I was invited to photograph the protest and shutdown of the Hobet Mine in Boone and Lincoln Counties in West Virginia last week. The organizers knew me from my participation in the Blair Mountain March last year. This is the biggest mountaintop removal mine in the US, I am told. I was not aware of the location selected until we got there.
This protest was to shut down a mine somewhere in West Virginia, the location of which was unannounced. There were two ways to participate, by coming to a training the day of the protest at the Kanawha State Forest and then meeting up with the rest of the protesters, those that had been at the base camp the previous few days, or by training at that base camp and then leaving in the morning to go to the State Forest to then meet up with the single day group.
I was with the group at the base camp. The morning at camp started with the few that were going to the State Park to give the trainings in non violent protest methods. They left a couple of hours before the rest of us left. We were to hit the mine site around the same time the newly trained protesters did.
Just before 10:00 am, we took off to go to the mine to meet the other protesters. We snaked out on a 6 mile long dirt road to the pavement. Where the road we were on comes out was a stop sign and a gas station. The convoy out was reported by a person at the gas station.
Click on an image for a larger version, all photos are covered by the Creative Commons copyright, Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike
That was the start of what ended up being a three hour drive to the as yet undisclosed location. I took a few photos on the way.
I was in one of the last cars in the convoy, and so was one of the last to see that the other protesters were not there. I later realized, when the others never showed up, that they were a diversion to tie up both the Police and counter protesters at the State Forest, a couple of hours drive away. It worked very well, we were there uninterrupted for quite a while.
The first of the protesters I came upon was a group readying for a tree sitting. The road leading to them had been blocked by some of the protesters with a couple of obstacles found nearby to slow the response going farther up the hill.
As I went up the hill, I saw a stream substitute. GWB changed a word or two in the laws governing reclamation to allow soil, streams ground cover and god only knows what else be replaced with substitutes. This is an example of a stream substitute:
As I went farther into the mine site, the scope of the destruction became greater in scale.
The first piece of equipment the protesters occupied was a rock hauler. A giant stop sign was brought in and deployed, to enable the operators of these gigantic pieces of equipment to see them.
Once stopped, the protesters had a crew ready with banners and locking devices to board the rock hauler.
The banner drop was cause for jubilation.
While this was happening, a line of protesters were down the hill to slow any attempts to stop the protest from continuing. Once the equipment was secured, the line moved uphill to use the rock hauler as part of the blockade. By this time, a number of protesters had locked themselves to the rock hauler.
Another rock hauler is high above on a man made hill with ground cover substitute adding some greenery. Just up the road is more equipment and a lot of miners. They did not seem happy for the tree hugger (their term for the protesters) induced break.
On a distant denuded ridge, the destruction continued.
Once that rock hauler was secured the remaining protesters continued up hill. There was a lot more equipment there, and more angry miners.
Again, as I went farther into the mine, the vast scale of destruction became more staggering.
Even these gigantic rock haulers become dwarfed in this desolation.
And more “reclaimed” land…
While in the distance, a Bucyrus Erie dragline is hard at work, tearing open the Earth. Seen is the tip of the 300 foot long boom in the first two photos, the third is the pit the dragline is in.
That was as far as I went into the maw of the monster. The few protesters still ahead of me turned around and returned to equipment they had already passed. I followed. Shown is Dustin Steele and two others, locked to another piece of equipment. Dustin was later reported to have been brutalized by Law Enforcement.
Then it started to get crowded, both by employees of the mine and the Police.
Those of us not wishing to be arrested left when told to. The walk down was a study in the rape of the earth.
Eventually, I made it down to the location where the tree sitter had been preparing a climb.
Some of the miners were watching the Police deal with the tree sitter’s ground crew.
The tree sitter had done his banner drop while I was higher up in the mine.
When I got to the base of the tree, the ground crew of the tree sitter were cuffed and in the Police car.
The hills were alive with the sound of Police cars and the loud trucks and four wheelers of the Friends of Coal. They are the group that would counter protest while the protesters walked an eight mile gantlet of miners, families, four wheelers and pickup trucks intent on keeping us from making headway back up the now “closed” (seemingly to only our vehicles) public road. The drive back after the pickup was also contested by blockades and dangerous high speed maneuvers by those same counter protesters.
The ubiquitous helicopter following the march out.
Twenty of the protesters were arrested, charged with trespassing, and held on $25,000 bond, only able to be secured with property in West Virginia, cash or bail bond not acceptable. As I write this, about half are still in jail.
The protesters made it back to camp that night, tired, sore, scared, and ecstatic. And with a lot of experience of how intimidating it can be to be the enemies of both most of the locals and Law Enforcement, and how to get through that sort of challenge with heads held high. As high as the mountains they love.
All photos in this diary are mine. Some have since been used without attribution. More of my photos of this event are here:
A friend of mine, Flux Rostrum made this video of the protest:
I must admit (full disclosure) that the red Jeep Liberty in the video (with the FDL Occupy Supply sticker on the window) is mine and the woman being interviewed about being pepper sprayed by a counter protester is my girl friend. She drove my Jeep with four passengers, all media, to the site. All the stills used in the video from the mine site are those I took.
And Jordan Freeman, another friend, made this one of the walk and drive back:
http://youtu.be/tIVZT8epbpEPublished earlier today on the European Tribune