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April 04, 2011

Sierra Club in India - Day 4

India Day 4b

Today was the day we really got down to the meat of working together. Vaishili Patel brought four activists from a village she works with nearby, and we dug into the nuts and bolts of organizing in the U.S. and India. We started by discussing the lifecycle of coal, and the dangers it poses to our health and environment from mining through burning. It quickly became apparent that this is a place where we can add value to the work the activists are doing on the ground.

Most villagers working to stop coal are not aware of just how bad it is, and sharing our research with them on the toxicity of coal ash, the limits of technology to reduce emissions, and the effects of coal on heath in their local languages would prove infinitely valuable for the public education part of their work here in India. Amulya Nayak joined us from Orissa, and as we discussed the effects of coal he shared a story of coal ash in one of his villages. After filling the coal ash storage pond, the plant owners began dumping the ash directly in the local river, killing all the fish. Without other options, many villagers were left with no option but to continue using water from the river. 

It took five years to get the plant to stop dumping, at which point the owners built pipes through the village to pump the ash back to the mines. When one of these pipes broke, the village filled with coal ash in less than two hours. As we delved further into the actual practice of organizing, it became apparent that, for all our differences, some things are the same everywhere. The basic work of mobilizing communities, public meetings, and fighting corporate greed is the same. 

India Day 4

As an exercise, we walked through the Sierra Club planning matrix using their struggle as a guide, and while not everything was applicable, the activists all agreed that they were already doing everything of the things we discussed. But they appreciated the discussion none the less, as it provided space for them to start planning ahead, instead of reacting to the latest crisis in a campaign that is full of latest crises. 

For me, the best part was watching a group of seven highly motivated organizers, two from the Sierra Club and five from India, discuss what they do best -- building communities to fight a common enemy. Perhaps most sobering though, was the end of the day's session. As we ran though slides of the ongoing destruction coal wreaks in the U.S., Awadesh Komar kept looking at the images and repeating: "that's Singrauli."

Whether it was Appalachia, the Poweder River Basin, or India, the devastation coal causes is overwhelming and largely appears the same. In the end one of the greatest markers of success we were given was an invitation to view the destruction here in India up close and personal. That a grassroots leader would make this offer after only knowing us a few days was a big vote of confidence that we can build lasting and fruitful relationships here.

-- Nicole Ghio


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