A quick skim through Greg Kaufmann’s latest installation of This Week in Poverty and you won’t see anything about the Hobet Mine Protest that occurred this past weekend in West Virginia. This is surprising, because the title of Kaufmann’s entry is ‘Respect the Worker,’ and one such as myself would be inclined to think that a group of activists trespassing onto private property where workers are operating would be seen as some form of disrespect of labor.
This is complicated, because I don’t want to diminish the actual content of Kaufmann’s article; it details several highly disturbing violations of labor rights that need examining in our era of diminishing labor representation. I am also hesitant to disagree with the overall message of RAMPS (Radical Action for Mountain Peoples’ Survival, the organization whose trespassing at the Hobet Mine got them thrown in jail), which I presume to be some form of abhorrence of mountaintop removal. What I do disagree with is the medium for such protest. (I’ll include a video of it at the bottom of this post, but you can also find it here, and read for yourself the ignorant dreck that both sides of the issue spew at the level of public forum.)
At the risk of sounding like a critic of hairstyles and physical appearances, I’ve always had a hard time getting on board with dreadlocked activists who proclaim radicalism by doing semi-risky business – such as militantly trespassing on private property during operation hours – under the guise of genuine altruism. The name of the organization itself is complicated. Radical; well, yes, Trespassing While Dreadlocked is indeed a textbook radical action in some college campus organizations. Action; presumably, the point here is to raise awareness through action. The thing I worry about is that it’s the wrong kind of awareness. In other words, you see the vitriol of both sides through the prism of militant activism. It complicates the context. And the rest: for Mountain Peoples’ Survival. What gets lost here is that coal miners mine in order to survive. It shouldn’t have to be pointed out that both sides have a definition of survival that is of course going to clash at some point. But the “losers” (if such a word is appropriate) are always going to be the activists because nothing is achieved. It is, in other words, counterproductive.
Again, it is a complicated issue. But if we’re “raising awareness,” disrespecting the workers by invading their workspace isn’t the way to go about it. Because, after all, we all have the same end game in mind: living in a sustainable and healthy environment on a livable wage. In the struggle against the oppressive corporation class, the workers - not the dreadlocked activists – are central to this ultimate goal of self-sustaining life. Besides, I’m unaware of any issue in the history of man that was resolved through Militant Dreadlocked Activism. (I’m creating a social scientific term for this, by the way.) It isn’t the awareness that environmentalists need, and it certainly isn’t the awareness that workers deserve.