Appalachian activists speak out against evironmental dangers


Rebecca Turnbull

Left to right: Donetta Blankenship, Deb Pekny and Barbara Hagan discuss environmental dangers during the Rural Women in Activism panel discussion.

Three Appalachian women spoke out about their involvement in activism against environmental dangers during the Rural Women in Activism Panel Discussion Thursday in Drinko Library.
The Marshall University Women’s Center organized the panel to kick off Women’s History Month.
The panel consisted of Deb Pekny, Donetta Blankenship and Barbara Hagan. Each woman told her story of getting involved in rural activism and all three discussed the setbacks and successes they have experienced.
Pekny said she and her husband became involved in rural activism in 2013 when the Bluegrass Pipeline project came to Kentucky, and they caught wind of how dangerous it would be for the environment.
“I decided that it was time to take my life in a new direction and my husband and I decided to fight that project,” Pekny said.
Pekny said activism against the Bluegrass Pipeline project was effective and the project was cancelled.
“Sometimes you actually win and we did,” Pekny said.
Hagan told her story of changing from passive and quiet to active and vocal.
“I don’t consider myself an activist at all,” Hagan said.
Hagan said she usually liked to stay quiet, but got involved in rural activism when she heard a story of a farm owner whose land was overtaken by outside companies.
Hagan said it was a connection of hearts in a like journey that motivated her to take a stand.
Blankenship said she became passionate about rural activism in 2005 when she became ill with liver disease because of water that had been polluted from coal. Blankenship said her doctor told her she was on her deathbed.
“I’m really thankful I’m able to come to speak, and I’m well now,” Blankenship said.
Blankenship said she is the only person in her community who speaks actively against the negative effects of coal on the environment and people’s health.
“There needs to be more of this going on and it’s sad that nobody else wants to talk,” Blankenship said.
Blankenship said she is still happy to speak against it because she has met great people on her journey and feels like she is doing something good.
“I don’t want to see a lot of people get sick just because of the water situation because of the mines” Blankenship said.
The women talked about their various strategies for effective communication and activism. Hagan said she never knew what small act could strike someone’s attention and go viral.
Pekny said her goal in the discussion was to raise awareness for the need for involvement against fossil fuel extractions as well as to give people hope that they can make a difference.
Lydia Waybright can be contacted at [email protected]