Mountain Women rise for a cause

By Meghan Higgins

On Feb. 7, the RU Club Programming Committee, Office of New Student Programs, Women's Studies Club and NAACP Student Group presented a performance by the Appalachian Women's Alliance titled "Mountain Women Rising."

The Appalachian Women's Alliance is a movement of women and girls who are working for economic justice, human rights and dignity and safety for women and children in Appalachian communities. The alliance was founded in 1993 and has rapidly grown.

"The group was mostly women organizers in small communities," said Meredith Dean, performer and executive director of the alliance. "We needed something where we could come together as a support group. We wanted to create something where all of us had a voice."

The performance was presented by four alliance members: Gaye Johnson, a performer for over 30 years from Green Creek, N.C.; Edna Gulley, a Clinchco, Va., "welfare mother" raised in a coal camp; Rema Keen, a performer and activist from Southwest Virginia; and Dean, a social activist also from Southwest Virginia.

The stories of these women's lives vary from dealing with racism and abuse issues to environmental and economic struggles in the region. Their stories allow them to come together and stand for the same purpose: to build consciousness and self-esteem, create a common vision and take collective action to improve life for everyone in the Appalachian communities statewide.

The women presented their stories and other women's stories, which have been submitted to the group's Appalachian Women's Journal, an assortment of poetry and stories published by mountain women. Several of the stories in the journal mentioned corporate greed and the environmental impact of the coal mines.

"There's still 100 years of coal left in these hills," Keen said. "We've lost our land to coal companies and land companies."

Keen later read "It's a Straight, White, Rich, Able Man's World," by Anne Elise LeWallen.

Edna Gulley told the audience about her feelings on President Bush and views on the War on Terror debacle.

"Money is very powerful. It's got Mr. Bush elected--it started the war," Gulley said.

Keen's "Coming Out Story," is the author's account of her coming out as a homosexual.

"I guess that's why you kept referring to your hope chest as your hope-not-chest," Keen said.

Keen said the acceptance her family gave her is what everyone should receive.

"A lot of times at colleges, students will come up to me and want to tell me their stories," Keen said. "They come out and speak those words for the first time."

The alliance travels the region to perform "Mountain Women Rising." Members also travel in the Women's Caravan every summer, visiting several communities and offering workshops educating the public on homophobia and racism, privilege, violence against women and class power and poverty in Appalachia.

"It's such a wonderful experience to help get the voice of Appalachia out," Dean said.

During these workshops, women are able to talk about violence that occurs in their home and can come clean about things they may have been ashamed of before. The alliance allows women to come together and address issues concerning themselves and the world at large.

"They begin to listen--maybe not talk, but definitely listen," Gulley said.

"We have to keep it personal," Keen said. "We have to put a face on it."

Date Posted:   02/16/2007   |   Time Posted:   13:35:39 | Views: 155576

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