How Young People Oppose the Mountain Valley Pipeline
North Carolina is a great state for pig farming. Each year, the state’s 9.4 million hogs produce approximately 10 billion gallons of waste, some of which is abandoned in the waterways. Oxendine fears a similar pattern of pollution will follow the Mountain Valley pipeline.
“Drinking water is a right for everyone,” Oxendine said. “These are things that affect black, indigenous and poor communities. Many of us have to deal with problems like this on a daily basis with contaminated water.
It’s a daily reality that has followed Sebrena Williamson’s family for generations. His family has worked in the extractive industries over the years: “My families have been in factories here since the factories came here. When we meet on Zoom, the 25-year-old looks energetic with wavy chestnut hair. When she starts talking about the pipeline, however, her brilliant demeanor turns into something heavier. She knows what’s at stake if they lose. The Mountain Valley Pipeline is just the latest chapter in a long story where the people of West Virginia have been left behind for the resources on their land.
“It’s the same old shit, different day,” Williamson said. “The people of West Virginia are kind of used to being sacrificed while the rest of the nation is getting a lot of other stuff.”
So she turned to dancing. Williamson is using the movement to argue against the pipeline. In 2018, she co-founded the Saltare in Elementis Dance Collective, which uses dance and storytelling to initiate dialogues on social issues. In 2021, the collective launched the film Terra: An Appalachian Dance Film to talk about water pollution, pipelines and climate change. Scenes from the film show dancers mimicking various fossil fuel extraction moves, including a scene where two dancers hug each other tightly as they move frantically, illustrating how pump cylinders push and pull to extract gas from the earth.
Williamson does not want this history to repeat itself for future generations. Energy companies, politicians and fossil fuel advocates like to say their projects will create jobs, but Williamson rejects that argument. She hopes older generations will also see the lies.
“These never bring [long-term] jobs like never before. said Williamson. “As they always are, they are extractive. That’s what they do.
Extraction extends beyond resources. Oxendine points to a much darker and more violent side of the fossil fuel industry and the workers its pipeline construction projects are attracting: increased violence against local indigenous communities. These worker camps — often called men’s camps where employees stay during pipeline construction — have been linked to violence, including sexual violence. Researchers call it the pipeline of violence.
“There are a lot of problems that pipelines can bring,” Oxendine said. “They’re all important, but one of the things people forget is how it can affect our communities with these men’s camps. because [missing and murdered Indigenous people] is not a fable we have just heard about. It’s true. And it’s real. And it is we who have to face it and face the loss.
Oxendine’s own family experienced this loss: his grandfather was murdered, and his cousins and aunts disappeared. These cases were not related to labor camps, but they show the reality that many indigenous communities regularly face. Worker camps exacerbate the dangers that already exist.
“It’s a long fight because we know we won’t get the answers we should get or get justice the way we should.” she says.