I was raised for most of my life not one mile from the face of the brushy fork coal sludge impoundment. Every single day I had to wake up with the thought of it breaking and killing myself and my family. With the constant reminders of coal trains and trucks speeding by just a few dozen feet from my front porch, I couldn't forget about it if I tried. The impoundment is the largest earthen dam in the western hemisphere, holding back over seven billion gallons of toxic liquid coal refuse. If that wasn't enough, they also pumped the same refuse into an old underground mine on the ridge above my home, leaving me and my family to deal with blood-red water coming out of our taps for years.
So last week, when I and four of my friends blocked the road to Alpha Natural Resources' corporate headquarters in Bristol, Virginia, going to jail was the last thing on my mind.
We were locked into a concrete barrel that weighed well over eight-hundred pounds and a water tank full of water that was tinted to look like the toxic coal sludge that I live with everyday. We blocked the road for a solid two and a half hours, and we also learned later that the CEO of Alpha, as well as other top executives were stuck in the traffic jam trying to get into the building. (which I take an immense amount of pride in, considering I was in a string of failed face to face meetings with them about a year and a half ago.)
The five of us are facing possible jail time and/or fines when all of the court stuff is said and done. For me though, it's a small price to pay to take the fight from my home to Alpha's home. To bring the fear and reality of poisoned water from my doorstep in the Coal River Valley to the doorstep of the people who are most directly responsible for it.
This summer will be full of opportunities for anyone to take action against whatever form of extraction is menacing their corner of the world. From Hydrofracking, to Tar Sands, to coal there will be continued action until we stop them. I'm eternally grateful to the four people who locked down with me to take a stand for my community, just as I'll be grateful all summer to people standing up to extraction in their own communities or communities that are asking for outside help. It isn't just the coal trains and trucks rumbling by my house, it isn't just the leaky sludge damn that's hanging over my family's head, it isn't just the flammable water from fracking or the pipeline cutting a swath through the center of our country. It's all of these things and more combined. If we come together as a movement, and demand an end to all these things then we have a chance of actually running these companies into the ground.
Junior Walk is an activist based out of southern West Virginia fighting against coal extraction. He worked in the coal industry, as well as lived with coal polluted water for most of his life. For the past four years he's worked on coal issues with various organizations in West Virginia, including Coal River Mountain Watch, the RAMPS campaign, and the Keepers of the Mountains foundation.