March on Blair Mountain

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Blair Mountain (photo: Earth First! Newswire)

The 50-mile March on Blair Mountain, West Virginia, began on June 5 and will culminate in a rally at the mountain on Saturday, June 11.  This action aims to stop the impending destruction of Blair Mountain by mountaintop removal coal mining, strengthen labor rights, and promote sustainable Appalachian communities. The march follows the route of thousands of coal miners in what became the historic Battle of Blair Mountain in 1921 – the largest class warfare armed confrontation in U.S. labor history, when miners battled police and strikebreakers backed by the coal operators for five days seeking to unionize the coalfields, until the President ordered the U.S. Army to put down the insurrection. 

In the March on Blair Mountain now underway this week, “Appalachians and their allies are creating a new narrative of resistance – one that binds environment, labor and community together to fight for a better world.”[1] They are up against a formidable array of political, corporate, and cultural forces that is reminiscent of what the miners were up against 90 years ago – with the added threats of global climatic disruption from coal-burning and the devastating assault on the mountains and environment of Appalachia by destructive modern technology.  We support this action 100 percent.

[June 13 UPDATE:  From the top of Blair Mountain: “It’s time to annihilate mountaintop removal”]

[1] From Bound for Blair: Then & Now” (see below)

See the March on Blair Mountain website for reports on the action.

Call to Action

We march to preserve Blair Mountain, abolish mountaintop removal, strengthen labor rights, and an investment in sustainable job creation for all Appalachian communities.

The March on Blair Mountain is a peaceful, unifying rally involving environmental justice organizations, workers, scholars, artists, and other citizens and groups. The march commemorates the 90th anniversary of the Battle of Blair Mountain in 1921, when 10,000 coal miners rose against the rule of the coal operators and fought for the basic right to live and work in decent conditions.

Currently, Blair Mountain is threatened with obliteration by mountaintop removal (MTR) mining, and it is here that a new generation of Appalachians takes a stand.

In the spirit of the original march–which consisted of mountain peoples, African-Americans, and immigrants from all over Europe–we reach out to a diversity of groups to march in solidarity for the workers, communities and mountains of Appalachia. If you stand with us, you are one of us — a true mountaineer.

Join us as we march from Marmet, WV to Blair, WV or join us for the Rally on the final day.

FOR MORE INFORMATION ABOUT MOUNTAINTOP REMOVAL VISIT:

www.ilovemountains.org

FOR MORE INFORMATION ABOUT BLAIR MOUNTAIN VISIT: www.friendsofblairmountain.org

or watch THE APPALACHIANS: The Story of Blair Mountain

Also see the Appalachia Rising website.

More on the historic Battle of Blair Mountain

From “Bound for Blair: Then & Now,” a terrific post by Becca Rast on It’s Getting Hot in Here: 

Although the miners did not win a union on Blair, they succeeded in calling attention to the plight of the American coal miner and illuminating the coal industry’s control over central Appalachia. They also inspired a stronger national labor movement that would go on to win such institutions as collective bargaining, the weekend and the eight hour day.

Today, the Blair Mountain battlefields are threatened by six mountaintop removal and strip mining permits.

If Blair is mountaintop removal mined, it will join over four hundred Appalachian peaks that have been blasted apart to reach the coal seams beneath them. The mining operations will send toxins in to the air that cause rates of asthma and cancer to skyrocket. Rubble and overburden from the site will be pushed in to nearby valleys, termed “valley fills,” where they will mix with headwater streams that go out across the eastern United States. Fish will die in rivers, and the water that comes out of sinks and showers in nearby communities may be orangish or blackish in tone. Even if it looks clear, it will likely contain arsenic, selenium, lead and cadmium.

The felling of any mountain for a few months or weeks worth of coal is an affront to the ecology and people of Appalachia. But Blair carries a unique significance: it is a testament to over one hundred years of resistance to the coal industry, which has placed profit over land, human life and the most ancient mountain range on the planet. To lose Blair is, in some ways, to bury this history of resistance.

She concludes with this:

Like the miners who marched in 1921, we are living in a critical moment in history. King Coal continues to disregard the lives of miners and, since the mid-20th century, has been tearing the land itself apart. Let us march on Blair Mountain to let the world know that Appalachians and their allies are creating a new narrative of resistance – one that binds environment, labor and community together to fight for a better world.

Tim DeChristopher, climate activist and cofounder of Peaceful Uprising, has an excellent post on Grist (“Blair Mountain: A new milestone in the climate justice movement?”), which includes this:

While the decision to reach out to rank and file union miners for this week’s march may have made some anti-MTR groups uncomfortable, it can help unify the focus on the real villains who have impoverished West Virginians for 150 years: the coal industry.

As the coal industry drastically cuts its workforce in the shift towards heavily mechanized mountaintop removal, it tries to lay the blame for those job cuts on the people fighting to protect their mountains. This is nothing new. When the mechanization of the timber industry in the Northwest allowed companies to lay off workers while increasing destruction of the forests, the blame fell squarely on those who wanted to protect the spotted owl. But the history of West Virginia demonstrates that exploiting the environment and exploiting workers usually goes hand in hand. After 150 years of making coal executives rich, West Virginia still ranks almost dead last in per capita income, education, and life expectancy.

Another valuable step the March on Blair Mountain brings to the movement is to focus our perspective on social movement history. We often spend a lot of time studying science and very little time studying history. The result is a movement that knows everything about the technical problems and nothing about how change happens in this country.

When people stand on the site of the historic Battle of Blair Mountain this Saturday, June 11, it should be a moment to remember the sacrifices made 90 years earlier. Nearly 100 people died there on their way to Mingo County to try to organize a union, and nearly 1,000 more were imprisoned. In this age of one-click-activism, it’s worth remembering that power yields nothing without a struggle. The climate movement has spent years begging at the feet of a power structure that has no reason to negotiate with us. We need a reminder that our role as a social movement is, in the words of Martin Luther King, Jr., “to create such a crisis and foster such a tension that a community which has constantly refused to negotiate is forced to confront the issue.” …

Here in the nation’s capital, mired in political gridlock, with effective action on climate change stymied and many of the elected officials acting like salaried employees of corporate power, we definitely could use the stimulation of some greater pressure from the grassroots. Politicians of both parties, up to and including the President, should be pushed to answer the question posed by the old union song from the Harlan County coalfield battle of many years ago: “Which Side Are You On?”

Earlier posts:

Hansen joins Appalachia Rising mountaintop removal coal protest, 100 arrested at White House (September 30, 2010)

Condemnation of mountaintop removal coal mining: A good example of citizen-scientist action (January 15, 2010)

Jim Hansen’s statements at Coal River Mountain protest against mountaintop removal (June 26, 2009)

“Deep Down”: A community battle over proposed mountaintop removal coal mining (November 23, 2010) (The film “Deep Down” may be streamed from Netflix.)

Scholastic and the American Coal Foundation (May 15, 2011)

Climate activist Tim DeChristopher on his guilty verdict, and the role of citizens vis-à-vis the power elite (March 18, 2011)

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One Response to March on Blair Mountain

  1. Anne says:

    It is no longer viable to dismiss protests such as this as coming from a fringe element of society or as a bunch of leftover hippies from the sixties still trying to find themselves. The people coming out for Blair Mountain are credible, real, hard-working, patriotic, dedicated to doing the right thing, and should be taken seriously. Somehow, it is not too difficult to imagine that if Senator Byrd were alive today, he’d join the march and support the effort to save one of the last remaining majestic mountains in West Virginia. He was very supportive of grassroots efforts to fight back MTR before he died, there is a moving scene in a must-see film, On Coal River, an independent film now touring the US, where he meets with a man who walked all the way from his home in West Virginia to the US Senate to meet with Sen. Byrd. It is unfortunate that his replacement, Joe Manchin, is fighting hard to use MORE coal, not less, and even to attempt to convert to coal to gasoline to help meet our energy needs. Read this and you can almost hear the mountains themselves weeping: http://tinyurl.com/manchin-coal

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