I originally wrote this as a statement from a group, hence the "we":
We fully support the STAY Project and Y’ALL members who peacefully protested JD Vance. Activism against those who further inequalities has a long history in Appalachia. Denying that history and the current iterations of that history is denying Appalachia. Women have been at the forefront of much of this activism, as they were on Sunday, April 8. Yet we cannot forget the people of color and LGBTQ activists who have revealed the love and bigotry that persists in Appalachia.
JD Vance ignores non-white, non-heteronormative peoples. The perpetuation of stereotypes of Appalachia as all white and uniquely addicted to opioids supports systems of power that have created pharmaceutical companies that exploit Appalachian bodies, economic environments in which selling illegal substances is a primary financial option, carceral institutions that disproportionately incarcerate people living in poverty and people of color, and agencies that harass and imprison immigrants. These issues cannot be parsed out. All are rooted in systems of domination. Narratives that do not explicitly address these systems inevitably reproduce inequalities.
We do not oppose the right of JD Vance to speak. But when he attempts to speak for all of Appalachia, we will protest. When he furthers an agenda that hurts our communities, we will protest. When he refuses to engage us in meaningful conversations, we will protest. When people celebrate the likes of JD Vance by rushing to his panel and refusing to attend other panels on substance use, we will protest.
We are stronger than you, JD Vance. We have outshone the likes of you many times before. But you could be different. Go to the library. Read bell hooks, Crystal Wilkinson, Helen Lewis, Silas House, Dwight Billings, Mary Anglin, and the list goes on and on. If you refuse to take the time to read the work of or engage with those who have gone before you, we will educate you. Let us be clear, we do not want to take the time from our care work in our communities to educate you. It does not bring us joy or validation. It is you wasting our time. The action you witnessed on April 8 represents our duty to call out those who do not make clear the systemic oppression that has created poverty, poor health, substance abuse, and early death in Appalachia. We will turn our backs on anyone who supports the structures that are killing us.