SOCM Celebrates 40 Years of Fighting for Justice in Tennessee

by Community Shares on June 5, 2012

On May 25, 1972, the founders of SOCM (then called Save Our Cumberland Mountains) signed the state charter formally establishing SOCM as a community organization. In honor of our 40th birthday, we are celebrating SOCM’s work and history throughout the entire year. We invite everyone to join us on the afternoon of October 20th at Henry Horton State Park in Chapel Hill, Tenn., to celebrate the last 40 years and look forward to the next 40.

SOCM (now Statewide Organizing for Community eMpowerment) was founded in Tennessee’s coalfield communities in response to problems caused by irresponsible strip mining practices. In 1971, armed with research about the failure of large absentee land corporations to pay taxes on their rich mineral land, residents won an appeal to require this taxation. In January 1972, after the win, residents formed an organization to take on other critical problems in their communities: virtually unregulated strip mining of coal which literally blasted the sides of steep mountains onto homes, roads and streams; insufficient revenue for schools, roads, and other services; and general neglect on the part of county officials. SOCM was membership-based (first dues were $1!) and from the start it was democratically run by members.

Some of our other major accomplishments over the years include:

1977: SOCM wins a “Surface Rights Law,” preventing companies from strip mining on privately owned land without consent.

1984: SOCM members win passage of the Oil and Gas Notice and Compensation bill, giving landowners some say about surface disturbances on their land and sets up procedures for fair compensation of damages.

 1996:  SOCM helps win a designation of 61,000 acres of watershed of Fall Creek Falls State Park off-limits to mining. We were an integral part of influencing the adoption of this Lands Unsuitable for Mining petition (LUMP).

2003: SOCM members are successful in getting the Bedford County Head Start Program to expand its services, winning a new building for the Shelbyville Head Start, an early childhood education center, and additional funding for the expanding Spanish-speaking community.  The chapter succeeded in getting the South Central Human Resource Agency (SCHRA) to employ a bilingual resource person to work with Head Start’s Spanish-speaking children and parents.

 2006: With other allies, SOCM helps form The Alliance for Appalachia to develop a regional voice against mountaintop removal mining and to promote a federal legislation, the Clean Water Protection Act and the Appalachian Restoration Act, to stop valley fills and mountaintop removal mining. The Alliance still strong and active today.

2007:  SOCM helps organize Citizens Lead on Energy Action Now (CLEAN), a new national coalition working to involve grassroots people in pressing for a national clean energy future and addressing the problem of climate change.

2009: SOCM members fought a proposed doubling of the $25 wheel tax as an undue burden on low-income people and therefore an unjust way to generate revenue, collecting over 1,000 petition signatures and holding a rally, which resulted in a delay of the vote by the County Commission and no action since.

2010: SOCM members engaged in a multi-year campaign for a fair and just redevelopment process for East Jackson, a low-income African-American community severely damaged by a tornado in 2003, which resulted in the city allocating significant funds towards its redevelopment.. Plans include cityscape planning, roads improvement and parks development.

2010: SOCM co-hosts a People’s Hearing for coal ash regulation in Harriman, Tennessee, providing victims of the 2008 TVA coal ash spill opportunity to testify. The event led to the EPA scheduling a Knoxville hearing to consider a hazardous regulation for coal ash.

2011: The E3 Committee successfully campaigned to have two species of minnows, the Laurel Dace and Cumberland Darter, added to the Federal Endangered Species List. The victory helps SOCM members continue to fight to protect water quality in the coalfields.

2011: SOCM works in coalition to establish the Knoxville Energy Alliance and Partnership for Green Jobs (KEAP Green Jobs) to create a program that will make it more affordable for low- and moderate-income families to weatherize their homes.

2012: In Cumberland County, SOCM members successfully defeat a proposed landfill permit in the town of Crab Orchard that could have allowed toxic wastes such as coal ash and posed serious threats to local groundwater quality.

2012: At the 2011 annual meeting, the membership voted in favor of starting SOCM’s first urban chapter. The Knoxville Chapter was established in May.

Though it started in the coalfield communities 40 years ago, SOCM’s work has always been concerned about the quality of life for all people in Tennessee. We believe we deserve a say in determining our future. While we have expanded to different parts of the state and we’ve branched out to work on different issues, our focus remains the same. People, working together, provide the power to make change possible.

For more information, visit our website at or call our Knoxville office at 865-249-7488. As always, we thank you for your support throughout the years!

Watch a video about the story of SOCM.

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