FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Reclaiming the Commons in Appalachia

by GRANT MINCY

Humans are social beings. We organize ourselves into groups, build relationships, enjoy creative labor and seek fellowship. From childhood to adulthood, who we are greatly depends on our relationships with those closest to us. We are also heavily influenced by the social, cultural and institutional circumstances of our lives. Institutions, then, have major implications for our rights, welfare, labor, aspirations and associations. This warrants pause and careful reflection. Are institutions with such authority legitimate? The libertarian position is that illegitimate authority should be dismantled.

The January 9 industrial disaster that struck West Virginia should raise such reflection in the mountains.

The extractive resource industry has a firm hold on the wild, wonderful, but wounded Appalachians. The use of eminent domain and compulsory pooling has robbed communities of their cultural and natural heritage. Capital is the authority of the Appalachian coalfields, and has created systemic poverty and mono economies. Instead of prosperity in the commons, the mechanism of authority has spawned tragedy.

Property is theft in Appalachia. The current system is concerned with the well-being of the politically connected corporati instead of the common good – Appalachian communities. This system exists because legal privilege is granted to industry. The development of this socio-economic order is political, as opposed to free and participatory. The current authority in the coalfields, the corporate state, is illegitimate. It is far past time we transition to society free of it.

Appalachia is a region plauged with ecological destruction, where labor is on the decline and persistent class struggle exists. Appalachia is also a place of community, a place where the commons work against these problems. Given the chance a mutual political economy would thrive in Appalachia.

Appalachian life is enriched by common land. Communal areas to this day are still shared for livestock, hunting, root digging, recreation and more. The growth of industry in the region, however, and its subsequent property monopoly has made these traditions difficult to practice. Even family cemeteries are now industrial property — folks need permission to pay their respects to the dead. Common property ownership is now manifesting itself in the form of community land trusts and conservation easements. Common natural resources — water, air, land, and biodiversity — are under direct threat from industry in Appalachia. Such vital natural resources are a public good. They should be neither rivalrous nor excludable. In Appalachia, however, clean air and water are subject to exploitation. It is a privilege to have access to these resources. The coal town of Bud West, Virginia, for example, has not had clean water in over five months.

Reclaiming the commons in Appalachia will allow new markets to develop. Numerous institutions and networks will emerge. In the commons, social power will build anew within the shell of the old. This cannot happen under centralized authority. States and big business are guided by self-interest. The commons are guided by co-operation and mutualism — the natural, biological tendencies of human beings.

Luckily, the transition to a brighter future has already begun.

Small scale, decentralized markets are rising in the Appalachian coalfields. In West Virginia, coal miners who lost their jobs to the mechanization of the industry have started developing environmental markets. Worker coalitions are helping communities save money via efficiency programs. Social movements are working to protect mountain ecology and alleviate poverty. Appalachia is speaking truth to power. Economic transition, solidarity economies, restoration ecology and even more regeneration is coming to the gentle mountains. This regeneration will be fully actualized when property and power are once again where they belong – with the people.

Grant Mincy is from the temperate forests of East Tennessee. 

Grant A. Mincy is a senior fellow at the Center for a Stateless Society (C4SS.org) where he holds the Elinor Ostrom Chair in Environmental Studies and Commons Governance. He also blogs at appalachianson.wordpress.com. In addition, Mincy is an associate editor of the Molinari Review and an Energy & Environment Advisory Council Member for the Our America Initiative. He earned his Masters degree in Earth and Planetary Science from the University of Tennessee in the summer of 2012. He lives in Knoxville, Tennessee where he teaches both Biology and Geology at area colleges.

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

Weekend Edition
February 24, 2017
Friday - Sunday
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Exxon’s End Game Theory
Pierre M. Sprey - Franklin “Chuck” Spinney
Sleepwalking Into a Nuclear Arms Race with Russia
Paul Street
Liberal Hypocrisy, “Late-Shaming,” and Russia-Blaming in the Age of Trump
Ajamu Baraka
Malcolm X and Human Rights in the Time of Trumpism: Transcending the Master’s Tools
John Laforge
Did Obama Pave the Way for More Torture?
Mike Whitney
McMaster Takes Charge: Trump Relinquishes Control of Foreign Policy 
Patrick Cockburn
The Coming Decline of US and UK Power
Louisa Willcox
The Endangered Species Act: a Critical Safety Net Now Threatened by Congress and Trump
Vijay Prashad
A Foreign Policy of Cruel Populism
John Chuckman
Israel’s Terrible Problem: Two States or One?
Matthew Stevenson
The Parallax View of Donald Trump
Norman Pollack
Drumbeat of Fascism: Find, Arrest, Deport
Stan Cox
Can the Climate Survive Electoral Democracy? Maybe. Can It Survive Capitalism? No.
Ramzy Baroud
The Trump-Netanyahu Circus: Now, No One Can Save Israel from Itself
Edward Hunt
The United States of Permanent War
David Morgan
Trump and the Left: a Case of Mass Hysteria?
Pete Dolack
The Bait and Switch of Public-Private Partnerships
Mike Miller
What Kind of Movement Moment Are We In? 
Elliot Sperber
Why Resistance is Insufficient
Brian Cloughley
What are You Going to Do About Afghanistan, President Trump?
Binoy Kampmark
Warring in the Oncology Ward
Yves Engler
Remembering the Coup in Ghana
Jeremy Brecher
“Climate Kids” v. Trump: Trial of the Century Pits Trump Climate Denialism Against Right to a Climate System Capable of Sustaining Human Life”
Jonathan Taylor
Hate Trump? You Should Have Voted for Ron Paul
Franklin Lamb
Another Small Step for Syrian Refugee Children in Beirut’s “Aleppo Park”
Ron Jacobs
The Realist: Irreverence Was Their Only Sacred Cow
Andre Vltchek
Lock up England in Jail or an Insane Asylum!
Rev. William Alberts
Grandiose Marketing of Spirituality
Paul DeRienzo
Three Years Since the Kitty Litter Disaster at Waste Isolation Pilot Plant
Eric Sommer
Organize Workers Immigrant Defense Committees!
Steve Cooper
A Progressive Agenda
David Swanson
100 Years of Using War to Try to End All War
Andrew Stewart
The 4CHAN Presidency: A Media Critique of the Alt-Right
Edward Leer
Tripping USA: The Chair
Randy Shields
Tom Regan: The Life of the Animal Rights Party
Nyla Ali Khan
One Certain Effect of Instability in Kashmir is the Erosion of Freedom of Expression and Regional Integration
Rob Hager
The Only Fake News That Probably Threw the Election to Trump was not Russian 
Mike Garrity
Why Should We Pay Billionaires to Destroy Our Public Lands? 
Mark Dickman
The Prophet: Deutscher’s Trotsky
Christopher Brauchli
The Politics of the Toilet Police
Ezra Kronfeld
Joe Manchin: a Senate Republicrat to Dispute and Challenge
Clancy Sigal
The Nazis Called It a “Rafle”
Louis Proyect
Socialism Betrayed? Inside the Ukrainian Holodomor
Charles R. Larson
Review: Timothy B. Tyson’s “The Blood of Emmett Till”
David Yearsley
Founding Father of American Song
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail