removal mining may be a wicked problem, but if enough people become educated on the issue—through word-of-mouth or social media—these educated citizens will vote for politicians who believe in a sustainable future, a sustainable future that also helps any displaced surface miners transition to a new, healthier career.

Those who want to see an end to mtr aren't arming our listeners with weapons, we’re arming them with knowledge. Education is power. Our arsenal includes personal narrative, supported by peer-reviewed studies, disseminated through the internet. Our strategy for a better solution? The pen is mightier than the sword, and so are viral videos, photography, and protest music. Thanks to what I've learned in the Writing, Rhetoric and Technical communication graduate program as well as Writing for Nonprofits, I understand how I can help Elise and the rest of the Keepers family create a bigger audience.

Click here if you want to help the Keeper of the Mountains foundation. If you like this post, please share it with others in the media channel(s) you wish: Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Pinterest, your own blog, whatever really. Keep resisting, friends.  Sources
  • In-person Interview with Elise Keaton, fundraising director for the Keeper of the Mountains foundation
  • "Wicked Problems & Social Complexity" by Jeff Conklin

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Conversations on the Trail

I had too much homework to go hiking this weekend, so I'm hiking vicariously through this blog post. Brad and I hiked Sugarloaf Keyser Run Trail last Sunday. It's a Take 2 on this trail because last time we tried to hike it, we couldn't charm the very grumpy rattlesnake that blocked our path.

This time on Sugarloaf/Keyser Road, we didn't run into any wildlife, but we did have some pretty wild conversations on our little 5-mile trek.

Conversation 1

Context...we saw bear poop on the trail and started talking about bears.

Aim: "Brad, how do bears know when it's been a particularly long winter?"
Brad: "They just know."
Aim: "But wouldn't they have to, like, wake up and see that it's nice out?"
Brad: "No, they just know."
Aim: "No...they gotta wake up, have a pow-wow or something."
Brad: "Yeah, OK, they go to a bar and talk about the weather."
Aim: "Maybe they DO have a bar!!!!"
Brad: "And it's stocked full of mountain water and trout."
Aim: "Minus the trout, sounds like a good bar. What do they call it?"
Brad. "A beary good bar."

Conversation 2

Context...I wondered what Rex's accent would be like after a friend of mine said Rex looked regal.

Aim: "Emily said The Poops was regal."
Brad: "I'm a stupid infantryman who doesn't know what regal means."
Aim: "A stupid infantryman but you answer all the questions right on Jeopardy? It means royalty."
Brad: "Why couldn't you just say that?"
Aim: "Shut up, Brad. What kind of accent would The Poops have if he could talk?"
Brad: "He's from the 7-0-4, he'd be hood."
Aim: "No he doesn't have a hood walk. He walks all proper and shit because he's regal, so maybe he sounds British?"
Brad: "No, he sounds hood."
Aim: "I bet he has a Southern accent. Do you think The Poops has a Southern accent?"
Brad: "Watch out, SNAKE!"
Aim: *SCREAMS* "I hate you. That's a stick."

And some fun pictures from the day:

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Rose River Falls and Dark Hallow Falls

Last week, Brad and I ventured into Shenandoah National Park sans Poopy McPoopington. :( He's our buddy, so we miss him when he can't join us.

You see, our dear sweet slightly stupid dog decided on Friday that his bed looked delicious, and while I was at work, he dined on one of his favorite delicacy's: stuffing. No, not the Thanksgiving kind. The rip open a kid's Teddy Bear kind. Don't ask why. He's Rex. It's the reason for/answer to any weird thing that he does.

Anyways, 15 puking episodes and an emergency x-ray later, we discovered that exploratory surgery was not in Rex's future, and he was on the mend. Because of dehydration, though, we had to leave Rex at home while we hiked without him. The look he gave us when he realized the backpacks were out, and he wasn't going with us broke my heart.

Side note: new bed has no stuffing, so we knew that wouldn't be an issue when we left him.

Shenandoah National Park is and has always been our happy place, but it's just more fun when we can share it with Rex.

Our destination for the day? A 5-mile waterfall hike. Rose River Falls with a side-trip to Dark Hallow Falls is an old favorite. The hike is not strenuous. There's an abundance of wildlife: On one trip we saw 6 different black bears. The views are stunning, and there's some history along the way--an abandoned copper mine.

The recent snow has been favorable to the rushing streams and flowing waterfalls of Shenandoah National Park, but the water was damn cold. This meant that we rock/log-hopped across creeks and rivers with extreme caution, and for the first time ever, I managed to not fall in. *pats self on back*

Falling into knee-deep snow, though, was a whole other story. For the first time in two years, we had to break out the microspikes, which is a device you attach to your shoe for traction in ice and snow. 

Overall, a great day...a great hike, but we missed our favorite four-legged hiking buddy who was very, very happy to see us when we returned home.