This week, hundreds of marchers will convene in the West Virginian wilderness to walk over 50 miles in 5 days. Organized by Friends of Blair Mountain and Appalachia Rising, the March to Blair Mountain is a 7-day event in which participants will weather obstacles such as the outdoors, possible intimidating counter protestors, port-a-potties, and withstanding 500 people who haven’t showered in 5 days all culminating on June 11th in a protest atop historic Blair Mountain in West Virginia.
Blair Mountain is slated as a site for mountaintop removal – in which the coal companies (like Massey) literally explode the tops off of mountains to reach the coal deposits inside and leave the surrounding ecosystems and communities devastated. In fact, the the amount of explosives used each week is equivalent to one Hiroshima bomb. It would be like if your doctor were to just blow off parts of your body in order to excise a tumor, instead of carefully cutting their way through in order to later put the pieces back together in a functional form.
Machinery used in the process replaces jobs once done by human workers, meaning the companies can get more coal profits without having to pay for more jobs (because the US definitely doesn’t need anymore of those these days). Mountaintop removal is also dangerous because of the outlying effects on the land and people surrounding it. The “overburden” (or what’s left of the mess of trees, soil, and rock left over) is often dumped into valleys and rivers, carrying toxic heavy metals and pollutants.
Contaminated water forces people to either risk becoming very ill or move out of their homes. And, unlike your neighborhood surgeon, mountaintops cannot be placed back on top of the exposed mountainsides. With the forests clear-cut and the soil stripped, the land is left unusable.
The March on Blair Mountain commemorates the battle of Blair Mountain between coal miners and the coal companies in 1921. It was the largest labor uprising in US history with over 10,000 miners rebelling to fight for better conditions in the southern coal fields and rescue other illegally imprisoned miners. While the rebellion did not succeed in its day, it was the spark that started the labor movement and drove other workers in other industries to rally for better working conditions. The organizers of the march are hoping that this will ignite a similar spark to fight for a future with cleaner energy, more jobs, and viable solutions to combat climate change.
Coal seems to being taking some hits these days with negative press, damaging spoof websites, even a new documentary, The Last Mountain, about the devastating effects of mountaintop removal. The climate and energy movements still need some more mojo, with the stakes only getting higher scientifically, and the stakes only getting more stubborn politically. If the rallying cries of the people haven’t convinced the government and industry to drop mountaintop removal, then perhaps massive amounts of BO will get their attention.
People are encouraged to sign up and come for the rally on Saturday the 11th if walking through the West Virginian countryside for 5 days isn’t their cup of tea. Or, you could support the march from your home computer as well. Look for more stories about the march in a few weeks, and in the meantime, follow my updates on twitter (@Laurel350) as I attempt to complete the week without getting run over by a coal truck.
View the trailer for “The Last Mountain” film: