It’s been a wild year, we’re still here organizing for justice in rural Appalachia

ROAR formed in the Spring of 2017 in response to the election of Donald Trump and the need we saw for a rural voice to counter the growing wave of hate groups that were gaining ground on the coattails of Trump’s white nationalist campaign rhetoric. 4 years later we are still here. Trump is on his way out but we have now seen the hate which he unleashed come to its full fruition in the nation’s capital last week when thousands of his supporters, including militia members, off duty police and soldiers, neo-nazis and other white nationalist groups joined forces in the largest and most violent far right event since the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville in 2017.

To say the events of 2020 were unprecedented would be an understatement. A global pandemic upended our lives, shutting down the economy, leaving millions without jobs and hundreds of thousands dead. While the pandemic unleashed untold hardships we also saw it bring an incredible outpouring of generosity and care as millions of neighbors organized themselves to provide mutual aid to their communities in the face of government failure.

As spring turned to summer the police murder of George Floyd catalysed the largest protest movement in US history with up to 20 million people taking to the streets for racial justice from big cities to small rural towns like Marshall and Maggie Valley. This massive grassroots uprising for racial justice marked a turning point in our country’s reckoning with it’s history of white supremacy and the rampant systemic racism that still takes so many innocent lives.

2020 also saw a violent white nationalist movement that was largely in disarray come back stronger than ever in direct response to the racial justice protests as well as Covid-19 restrictions. As protests for racial justice continued to gain steam, militias and ad hoc vigilante groups formed to attack protestors, the most infamous event being the murder of two protestors by 17 year old militia member Kyle Rittenhouse in Kenosha, WI. At least 20 people lost their lives in this summer’s protests, most at the hands of police, right wing vigilantes, militias and “boogaloo boys.” As election season rolled around and Republicans whipped up their base with groundless claims of voter fraud in the wake of Trump’s loss, this far right movement found new energy with nationwide “Stop the Steal” rallies that ultimately led to the MAGA riot at the Capitol on January 6th.

Through it all ROAR has been here organizing for racial justice and engaging in mutual aid programs to counter the far right, organize for equality and to see that everyone in our community has their basic needs met. Here is some of what we accomplished in 2020:

– In February we organized a trip for nine Madison County public school teachers to Alabama to visit important sites from the Civil Rights movement including the Voting Rights Museum in Selma, the Rosa Parks museum and the National Memorial for Peace and Justice in Montgomery. In this time of deep divisions, this trip gave local teachers a powerful and immersive understanding of the legacy of white supremacy in our country and provided them with effective tools to teach our youth on these difficult subjects.

– Within weeks of the Covid-19 lockdowns we opened our Mutual Aid Hub in Marshall to provide free food, masks, toilet paper, cleaning supplies, plant starts and seeds to anyone in need. Dozens of volunteers from the community came forward to sew masks, collect donations and deliver food to individuals who were unable to leave home due to the pandemic. We were also able to use our volunteer power to bolster Beacon of Hope’s food pantry efforts at a time of unprecedented demand.- At a time when store shelves were empty, we manufactured gallons of our own hand sanitizer, providing it free to community members and essential workers like the Marshall post office employees when their supplies ran out.

– We distributed 5,000 masks to the local community including getting 1,000 masks to the Madison County Health Department when they ran low, and thousands more to the Latino community in WNC through local organizations including Vencimos Farmworker Health Program in Jackson County, Compañeros Inmigrantes de las Montañas en Acción in Buncombe County, and Bounty and Soul in Swannanoa.- Despite threats and counter-protests we showed that rural communities are ready to take a stand for racial justice by promoting and participating in Black Lives Matter marches in Marshall, Mars Hill and Maggie Valley throughout the summer.

– We coordinated with La Esperanza to raise $1,000 to support a local Latino family facing eviction after losing their sources of income due to Covid-19.- In September we partnered with the Madison County Libraries to set up free seed libraries in the Marshall and Mars Hill branches to help promote self-sufficiency and address food insecurity in the community. We aim to have a third seed library set up in the Hot Springs branch by the spring

.- In November we continued to spread the antiracist message by distributing 100 yard signs reading “Stronger Together, Rural Communities United for Racial Justice” throughout Madison County. We also coordinated with racial justice organizers in Yancey County to print and distribute 100 more in their community.

– As winter sets in, we have already cut and delivered 15 loads of firewood to households in need of heating assistance. With months of cold weather still ahead we are on track to surpass last year’s record of 25 loads.

All this was possible thanks to the incredible generosity and outpouring of support from our wonderful rural community. This isn’t the work of ROAR, it’s the work of a tight knit community pulling together to weather this storm collectively and create an even better world while we’re at it. It was truly a team effort, from landowners donating trees for firewood to committed volunteers delivering food boxes to homebound individuals week after week. From our friends and neighbors risking the pandemic to show solidarity with Black LIves Matter in the streets of Marshall to the local crafters who sewed masks and knitted winter hats for our Mutual Aid Hub. Thank you! We certainly have more challenges ahead of us in this new year. We look forward to meeting them with the same spirit of solidarity and mutual aid with all of you by our sides.with gratitude, Rural Organizing and Resilience

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