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February 22, 2013

Marching for the Mountains

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On Valentine's Day, an estimated 1,500 Kentuckains showed their love for their mountains by marching and rallying on the steps of the State Capitol in Frankfort to celebrate I Love Mountains Day.

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The annual event is led by the Kentuckians for the Commonwealth (KFTC), with support from the Sierra Club's Cumberland Chapter and a host of other groups including the Kentucky Environmental Foundation, Interfaith Power and Light, and the Louisville Climate Action Network, among many others.

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The Sierra Club and KFTC have been working hand-in-hand for years to end the destructive practice of mountaintop removal coal mining in eastern Kentucky.

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"The Sierra Club has been supporting this event for many years, and we mobilized a lot of our members to go," says Louisville-based Sierra Club organizer Thomas Pearce. "It's always an empowering day. People who love our sacred mountains come together in greater and greater numbers every year and send a strong message to the Kentucky state government that we want them to protect our mountains and our water, and stand up for a better quality of life for the people of Appalachia."

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Drew Foley, chair of the Greater Louisville Sierra Club, and his wife Jayne were among the ralliers. That's the Foleys, at left above and below, holding the Sierra Club banner on the capitol steps.

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"This is the third year we've done the march, and it's always a great experience," Drew says. "We gather at a bridge over the Kentucky River and then walk about half a mile up the hill to the capitol. There's chanting, signing, people are carrying signs, banners, American flags, valentines for the governor—it's fun. But it's for a serious purpose; outlawing mountaintop removal and protecting Kentucky's streams."

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Participants in I Love Mountains Day came from all over the state, including a group who walked 140 miles from Prestonburg, in the mountains of eastern Kentucky, as part of the Footprints for Peace march. A group of Kentucky schoolchildren met the marchers on the capitol steps, where an array of speakers addressed the crowd.

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"I'm here because I care about our mountains," said Bennie Massey of Harlan County, which has been heavily afflicted by mountaintop removal. "Once we lose them, we can't get them back. This is all we have to give our young people. We need them to stay here and they have to have something to stay for."

Silas-HouseThe keynote speaker was author, professor, and eastern Kentucky native Silas House, pictured at left. "I for one am ready for new power," he said, rallying the crowd with the chant, "Let's clean this house!" House co-authored Something Rising, a book of testimonies on mountaintop removal mining.

"I was raised in eastern Kentucky and I know the complexities of coal mining," House told the blog Flour Sack Mama. "I know the fraternity of coal miners and that heritage that binds you together as a culture and all that. But I also grew up above a strip mine and I know what it's like to not be able to go outside and play without being afraid of blasts, I know what it's like for your water supply to be ruined, and I know what it's like for your roads to be destroyed and the taxpayers to have to pay for it. I just think that these corporations are out of control, and they need reigned in. People should have the ear of their politicians instead of corporations. That's the reason I'm here."

Another speaker was retired coal miner and Vietnam veteran Carl Shoupe, below, who participated in the march less than a week after undergoing heart surgery. "I believe as young and older people, all of us can create new jobs and have clean energy and we can live in healthy communities," he said. "But to have that future we must stop the destruction that's going on in eastern Kentucky."

Carl-Shoupe

Greater Louisville Sierra Club chair Foley says that although the state legislature is not directly addressing mountaintop removal, citizens are trying to stop the destructive practice through stronger enforcement of the Clean Water Act. "I feel we're gradually changing Kentuckians attitudes about the issue," he says.

"Standing at the top of the capitol steps, looking out over the crowd, and hearing all the speakers, gives me reason to be optimistic. I feel more strongly every time I participate that we will make a difference."

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