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Statewide Organization for Community eMpowerment,

Back in the 70’s, a small, devoted group of environmental ninjas tried to stop the big bad strip miners. This little group packed a huge punch, and an arsenal of daring, taking-it-to-the-limit strategies. One member of this fearless group was a man named J.W. Bradley. This man had watched his beloved homeland- one that was passed down through the generations, a sanctuary of unadulterated peace and beauty- become carelessly torn up and flooded with a cacophony of mechanical noises by the machines of a strip mining company. These companies had all the riches of the world, but not a cent of compassion for the decades of hard work carried out by those who strived every day to make their living in beautiful, then untouched, Appalachia.

As a result of the strip mining, people like J.W. watched their water become poisoned with acid mine drainage, their sources of food become scarce as the animals fled and the crops withered-their farmland destroyed. New lives came into unhappy homes with birth defects, and old souls developed strange diseases and cancer. What could this community do faced with such obstacles? They couldn’t eat, their loved ones were sick, and money was scarce. They were forced to rely on the money the coal mining jobs provided- it was truly damned if you do, damned if you don’t. Communities were torn apart in the struggle to escape their horrific circumstances: we won’t have jobs or money vs. we won’t have our health or our homes, both boiled down to the same argument: we won’t be able to thrive here anymore.

JW Bradley was inspired to take things into his own hands, and with a small group of community members, he made big change happen for not only his community, but lasting change for all of TN. To oversimplify an amazing story, one of many from the members of SOCM, JW Bradley and his gang would organize missions that sound like the plot to a Bond film- complete with secret back up rendezvous, crafty diversions, and putting their lives in danger- they were even shot at! All of this was done in order to collect footage of the coal companies breaking the law. One such illegal practice they caught was “layer loading”, or placing high quality coal in only strategic spots of the transport trucks, while the rest was junk, to be sold to TVA. Thankfully their efforts were not in vain.

Through this work, and the works of many other passionate and fearless community members across Tennessee, SOCM was created- then standing for Save Our Cumberland Mountains. By collecting evidence of illegal activities, and fighting tirelessly for progressive legislation, SOCM members successfully argued that TN was clearly incapable of providing proper oversight of mining companies, and convinced the federal government to make TN become one of only 2 states to make mining federally, instead of state, regulated. The federal oversight brought in a lot more restrictions and has made coal extraction more expensive. Not only has this helped alleviate some of the numerous health and environmental consequences associated with mining, but it has also incentivized creating a greener economy here in TN.

In recent times, SOCM has evolved. Now SOCM stands for Statewide Organization for Community eMpowerment, and has broadened its mission to include all issues of economic, environmental, and social justice. One thing hasn’t changed however: SOCM remains driven by the people who are directly impacted by these issues. SOCM understands that people are their own best advocates, and that the organization and staff are present solely to help community members build their advocacy superpowers, and provide space for them to organize and fight for the changes they wish to see.

Please keep your eyes peeled this coming week for opportunities to get involved with this wonderful organization!

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