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June 08, 2012

Hundreds Descend on Washington to Demand a Stop to Mountaintop Removal Mining

Mtr rally1

Hundreds of activists and community organizations from throughout the Appalachian region made their presence felt in Washington this week, protesting destructive Mountaintop Removal mining (MTR) in their home states.  Residents traveled from West Virginia, Kentucky, Tennessee, Pennsylvania, and Virginia to meet with congressional members, visit government agencies, hold rallies, and raise awareness of the devastating effects of MTR on their communities.

The activists spent much of the week in and around the House and Senate office buildings, trying to gain an audience with their elected representatives.  While some Senators and Congressmen were willing to listen to the visitors, many were unmoved or openly hostile, even refusing to meet with their constituents altogether. 

After a frustrating and unfruitful visit to the office of Representative Morgan Griffith, Virginia resident Laura Miller concluded: “he represents the ninth District of Virginia, but we don’t feel that he is, we feel he’s representing the coal companies.”  In a brief encounter with Representative John Duncan of Tennessee, another activist reported that the Congressman pointed at him and said “I don’t want to talk to him, he was rude to me before.” 

Undeterred, the activists shifted tactics, refusing to leave and conducting impromptu sit-ins in congressional offices to ensure their presence was known.  In at least one congressional office, protestors were arrested for refusing to leave after being rebuffed by their representative, loudly singing “Stop tearing the mountains down, all for the love of the coal in the ground” and “We shall not be moved” in the halls of the Longworth House Office Building.

 “The congressmen weren’t in a listening mood this morning.  But there are people in their offices now who are going to stay until they get listened to,” said Bill Price, a Sierra Club organizer in the Appalachian region.  “They say in Washington you can walk the halls of power, but we’re here to tell them what real power is.  It’s out there with the people.”

Outside on the Capitol lawn, hundreds more protestors gathered to support their friends and neighbors inside.  Over the past year, many Appalachian women have banded together in silent protest against MTR by shaving their heads in memoriam of the razed hills left behind in their communities.  On Wednesday, several more women joined the movement, having their heads shaved live at a rally staged against the backdrop of the gleaming Capitol dome.    

Mtr rally2
Nor are the Appalachian protestors alone in this struggle.  Yiming Roberts and Maria Paoletti of the Washington, D.C. area (Northern Virginia and Maryland, respectively) demonstrated their solidarity with the women of Appalachia by having their heads shaved as well.  “It’s important for us to know where our energy comes from here in D.C., and at what cost,” said Paoletti.  “My hair’s going to grow back.  The Mountains, they’re never going to grow back.”

Just up Pennsylvania Avenue from the rally at the Capitol, over 100 protestors were arrested outside the White House for blocking the sidewalk with signs that read Blowing Up Mountains for Coal Poisons People; Clean Coal is a Dirty Lie; and What We Do to the Land, We Do to the People

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Pro-coal Congressmen and Senators may not be listening yet, hoping that this movement will just go away.  But organizers say that won’t happen anytime soon.  Ann League of Tennessee called on supporters to “call your congressmen, tell your neighbors, tell your friends, tell your congregation, that this is an important issue.”  Added Bill Price: “They need to put an end to MTR.  We won’t rest, and we won’t stop, until they do.”

-- Gordon Scott, Sierra Club International Program

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