Front Porch Blog

News for the Marsh Fork Elementary School Rally of June 23rd, 2009

On Tuesday, June 23, a team from Appalachian Voices joined hundreds of people gathered at an anti-mountaintop removal coal mining rally at Marsh Fork Elementary School in West Virginia to protest the continuation of the destructive practice. The local and regional residents were joined by NASA climatologist James Hansen, who spoke about the contributions of mountaintop removal coal mining and coal-fired power plants to the problem of global warming.

Activist and actress Daryl Hannah, Rainforest Action Network Executive Director Michael Brune and renowned novelist Diane Giardina also spoke during the rally.

According to Hansen, 24,000 people die each year from illnesses caused by coal-fired power plants.

Novelist Denise Giardina, author of the book “Storming Heaven” about the battle of Blair Mountain, said during her speech, “We had coal mining for 70 years before mountaintop removal mining, and blowing up the top of a mountain is not coal mining.”

Protestors were met at the scene by employees of Massey Energy – who according to one source had been given the day off with pay to attend the rally and counter the protest – and their wives. The miners were dressed in work clothes with orange “Massey stripes” and carrying signs that said “Tree Huggers Go Home” and “We Love Mountains That Produce Coal.” Some miners shouted obsenities and taunts at protestors.

“The coal that is burned here [in West Virginia] is mined somewhere else, and the coal that is mind here is burned somewhere else,” said Rock Creek, WVa native Judy Bonds. “This is America. This is everyone’s problem.”

Rally attendees then marched half of a mile down the main road to the Massey coal processing plant entrance, singing “Amazing Grace” and other gospel songs. They were met by the line of Massey workers and wives chanting “Massey, Massey” and shouting at the protestors. Twenty-nine individuals who had chosen to risk arrest then sat down in the middle of the road, and climatologist Hansen read a request to Massey Energy asking the company to help with the climate change problem by ending mountaintop removal coal mining.

The activists were subsequently arrested for obstructing traffic. “Stop mountaintop removal and create a clean energy future,” said actress Daryl Hannah as she was lead away in handcuffs.

Among the arrested included 94-year-old Ken Heckler, former U.S. congressman and Secretary of State for West Virginia; James Hansen; Michael Brune, and numerous West Virginia residents including Lorelei Scarboro, Dana Kuhnline and Larry Gibson.

In the end result, the rally was peaceful, violence was avoided, and the majority of Massey’s coal production on the mountaintop removal site above the school was shut down for a day.

Quotes from the day:

“The blood of Native Americans and West Virginians is in these hills. The spirit of Native Americans and West Virginians is in these hills. We need to honor the Scotch Irish, honor the Germans and English, honor the Native Americans and Africans whose people are buried in these mountains. This is a war of the spirit.” Matt Charmin, Dakota Blackfoot Sioux

“We think there is a way to create long-term, sustainable jobs so you can feed your families.” Steve Owen, Executive Director, Appalachian Institute for Renewable Energy, speaking directly to the Massey Energy counter-protestors

“People went to jail so we wouldn’t have to work on weekends. People went to jail so women could have the right to vote…. [some of you are risking arrest today…] You have the right to remain silent, but now is the time to stand up for what you believe is right.” Steve Owen, Executive Director, Appalachian Institute for Renewable Energy

“Don Blankenship invited me here today, when he started blowing up mountains.” Michael Brune, Executive Director, Rainforest Action Network

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