What is SOCM?
SOCM (pronounced “sock-em”) is a member-run grassroots community organization that has been empowering Tennesseans to fight for environmental, economic and social justice for more than forty years. We serve as the only statewide community organizing entity in Tennessee. Joining SOCM unites you with an interconnected network of more than 2,200 members throughout Tennessee. SOCM’s goal is to provide Tennesseans with a place to come together, voice concerns, and take action in their communities and across the state.
SOCM is a member-driven organization that encourages civic involvement and collective action so that the people of Tennessee have a greater voice in determining their future. Our mission is to empower Tennesseans to protect, defend, and improve the quality of life in their communities across the state. We are working for social, economic, and environmental justice for all. We are committed to the journey of becoming an anti-racist organization. Recognizing our interdependence, we are committed to overcoming social and institutional racism and embracing our diverse cultures.
We believe there is strength in organization, in people working together with their inherent power and right to affect the course of their lives and surroundings. We are committed to developing and using this power to improve the quality of life in our communities.
We believe that we have the right to know about and have a voice in developments for the common good. We acknowledge our interdependence and interconnectedness and therefore take responsibility for inspiring growth and change for the common good.
Those who engage in enterprises, commerce and industry have a responsibility to be accountable to the communities in which they operate, as do politicians and government officials. Recognizing the dignity and rights of all people, we work together across age, race, and income for social, economic, and environmental justice.
SOCM envisions a society where people of diverse backgrounds are empowered through community action and leadership development to achieve changes that improve their quality of life by organizing for social, economic, and environmental justice. We envision a Tennessee with clean air and water, decent housing, adequate food, affordable health care, good educational opportunities, a fair tax system and a living wage with good jobs for all people. We envision a Tennessee where all people are treated fairly and equally across lines of age, race and income. We see a Tennessee where our communities are preserved and protected with a sustainable environment and where corporations and all public officials are held accountable to the people.
SOCM’s original name, Save Our Cumberland Mountains, grew out of our origins as a grassroots community organization based in poor isolated coalfield communities in five northern counties (Anderson, Campbell, Claiborne, Morgan and Scott) in the Cumberland Mountains. SOCM kept this name for the first 36 years of its history.
Beginning in 1971 research began about the failure of large absentee land corporations to pay taxes on their mineral-rich land. In 1972 residents won an appeal to require this taxation. After that win, residents formed an organization to take on other critical problems in their communities: unregulated strip mining of coal that 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. The organization, which came to be called SOCM (pronounced “sock-em”), was membership-based. From the start, the organization was democratically run by members.
Despite many threats and incidents of violence, we achieved major victories during our early years: mineral tax and severance tax revenue for poor coalfield counties, a state Surface Rights Law requiring the surface owner’s consent before strip mining coal on the land, the defeat of many mining permits, and, working from allies, the enactment of a new federal strip-mining law.
[Statewide Organizing for Community eMpowerment has achieved much throughout our history working for justice. From enacting fair legislation to empowering Tennesseans to improve living conditions in rural and urban areas, our progress has become a symbol of successful community organizing to inform and inspire grassroots movements across the country.
A few of the organization’s highlighted successes include the following:
- Documented land ownership and taxation patterns in 16 coalfield counties, which helped pass legislation to enact the first coal severance tax in Tennessee, generating revenue for schools and roads in coalfield counties.
- Succeeded in the passage of legislation requiring surface owners consent before the surface mining of coal where mineral rights have been separated from surface rights.
- Defeated proposed mining operations, toxic waste incinerators, mega-regional solid waste landfills, and other developments that would impact the health and safety of communities and pollute the state’s land and water.
- Won designation of 61,000 acres in the watershed of Fall Creek Falls State Park as off-limits to mining in toxic coal seams in the area.
- Worked to pressure the Tennessee Valley Authority to do an Environmental Impact Study and suspend plans for mining on its 53,000-acre mineral tract in Tennessee.
- Organized to get a local Head Start Program to expand its services, and 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.
- Was a founding member of The Alliance for Appalachia. The Alliance is a regional coalition with the goals of ending mountaintop removal coal mining, putting a halt to destructive coal technologies, and working towards a sustainable and a just economy in Appalachia.
- Helped organize Citizens Lead on Energy Action Now (CLEAN) (now known as American Clean Energy Agenda), a national coalition working to involve grassroots people in pressing for a national clean energy future and addressing the problem of global warming.
- Worked with Tennesseans for Fair Taxation to win the first decrease in state sales tax on food.
- Defeated a proposal to turn 114,000 acres south of Spencer, TN between Fall Creek Falls State Park and Savage Gulf State Natural Area into a Tennessee National Guard training range.