The water catastrophe in West Virginia and Martin Luther King Jr.

The Poor People’s Movement started by Martin Luther King Jr. included the people of Appalachia. King preached for the dignity of all persons, especially those who have no voice or will left to fight. Almost two weeks ago a chemical spill occurred in West Virginia affecting 300,000 people. For nearly a week hundreds of thousands of people were not allowed to drink or shower in their homes with the polluted water. And even after the clean up there still might be consequences for pregnant women. One possible consequence are birth defects. Below is an interview with a Charleston nurse, who is four months pregnant with her second child, found in the Cumberland Times-News (my hometown paper):

“I cried myself to sleep Wednesday night. I was both angry and scared,” she said. “This baby that we’ve wanted for so long, I’m now questioning — have I done something that could have harmed her?”

Sarah Bergstrom said she’s fortunate that she can afford bottled water, which she intends to use for the foreseeable future.

“My biggest fear is for those mothers, those pregnant women out there who aren’t able to go get enough bottled water for their family, who don’t have the resources and don’t have the knowledge base to know that this is not safe,” she said.

This echoes the last poem in Lamentations. The poet has given up all hope on God, believing Judah had made God “angry beyond measure,” meaning  God will never return (5:22). What we discover earlier in the poem is that the Babylonian Empire had completely taken over Jerusalem and started to commodify their natural resources!

We must pay for the water we drink;
    the wood we get must be bought. (5:4)

The Promised land has become a foreign land. So the project of any Empire (Babylon, Assyria, Rome, USA) is to

control economies, politics, global structures, etc.,

sort and destroy the disrupters and agitators,

create a culture of fear of the “other” in law-abiding citizens, and

mask control through pseudo-security aka the NSA.

The Charleston Epidemic is a perfect example of Empire-building. Freedom Industries Inc cleaned coal harvested in WV and 3,7000 gallons of the cleaning toxic chemicals leaked into a main water source for 300,000 people. Horrible, indeed! Currently, people in the nine counties affected can still smell the effects of the chemicals in their tap water and pregnant women are cautioned not to drink it.

Two things: First, why has this wreckage of a situation not been played up more in the media? In other countries, this would’ve been considered chemical warfare! 300,000 COULD NOT DRINK THEIR OWN WATER! St. Augustine, in The City of God, shared the story of a pirate who was arrested and brought before Alexander the Great. The emperor asked why the pirate was terrorizing (or molesting) the world. The pirate replied, “Because I do it with a little ship only, I am called a thief; you, doing it with a great navy, are called an emperor.” The US government only cares for the “little thieves” and allows the corporations to roam free.

Second, Freedom Industries Inc. responds to the travesty by declaring Chapter 11 bankruptcy. Of course, they do not have the millions of dollars to clean this up or handle the lawsuits, like BP did after the Gulf of Mexico Oil Spill.* This can’t just be swept under a large carpet of money. Freedom Industries like a one-night stand which gets the woman pregnant, the man takes no responsibility and never contacts her again. Hence, this is why Corporations are the worst people ever since they do not have to take responsibility for their actions! The Wall Street Journal hypothesizes that Freedom Industries pledged bankruptcy because,

“Bankruptcy offers Freedom a break from having to answer the suits, some of which demand punitive damages. It also opens the door to court-supervised probes into what led to the disaster, and what resources are available to pay any damages.”

Freedom Industries has no intention to help West Virginians in any way. This is such a cop-out!

Today, we remember the life of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. who was a defender of the weak, the outcast, and the spit upon. This has me reflecting on how Dr. King might have responded to the water devastation in West Virginia.

This catastrophe was an act of economic violence. Violence doesn’t come only by the barrell of a gun, but includes workers not having job security, people living on the streets, corporations polluting the water system, public transportation that does not enter the “bad parts” of cities, redlining, not having access to healthcare, and the list goes on. Dr. King wrote “the choice today is no longer between violence and nonviolence. It is either nonviolence or nonexistence.”

Today, violence is masked behind systemic and internalized oppressions. Nonviolence has become synonymous with passivity. We must then reconnect nonviolence with resistance. We must attack with love if we are going to be able to destroy systems of injustice. It is through love and neighborliness that we are no longer going to need the rigid system of capitalism. Capitalism has lasted for far too long. We need alternatives that does not include money in politics, but for the common good of all people. Martin Luther King preached of a just and equal future and was killed for it.

This dream, this impossible proclamation is now ours. Let’s not mess it up!

Martin Luther King Jr.

*Money is never everything and BP cannot bring back the dead wildlife. They are not creating new jobs for people in the fishing industry.


3 thoughts on “The water catastrophe in West Virginia and Martin Luther King Jr.

  1. Hey Bro Timothy:

    I love your evocation of the “little thieves” here. I am constantly ranting about this, esp in light of the financial industry criminals. And then I go out to Graterford (teaching 2 classes there this semester) and I see these “little thieves” who are leading exemplary lives—and for 20, 30 years now inside the walls. Wondering if you knew this—b/c I had no idea before I started teaching out at Gford—but I believe Pa is the only state in the union that has that accessory to murder charge. So that if you are on a job, and someone else kills someone, even if you’re out in the getaway car, you go up for murder. For life. No parole. A couple of the guys that I know fairly well out at Gford are lifers who were “accessories” to murder. They have this movement—I think it’s nationwide—called the Right to Redemption. I think we should all join that movement J Feels like I’m trying to convince myself every day of my right to redemption!

    Hope all is well with you, and hope Union is changing you in the best possible ways. We did the send-off for Erika yesterday, and the new youth minister has already started at BSM. Best, August

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