Helen with Anne and Senta Romosco at Brooklyn book party

Arts & Democracy co-hosted a book party to celebrate the publication of "Helen Matthews Lewis, Living Social Justice in Appalachia." The Brooklyn event featured Helen in a rare New York City appearence, along with book co-editor Judi Jennings, and special guest Marie Cirillo, in a presentation about the moral economy, environmental justice, global solidarity, and powerful women taking a stand.

The presentation covered many of Helen's experiences in a lifetime of activism including participatory action research with the Highlander Center and the development of a film series with Appalshop, intended to break down stereotypes of the Appalachian people. One focus of the reading and the discussion that followed was about the need for a moral economy. In response to Appalachia's addiction to an industrial recruitment model, Helen responded with a 12 point program for community revitalization that has a lot of relevance for Brooklyn as well.

Says Helen, "The 12 steps are not a straight-forward staircase to community revitalization. It is more like dance steps. Sometimes you go two steps forward and one step back. You tap dance for the funders, foxtrot around the local authorities and slow waltz into some of your projects. There are some basic values and assumptions underlying this model, such as sustainability. We don’t trade the soil, water or people for BAD jobs, polluting industries. This is exploitation, not development and we need to stop recruiting and subsidizing folks to come in and exploit us. We aim to help build a just economy, a moral economy."

The steps, detailed further in the book are:

1. Understand your history--share memories.

2. Mobilize/organize/revive community. You need unifying events.

3. Profile and assess your local community. Survey and map community resources and needs.

4. Analyze and envision alternatives. Determine what the community wants to preserve and to change.

5. Educate the community. Personal transformation and community transformation should occur together.

6. Build confidence and pride. Regaining community history through oral histories, music, and theater helps build identity and pride.

7. Develop local projects. As the group begins a planning process, they can link needs and resources and develop projects to bring them together. 

8. Strengthen your organization. Leadership development and staff training are important... Everyone needs to be involved in startegic planning and evaluation.

9. Collaborate and build coalitions. Community group need to make linkages and form networks and partnerships with other groups to gain strength, share resources, and learn from each other's efforts, successes, and failures.

10. Take political power. Political activity becomes essential to challenge and change policies to redirect resources to the community.

11. Initiate economic activity. Community groups can encourage and begin development of home-grown businesses. 

12. Enter local / regional / national / international planning processes. Communities must recognize that they are part of a regional, national, and international economy, so they need to understand how the global economy impacts the local economy.

(from "Rebuilding Communities, A Twelve-Step Recovery Program, 2007)

Helen Matthews Lewis: Living Social Justice in Appalachia is available on Amazon.com. You can also follow it on Facebook.