Two years ago this month, I flew in a helicopter over Appalachian coal country in Kentucky.
After we landed and I drove off, I cried.
I was in Kentucky because the amazing group Kentuckians for the Commonwealth (KFTC) had asked me to come down to see firsthand what mountaintop removal (MTR) coal mining was really like. I took a Litehawk helicopter flight for an aerial perspective of the damage from MTR mining in the area. During the flight, I took picture after picture of these gouged-out mountaintops:
People who know me can tell you I'm a strong-willed activist who thinks and acts decisively and pragmatically. But after an hour of circling these stripped-out circles of land among the trees and hills that make up this beautifully hilly country, seeing truck after truck moving mountains of earth away from these scars, I felt like I could hear the ground screaming in pain. I had seen pictures, but nothing had prepared me for this. As I was driving off in my car, I really wasn't sure if I would be able to stop crying. I felt like I had just witnessed a murder I wasn't able to prevent.
During trip through Appalachia I also met many of the people directly affected by the devastation from MTR. These men and women took me to their homes -- their Kentucky "hollers" -- and talked about the death threats they received from coal companies for speaking out against MTR. These weren't "activists": They were people who came from Appalachian families going back several generations, many of whom worked in the coal mines and were part of the mining community. For them, community and tradition were replaced by health problems caused by contaminated drinking water from coal slurry and homes that had to be abandoned because of cracked foundations due to the blasting. The health threats and pain of a changing landscape were all too real, every day. I think about them often and what they have faced. It makes me realize that we have to stop these companies from destroying the land and these communities.
Since my trip to the Appalachians, my respect for the leaders and groups working to end mountaintop removal has soared. Make no mistake: no one is fighting coal companies on the front lines harder than the fearless anti-mountaintop removal activists in Appalachia. The climate movement can learn a lot from how these anti-MTR activists and groups work together to take a hard stand against Dirty Coal.
This weekend, those alliances come together in Washington, D.C. for Appalachia Rising!, billed as "a national response to the unmitigated destruction of Appalachia's mountains, air and water through mountaintop removal coal mining." The two-day conference this weekend will bring together scores of groups and speakers to discuss mountaintop removal and share stories, followed by a day of action that includes a rally and march in downtown D.C. on Monday, September 27, and a day of lobbying Congress on Tuesday.
This video, cut to a song by Mary Anne Hit of the Sierra Club's Beyond Coal campaign, features Appalachian natives who are tired of seeing their homes abused and want something better for future generations in Virginia, West Virginia, Kentucky, and the rest of the mountain states. We look forward to Monday's Appalachia Rising! action against MTR with determined resolution. Let's send a message to our leaders that this tearing of the earth must stop.