*Related: Join folks in RVA Aug. 18, 6pm for follow-up Hands Across Our Land rally!*
(The following article first appeared on The Huffington Post)
George Jones is still serving his country. Navy vet (Korea) and lifetime resident of Virginia, Mr. Jones bused to Richmond to take his message of American responsibility to the governor. That message: no new pipelines, no more fracking, enough already with our dependence on fossil fuels.
The day began in prayer, with an inter-faith rally on Brown’s Island. Participants in the March on the Mansion showed again that although religious beliefs and religiously-motivated actions have been complicit in all sorts of ugliness and destruction, there is space within any tradition that champions a good greater and the interests of others for not only repair but also a broad and healthy wisdom. They called for climate justice, said “no” to projects such as the Atlantic Coast Pipeline and Mountain Valley Pipeline, and told the devastating effects of Dominion Power’s dumping a coal ash that contaminates drinking water.
In the stifling heat (index of 107) of Richmond on July 23, Mr. Jones’s daughter-in-law Yvette merged his wheelchair into a great crowd marching up from a bend in the James River to the governor’s mansion. There, with banners and voices and bodies and sweat, hundreds of protestors demanded that Terry McAuliffe make good on his promises to address climate change, to rebuff the pressure of big money from polluting corporations, and to lead the commonwealth of Virginia into a new era. Energy efficiency and environmental protection isn’t a fringe-hippy thing, a series of March-on-the-Mansion speakers told. It’s the most fertile ground for job and economic growth, the only sustainable way forward.
And what’s so wrong with wanting water we can drink, air the children can breathe, and good land – farm and forest and river-strewn – anyway? they asked. We’re all in this together and, God willing, for millennia to come. It’s time for people to take responsibility for what people have done. Not only that, but with joy, creativity, hard work, and vision to find a way forward that honors the planet and the places where we live.
Soft-spoken and uncomplaining, Mr. Jones suffered a stroke just weeks before coming to Richmond. His children are certain it’s tied to the heartbreak of facing the destruction of his family’s farm and colossal disappointment of a government motivated by short-term gain. He hasn’t got a whole lot of time left. But the farm has been in his family since the 1700’s, and Mr. Jones recognizes that its future beyond him depends on responsible use of (including the active decision not to use) the resources he inherited.
The day ended with the hospitality of a church opening its stone-cool doors, offering water and a place to sit. There, from historic St. Paul’s Episcopal, buses would return to deliver hot and weary souls back to the coast, to the piedmont, to the mountains, and the valley – to the places these citizens have pledged to protect. “May we be faithful stewards of God’s creation,” the Rev. Weston Mathews said, “for it does not belong to us. Climate justice is what love looks like in public.”
Before George Jones left Giles County that morning, he prayed a simple thing: for help to stop the fracking and proposed pipeline that would destroy his land. Governor McAuliffe, people of Virginia, citizens of this blue-green world, let’s do. It’s time to employ American ingenuity, demonstrate the strength of principle and our willingness to step up and stand for what is right and good, and out of the big-hearted and generous American spirit preserve and protect the land we’ve so often asked God to bless. It’s time.