The March on Blair Mountain, West Virginia, to stop mountaintop removal coal mining culminated June 11 in rallies at the base of the mountain and on the mountaintop. “Everything this industry does is illegal, it’s a criminal enterprise,” said rally speaker Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., of the coal operators responsible for devastating hundreds of mountains in Appalachia with mountaintop removal. “If you came to the Hudson River and you tried to fill 25 feet of a Hudson River tributary, we would put you in jail, I guarantee it. If you tried to blow up a mountain in the Berkshires, the Adirondacks, or a mountain in Colorado, California or Utah, you would go to jail.”
The March on Blair Mountain website includes text and photos of the 50-mile March and June 11 rally, with audio of the rally speeches at the top of the mountain.
In our fossil-fuel-based energy system, ‘business as usual’ is driving us increasingly in the direction of environmentally risky and destructive practices, including deepwater drilling for oil, tar sands development, natural gas fracking, and blasting the tops off mountains to strip mine for coal, leaving denuded landscapes behind.
The battle over mountaintop removal in Appalachia was brought to a focus during the past week in the March on Blair Mountain. And in the powerful new documentary film “The Last Mountain,” which focuses on the fate of Coal River Mountain, West Virginia. These deeply engaged grassroots struggles may finally be starting to receive the wider public attention and support they need and deserve. In them we see an extraordinary convergence: of community self-defense against predatory corporate practices; labor rights and the example of militant labor history; grassroots democracy pushing back against elected officials and government agencies that have been captured by corporate power; the damage to human health from coal mining and burning; ecological destruction and the pollution of air and water by mountaintop removal; and the rigging of the system to facilitate coal’s continuation as the principal driver of global climatic disruption.
If the coal operators, and American energy users, had to pay the true social, environmental, and health costs of coal, we would move more expeditiously to fundamental change in the energy system. Thus, holding government accountable for connecting climate science with climate policymaking is inextricably associated with the growing opposition to mountaintop removal in Appalachia.
“Marchers scale Blair Mountain,” Charleston Gazette, Charleston, West Virginia, June 11:
BLAIR, W.Va. — Hundreds of protesters reached the summit of Blair Mountain on Saturday, marking the end of a weeklong, 50-mile march to raise awareness of mountaintop-removal mining and labor rights in West Virginia.
The protesters came from far and wide to participate in the journey, hailing not only from West Virginia, but also Kentucky, Utah, North Carolina, Tennessee, Australia and Japan. The five-day march was an effort to preserve Blair Mountain as a historical site and to prevent coal companies from using it for mountaintop-removal mining.
Environmental attorney Robert F. Kennedy Jr., country music singer and West Virginia native Kathy Mattea, former congressman Ken Hechler and West Virginia activist Larry Gibson joined the protesters Saturday.
“This is the Gettysburg of the union movement,” Kennedy said during a rally before the protesters reached the summit.
Kennedy, who just released the anti-mountaintop-removal mining documentary “The Last Mountain,” said legislators and the state Department of Environmental Protection are too controlled by the interests of coal companies.
“Everything this industry does is illegal, it’s a criminal enterprise,” he said. “If you came to the Hudson River and you tried to fill 25 feet of a Hudson River tributary, we would put you in jail, I guarantee it. If you tried to blow up a mountain in the Berkshires, the Adirondacks, or a mountain in Colorado, California or Utah, you would go to jail.”
Mattea said she was compelled to attend the protest because she is from South Charleston and has immediate family members who are strong supporters of coal miner unions and environmental protections. She performed a song by folk singer Jean Ritchie called “Black Waters.”
“I came to stand here on this ground, on this day, with all of you because what we are attempting to save here echoes the values in my own life,” Mattea said. “In 1921, thousands of people stood on this mountain, miners and ordinary people from all walks of life. … They stood together to say, ‘No more.'”
In 1921, the march on Blair Mountain was the biggest armed conflict in American labor history. More than 10,000 union miners marched from Marmet to help organize non-union coal mines in Southern West Virginia. After several days of battles, federal troops arrived and ended the conflict.
In 2009, the site was added to the National Register of Historic Places. Nine months later, after pressure from coal companies on state agencies, it was removed from the register.
Today, labor and environmental groups are backing a lawsuit that seeks to restore Blair Mountain’s place on the list.
Alpha Natural Resources, which bought Massey Energy last month, and Arch Coal now own much of Blair Mountain. …
“Hundreds to march 50 miles in battle to save W.Va.’s historic Blair Mountain from strip mining,” Washington Post, June 6
RFK Jr., “The March on Blair Mountain: A Protest to Protect Our Jobs and Our Mountains,” Huffington Post, June 9
Kennedy is featured in “The Last Mountain,” an extraordinarily powerful just-released documentary on the problem of the coal industry in Appalachia.
“Will Obama Stand Up to Fraud and Protect Blair Mountain?” (It’s Getting Hot in Here, June 10):
Tomorrow, thousands will gather at Blair Mountain to protect this historic site and end mountaintop removal. They are marching toward a mountain that is slated to be destroyed because Big Coal used dead people’s names on their petition to re-open if for mining. I’m not kidding.
Monday’s Washington Post story on the march revealed that Arch Coal and Alpha Natural Resources, the two companies seeking to mine the coal-rich Blair Mountain, are the ones intimidating the National Park Service into keeping it off the National Register. To remove Blair Mountain from the historic list, the coal companies submitted names of residents who opposed the listing: ie, people who no longer lived there, couldn’t be located by the West Virginia Attorney General’s office, and yes, dead people.
When confronted about the fraud, Obama’s National Park Service did nothing. Despite his promise to raise the bar for government ethics and accountability, Obama has so far watched as the agencies under him answer to Big Coal. …
In his piece covering the March on Blair Mountain, Bobby Kennedy Jr. writes that the men and women protecting this historic site stand strong against the “ascendancy of unsheathed corporate power that threatens now to overwhelm American Democracy.” Will Obama stand with the people and stand up to these corrupt industries? …