Appalachian Activists Answer Call to Civil Disobedience

Story by Alison Singer and Sarah Vig

“There are moments in a nation’s–and a planet’s–history,” wrote Wendell Berry and Bill McKibben in an open letter endorsing the Capitol Climate Action in Washington, D.C., “when it may be necessary for some to break the law in order to bear witness to an evil, bring it to wider attention, and push for its correction.” Hundreds of activists willing to risk arrest shut down the Capitol Power Plant for four hours in an act of civil disobedience; thousands more rallied in peaceful protest against the use of coal for our nation’s energy. Photo by Mark Schmerling

Protests erupted across the Appalachians this winter and spring as activists took to the streetsfor clean air and water and an end to dirty coal in all its phases—mining, processing, and burning—in an unprecedented way.

On Coal River Mountain, activists and community members have been engaging in a number of nonviolent actions (see “Coal River Mountain” in Feb/March 2009 issue) in an attempt to save their mountain, which has Class VI wind potential, from being leveled by mountaintop removal mining. As a result, a Beckley, West Virginia judge issued a temporary restraining order on behalf of Massey Energy Co. to any protestors, or anyone “associated with” any known protestors of Massey’s Coal River mountaintop removal sites. The activists, however, show no sign of halting, and hope the publicity they receive will only increase with this sentence, and potentially bring more attention to their cause.

Protests against coal hit the national stage, when more than 2,500 people from all over the country gathered in the nation’s capital to protest dirty coal’s role in America’s energy policy. The Capitol Climate Action, organized and endorsed by hundreds of organizations and individuals, shut down the Capitol Power Plant in Washington, D.C. for four hours. According to the action’s website, the plant, located just blocks from Capitol Hill, was chosen because “the plant that is actually run by Congress” symbolizes “the stranglehold coal has over our government and future.”

Less than two weeks later, on March 14, activists from around the country joined locals, including survivors of the recent coal ash disaster in Harriman, Tenn., just outside the headquarters of TVA. The “March in March,” which took place in Knoxville, Tenn., was meant as a protest against mountaintop removal mining. After staging a “die-in,” 14 protestors were arrested. The rally was followed by a candlelight vigil, representing lives and land lost due to the destructive form of strip mining.

Plans for more actions are surfacing all around the region. On April 20, citizens will take to the streets in Charlotte, N.C. to protest the construction of a new coal-fired power plant in nearby Rutherford Co. The proposed power plant would send approximately 6 million tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere each year in addition to being enormously expensive for North Carolina ratepayers. The march and rally against the proposed Cliffside Power Plant will take place at Marshall Park in uptown Charlotte, beginning at 10:00 a.m.

Those willing to risk arrest during the protest, are being asked to attend a nonviolent civil disobedience training at 2:00 p.m. on April 19 at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Charlotte. More information can be found at

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