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Huntington non-profit OVEC celebrates 25 years this weekend

Oct. 28, 2012 @ 05:44 PM

CHARLESTON —  They’ve testified in front of Congress, presented to the United Nations, have been in just about every major newspaper and magazine in the world, and have been featured in literally dozens of major books and documentary films.

On Saturday, the Huntington-based, internationally-recognized non-profit, The Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition put the cell phones on silent and paused to celebrate 25 years with a potluck dinner fueled by a retrospective slide show, a reading by board member and poet Crystal Good, and dancing with the Voodoo Katz.

 Project coordinator Viv Stockman said Sunday about 100 folks from around the region showed up to celebrate the grassroots group that is still guided by two of its founders, executive director Janet Keating and co-director Dianne Bady.

 “OVEC’s successes would not have been possible without the active involvement of our members, volunteers and allies in this work,” Keating said in a release. “They take leadership in their communities, publicly raise issues and concerns, and demand accountability from regulators and politicians. We are keenly aware that when people are educated about potential threats to public health, safety and the environment, they can become a vehicle for positive change. That’s why our motto this year is ‘Celebrating 25 years of organized voices and empowered communities’.”
  The Saturday night event at the Charleston Woman’s Club also featured a nod to the many OVEC board members and workers who have passed away including Jim Foster, Winnie Fox, Ronald Goodman, Frankie Moonie, Lawrence Richmond, Nancy Taylor, Sibby Weekley, Michael Workman,  Paul Workman, and Laura Forman, who had a heart attack at age 39 during a Huntington protest and passed away.
 OVEC members noted the recent passing of the late, great advocate, Larry Gibson, who had helped bring thousands of people from around the world to Kayford Mountain to see mountain top removal, including Robert Kennedy Jr., Kathy Mattea, actor Daryl Hannah and climatologist James Hansen, both of whom were arrested at mining protests.
Stockman said it was really a wonderful experience just to see the collage of people who work on the myriad of social and environmental justice issues that OVEC tackles daily.

 “It is so important just to see people face to face and to take time to marvel that we have been here 25 years and we have had all of these amazing victories and to really see the dedication that folks have to carry on,” Stockman said. “I think someone like Larry, who was an OVEC board member for more than a decade, passes it’s pretty hard on all of us, but people realize that they really do have to step up and say I am going to be one of the voices that carry on Larry’s message.”

 In fact, Saturday night, after a moment of silence for Gibson the group had a equally appropriate collective cheer to Stop Mountaintop Removal.

 While OVEC first formed 25 years ago to successfully stop a  BASF incinerator project to burn waste generated from 25 chemical plants at a new plant near Huntington. OVEC went on to win several other major campaigns, many of which lasted years. In the 1990s, OVEC fought and won to keep out a Mason County pulp mill, fought for and got environmental compliance for Ashland Oil’s U.S. refineries, helped bring city water lines to citizens in Mingo County. Current campaigns include working to end mountaintop-removal coal mining and promoting cleaner energy developments in West Virginia.

Stockman said the issues today are wide-ranging, everything from clean elections to hydro-fracking — but all dealing with the group’s core mission.

 “One of the things we did last night was put out a questionnaire  as to what things they want us to work on,” Stockman said. “All of these years of OVEC’s existence and all of the major campaigns have changed as the needs have changed and as the communities have changed. It is always fluid as to the what will be the next thing we are working on. It will always be something related to social and environmental justice.”

You can learn more about OVEC at www.ohvec.org.