This has been the battle cry coming from the Covenant House and many other agnecies advocating for low income families throughout the Charleston area all week long.  This plea for assistance comes in the midst of a hearing  between the Public Service Commission of West Virginia,  Appalachian Power (AEP), and community advocacy groups like the Covenant House concerning a proposed rate hike in electricity of 44% within the next three years. 

My experience with the issue began last week when I accompanied my supervisor, Amy Wienturb, to a press conference concerning the effect of the rise on those on fixed incomes such as the elderly as well as the poor.  Amy explained exactly what it is I have seen during my short time working thus far– that low and very low income families simply cannot absorb such in increase.   It is not that the poor do not want to be able to pay their bills, it is that they simply cannot.  Wages will not increase 44% and with an increase like this low income families would then on average be giving an impossible 1/3 of their budget simply to utlities.  This type of increase would cause for a massive influx of people needing assistance and a lowering in funds available to disperse.

Amy was careful to point out though that more than asking for no raise in rates, it must be demanded that AEP provide programs which will assist the poor.  On Monday, I spent part of my day listening to a hearing concerning the issue at the Public Service Commission in which a representative of AEP Power was being questioned.  Then yesterday the hearing closests to the hearts of those at the Covenant House took place –that concerning the effect of this hike on the poor.

Thus, before work I participated in my first ever form of public protest.  That’s right, we stood outside the PCS building waving flags and holding signs proclaiming “PCS: Don’t You Care About the Poor?”, “FIGHT the Hike”, “We CANNOT absorb this”, “Leave My Power On (Please)”, “We Need Power Too!” waiting for the 3 commissioners to come to work.  Some people honked, some yelled, but everyone stared.  After morning rush hour was over we headed back to the Covenant House to operate as usual; however little did I know, my job as model citizen of democracy for the day had just begun.

Later on my lunch break, I was headed back over to PCS for a poetry and open mic session on the patio of the building.  There, Amy had set up a microphone and people from various social services agencies, dominated by the Covenant House, got up and read poetry, divulged personal stories of struggles, sang songs and chanted in advocacy of the poors interest in this issue while the rest of us stood watching, holding the signs from this morning.

At this point you may be wondering if I decided to realease my inner Emily Dickinson… and the answer is Yes.  An Emily Leary orginial was read not once, but twice, from the microphone in the PCS plaza.  Who knew what passion, or rather compassion, two weeks can give a person.  After the commissioners had parked their cars, passed by, and gone inside we hiked it back to the Covenant House to finish a days work.

While there were only about 20 or so of us there, I realized that that shows exaclty why the low income need assistance on this issue.  They can’t come out to advocate their own opinions because they do not have jobs that allow that.  Thus, it was so exciting to see a group with leverage, such as us at the Covenant House, take a stand for people who couldn’t take one for themselves.  Even though I am still deciding my personal opinion on this issue, I have never felt I exercised my democratic rights to such an extent until today, and it was exciting.  So exciting.  It made me feel like such as adult to know that these people we are trying to communicate with aren’t making futile decisions, but discussing huge matters that will effect thousands, and that I made sure that they heard my voice.

Until the next protest…