Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Raising Awareness and Action at the University of Cincinnati

Written by Geoffrey Bliss, Graduate Student at the University of Cincinnati

On Wednesday April 18th, Donna Branham, Speaker with the Keeper of the Mountains Foundation spoke at the University of Cincinnati’s (UC) MainStreet Cinema. UC is a large public research university located in southern Hamilton County with a total enrollment of 42,421 and the university was a poised to hear her words. Members of students groups such as UC Beyond Coal, part of the nation-wide Beyond Coal Campaign, were in attendance as well as others representing groups working in distinct branches of green initiatives extending towards green building design, political activism and historic preservation.  

The true cost of Mountain Top Removal, the process of extracting coal developed in the 1970s in Appalachia is “a conventional strip mining technique” that involves the clearing, blasting, digging and extraction techniques necessary to obtain coal, forcibly removing 500-800 feet of mountaintop was made very real, clear and deliberate.

This “cost efficient form of coal production,” which has innumerable side affects such as decreasing the number of available mining jobs, furthering economic disparity in the region, destroying old forests, devastating indigenous fish and wildlife communities and adding to a host of other problems distressing the health, safety and welfare of local populations living in close proximity united students, faculty and staff who absorbed information from an unscripted and vivid portrait of destruction for the sake of profits.  

Donna shared her story of fighting Big Coal - after decades of suffering, struggle and personal loss.

She spoke in a delicate but firm voice, a voice, which echoed the continuing struggle of thousands. The perils of mountain top removal suddenly became extremely vivid and real, carried forward by a strong narrative, which mirrored her travels, her experiences and her longing for social justice. The dangers of fueling the continuing demand for energy, especially that companion the countless coal burning power plants, which dominate the countryside in many urban and rural communities in WV, were suddenly brought within full view. The spectrum of desperation indeed demands action, now.  

Donna provided a stirring introduction, presenting a slideshow of images recounting the destruction wrought by Mountain Top Removal in Mingo County WV, which has affected the livelihood of her family, her friends and her entire community. Mingo County, as Donna explained was noted to be one of “…the poorest and most fragile communities in West Virginia,” She then provided audience members with a short documentary with interviews with residents living in the shadow of Kayford Mountain, whose once tall peaks have been slowly torn apart since 1986, which showed images of trees being torn from the ground and blasts devastating mountainsides, all being set to the harmony of traditional Appalachian cultural music, whose lyrics pleaded and begged for change.      

Her story was intimate, comprehensive and emotionally moving. Donna, who still lives on a small farm with her husband, explained how she has through the years filed numerous petitions and written countless letters against Mountain Top Removal, making her an both an “outcast” and a “target” for harassment. “You’re noted to be an enemy if you speak out against coal.” She explained being pushed around in public, receiving threatening letters, phone calls and even a standoff between her husband and the coal company who forcefully demanded to pass through her property without a proper permit. One could only imagine being treated this way.   

The audience remained speechless. Her presentation continued.

She exposed the mass efficiency of Mountain Removal, which has assisted in creating great profits for coal companies, ruining the natural landscape, increasing the risk for surface runoff of rainwater, causing mass flooding in her community while poisoning the air and groundwater, thereby increasingly the likelihood for preexisting conditions such as asthma from air from air and waterborne illnesses. One could only fathom the following questions: How could coal companies allow coal production to cause such terrible destruction fully knowing the adverse affects to health, safety and well-being residents living there? How can they get away with this? How are coal companies able to continue without sympathy, remorse or regret? How can I stop the continuation of this horrendous disaster wrought upon the natural landscape?

Questions such as this would forever permeate the minds of the audience that day.

Donna explained to students how they could become involved but many of them had already filled out or collected advocacy information well before her presentation finished. You and your colleagues have aroused great hope and change in Mingo County and other parts of Appalachia. Your successes and the continuing stories shared through the Keeper of the Mountain’s On the Road Again campaign were incredibly well received at UC and we look forward to seeing you again at our campus soon.

We can only hope to see the full return of the landscape that you so love and are so connected to. Our hearts and minds are with you and your struggle.

And let it be known that a group of vey interested UC students are already planning their visit to Kayford Mountain in coming months!   

Thank you for sharing your story with us at the University of Cincinnati.

Please stay in touch. We certainly will.

Staunton, Virginia Comes Together

This Post is Written by Event Planner Shay Claton

Chuck Nelson spoke at a house party fundraising event for Keeper of the Mountains Foundation in Staunton, Virginia on the evening of April 18th.

There were 16 people in attendance at the event, which included dinner and drinks with a time for discussion about the issues surrounding Mountain Top Removal mining. Chuck spoke movingly about the effects of Mountaintop Removal on the communities of Appalachia. He told stories of the health problems in his own community in the Coal River Valley as well as the disappearance of whole towns that were once home to many families that had lived there together for generations. He also shared his stories of life as a union miner and his experience as a miner in the employment of Massey Energy the company involved in 1000's of violations of safety rules and environmental regulations.

Chuck also showed a segment of the film "Mountain Mourning" featuring Larry Gibson and the story of Kayford Mountain, home to the Keeper of the Mountains Foundation. Many people were profoundly moved by Chuck's heartfelt stories and by Larry's story and the scenes in the film of the devastation of the mountains by Mountaintop Removal. Everyone left ready to act to help the Keeper of the Mountains in their effort to stop MTR and ready to support their mission to create a sustainable economy and life that honors mountain culture, justice for the people, and respect for the beauty and diversity of these ancient mountains.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Growing Our Movement: 8 States, 10 Days, 25 Events

Adam Hall is Touring through Wisconsin & Indiana on a 9-Day Tour

Amber Whittington of Ameagle, WV, is Touring with Appalachian Voices through Washington on a 9-Day Tour

Chuck Nelson of Glen Daniel, WV is Touring through the Shenandoah Valley on a 2-Day Tour

Debbie Graff of Ghent, WV is Touring through Western North Carolina with Larry Gibson on a 5-Day Tour

Donna Branham of Lenore, WV is Leading an Event in Cincinnati, OH then is Leading Multiple Events in New Paltz, NY

Larry Gibson is Leading an Event in Marietta, OH, then Participating in the National Earth Day Event in Washington, DC then hopping on a plane to Tour through Western North Carolina with Debbie Graff on a 5-Day Tour

April 16th
--> Adam Hall Speaking at 7:00 PM in Room 2650 of the Humanities Building at the University of Wisconsin-Madison

April 17th
--> Chuck Nelson Speaking at 5:30 PM at the "Hokies Love Mountains" Rally (facebook event here) on the stage outside the Squires Student Center at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, VA
--> Adam Hall Speaking at 7:00 PM at "The Encore Room" in the Dreyfus University Center, University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point

April 18th
--> Donna Branham Speaking at 6:00 PM in the Main Street Cinema, Tangeman University Center at the University of Cincinnati (facebook event here)
--> Chuck Nelson Speaking at 6:00 PM at a House Party Fundraiser in Staunton, VA (email Jennifer@MountainKeeper.org for details)
--> Adam Hall Participating in a Presentation at 7:00 PM in Room 2650 of the Humanities Building at the University of Wisconsin-Madison

April 19th
 --> Amber Whittington Speaking at 5:30 PM in Miller Hall- Room 152, Western Washington University, Bellingham, WA
 --> Larry Gibson Speaking at 7:00 PM at Marietta University, OH

April 20th
--> Adam Hall Speaking at 12:00 PM in the Lundeen Lecture Room in Doudna Hall in the University of Wisconsin-Platteville (webpage here)
--> Amber Whittington is Speaking at 7:00 PM in the "Coal Hard Truth" Panel in the YWCA Ballroom, 1026 N. Forest St, Bellingham, WA

April 22nd
--> Larry Gibson will Participate in the Earth Day Rally at the National Mall in Washington, DC (webpage here)
--> Amber Whittington is Speaking at 6:00 PM in The Theater at Braeburn Condos, 1410 E Pine St, Seattle, WA
--> Adam Hall is Speaking on the "Coal: A Human Element" Panel at 7:00 PM in Room 210 of Matthews Hall at Purdue University (facebook event here)

April 23rd
--> Donna Branham is Speaking at 3:00 PM in a Round Table Discussion in the Student Union Building at SUNY-New Paltz, NY
--> Donna Branham is Speaking at 6:00 PM on Extreme Energy (website here) in the Lecture Center 100, SUNY-New Paltz, NY
--> Debbie Graff and Larry Gibson are Speaking at 7:00 PM in the Scott Concert Hall of the Porter Center, Brevard College, NC

April 24th
--> Amber Whittington is Speaking at 12:00 PM at the Ram Restaurant,10019 59th Avenue Southwest, Lakewood, WA
--> Donna Branham is Speaking at 6:30 PM at SUNY-New Patlz, NY
--> Amber Whittington is Speaking at an event by the Transition Fidalgo & Friends who will present the 7th Generation Supper at the Senior Activity Center, 1701 22nd St, Anacortes, WA
--> Debbie Graff and Larry Gibson are Speaking at 7:30 PM in the Cannon Lounge of Warren Wilson College, NC (facebook event here)

April 25th
--> Amber Whittington is Speaking at 7:00 PM in the Port Townsend Community Center, 620 Tyler St, Port Townsend, WA
 --> Debbie Graff and Larry Gibson are Speaking at 7:30 PM to the River Management Symposium, at the Asheville Crowne Plaza, 1 Resort Drive, Asheville, NC (event program here)

April 26th
--> Amber Whittington is Speaking at 7:00 AM to the Olympic Kiwanis Club, Cornerhouse Restaurant, 101 E Front St, Port Angeles, WA
--> Debbie Graff and Larry Gibson are Speaking at 7:00 PM in the Solarium of the Student Center at Appalachian State University, NC (website here)