Kel BasAvraham grew up in Mississippi, and has lived in many places, but came to Abingdon in their 30s. They’ve lived in various places in Appalachia but moved back to Abingdon about 10 years ago. Soon after that they joined the Washington County Chapter of Virginia Organizing. (Kel identifies as non-binary and uses the pronouns they/them/their.)
They got involved in Virginia Organizing because it’s an issue-based organization, which they found very refreshing. Kel wanted to work on issues not campaigns because it seemed like issues would bring people together around problems they share. “Things have become very polarized in Southwest Virginia,” Kel explains.
Some of the issues they have worked on are Medicaid expansion, banning fracking, and LGBTQ equality. They have sometimes encountered prejudice and hostility in Washington County, and it has been getting worse. “It’s ironic because we have marriage rights and TriPride, but at the same time people are saying unspeakably rude things to me. There’s nothing I can say about that. I just have to grit my teeth and wait for them to quit.”
As a leader in the chapter, Kel works hard for the statewide organization. They write at least one letter to the editor every month and frequently get published. They helped put together the regional skill-building workshop in Abingdon last spring, and they worked on the Grassroots Gathering 2019 statewide committee.
Kel enjoyed many things about the Grassroots Gathering. “The climate change workshop was the one where I learned the most,” they said. “Someone asked the question ‘Why should I care about cleaning up from coal mining if it doesn’t affect me?’ The discussion that came from that was so great. It helped inform our work in Southwest.”
Going forward, Kel wants to work on local public transit problems. “People have been blowing up my phone about it.” Routes have been changed, and people who use the bus can’t get where they need to go. Kel is experienced in building a campaign and says, “We’ve got to gather data before we can do anything.”
Kel is also developing a workshop on “Gender what? Cis, trans, and non-binary gender” for the Appalachian Peace Education Center (APEC) and hopes to bring workshops on LGBTQ education to their local chapter.
Thank you, Kel, for your unwavering commitment to grassroots organizing in Southwest Virginia!