Wise Up Dominion!

The Beginning

We woke up at 3:30am, but few of us had slept the night before. You’d think we’d be groggy, but the adrenaline and excitement propelled us into action. By 5:30am two trucks holding steel barrels reading “good jobs, healthy communities: we deserve a clean energy future” and “prosperity without poison” pulled into the rendezvous point. My heart was pounding as I pulled a van full of concerned citizens and young activists to meet them, two more cars trailing me. A half hour later we all jumped out at the entrance to Dominion’s new $1.8 Billion coal-fired power plant in Wise County VA. Within seconds we had a blockade. Nine people were connected to concrete-filled barrels, two of which donned six large solar panels illuminating the sun in the background of a large banner reading “Renewable Jobs to Renew Appalachia.” Two more chained themselves to gates, keeping them closed. Our solar lit banner stretched out above the rosy smiles of visionaries young and old. It was a true privilege to help coordinate one of the most fluid, tight, and positive Nonviolent Direct Actions I’ve ever been a part of.

We watched the sun rise together.



I’m not from Appalachia. I’m here because I’ve been deeply inspired by coal-field residents who have spent their lives standing up for clean air and water, good green jobs and a better future for their families. And it’s made them subject to intense harassment and intimidation. Wise County citizens have been fighting this Dominion plant for over two years; they’ve spoken out at every public hearing, filed ever paper and lawsuit possible, and gotten 45,000 people to sign a “mile long” petition to the governor. And now many took the next step and invited friends from around the region and country to join them in solidarity for the first ever protest at this plant. Nonviolent Direct Action is about risking one’s own personal safety for the greater good. It is an act of courage that can come with some severe consequences. That people travel from all around to support this local struggle is emblematic of the world we are fighting for – one in which we look out for one another and support each other, even when that comes at personal cost. 11 of the activists today were arrested and are currently navigating their way through the labyrinth that is the U.S. legal system. We have a vigil setting up for them as I type this.


Alongside those (mostly young people) who chose to put their bodies on the line, came a contingent of cheering protesters of all ages, including a nun, ex coal miner, veteran, schoolteachers, and students. The positive energy was infectious: there was a sense of agency and empowerment shared among all of us, even as we choreographed an elaborate and potentially dangerous dance between police and Dominion employees. The action was courteous, respectful, and residents who were new to this type of action kept remarking about how it was a “class act.” The words “classy,” “beautiful,” “reasonable,” and “respectful” were constantly heard both from Wise County residents, passers-by in cars and trucks, and even the police.

It’s no surprise people were ready to take such a step – and to take it so seriously. Wise County has already had 25% of its historic mountain ranges destroyed forever to mountaintop removal mining. We’re not just talking about saving the environment here, we’re talking about cultural survival for one of the poorest regions of the country.

Click below for more story, pictures, & media links.


Our action was visually striking. Our banners said things like: “Rise Above Dirty Energy,” “Jobs or Clean Water? We Deserve Both!” and many of us wore shirts saying “Invest in Appalachia, Don’t Destroy It. Today’s Destruction is not Tomorrow’s Prosperity.” Our positive energy and solution-oriented approach clearly had resonance, demonstrating that we were in the overwhelming majority. Most cars on the highway visibly reacted to our scene, and in a community so divided over such a controversial topic, over 85% of the reactions were enthusiastic and supportive. A record by most standards for demonstrations of any kind.

Solidarity was clearly a theme of a day. Not only did people from surrounding communities come together to take a stand, but there were actions in support organized from Coast (NYC) to Coast (CA). In San Francisco more Rainforest Action Network activists infiltrated the Bank of America annual investors’ conference and managed to secretly swap out Dominion CEO Thomas F. Farrell’s presentation with our own – full of photos from this morning’s Virginia action. It stayed up for fifteen minutes, much to his dismay.


So many of us chose to engage in this action because it made good movement-sense. Beyond escalating the campaign itself, actions like this help move the coal conversation forward – locally, regionally, and nationally, shifting the spectrum of the political debate. Local groups declared that actions like this offer them bargaining chips – upping the ante in negotiations on a wide range of coal fights, compelling other residents to action, and most importantly raising the profile and visibility of people who are often unseen in the rest of the United States. Locals sent a clear message: we will not be silent. All of this within an international context in which a recent landmark court case determined that Climate Change was so urgent that it justified breaking the law.

It’s only been a few hours since we left Dominion, and there is already a steady stream of media – one sure to grow as the day progresses.  For such a small-town action, with the nearest media outlets over an hour away, in addition to front page articles in all the local papers, we’ve already had articles in:

The Associated Press (AP) Wire

Washington Post

National Public Radio (NPR)

The Richmond Times Dispatch

Democracy Now!

Kingsport Times News


Bristol Herald Courier

Virginia News


Daily Press


DC Indymedia

Guerrilla News Network

Mobile News Network



And that’s just the beginning!

This action happened through the effort of a coalition of many groups, and was also the first project of RAN’s ACTION TANK, a program to incubate new strategies for change.

29 Responses to “Wise Up Dominion!”

  1. 1 Brant Sep 15th, 2008 at 5:54 pm

    Slight correction. Farrell’s slides were not “swapped out” per se. His slides on the main screen were “supplemented” by slides of the protest in VA that were displayed on a secondary screen behind him. Hope someone got photos!

  2. 2 Joshua Kahn Russell Sep 15th, 2008 at 6:07 pm

    Amazing Brant.

  3. 3 Aaron Sep 15th, 2008 at 8:07 pm

    Beauty. Pure and simple!
    I’d love to hear about the status of the brave blockaders, and what happened after this amazing and inspiring action!
    much love and respect!

  4. 4 Deirdre L. Sep 15th, 2008 at 8:53 pm

    Fuck yes. This is beautiful.

  5. 5 Ethan Nuss Sep 15th, 2008 at 11:56 pm

    Inspirational! Great job getting that video made and posted so promptly. Impressive organizing all around. Solidarity.

  6. 6 yasmin Sep 16th, 2008 at 12:12 am

    Great blog, Joshua.

    Props to all of ya’ll.

  7. 7 Morgan Sep 16th, 2008 at 9:19 am


    Really good work and way to put our message out there so strongly! Reading this is a perfect way to start my day of organizing power vote in Cleveland.

    As a side note, I want to add that the quality of anti-coal actions, from my perspective, has been increasing significantly. We’re getting better press, more people involved, the tone is getting both mroe respectful and also more serious. And this blog post is really well written. It doesn’t just take people getting arrested to stop the coal rush and global warming, it takes lots of really strategic actions, and this is what I see. Keep it up!

    When students sat in the lunch counters in the early ’60s, they wore their best Sunday clothes. That was a key decision in helping shift some national media attention to their side early, and I think it also helped the action grow quickly to include hundreds of other students – they said ‘those people are like me and I want to join them’. So here’s for joining in for the most inclusive, effective and strategic movement we’ve ever seen.

  8. 8 Jon berger Sep 16th, 2008 at 11:30 am

    Oh, y’all are bringin me tears! Amazing work.

    Ya basta!

  9. 9 khaos cascadia Sep 16th, 2008 at 5:29 pm

    With Shenandoah Ecosystems Defense Group, I helped organize a road blockade in the GWNF to oppose logging of remnant old growth forest at Hematite in 1997. Two activists locked their wrists into steel tubes cemented in buckets of concrete and buried in the road. To my knowledge this was the first environmental road blockade action in Virginia. Its wonderful to see folks in Appalachia engaging in direct action in defense of our ecosystem and our communities. Thank you, and keep up the great work!

    khaos cascadia

  10. 10 Joyce Luchtenberg Sep 16th, 2008 at 6:16 pm

    Great work!

    Please do this country a hugh favor and make certain that all of you, especially from middle America and the mid-West go into the voting booth and vote for Obama.

    Also, please do what you can to make sure people are registered to vote. We MUST change the direction of this country.

  11. 11 Uncle Travelin' Mat Sep 16th, 2008 at 7:47 pm

    Hey yall!
    Most of you know who I am. For those that don’t My name is Matt Sutherland and I live near the purposed power plant. Each and every day I ride my motorcycle to the construction site to remind Dominion I’m not going to let it go.
    My ancestors have lived in these mountains for over five generation, in fact, we were here longer than there has been an independent “United States of America”. These mountains are my birthright and when I look at what is being done it feels like I am watching a family member being raped or murdered.
    Outsiders with deep pockets have bought our lands and butchered our communities and heritage.
    On 9-11 terrorist blew up the twin towers in New York killing thousands. Our government waisted no time in going to war. For the last 100 years coal barons have destroyed hundreds of our towers (mountains) and killed thousands of us from mining, black lung, and toxins. Nobody went to war for us. Is this a double standard? Are our lives worth less because our towers were not created by men?
    We are so insignificant that the burial sites of our grandparents are dug up and moved to get to the black rock under them.
    Thanks for your help and continued help in stopping the wholesale destruction of my mountains and the genocide of my people.

  12. 12 Desire Grover Sep 16th, 2008 at 11:01 pm

    Awesome documentary. You guys are inspiring to me. Thanks so much for sharing this it ROCKS!

  13. 13 anti clean coal advocate Sep 17th, 2008 at 5:43 pm

    Joyce, while I appreciate your enthusiasm for getting active youth and citizens to vote, I reccommend you check out Obama’s stance on coal. He is all for increasing the amount of “clean coal” research, he said so in his acceptance speech. This is also part part of our struggle; defeating the myth. There is no such thing as “clean coal”, it is filthy from cradle to grave.

  14. 14 Jsschreck Sep 19th, 2008 at 11:41 am

    Great job everyone!

  1. 1 Homeless Polar Bears migrate to Washington DC? « It’s Getting Hot In Here Trackback on Sep 17th, 2008 at 3:52 pm
  2. 2 Appalachia In My Heart « still learning Trackback on Sep 17th, 2008 at 10:29 pm
  3. 3 Wonk Room » Exclusive Video Of Gore’s Remarks At The Clinton Global Initiative: ‘It Is Time For Civil Disobedience’ Trackback on Sep 25th, 2008 at 6:09 pm
  4. 4 Coal and Civil Disobedience: the Dominion 11 « Johnny Rook’s Climaticide Chronicles Trackback on Oct 18th, 2008 at 1:50 am
  5. 5 James Hansen: Obstruction of Justice? « It’s Getting Hot In Here Trackback on Oct 25th, 2008 at 6:47 pm
  6. 6 James Hansen: Obstruction of Justice « The Small Axe Trackback on Oct 25th, 2008 at 7:21 pm
  7. 7 After Gutenberg » Drawing a Line in the Coal Dust Trackback on Oct 26th, 2008 at 5:42 pm
  8. 8 Tuesday Shorts | Fragments From Floyd Trackback on Nov 3rd, 2008 at 6:25 am
  9. 9 TIME MAGAZINE: Taking On King Coal « It’s Getting Hot In Here Trackback on Nov 6th, 2008 at 2:07 pm
  10. 10 The Understory » TIME MAGAZINE: Taking on King Coal Trackback on Nov 6th, 2008 at 4:17 pm
  11. 11 Climate Disobedience: Is a New 'Seattle' in the Making? - Go Green - SustainLane Trackback on Aug 18th, 2009 at 5:19 am
  12. 12 Climate disobedience: Is a new “Seattle” in the making? | Mobilization for Climate Justice Trackback on Aug 18th, 2009 at 3:16 pm
  13. 13 Climate Disobedience Trackback on Aug 26th, 2009 at 6:34 pm
  14. 14 New climate activists-Tomdispatch « FACT – Freedom Against Censorship Thailand Trackback on Sep 21st, 2009 at 1:15 pm
  15. 15 Cyrano's Journal Online » Direct action may become the tool of last recourse in highjacked democracies Trackback on Aug 13th, 2010 at 11:57 am
Comments are currently closed.

About Joshua Kahn

Joshua Kahn Russell is an organizer serving movements for social justice and ecological balance. He is an action coordinator, facilitator, & trainer with the Ruckus Society, and has trained thousands of activists. He has helped win campaigns against banks, oil companies, logging corporations, and coal barons; worked with a wide variety of groups in a breadth of arenas, from local resiliency projects, to national coalitions, to the United Nations Climate Negotiations. He has authored chapters for numerous books, most recently The Next Eco-Warriors. His articles have appeared in Yes! magazine, Left Turn, PeaceWork magazine, Upping the Anti, and Z Magazine. His blog is www.praxismakesperfect.org and you can follow him on Twitter at @joshkahnrussell For a full bio see: http://www.aidandabet.org/roster/russell-joshua-kahn

Community Picks