Michael Vacca is a citizen of Blaine Township, Washington County, Pennsylvania and sits on the Town Board of Supervisors as the Spokesman. As will be seen Vacca exemplifies the prototype of a democrat with a lower "d," or someone who takes the responsibility to be actively engaged in the political process very seriously civic responsibility as a solemn and sacred duty.
As described in Thomas Linzey and Anneke Campbell's Be the Change: How to Get What You Want in Your Community, Vacca pours cement for a living in Blaine Township, Washington County, Pennsylvania. Unlike many political activists, Vacca has not always, been an activist. Indeed, according to the book, he does not call himself an activist at all, nor an environmentalist. Instead, it was a Gramscian moment that snapped Vacca into a tizzy and into a compulsion for political activism; his very well-being and livelihood was on the line, at the hands of corporate greed.
Blaine, Pennsylvania is a small rural township that is about 45 minutes west of Pittsburg. Western Pennsylvania has been mining for 250 years, but no mining has ever occurred in Blaine 100 years ago, Longwell Mining company purchased rights to coal 100 years ago, in essence saying, “We’re going to give you money for something we’re probably not going to come for in your lifetime. As the book states, it is definitely hard to pass up an offer like that in a poor county. Unfortunately, the mining caused something called subsidence and the damage created by subsidence has caused the practice of longwall mining to be banned in Germany, the country where it originated.
Live as a Activist and Hero of Democracy: Vacca's Awakening and His Steps
Vacca saw that longwell mining was leaving communities, including his own, decimated. Aquifers were being dewatered, streams and rivers destroyed, historic rivers sunk into the ground, and local wells replaced with gray plastic tanks of water called water buffaloes. It was a situation that to Vacca, on a fundamental level, was impossible to ignore. It served as a moment of awakening and epiphany for Vacca.
The situation motivated Vacca to spend months researching disastrous effects of longwell mining, learning that during the 1990s, Pennsylvania changed the state laws so that subsidence was built into mining permits, making it legal. Vacca said, "It seemed we had no choice in the matter, and that the only thing we could do was try to make the incursion of longwell mining as non-invasive as possible. I knew from my own past experiences that this too was going to fail.” Enough was enough, and to prevent similar threats from arising in the future, Vacca decided to become member of town planning commission, something he never would have dreamed of doing had it not been for this wake-up call and call to action.
Thomas Linzey Offers his Services
Having attempted to update and upgrade the Township zoning ordinance, "figur[ing] that if he couldn't stop mining, he could at least minimize the damage...looking for the most restrictive language that would pass legal muster," Vacca realized he was fighting a losing battle. His next step: talk to fellow environmental hero from his own Township, Michael Vacca. Linzey offered his expertise and services and held a Democracy School in Blaine, demonstrating to them exactly what it would take to stop corporations from pillaging and poisoning their Township.
At the conclusion of the School, Linzey helped construct an ordinance banning longwell mining from occurring whatsoever in Blaine Township, as well as banning corporate ownership of land and mineral estates within the Township. They decided that ecosystems, like people, also have rights that should be protected by law. The ordinance was approved unanimously by the the planning commission. They also passed a second ordiance stripping corporate-personhood, removing legal powers and privileges from corporations at the municipal level, and creating a protective barrier for the community against the threat of coal mining.
Taking It to the Next Level
Next, Vacca and others formed Buffalo Creek Conservation Association, hoping communities facing same threat would be willing to empower themselves by passing ordinaces of their own, which would in turn strengthen entire region. They sent letters to other townships in same county, explaining how longwell mining works, telling them that it was coming to their area, and describing the Blaine ordinance that they should model their own ordinance after, attending over twenty township meetings to discuss the ordinance and invite citizens to come talk to the people in Blaine, trying to turn this into a statewide fight of the rights of people and ecosystems over the rights of greedy, environmental-looting corporations.
Vacca had this to say of the big battle ahead: "There’s victory in the challenge. I can tell you that the regulatory fight is one citizens will never win…if you choose to govern yourselves, you’re making your stand on your own terms as opposed to going begging. This is the stuff the American Revolution left unfinished. We owe it to those people to finish the job.”