Coal Tattoo

Seniors kick off march against mountaintop removal


Roland Micklem, left, 81, of Richmond, Va., leads a group senior citizen’s on a 25 mile march to protest mountaintop removal Thursday, Oct. 8, 2009 in Charleston, W.Va. Micklem intends to lead a group on a five day march from the capitol in Charleston to the gates of Massey energy owned Mammoth MTR site in Kanawha County. (AP Photo/Jeff Gentner)

Eight environmental activists between 50 and 83 years old began the first leg of a five-day, 25-mile march today to protest mountaintop removal mining practices they believe are destroying communities and lives across southern West Virginia.

Vicki Smith from The Associated Press has the story:

 Led by 81-year-old military veteran Roland Micklem of Savannah, N.Y., the toes of his black boots held together with duct tape, the group set out from the gold-domed Capitol, heading east along the Kanawha River with about a dozen younger supporters.


Roland Micklem, 81, of Richmond, Va., sits at the W.Va. state capitol Thursday, Oct. 8, 2009 prior to the start of a 25-mile senior citizen’s march to end mountaintop removal mining in Charleston, W.Va. Micklem intends to lead a group of senior citizen’s on a five day march from the capitol to the gates of Massey energy owned Mammoth MTR site in Kanawha County. (AP Photo/Jeff Gentner)

Inspired by the recent actions of younger protesters who have risked arrest and personal injury, Micklem organized the senior citizens’ march to show support. His Christian faith, he said, is also a motivation.

“The coal companies do not own the mountains. God owns the mountains, and we are the ones charged with keeping them,” said Micklem, who has spent more than 30 years on the road battling what he sees as environmental evils. “We need to take all legal means to see that the mandate is carried out.”

Motorists occasionally honked in support as the protesters displayed signs with slogans including “Clean Energy Now” and “For Our Children and Grandchildren.” One targeted state Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Randy Huffman with, “Hey Randy, How much did King Coal pay for your soul?”

Other supporters will join the marchers periodically as they make their way to Massey Energy’s Mammoth mine in eastern Kanawha County on Monday. Jama Jarrett, spokeswoman for the state Office of Miners Health, Safety and Training, said only the underground portion of that mine is operational.

The march — organized by Climate Ground Zero, Mountain Justice, Intergenerational Justice and Christians for the Mountains — came the day after a pro-coal rally that drew nearly 200 people to the statehouse. At that event, three environmental protesters were heckled, mocked and accused of trying to destroy good-paying jobs in a part of West Virginia that has few.

All year long, environmentalists have been staging acts of civil disobedience aimed at stopping mountaintop removal, most targeting Massey.

But 73-year-old Julian Martin of Charleston said the protests are not against coal. They’re against a particularly destructive form of mining it.

Martin’s father and uncles were underground coal miners, he said. His grandfather was in the Battle of Blair Mountain, where some 10,000 miners trying to unionize fought police and federal troops in what some historians call the largest armed uprising in America since the Civil War.

“So I don’t have anything against miners, and this is not about being against coal. I just want them to stop destroying the mountains,” Martin said. “This is against the destruction, not against coal.”

Mountaintop removal mining involves blasting apart ridge tops to expose multiple seams of coal, dumping debris into valleys and flattening what had been peaks. Virginia-based Massey and other coal companies say that’s the only way to reach some reserves, and they argue they reclaim the land so it can be developed for commercial or other uses.

Critics, however, say the land is ruined forever, and that both people and property suffer from the rock, dust and vibrations that accompany blasting.

Danny Chiotos of Charleston, youth organizer for the Student Environmental Action Coalition, praised Micklem and the other seniors for a fight against strip mining that dates back four decades.

“The only way you can march is to stand up, and the only way you can stand up is to get off your knees. And that’s what you’re doing today,” he said. “We’re doing this for ourselves, we’re doing this for our families, we’re doing this for our communities, and we’re doing this because it’s the right thing to do.”