by Robin

Activists in front of the White House at Appalachia Rising. Photo by Rana Xavier

Last week I had the honor of participating in Appalachia Rising, a mass mobilization in Washington DC calling for the end of mountaintop coal removal (MTR). There was something really special about this mobilization, and I’ve been trying to nail down exactly what it was. I have attended my share of big demonstrations, and normally I attend because I enjoy the morale boost of being with other activists, not because I feel our rallying will have an impact. That changed for me at Appalachia Rising. For the first time in my life, I marched through the streets of DC surrounded by banners, flags and chants, and felt like my being there was important, that I was part of a strategic, loving movement, and that we are going to win.

My involvement in anti-MTR activism began three and a half years ago, when some of my friends started a RAN group on our college campus. Our first direct actions were at two local Chase bank branches where we dumped coal, sang mining songs and closed our accounts. Since then I’ve been to more bank protests, met with EPA officials, visited Larry Gibson on Kayford Mountain, written letters, and locked down blockading the gates of a construction site of a coal-fired power plant in VA. Throughout, my activism and organizing has been channeled into different approaches to addressing MTR, which I think is representative of the movement as a whole. There are people pushing for government reform through Congressional legislation and the permitting process carried out by the EPA and Army Corps of Engineers. There are people pushing for financial reform by targeting the banks that fund MTR coal companies. There are people taking direct action on MTR sites, such as the Climate Ground Zero campaign. And there are lots of people sending e-mails, holding fundraisers and talking to people at their church about the issue. All of these people and all of these strategies were present at Appalachia Rising.

The diversity of the crowd was just one of the things that felt special about Appalachia Rising – with the exception of racial diversity, which I’ll get into later. The action was called for and organized in large part by Appalachian community members, and there were tremendous resources put into assisting Appalachian residents to attend. Many Appalachians got a chance to share their experiences the preceding weekend at the two-day Voices from the Mountains conference.

Alongside the Appalachians, there were many allies. I saw numerous faith groups in attendance, mostly Christian churchgoers. A group I work with in my hometown of Philly called the Earth Quaker Action Team held an action in a PNC bank where 13 people risked arrest. A woman I was in the paddywagon with told us she was there because of her spiritual beliefs as a Sikh. Another young man sitting with us worked with Restoring Eden. At the preceding rally, Blackfoot Indian Matthew Sherman spoke about the significance of MTR to Native people. For people who believe that mountains in their majestic beauty have been created by something divine, MTR is an assault on the Creator’s work. It was inspiring to see so many faith communities come out to support Appalachia.

Youth were also highly represented at Appalachia Rising. (By this I mean people aged 18-25 – not children, though there were younger people too). In 2005, a group of pro-mountain activists organized the first Mountain Justice Spring Break, an alternative Spring Break experience aimed at college students. It invited youth to come to Appalachia, meet community members, see MTR sites, and get training to help them organize around the issue on their campuses. The program has now expanded to include a Summer Break and a Fall Summit gathering. It has trained hundreds of college students, who have gone back to their schools where they’ve educated their peers. To me, Appalachia Rising felt like a test to see how many of these youth would put their bodies on the line when the time came. There had already been one such test – at the Capitol Climate Action following Powershift in March 2009, hundreds of youth and Appalachian community members locked down outside of a DC coal-fired power plant, but the police refused to make arrests. I spoke to many people afterward who were disappointed – they had wanted to make a stand. Now, a year and a half later, many of these youth were in attendance again, and ready for action.

Protesters and art at Appalachia Rising. Photo courtesy of Friends of the Earth

Another special element of Appalachia Rising was the art. So often, organizations and organizers devalue the importance of having common artwork and music as part of our work and movements. At Appalachia Rising, art was everywhere. Appalachian songs were played and sung throughout the day, and there was even a spontaneous dance among the arrestees as we waited for the police to process those already in cuffs. There were two types of cardboard signs that were ubiquitous at the march – mountains and fists. The former bore the names of mountains that have been leveled, the fists brandished names of communities in Appalachia where people are resisting MTR. Behind the mountains were gravestones or signs reading “DESTROYED”, while the fists read “RISING”. It was very powerful to recognize how many mountains are already gone, and at the same time see how many communities are standing up to MTR in their backyards. In addition, there was an anti-MTR puppet show by Bread and Puppet Theater and a showcasing of the Beehive Design Collective’s True Cost of Coal design. The march was dotted with bright yellow screenprinted flags with the image of a flatlining electrocardiogram (a visual representation of both decapitated mountains and the fatalities that accompany MTR) declaring “Blowing up Mountains for Coal Poisons People”. At the front of the march, people held beautiful handpainted banners. So many artists from different backgrounds used varied mediums to contribute to the beauty of the event.

Also adding to the culture of Appalachia Rising were the many red bandanas seen on marchers. The red bandanas are a nod to Appalachia’s strong history of coal miners’ labor union activity. In the early 1900s, multiracial unions of Appalachian coal miners wore red bandanas as a show of unity. Soon the term “redneck” was synonymous with “union member” (albeit used in a degrading manner.) The miners were fierce despite the violence of the coal companies, and one of their most notable struggles was the 1921 Battle of Blair Mountain, the second largest armed insurrection in the US (second only to the Civil War). The Appalachian Rednecks at the turn of the twentieth century fought the coal companies’ oppressive policies to win a better life for their families, just as Appalachian anti-MTR activists do today. It was very moving to see so many marchers honoring this legacy of organizing and direct action in the coalfields.

The march reached its climax when about 110 of us sat down in the rain on the White House sidewalk and declared we would not move until MTR is abolished. Someone later told me that about a quarter of the those who risked arrest were Appalachians, the rest were mostly youth with some older allies sitting in as well. It took nearly three hours for the police to take everyone into custody and get us cuffed and loaded into vehicles. During that time, those of us waiting to be apprehended passed the time by singing “Amazing Grace” “Go Tell It On the Mountain” and John Denver’s “Take Me Home Country Roads,” among other songs. We danced and passed around water and granola bars thrown in from the crowd. We passionately punched the air with our fists as we chanted “1! We are the people! 2! You can’t ignore us! 3! We will not let you blow up mountains!” and did a call and response with the crowd – “When I say Mountain you say Justice! MOUNTAIN! [Crowd:] JUSTICE! [Sit in:] MOUNTAIN! [Crowd:] JUSTICE!”.

There was something essentially feminist for me about the way the sit-in culminated. I may be projecting a bit, because my reasons for being in the group that day, besides the obvious desire to end mountaintop removal, were feminist. I knew that this would be a first arrest for many of the people there, both older Appalachia residents and young people. As someone with arrest experience, I wanted to be a supportive presence for new folks leading up to and during their arrests. During my first arrest a few years ago, a more seasoned organizer, Lisa, had been with me and had made the experience feel fun and safe, even empowering, which isn’t easy to do in jail. I think this kind of emotional support is feminist work that isn’t recognized or designated often enough in organizing, and I felt strongly that it was a role I wanted to play at Appalachia Rising. I wanted every person risking arrest that day to have so much damn fun and feel so fucking empowered that they would want to do it again and again, until there really is justice in the mountains. Throughout the sit-in, I saw several people, many of them women, supporting their fellow arrestees and generating enthusiasm and consciousness of physical and emotional needs in ways that made me feel that there was an unnamed collective effort at hand, and I was not the only person with these intentions in mind. In contrast to the many marches I’ve been to where solitary, entitled men take it upon themselves to lead everyone into a confrontation they have not prepared the group for, this caring and supportive atmosphere was a breath of fresh air.

One critique I would make of Appalachia Rising is that it was a very white event. There are obvious reasons for this – most Appalachians are white, the U.S. environmental movement is mostly white. White people are more likely to support and ally themselves with other white people even when there are class and regional differences. It’s misleading, however, to say that the people most affected by the coal industry are white. There are many historically black and interracial communities in the coalfields of Central Appalachia, such as Lynch, KY where a multiracial chapter of Kentuckians For The Commonwealth is fighting to preserve Black Mountain. In addition, after coal is mined, it is sent to polluting power plants throughout the country, and many of them are located in People of Color (PoC) neighborhoods. Appalachians get air and water pollution at the source of extraction, and PoC communities get air and water pollution at the site of incineration. 68% of African Americans live within 30 miles of a coal-fired power plant, according to data from the 1990 and 2000 census. If we are truly building a movement for environmental justice, there needs to be more overlap and mutual support between these communities. There was some evidence at Appalachia Rising of these connections and relationships being built, but there is still a long way to go.

I said earlier that Appalachia Rising was the first time in my life that I felt like my presence at a mobilization was important, and that I was part of a movement that is going to win. This isn’t because I think President Obama or Lisa Jackson looked out their windows that day and decided it was time to outlaw MTR. I’m not that naive. But I do think it was a successful building block for the anti-MTR movement. It showed that the movement has the strength and resources to mobilize lots of people – there were at least 1,000 marchers and a tenth of them risked arrest. It was the largest group of people arrested in DC in years. It also recognized the importance of targeting both the government and corporations. It was a family-friendly and feminist space, where a commitment to non-violence was declared over and over, despite the severe violence Appalachians face from MTR in their communities. It was a community-building event, where people who had only known each other from e-mails and Facebook got to meet in person, or reunite after not having seen one another since a visit to Appalachia some time ago. Perhaps most importantly, Appalachia Rising centered direct action and civil disobedience as a desirable and necessary tactic. In an age when many Big Green environmental groups shy away from anything so controversial as breaking the law, this grassroots movement is not afraid to risk arrest to draw attention to their issue and put pressure on those who can stop it. I really do hope that every person arrested that day will go home and do it 10 more times, not just until MTR has been abolished, but until there is justice everywhere. Appalachia Rising demonstrated how powerful grassroots activism can be. I can’t wait to see where it will lead us.

Photo courtesy of Friends of the Earth

Thanks Emily and jasper for editing help. 🙂

Since the start of the BP Gulf of Mexico oil catastrophe three months ago, an “accident” born of industrial negligence and corporate greed, well over 100 million gallons of oil have leaked into the Gulf, making it the worst ecological disaster in history. Eleven rig workers were killed, fishery economies have been bankrupted, and precious coastal ecosystems have been damaged beyond repair. We need to be sure a catastrophe like this never happens again. The sheer size and devastation of the spill is enough to warrant the total abolition of offshore drilling, and a shift away from fossil fuels to renewable energy sources and a green jobs economy.

The oil gusher was finally contained by BP on July 15th, at least temporarily, marking 87 days since the initial explosion on April 20th. At least 35,000 barrels of crude oil spewed into the Gulf of Mexico per day, causing massive ecological devastation along coastal regions and wetlands.  The moratorium placed on offshore drilling by the Obama Administration does not go nearly far enough; a permanent ban on offshore drilling is the only acceptable measure to take to prevent another disastrous spill.

The oil spill is not an isolated problem, but one which stems from America’s addiction to oil and other unsustainable energy sources. The way our society is organized has led to an over-consumption of and unhealthy dependence on environmentally destructive fossil fuels that pollute our water and air systems and contribute heavily to global climate change. Therefore, it is necessary to transition away from oil towards a sustainable energy future which will provide green job alternatives and substantially reduce greenhouse gas emissions that are fueling climate change.

An end to offshore drilling is the only way to guarantee safety of the environment and the workers and curtail further harm to the climate. It is necessary to replace harmful fossil fuels with renewable energy that would create millions of green jobs that are advantageous to the Earth and its people. To those who say we need to expand offshore drilling in order to achieve “energy independence,” we must point out that this is not “American” oil. No matter who drills it, oil goes onto the international market where speculation sets its price, and it goes to the highest bidder. The only answer is to get off oil completely!

ABOLISH OFFSHORE DRILLING! NO INDUSTRY BAILOUTS!

REMOVE CORPORATE LIABILITY CAPS!

COMPENSATION FOR AFFECTED COMMUNITIES!

BIG OIL PAYS FOR LONG TERM RESTORATION COSTS!

TRANSITION TO CLEAN, RENEWABLE ENERGY NOW!

For more information, go to:

http://www.actagainstoil.com/

Serving up toxic lemonade outside the Region 3 EPA

At noon on Thursday, a group of young entrepreneurs set up shop outside the Region 3 Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) office in Philadelphia. They were selling “real West Virginia lemonade” made with “EPA-approved fresh Appalachian mountain spring water.” On closer inspection, their pitchers were filled with foamy brown liquid, not the ice cube-studded refreshing yellow a thirsty passerby might crave. Philly Against Coal served the beverage to raise awareness around water pollution in Appalachia that is a consequence of mountaintop removal mining,and specifically a new mine site in Pine Creek, WV. The stand was sponsored by Philly Against Coal, a coalition of environmental groups in Philadelphia urging the EPA to end mounatintop removal and halt all permits.

Mountaintop removal (MTR) mining is a form of strip-mining that clear-cuts entire mountains, uses high impact explosives to blow the tops off, and scrapes out thin seams of coal within the mountain.  Already, over 500 mountains in Appalachia have been destroyed by MTR. The explosions have buried thousands of miles of waterways and resulted in biodiversity loss. Local communities suffer from air pollution and water toxicity, leading to health problems for residents.

The Region 3 EPA office in Philadelphia is charged with reviewing permits for MTR sites in Virginia and West Virginia. In April the agency released new guidelines for permit review and EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson stated that under the new guidelines there would be “very few valley fills.” Valley fills occur when blasting debris and trees that have been clear-cut from the tops of the mountains are dumped into nearby valleys.  Last week the agency greenlighted its first permit since it released the guidelines, the permit for Pine Creek mine in Logan County, West Virginia. The Pine Creek mine will create three valley fills and bury two miles of streams. “We thought that under the new guidelines, permits like this would no longer be deemed acceptable,” said Cat Glenn, one of the beverage pushers, and a member of Philly Against Coal, “The EPA is not protecting the people of Appalachia. They are allowing King Coal to destroy the environment and poison the local communties. People in Philadelphia don’t want to drink this water, so why does the EPA give the ok for people in West Virginia to drink it?”

Cat offers up some pitchers of Pine Creek lemonade

The lemonade hawkers tried many sales tactics, from educating people about the many metal supplements found in Appalachian water that is filtered out of their own Philadelphia tap water, to presenting the drink as a challenge — “The EPA says it’s safe – you be the judge!” They were met with smiles from passersby and EPA employees alike, yet not a single person stopped to sip the lemonade. EPA administrators Jeff Lapp and Shawn Garvin were personally invited down for a taste, but neither RSVP’ed. The salespeople eventually packed up shop, vowing that their next sales venture would be more profitable. “Maybe we could try selling native Gulf of Mexico fish?” suggested one group member as they poured out their pitchers.

Climate Ground Zero activists in a tree sit in August 2009

Climate Ground Zero activists in a tree sit in August 2009

Hi everyone,

Hope you’re enjoying the warm weather! Philly Rising Tide is hosting an event next week with some incredible activists from West Virginia, and we’d love for you to come!

Climate Ground Zero is the only campaign in Appalachia employing direct action tactics on the ground to stop blasting. Through lock-downs, sit-ins and tree sits, they are fighting the coal companies on their turf. Come meet members of Climate Ground Zero and hear about their work first-hand! Info is below.

Looking forward to seeing you there! Please forward widely and invite your friends on facebook.

❤ Philly Rising Tide

Tuesday May 4th 7:00PM

Climate Ground Zero Road Show
@
Wooden Shoe Books
704 South Street
Phila PA 19147
215-413-0999
sabot@woodenshoebooks.com
www.woodenshoebooks.com

Climate Ground Zero volunteers will be giving a presentation about mountaintop removal coal mining and the non-violent direct action campaign to end it. Come hear first-hand accounts of the negative impacts of mountaintop removal coal mining and listen to the stories of some of the people who are resisting this detrimental practice in the coalfields of West Virginia.www.climategroundzero.org

Climate Ground Zero is not an environmental organization; it is an ongoing campaign of non-violent civil disobedience in southern West Virginia to end mountaintop removal. Climate Ground Zero believes that the irrevocable destruction of the mountains of Appalachia and its accompanying toll on the air, water, and lives of Appalachians necessitates continued and direct action.

In West Virginia, an overwhelming majority of residents are opposed to mountaintop removal mining. However, political interests are highly invested in the coal industry and the EPA and the West Virginia DEP refuse to take real action to protect the environment and the people of West Virginia.

In order to stop mountaintop removal, we need to awaken the country to the devastation that mountaintop removal inflicts on one of the most biodiverse regions in the world, Appalachia, and its people. Since Climate Ground Zero came to West Virginia in 2009, hundreds of activists have come to the coalfields and stood with the residents of West Virginia to demand an end to the destruction.

RSVP on facebook: http://www.facebook.com/event.php?eid=123308381012948

pray for our miners

pray for our miners

On Monday, April 5, the largest mining disaster in the U.S. in forty years occurred in Massey Energy’s non-unionized Upper Big Branch Mine near Montcoal, West Virginia, killing twenty-nine miners. This mine has incurred 3,000 safety violations since 1995, and eighty-six of those since 2005 involved failure to follow a ventilation plan to control methane and coal dust, the probable cause of Monday’s explosion. Massey’s CEO, Don Blankenship, said in a radio interview he considers that “Violations are unfortunately a normal part of the mining process.” Massey generally avoids paying its fines, or contests them in court.

Massey is as well the leader in mountain top removal mining, having mined nearly 190 million tons of coal over the last decade with this extremely damaging method (opensourcecoal.org), and has incurred thousands of violations of the Clean Water Act by dumping the mine waste in rivers and streams in West Virginia and Kentucky.

When hazardous conditions are the accepted way of doing business, when the profits of a company are deemed more important than the lives of the people who work in these dangerous jobs, or the continued existence of the mountains themselves and the communities that live in them, it is time—past time– to develop other ways of meeting our energy needs. The erection of wind turbine engines in Appalachia could generate more electricity than coal in only a few years and provide green jobs for the miners who remain employed as well as those eliminated by the increasing mechanization of the mining process (mountain top removal was specifically designed to reduce labor costs). We must demand that the government do more to enable the transition to clean energy, and that Wall Street stop financing corporate criminals like Massey Energy.

In the past week and a half we’ve had two very exciting announcements from the EPA!

First, on March 26, the EPA announced that it was vetoing Arch Coal Co.’s permit for the Spruce No.1 mine in Logan County, West Virginia. The Spruce No.1 site is one of the largest surface mining operations ever authorized in Appalachia, and the largest in West Virginia. For over a decade, Arch Coal and the federal government have been in court on and off over the fate of the mine. In 2007, the company was given the go ahead and Arch Coal began strip mining.

The EPA reviews permits issued by the Army Corps of Engineers to ensure that they comply with the Clean Water Act. The EPA has used it’s authority to veto only 12 times since 1972, when the Clean Water Act was passed. It has never vetoed an already permitted mine like Spruce No. 1.

This is an unprecedented move by the EPA. In our correspondence with Jeff Lapp and Shawn Garvin, we have pressured them about the Spruce No.1 permit. It seems that our efforts were effective. This is a huge victory!

For more information about the Spruce No. 1 Permit veto, check out solveclimate.com’s article.

Second, on April 1, in a move so amazing it almost felt like an April Fools joke, the EPA issued new guidelines for reviewing MTR permits! Probably the most exciting of these is the end of valley fills. Valley fills are just what they sound like – all the waste from mining is dumped into a valley, where toxins can leak downstream into water. In their announcement, the EPA said that from now on they will allow “no or very few” valley fills. Kate Rooth from Rainforest Action Network has a good take-down of the guidelines. You can read the EPA’s news release and guideline summary, “Comprehensive Guidance to Protect Appalachian Communities From Harmful Environmental Impacts of Mountaintop Mining”, here. The full statement can be read here.

These are HUGE victories for the campaign! Thank you so much to all of you who have helped pressure the EPA to make this happen!

Don’t Be Fossil Fooled!

Posted: April 3, 2010 in Uncategorized

Ever heard of Fossil Fools Day? It falls on April 1st each year and began in 2004 when environmental groups began making a mockery of the year’s biggest “Fossil Fool”.

This year, Philadelphia environmentalists told morning commuters not to be “fossil fooled” by PNC Bank – a bank that calls itself “A Green Bank with Eco-Friendly Service”. PNC Bank has direct and indirect connections to mountaintop removal coal mining.

Activists protest PNC Bank's funding of mountaintop removal.

In 2003, there was the $55 million line of credit PNC provided to Massey Energy, the most aggressive mountaintop removal mining company in the coal industry. In 2006, PNC assisted Peabody Energy in establishing a $2.75 billion credit facility. Then, in 2008, PNC held 33% of BlackRock shares. BlackRock is an leading asset management firm with energy portfolios that focus on coal companies, including companies that practice mountaintop removal. And today, PNC’s CEO, James E. Rohr, is called an “insider” member of BlackRock’s Board of Directors.

Morning protesters with Earth Quaker Action Team (EQAT) and Rising Tide Philly were quick to shine a light on these connections. The group of approximately 30 sang classic folk songs with altered lyrics to reveal the connections and their good-natured prank.

As commuters stepped off the bus at 1600 Market St., they heard new renditions of “where have all the flowers [mountains] gone”, “Go tell it on a mountain”, “She’ll be coming around the mountain” and other classics. While protesters kept the songs and mood playful, some wearing jester hats and holding massive fake checks, they raised serious concerns.

Several protest participants took to a ‘soap box’ to tell passers-by that they were standing in solidarity with the people of Appalachia whose water and health have been compromised by mountaintop removal. Soap boxers also told the crowd that they are excited to see PNC Bank take a leadership role in Green Building initiatives at their banks. They called on the Bank to do more. Protesters call on PNC to stop doing business with “climate criminals” like mountaintop removal companies and to invest in climate solutions and energy independence. Their call was to Bank Like Appalachia Matters (BLAM).

Protesters line up outside PNC.

You can take a look at more photos from Fossil Fools Day on Flickr