The three day event featured educational components including workshops, panel discussions, movie showings, and site tours of an active mountaintop removal site. It also included camping and live bluegrass music. “The festive air of music, campfire, and the really friendly people reminded me of the church mission trips I took every summer in high school,” said Mason student Krieger, “you always walk away fulfilled.” The week’s activities culminated with a rally and more direct action activities.
Speakers at the rally included Larry Gibson, a well-known, long-time mountaintop removal opponent; Mike Roselle, co-founder of Earth First!; Jesse Johnson, Mountain Party candidate for U.S. Senate in West Virginia; and Ken Hechler, former secretary of state and Congressperson from West Virginia. Many people in attendance cheered loudly when Hechler, a longtime opponent of mountaintop removal, proudly proclaimed, “I may be 96 but there’s a fire in my belly. I’m here to help save these beautiful mountains of West Virginia and put people back to work doing useful things.”
Ce Garrison, one of the Mason students who traveled to West Virginia, said, “I attended the event because I wanted to know what the people of West Virginia are going through. I wanted a chance to see firsthand what I had been fighting against for the past year.” She saw MTR sites before this one, but she was particularly moved by a panel discussion featuring coalfield residents, “The people were so open and honest about their situations, and it was heartbreaking. I cannot imagine having to get permission [from a coal company] to visit my loved one's grave sites.”
Now that the summit’s over, Garrison proclaimed she is more motivated than ever to end MTR and help the coal field residents. “Larry Gibson and the others were such an inspiration to me and I want to help them find a place in the world where their homes are safe from destruction and their bodies safe from poison. I want to find an alternative for people in West Virginia to work that won't have them choosing between their families and their jobs.”
Krieger feels as though he now has an idea of what the people in Appalachia are dealing with. He grew up in a log cabin where as a child he played with his friends. When he was 15 the area, “was ransacked in favor of multi-million dollar McMansions.” He feels that after this experience he knows, “what it’s like to lose precious property.” Partly as a result of that he was one of the approximately 35 people to risk arrest by planting trees on the site. “At first I was nervous about the action's uncertainty, but after talking with like-minded people I felt I should go out and fight the good fight with my comrades.”
Emily Miles, another Mason student, said her favorite part of the event was, “seeing my friends bravely walking onto the reclamation site and being there to support them.” She feels the event was a symbolic action, “in which [we] are taking back the mountains and doing the job that the big coal companies are legally required to do, restore the ecosystems of the mountains, but don't.” She concluded, “I thought the action was a great way to involve a large group of people that want to abolish mountaintop removal.”
In addition to planting trees, several attendees unfurled a banner at the site stating, “Reclamation FAIL,” in reference to what opponents of mountaintop removal say is a refusal of coal companies to put sufficient effort into attempting to repair the ecosystems that they have destroyed. Although security for the coal company arrived on scene and called the police, ultimately no arrests were made. Now that it’s over Krieger says, “though it was a long few days, West Virginia residents and their families are going to continue to be threatened by these hungry firms every single day. Now I just want to keep the fire burning and keep the message alive.”
To see more pictures from the event, click here.
|Protesters trespassing on coal company property to plant trees.|
Editor’s Note: This trip was part of Mason students’ active campaign to help abolish mountaintop removal. Their previous actions include raising awareness about the issue on campus, testifying at a recent EPA hearing on coal-ash disposal, lobbying at the state capital in Richmond, attending Appalachia Rising in Washington D.C., and participating in civil disobedience at the White House and at the EPA Headquarters. On Monday, the EAG cosponsored an event featuring, Tricia Shapiro, the author of the just-published book "Mountain Justice: Homegrown Resistance to Mountaintop Removal, For the Future of Us All" to continue to bring attention to the issue. More events and activities will be taking place throughout the end of the semester and into next year; announcements will be made as they become available. Stay tuned for a video companion piece to this which will posted soon.