Amidst threats and intimidation by King Coal’s supporters, 600 courageous marchers kicked off a five day march from Marmet, WV to Blair Mountain.
Blair Mountain was the site of the second largest armed insurrection (after the Civil War) in U.S. history. 8000-10000 miners fighting for union rights took up arms against hired coal thugs. Blair Mountain has been an iconic symbol for both the U.S. labor movement and West Virginia itself. And now coal companies want to strip mine Blair Mountain. They’ve already stripped it of its historical preservation status and are now seeking permitting to strip mine it.
In fact, they’ve already begun strip mining on parts of it or so I hear.
You can tell the WV Dept. of Environmental Protection – “Don’t let big coal destroy our history”, by sending a comment to tell them to protect Blair Mountain
While the 1921 marchers faced hardship and armed opposition (armed private security, bombs from planes, federal troops), the 2011 marchers are facing harassment by pro-coal supporters along the way. A tweet this morning from @marchonblairmt reported “Road has scattered clusters of opposition as honking coal trucks hug the the shoulder – marchers squeeze to fit on.“
But this march is also seeing new alliances between United Mine Workers locals and environmentalists. Blair Mountain organizer and archaeologist Brandon Nida said at this morning’s press conference as the march kicked off, “The unions protect [workers] in the workplace and environmentalist protect them at home. They’re the same“
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
Hundreds Begin 50 Mile March to Protect Blair Mountain in Southern W.Va.
Marchers call for end to mountaintop removal, protection of Blair Mountain, strengthened labor rights
Marmet, WV – Appalachia Rising: March on Blair Mountain kicked off this morning with a press conference at the Marmet Baseball field. Hundreds of participants rallied and community members called for the abolition of mountaintop removal, the protection of Blair Mountain, the strengthening of labor rights, and a transition to a sustainable economy in Appalachia. Hundreds of participants began their peaceful trek to Blair Mountain at approximately 10:15 a.m.
Chuck Keeney, great grandson of famed UMWA leader during the 1921 Battle of Blair Mountain spoke at the conference. Also speaking were Coal Country producer Mari-Lynn Evans; Salt Rock native Brandon Nida,and Wilma Steele, a Mingo county art teacher. Photos are available upon request at: firstname.lastname@example.org
“We’re here to build a better future for our kids, for our community,” said Brandon Nida, Salt Rock W.Va. native and doctoral student of archaeology at Berkeley.
Marchers will follow the same route that coal miners took when they marched to Blair Mountain in 1921 in an effort to gain basic human rights and civil liberties. The ensuing battle between 10,000 coal miners and the coal industry’s hired gunmen is remembered as the largest armed uprising in United States history since the Civil War, and was a landmark event in labor struggles of the early 20th century. In March of 2009, Blair Mountain was placed on the National Register of Historic Places, but coal operator pressure on state agencies led to its de-listing nine months later.
“Mountaintop removal eliminates jobs, not creates jobs,” said retired UMWA miner Joe Stanley, “I’m doing this to preserve the history and culture Blair Mountain represents. If we allow them to destroy Blair Mountain we’ll forget the actions done by brave men that led to strengthening the labor movement and creating the middle class.”
Hundreds more are expected to join throughout the march. The march will end with a rally in Blair, W.Va., on June 11, where Emmylou Harris, Kathy Mattea, Ashley Judd, and other artists will perform. Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., will speak at the rally, along with acclaimed Appalachian writer Denise Giardina and retired UMWA miner and community leader Chuck Nelson.
Mountaintop removal is an extreme form of coal mining that involves blasting off the tops of mountains in order to extract the seams of coal underneath. Overburden—the industry term for topsoil, trees, and rock containing toxic heavy metals—is dumped in valleys, finding its way into water sources and contaminating the drinking water of those who live nearby. Community members living near mountains permitted for mountaintop removal often choose to vacate their homes rather than endure these adverse conditions, which also include increased flooding and poor air quality.
Mingo County native Wilma Steele said, “King coal owns our land and our politicians, they lead them to ignore mining safety laws and ignore every environmental law in the book. Our mountains are special and shouldn’t be destroyed for this”