Blair Mountain march continues, despite some snags

June 8, 2011 by Ken Ward Jr.

Gazette photos by Lawrence Pierce

The Blair Mountain marchers entered their third day today on their trek through Boone and Logan counties, and apparently their effort has run into some problems — and some not-so unexpected opposition to their cause.

The Gazette’s Dr. Paul Nyden reports in today’s paper:

They originally planned to spend Monday night at John Slack Park in Racine, but Boone County Sheriff Rodney Miller told the marchers Monday evening they had to leave the site.

… The marchers ended up walking about 15 miles Tuesday, from Racine to a small park near the intersection of W.Va. 3 and Corridor G, just north of Danville.

They stopped briefly at about 2 p.m. outside the grounds of the Boone Career and Technical Center, part of Southern West Virginia Community and Technical College near the town of Foster.

They originally planned to spend Tuesday night on the school’s grounds, but were told by college officials they could not do that.

Rodney Smith, an administrator at the college, said on Tuesday he did not know why the marchers were told they could not stay.

“But we don’t have much grass. Big Earl’s Campground [about five miles north, near Julian] volunteered to let them stay there,” Smith said.

But Stanley said the marchers were told they could not stay there either, and they would have to take shuttles back to Marmet to spend another night there Tuesday.

Interestingly, I had a couple calls from anti-mountaintop removal activists who were really charged up about all of this, alleging that “coal thugs” had injured some of the marchers and stuff like that … at least according to the march’s own website, it thankfully doesn’t appear that any of that was true:

Monday night around 10 oclock the County Commissioner of Boone came to the park to order us to leave the park, overriding prior verbal permission and said that if the Marchers did not leave the park all marchers would be arrested. A small group of vocal counter-protesters added tension to the situation. Police worked with the marchers to evacuate John Slack Park safely.

We decided to leave because we aren’t marching to take a stand at this park, or confront the Boone County Commissioner; we’re here to March on Blair Mountain, confront coal industry power, and demand preservation of Blair Mountain, it’s history, and end MTR.


Sometimes, it almost seems as if some folks in the community of groups who oppose mountaintop removal almost want confrontations to occur — as if bad behavior by coal miners or supporters of the industry will somehow make their point. Or maybe some individuals in the industry have acted so poorly at some very public events that it’s easy for rumors about similar incidents to be believed and take on lives of their own.

It looks like the march organizers aren’t into that sort of thing and just want to march peacefully and try to grow the support for protecting Blair Mountain. But they do make clear in their most recent media update who they think is responsible for these problems with the camp sites:

Marchers have been met with supportive chants, calls and even flowers and waving school children along the route. This has occurred even though the coal industry has exerted great pressure on campsite owners and operators who have shut them out of six different sites in the past two weeks for overnight housing.

Owners and operators of both private and public campsites in Boone, the largest coal producing county in West Virginia, are being pressured and intimidated by the coal industry in an effort to inhibit the march.

“What we do know is that many of the owners of these campsites were very hospitable at first, but have since said with regret that we cannot rest on their property,” said Chuck Keeney, great-grandson of famed UMWA leader Frank Keeney. “The coal companies are trying to stop us by throwing obstacles and propaganda in our way. Still we march on. The time is now. The place is Blair Mountain, West Virginia.”

Some students on a Boone County school bus made some quick signs urging the marchers to leave.

There was an interesting exchange yesterday on the Facebook page of the Coal Miners Memorial Park, but it looks like it’s been deleted.  I didn’t save it or do a screen-shot, but basically, some local folks weren’t too happy about the march and said some inflammatory things — but after a little back-and-forth discussion, things calmed down into a pretty reasonable chat on the issues.

Much has been made about the involvement of some union coal miners and some United Mine Workers of America local unions being involved in the march, and about how the event is really about preserving an important piece of  our labor history.

But you have to wonder about some of this. While the folks being quoted in the media are being pretty careful to insist they aren’t against all coal mining, it’s obvious that some of the groups supporting the marchers really are out to eventually phase out the use of coal.  The Sierra Club, for example, calls its coal campaign Beyond Coal and advances this notion:

It’s time to move America beyond dirty coal. Coal provides about half of our electricity and more than 30% of our global warming pollution. From the mine to the plant, to the ash pond, coal is our dirtiest energy source. It causes asthma and other health problems, destroys our mountains, and releases toxic mercury into our communities. Continuing our dependence on coal chains us to dirty energy and prevents us from making the changes we need to bring about a clean, secure energy future.

Perhaps that’s one of the reasons that the UMWA’s national leadership hasn’t signed on to support the march.  UMWA President Cecil Roberts has made it clear he supports mountaintop removal, and the union has backed off any suggest that it would even discuss a phase-out of the practice.

But Cecil and the UMWA have joined with the Sierra Club in a lawsuit seeking to put Blair Mountain back on the National Register of Historic Places.

Given the way the coal industry and its political supporters have tried to divide coalfield communities — and the amount of heated rhetoric and near-violent confrontations we’ve seen in the last few years — any amount of unity among citizen groups, environmental organizations and labor unions is probably a welcome thing for the coalfields.

Residents here have a tough set of issues on their plates — the growing evidence of mountaintop removal’s impacts on the environment and public health, the huge hurdles in finding a way for the coalfields to deal with climate change, and the impending and dramatic drops expected in regional coal production. Maybe the marchers can provide some glimpse of what could be accomplished if West Virginians worked together, instead of fighting amongst ourselves.

11 Responses to “Blair Mountain march continues, despite some snags”

  1. Ralphieboy says:

    I don’t understand how the UMWA (or any underground miner) can support MTR. The practice has effectively put thousands of underground miners out of work while destroying the environment of coal communities and most MTR sites are non-union. I would like to hear Cecil Roberts explain this anomaly.

  2. Ken Ward Jr. says:

    For those who don’t follow it, there’s a discussion of this post going on on my Facebook wall, http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=774629692
    Ken.

  3. Casey says:

    Ralphie,
    Can you sight any studies that show surface mining puts underground miners out of work?

  4. Ken Ward Jr. says:

    Casey,

    If you question Ralphie’s comments, you might go back and read this blog post, http://blogs.wvgazette.com/coaltattoo/2009/10/13/mtr-economics-limits-wont-be-the-end-of-the-world/ … in particular:

    “History shows that the transition from deep to surface mining devastated the region economically, and that the prosperity of mining companies has not gone hand in hand with the economic welfare of coal mine workers.”

    It cites a Sierra Club-commissioned report by Syanpse Energy Economics Inc., available here, http://www.sierraclub.org/coal/downloads/2009.10_synapse_sc_mtr_econ_report.pdf … See page 21, footnote 43, which refers to this study by the Appalachian Regional Commission, http://www.edrgroup.com/pdf/vol-2-case-studies-sources%20of%20growth-final.pdf

    In particular, page 45 says:

    “After the mid-1980s coal bust, brought about by declining oil prices, new mining in the Western US and industry technology changes, coal mining declined but still maintained a presence in the region. As mining technologies changed, workers were not as needed as pure labor, but rather as machine operators and technicians. This technology shift had a large impact on employment: once plentiful high-wage, low-skill jobs vanished. As jobs and amenities vanished, so did area residents.”

    Thanks, Ken.

  5. Ralphieboy says:

    Sure Casey. Not that coal supporters pay any attention to scientific studies anyway, but you might take a look at these:

    Mountaintop Mining Consequences, Science, Dr. Margaret Palmer, 2010

    Education and Jobs, Jobs and Education: A proposal for funding economic development in Central Appalachia, Dr. Michael Hendryx, WVU, 2010

    “When Mountains Move” by John G. Mitchell, March 2006, National Geographic (3 September 2008)

    But this is all pretty much common sense. Underground mining is labor-intensive. MTR, through the use of expolosives and large machinery produces 2 1/2 times as much coal per worker per hour than underground mining. You do the math.

  6. Ken Ward Jr. says:

    Ralphieboy,

    In the context of the blog, providing links to those materials would be more helpful than the citations.

    Ken.

  7. When our well was contaminated by gas drillers we found out about the problems in southern WV.we hope and pray that we can stop the wanton abuse of resources and lives. clean air and water are necessary for survival and must be the priority not money being taken off at the top leaving death behind corporation exploitation.

  8. Watcher says:

    Ken,while I know your expertise is coal and coal related subjects I wonder what effects robotics and the assembly line alone had on the auto industry, or the possible future affects of the internet on the postal service ? I think buisness and industry have done their “math”very well.

  9. Ralphieboy says:

    Technological innovation has always had its effect on labor; and no doubt things like robotics and the internet have reduced the need for manpower in many industries. However, few technologies have had the environmental and sociological impact that MTR has had on Appalachia; and I would argue that when “doing the math,” industry must take into account the damage they are going to do by implementing that technology. Blowing up majestic mountains, destroying streams and headwaters, wiping out communities, destroying the health of citizens as well as limiting the job prospects of the Appalachian population does not sound like a good business plan to me.

  10. PJD says:

    Ken,

    Regarding youre remark:

    “Sometimes, it almost seems as if some folks in the community of groups who oppose mountaintop removal almost want confrontations to occur — as if bad behavior by coal miners or supporters of the industry will somehow make their point.”

    There is an arguable tactical reason for this. As a veteran of numerous peaceful protests over the past 12 years (albeit social justice and anti-war rather than environment), we have learned that the modern mainstream news media, for the most part, completely ignores peaceful protests, or if they mention them in the local news section, they refuse to explain the message of the protest – depicting it instead as an “old-hippie” fashion show or such. In DC and NYC, back in 2003, we were juat hundreds of thousands – or in one case up to a million, trees falling in a deserted forest. Indeed, If MLK did his march to Montgomery, or Gandhi, his march to the sea, nowadays they would be doing it in the same obscurity as the Blair Mt. marchers today – the good work of you and Paul Nyden notwithstanding.

    So, in these rather desperate conditions, creating a ruckus can sound quite attractive becasue it at least gets the attention of the media. The big question, of course, is whether it will be positive attention that includes a sympathetic treatment of the message of the protest. This of course seem a highly unlikely result. Troublemaking (including Blair Mountain itiself) had its place in the history of US activism, particularly labor activism, but we are far from the the conditions of those days right now.

  11. jen says:

    I’m a local of southern WV and was there yesterday marching up the mountain. I was actually a little bit surprised by just how peaceful everything went. There were a few people out, driving by and yelling at us but for the most part it all went well. I did notice the unfortunate trend of people having their children yell negative comments to us rather than say it themselves and that was really sad. Nothing says “progress” quite like teaching the future generation hatred and intolerance… That is just one good example of the total control the extractive industries have on this area. People here have been “owned” by the companys for so long that they don’t even think twice about teaching their kids hate rather than respect. Little girls were screaming at me to “go home” and “stop trying to ruin our lives”. They had no idea and didn’t care that this place is my home as well as theirs… This place is my life as well as theirs. I look outside and see these mountains every day, just like them. The difference is that I want to keep seeing them. I only hope these children grow up one day and are able to look back and really understand why this march happened. I just hope that it doesn’t take a horrible tragedy to make them see it.

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