This post was researched and co-written by Kevin Gosztola.
From Marmet to Blair, West Virginia, hundreds of activists are marching across the Appalachian region this week to honor the historic Battle of Blair Mountain of 1921. This event, designed to mark one of the biggest civil uprisings in the United States history and the largest armed insurrection since the American Civil War, however, is not just about history. Appalachia Rising and Friends of Blair Mountain are using the five-day march to protest the controversial practice of mountaintop removal coal mining.
“Mountain ridges and peaks are clear-cut, stripped of all trees and other flora. Explosives are buried underground, and enormous blasts dislodge millions of tons of rock, dirt, soil, and animal and plant life. That ‘overburden’ is then carted away or dumped into the stream and creek beds in the mountain hollows below, destroying or polluting thousands of miles of running water. Huge 20-story-tall draglines pull away the rock to expose coal seams. Similarly huge machines then yank the coal out and dump the remaining waste down into those streams.”
A coalition that seeks to ignite a major uprising against mountaintop removal, Appalachia Rising declares on its website that it “supports non-violent direct action to build the movement to end strip mining and support sustainability and self-determination in Appalachia.” Through the “March on Blair Mountain,” the coalition hopes to move one step closer to abolishing mountaintop removal, strengthening labor rights, creating sustainable jobs for Appalachian communities and ensuring the preservation of Blair Mountain.
The other major organizational component of this week’s actions, Friends of Blair Mountain, describes itself as a “core group of people involved in preservation efforts at Blair Mountain.” Members, who come from states like West Virginia and North Carolina, constitute a “grassroots group of scholars, activists, concerned citizens, and union workers” committed to commemorating the memory of the miners involved in the Battle of Blair Mountain. (In March 2008 the mountain was placed on the National Register of Historic Places. Pressure from coal operators had it removed from the list and now it is under threat.)
Organizers describe mountaintop removal coal mining as “an extreme form of coal mining that involves blasting off the tops of mountains in order to extract the seams of coal underneath.” Those living near mountains that coal companies are permitted to blow up for coal often leave their homes instead of enduring the conditions the mining creates—conditions that often include increased flooding and polluted air and water.
As author and activist Jeff Biggers, who has been reporting on MTR for years, explains today in a post at Alternet, “While providing less than five to eight percent of our national coal production, the millions of pounds of daily explosives detonated for mountaintop removal operations in West Virginia, Kentucky, southwest Virginia and eastern Tennessee account for the most egregious human rights and environmental violations in our nation—and the unrecognized reality of regulated manslaughter.”
Nearly three days into the march, thus far, activists have been harassed by cars, coal trucks and “emergency” vehicles that at one point made laps around them blasting their sirens and horns. They have been forced to leave their camp site because a county commission decided to violate a prior agreement and demand they pack up and leave or face “mass arrests.” And they have faced sweltering heat along with a big storm.
Despite obstacles, the marchers are determined to march all fifty miles and make it to Blair Mountain by Saturday for a culminating rally that will feature Emmylou Harris, Ashley Judd and other performances by artists along with a speech from Robert F. Kennedy Jr.
Here’s a recent call to action from the march: