There is a new generation of folks who don’t know that the wild and scenic New River was once threatened to be dammed by a major power company.
One of the staunchest opponents of damming the New River had not been that interested in the whole process until the power company folks made her mad. They told her she had to sell her land and take their price but you don’t do that to Ashe County’s Polly Jones.
She decided right then and there that she would join the fight against putting a dam on the New River. A renowned English teacher in Ashe County schools Polly had taught scores of youngsters that you are not supposed to make speeches based on emotion, just use facts and figures. But she understood that in this case, nobody wanted to hear facts and figures, the only way to reach the people was to tap into their emotions and their emotions were directly tied to their land, which in many cases had been in their families for generations.
Most people thought there was no point in fighting. We’re little people. We’re farmers, we can’t fight some big utility company like American Electric Power
Polly said that in the early part of the fig that your government only works for you if you make it work for you. That the people who yell the loudest are the ones who gets things done.
She dedicated 10 years of her life to this battle to keep the New River as it is. She remembers her sons saying “That’s our river.” They helped her work on it so much they felt ownership of the river.
Polly had never flown before, but there she was getting on a plane to New York City to lobby at a stockholders meeting.
She also went to DC and they created an Ashe County Day…they sent pound cakes, ham, cheese, everything from Ashe County. They had a whole big hoedown right there in the rotunda of the Capitol building. Anything they could do to make people aware of what was going to be flooded and covered up in the county.
To give folks a visual, they had a New River festival and put up a tall pole with a high water mark that showed where the water from a dam would reach, that revealed so much more than anyone’s words.
When she sat back and reflected on the process, she was amazed. In her words, “Here I was, just a plain old housewife from North Carolina working with these people who had power and position, who were senators and congressmen and newspaper editors.”
The moral of the story is that the river was here before us and it will be here after we’re gone, and oh, by the way, whatever you do, don’t make Polly Jones mad!
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