From Marmet, West Virginia, to Blair, West Virginia, hundreds are marching across the Appalachian region throughout this week to honor the historic labor event known as the Battle of Blair Mountain. This event designed to remember one of the largest battles in US labor history, however, is not just about history. A coalition known as Appalachia Rising is using the five-day march to call attention and protest mountaintop removal coal mining.
Parson Brown, co-founder of the Topless America Project, a small group from Chicago that has been producing a documentary on mountaintop removal coal mining for more than five years, reports at the end of the first day of the march the “exhausted marcher”s set up camp. They were met with “steady slew of harassment.” A local came on the scene and tried to “sabotage” the media RV. Cars, coal trucks and “emergency” vehicles, according to Brown, made laps around the marchers blasting horns and sirens.
Eventually the “county commission” forced the marchers to pack up and vacate the grounds or face “mass arrests.” The marchers returned to Marmet, where they had begun their march. But, they expect to continue marching to Blair Mountain.
In the end, participants expect to march fifty miles. Each day participants will go about ten miles. The march will culminate in a rally in Blair, West Virginia, where Emmylou Harris, Ashley Judd and other artists will perform. Also, Robert F. Kennedy Jr. is expected to speak at the rally.
While many of the people participating are marching, some are being tasked with the job of preparing meals, setting up camps, driving shuttles and delivering water to those who are walking each day.
Brown expects the march to tie the history of Blair Mountain to the struggles that continue to happen with mountaintop removal coal mining, but he acknowledges the reality that labor is typically not on the side of activists fighting mountaintop removal.
“The whole debate constantly had between mountaintop removal activists and pro-coal sympathizers is that we are trying to take away jobs or our efforts to end mountaintop removal would eliminate people’s ability to make a living,” says Brown.
The coalition behind the “March on Blair Mountain” notes in March 2008 the mountain was placed on the National Register of Historic Places. Pressure from coal operators had it removed from the list and now it is under threat.
Organizers describe mountaintop removal coal mining as “an extreme form of coal mining that involves blasting off the tops of mountains in order to extract the seams of coal underneath.” Those living near mountains that coal companies are permitted to blow up for coal often leave their homes instead of enduring the conditions the mining creates—conditions that often include threat of increased flooding and polluted air and water.
Citizens of the United States need to understand that mountaintop removal coal mining is becoming more and more widespread, which decreases the amount of jobs available for Appalachians.
Coal barons like Don Blankenship of Massey Energy have busted unions. Blankenship prides himself on being a union-buster. Successfully connecting labor history to the need to end mountaintop removal could be a great catalyst in accelerating efforts to end mountaintop removal coal mining.
“We have a responsibility to understand and a responsibility to address the injustices that are taking place in these region,” concludes Brown. “Mountains are really important part of who I am and they are more than just topography. I think that resonates for lots of people throughout Appalachia.”
Throughout production of a documentary that is now in post-production, Brown has found the Topless America Project has been helping the people whose story they came to tell. They have interviewed directly affected Appalachians. And, they have learned that what is most important is that Americans understand this is not just an Appalachia issue but an American issue.
*For more updates on the march, visit the MarchonBlairMountain.org