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Thursday, May 26, 2011

Save West Virginia Mountain March June 4-11

Compatible realities 
Support for workers and work workers can live with, sustainability, and the mountains
Editing, reporting, re-reporting by Carolyn Bennett

You could walk through the forest. You could hear the animals. The woods like to talk to you. You could feel a part of Mother Nature. … Everywhere you looked, there was life. Now, you put me on the same ground where I walked and the only thing you can feel is the vibration of dynamite or heavy machinery. No life, just dust — they are doing to us what they have done to Native Americans.

Appalachia is not a beautiful place simply for visitors, ecologists and those who wish to hike the famous Appalachian Trail. It is home to people who have lived there, worked and raised families for generations. It is an area rich with forests, birds, fish-filled streams, and coal…. — Americans who tell the truth highlighting Larry Gibson, environmental activist against Mountaintop Removal

Hundreds of people at the start of June will march from the town of Marmet, West Virginia, to Blair Mountain, 50 miles away in Logan County, to commemorate the 90th anniversary of the Battle of Blair Mountain.

The Preservation Alliance of West Virginia has published a brief history of the Battle of Blair Mountain and its importance in U.S. labor and civil rights history.

The 19th century was ending. The industrial revolution in America was ushering in “massive, rapid changes in the way citizens lived and worked. Work in fast-paced, dangerous environments dictated new levels of adherence to timekeeping, regularity, and safety standards. Coalmines struggled to provide the growing iron, steel, and railroad industries with fuel that was important to industrial growth. Repeated accidents resulted in growing activism in the mines of Pennsylvania and other states. By the end of the 19th century, coal strikes were commonplace as a means of building the miners’ unions.

Southern West Virginia in 1921 was ripe for violent confrontation. More than half of the state’s one hundred thousand miners were organized but the union had largely failed to organize southern coalfields, which produced the region’s best specialty coal. Coal companies enjoyed great political influence. Martial law was imposed regularly to quell unrest. … Local law enforcement — among them ‘deputies’ in the pay of coal companies — exercised inordinate power, which enabled widespread violence against miners and their families.

The Battle of Blair Mountain began in 1921 as August was ending. With Spruce Fork Ridge as a natural dividing line between union and non-union territories, miners began an August 30 assault on Blair Mountain. Private planes organized by the defensive militia dropped as many as ten homemade bleach and shrapnel bombs at Jeffrey, Blair, and near the miners’ headquarters on Hewitt Creek. In Charleston, 11 Army Air Corps pilots arrived, led by Billy Mitchell, a pioneer in aerial bombardment.… The Army stopped Mitchell from bombing the miners but the military planes performed reconnaissance flights; and West Virginia, ultimately, took the solo distinction of being the focus — and potential target — of military aircraft.….

Federal troops arrived on September 3, the day before the September 4 ending of the Battle of Blair Mountain. Six hundred miners, many of whom were veterans of World War I, surrendered, having refused to fire on the soldiers whom they considered not their enemies but brothers.… Despite their surrender [not to condone violence], the miners’ Battle of Blair Mountain had a multi-dimensional, lasting progressive effect.

The Battle of Blair Mountain forced national scrutiny of miners’ situation in the press and in the federal government. It amassed sufficient force to require intervention by the United States Army. It broke down racial and ethnic barriers to the solidarity miners would need in future organizing.  “The events at Blair Mountain set in motion a national movement to better the conditions of working people by demanding the legalization of unions and the use of the federal government to protect workers’ rights.”

Activists in the June 4-11 march will be “demanding protection for Blair Mountain as a national historic monument, which would also safeguard the area from mountaintop removal coal mining already encroaching on the historic battlefield.” Their demands also will include  “abolition of all mountaintop removal mining in West Virginia, national labor solidarity in the face of some of the worst attacks on the rights of working people in 75 years, and sustainable jobs in Appalachia.”

Speaking on this week’s “Between the Lines” broadcast, Larry Gibson, known as “Keeper of the Mountains” for his fierce opposition to mountaintop removal coal mining, explained his support of the Blair Mountain march.

Compatible realities

“Not all our working stiffs in America belonged to a union but they had to struggle the same way and work very hard for a day’s pay,” he said. “That’s why I’m encouraging people across America. No matter what creed or ethnic group, it doesn’t matter — I am encouraging working stiffs of America to come together in one common cause to save a mountain that gave so much and supported so many people when they come together to fight the battle of life and freedom and for choices that have now been taken away from them.”

What about jobs versus “sustainability,” jobs and his opposition to mountaintop removal mining, Between the Lines asked and Gibson continued.

“The meaning of sustainable is that it’s life giving.… Jobs that have quality where you can live with it and not end up dying because you’re doing it. You can make a living without destroying your own back yard.

“The jobs they have today, when you have to destroy your own back yard, [are] not life giving. You still have to struggle to live in the mess you’re creating in working for the man that’s paying you. If given a choice, people wouldn’t be destroying their backyard.”

Sources and notes

A unique place, Blair Mountain’s powerful story is important to both U. S. labor history and civil rights. Rising as high as 2,064 feet, Blair Mountain was a symbolic and actual hurdle confronting workers wishing to bring union protection to the miners of Mingo, Logan, Mercer, and McDowell counties. West Virginia. “Blair Mountain: The History of a Confrontation,” Copyright 2006 Preservation Alliance of West Virginia, http://www.pawv.org/news/blairhist.htm

Larry Gibson is an anti-mountaintop removal coal-mining activist in West Virginia and a supporter of the March on Blair Mountain scheduled for June 4 through 11. Information on the march at www.appalachiarising.org/

AMERICANS WHO TELL THE TRUTH highlights Larry Gibson, Environmental Activist against Mountaintop Removal (b. 1946)

“… Once, mining underground for coal provided many livelihoods for residents of these communities. However, as that traditional form of mining has given way to mountaintop removal, needing fewer workers, the economy and the environment of these towns have been permanently damaged. Mountaintop removal uses explosives to slice off the mountaintops. The seams of coal are then extracted and processed, with the waste and toxins dumped into the valleys and streams as ‘fill.’”

People like Larry Gibson who may have never envisioned themselves becoming activists are bringing attention to the tragedy and fight to end mountaintop removal mining.

“Larry Gibson has lived on Kayford Mountain in West Virginia all of his life. The property he owns (a few acres with several small buildings and the family cemetery) is the only green spot amidst a desolate landscape. He refuses to sell to any coal company and leave his home, though his land has rich beds of coal beneath it. This refusal comes at a cost.

“Told that Gibson’s decision not to sell is an attempt to put them out of work, miners have shot at his very modest home (bullet holes are visibly evident) and set fire to another building. Two of his dogs were killed. While driving his truck, Gibson was run off the road. The stress of living in these conditions has taken its toll on his marriage.

Gibson records the growing list of the threats and vandalism against him and travels the country telling his story, talking to people about the crisis in the mountains, working to increase awareness and create change.

“‘If I stopped fighting for the land,’” he says, “‘maybe we’d have a chance; but this is my heritage. How can I walk away from that?’” Americans who tell the truth, http://www.americanswhotellthetruth.org/pgs/portraits/Larry_Gibson.php

Industrial Revolution — in modern history, the process of change from an agrarian, handicraft economy to one dominated by industry and machine manufacture. This process began in England in the 18th century and from there spread to other parts of the world.

English economic historian Arnold Toynbee (1852–83) first popularized the term Industrial Revolution (though the term had been used earlier by the French) to describe England’s economic development from 1760 to 1840. After Toynbee’s time, the term was applied more broadly.

First Industrial Revolution — in the period 1760 to 1830 the Industrial Revolution was largely confined to Britain. Aware of their head start, the British forbade the export of machinery, skilled workers, and manufacturing techniques.

Second industrial revolution — despite considerable overlapping with the ‘old,’ there is mounting evidence for a ‘new’ Industrial Revolution in the late 19th and 20th centuries.

In terms of basic materials, modern industry has begun to exploit many natural and synthetic resources not hitherto used: lighter metals, new alloys, and synthetic products such as plastics as well as new energy sources. Combined with these are developments in machines, tools, and computers that have given rise to the automatic factory. Although some segments of industry were almost completely mechanized in the early to mid-19th century, automatic operation, as distinct from the assembly line, first achieved major significance in the second half of the 20th century. History notes, Britannica

BETWEEN THE LINES is a weekly syndicated half-hour news magazine featuring progressive perspectives on national and international political, economic and social issues. Independent of all publications, media networks and political parties, Between The Lines is able to bring a diversity of voices to the airwaves — it provides a platform for individuals and organizations generally ignored or marginalized in corporate media.

Each week, Between The Lines features a five-minute summary of some of the week’s under-reported news stories gathered from the alternative press and other sources; and three in-depth interview segments focusing on significant international, national and regional issues. Between The Lines: Timely, In-Depth Progressive Analysis, http://btlonline.org/infoonbtl.html


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