Future Hope Column, August 12, 2010
By Ted Glick
Judy Bonds may not be physically present when thousands of people take action September 27th in Washington, D.C. to demand an end to mountaintop removal and strip mining, and that would be a real shame. If there is one person who has done more in their life to shake up the coal barons and, in her words, “put them on the ropes,” it’s Judy Bonds, co-director of Coal River Mountain Watch.
Judy may not be there because she learned last month that she has stage three cancer. Treatment will take at least three months.
There’s no question, however, that Judy will be there in spirit, and that her spirit is guiding the growing Appalachia Rising coalition (http://www.appalachiarising.org). This coalition is organizing a two-day “Voices of the Mountains” conference the weekend of September 25-26 followed by a mass demonstration on Monday the 27th. The action on the 27th will demand an end to mountaintop removal and all forms of steep slope surface mining. In addition to a vibrant, permitted march and rally, dignified non-violent civil disobedience is being organized for those who wish to express themselves by risking arrest.
Appalachia Rising was initiated by leading individual activists in Appalachia from groups like Coal River Mountain Watch, Mountain Justice, Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition, On Coal River, Climate Ground Zero, Kentuckians for the Commonwealth and many others. 100 organizations have endorsed the action so far, and the list continues to grow. Among those with name recognition who have endorsed, some of whom will be taking part, are: Jim Hansen, Bill McKibben, Kathy Mattea, Ashley Judd, Wendell Berry, Gloria Reuben, Woody Harrelson, Darryl Hannah, Kyra Sedgewick, Kevin Bacon and Ed Begley, Jr.
The cause of ending mountaintop removal is a popular one. According to a poll conducted in 2008 by the Appalachian Center for the Economy and the Environment, 2/3 of all U.S. Americans, including 2/3rds of West Virginians where the practice is widespread, oppose mountaintop removal.
Under the Obama Administration, there has been progress toward the objective of ending these assaults on God’s creation. In the last year the Environmental Protection Agency has released new guidelines to curtail mountaintop removal under the Clean Water Act, and the Army Corps of Engineers has suspended Nationwide Permit 21, which, under the Bush administration, had streamlined the valley fill permitting process to the benefit of the coal industry.
Bo Webb, co-coordinator of Appalachia Rising, sees these as steps in the right direction, but he points out that, “blasts still sound at 4:00 p.m. daily above communities across Appalachia, and in late June the EPA permitted a new 760 acre site that would bury three miles of streams in Logan County, W.Va. We’ve had 1 1/2 years of Obama and met with all kinds of government agencies, and still no abolition of mountaintop removal. I think that some people may now be comfortable with continuing a dialogue with enforcement agencies and congressional members, thinking that we’re getting somewhere, we’re close, let’s keep talking. But what I’m observing is that we are reaching out to them, they are not reaching out to us. If we shut up and go away, case closed, bomb Appalachia.”
As important as this mobilization is to prevent one of this country’s worst environmental crimes, it’s also important as an example to the broader climate and progressive movements.
It’s important because it’s an example of a mobilization being led by those most affected by injustice. This is a key principle for all of us to appreciate and take seriously. Fundamental changes aren’t made unless those on the receiving end of injustice are in the central leadership of efforts to overcome it.
It’s also important as an example of the kind of action needed on a wide range of issues: broadly-based, the demands being popularly-supported, combining a mix of nonviolent tactics including more-edgy-but-essential civil disobedience, and being clear that we can’t accept half-measures and incremental steps. We need to let government leaders know that we’re not into playing politics, playing nice, playing along with their view of what’s best to set things up for the next election. We’re in this to truly make change for the benefit of people and the planet, and soon.
In an interview posted on Grist.org in 2003, Judy Bonds summarized her vision for Appalachia:
“We’d like for [coal companies] to mine coal responsibly, but we also want to bring in other industries. We want diverse economic development so that we have something when the coal is gone — and that day is not far away. We need to wean ourselves. Our government knows this, and the alternatives are there, but the political will is missing.”
She went on to speak words more true now than ever:
“At the same time, we can no longer blame the industry and politicians. It’s our fault, too. We have to get off our duffs, get our noses out of the TV, and get our children to speak up. We really need to push.”
In Judy’s spirit, let’s keep pushing until September 27th and beyond to win a victory for the people of Appalachia, for people and God’s mountains everywhere.
Ted Glick is the Policy Director of the Chesapeake Climate Action Network. Past Future Hope columns and other information can be found at http://www.tedglick.com.