Martinsville, Va. — On Thursday, dozens of community members met at New College Institute to share their experiences with high utility bills and start developing solutions. Hosted by Virginia Organizing as part of their Martinsville/Henry County Environmental Justice Week of Action, the community meeting included city and county residents who expressed frustration with the lack of action to address high utility bills.

Participants shared stories of disconnected utilities, inflexible payment plans, distrust of new meters, and lack of home weatherization programs. Community members want more funding for energy efficiency programs, better customer service, the ability to track their personal energy use, and more.

Due to the region’s older homes, lack of insulation, and expensive fossil fuel energy, residents lose money every time a bill comes due. Virginia Organizing leaders believe that Martinsville and Henry County can make environmental justice a reality by working on issues that affect people’s day-to-day lives.

Dennis Hairston, a Martinsville resident who has been a leader in the local chapter of Virginia Organizing since 2014, spoke about why he thinks the chapter can accomplish these ambitious goals.

“This is only the beginning,” said Hairston. “I got involved years ago when a student intern knocked on my door and invited me to attend a meeting just like this one. Since then, we have won Medicaid expansion, Ban the Box, and restoration of rights campaigns. Now that we’re working on utilities, we are gathering stories, doing our research, and meeting new people to help build this new campaign.”

The community meeting caps off a week of door-to-door canvassing by a team of Virginia Organizing interns. The interns knocked on 1,625 doors, had hundreds of conversations, and helped organize the community meeting.

Virginia Organizing’s next strategy meeting will be on Tuesday, August 20 at 6 p.m. at Patrick Henry Community College in Frith Hall’s Exhibition Room.