Mounatin Justice Spring Break

Mountain Justice Spring Break

MJSB 2008 Protests AMP-Ohio Headquarters East Coast Power Mountain Justice activists share their grievances with West Virginia's Gov. Manchin Steam billows from the Gavin coal fired plant's massive cooling tower Mountain Justice activists protest for a new School at Marsh Fork
Southern Energy Network Energy Justice Network


Since King Coal first sunk its shovels and auger-drills into the Appalachian coalfields a little over a hundred years ago, grassroots resistance to the industry's blatant disrespect for the land and people has been as much a part of life as hunting, fishing and old-time music.

First the struggle was between the unions and the operators who paid workers in company-money known as "scrip." Only redeemable at the company store, the school, the hospital, and even the churches were all owned or influenced by the companies.  Families were locked into paying every cent of their meager wages right back to the bosses.

The time from 1912 - 1921 became known as the Mine Wars, when there where a number of gunfights betweeen the companies and the workers. Tent-villages full of striking miners' wives and children were shot up by company thugs. In Matewan, WV the town's mayor, Cabell Testerman and chief of police, Sid Hatfield who stood up for the miners were both shot in the course of a long-standing union drive. The Air Force was even called in to drop bombs on 10,000 union miners who had armed themselves and were marching to Mingo County WV to free imprisoned union organizers.

And now, the mining endangers everyone, not just the miners. It's called Mountain top removal mining. The mountains are blown up using enormous amounts of explosives.  The soil and rock above the coal seams is dumped into the valleys.  The coal is removed, processed and shipped out to be burned in power plants to power our lights, refrigerators and plasma TVs. It's ecocide and it's culture-cide.

The forests of Appalachia are most biodiverse temperate forest eco-systems on Earth.  In mountaintop removal, the topsoil is removed and dumped into the mountain streams.  After mining, the surface is graded by bulldozers and the area is hydro-seeded.  It's usually planted with fescue (a non-native grass) and Lespedeza, an invasive plant thta is inedible by wildlife and livestock. Occasionally the companies get a few scrubby little pines or autumn olive trees to grow.  As part of coal industry public relations and propaganda, golf courses and super-max prisons such as the Big Sandy Federal Penitentiary have been built on the old minesites, and pro-coal politicians call it "economic development."

After the trees have been removed, the mountains no longer absorb rainwater as they did when there were forests. When it rains, folks living below the mountain-top removal strip mines get flashfloods and mudslides, destroying homes and sometimes taking lives.

After the coal is mined, it must be cleaned for burning at the power plant.  This coal washing process leaves behind billions of gallons of toxic coal sludge. This toxic coal sludge is usually stored in giant lakes in the mountains, held back by earthen dams.  One such lake is perched above the Marsh Fork Elementary school in Sundial, West Virginia.  Sometimes the coal sludge is pumped underground, a practice known as sludge-injection which can result in the poisoning of the well-water that most mountain residents rely on.

Grassroots community groups have been fighting mountain-top removal (MTR) and other forms of strip mining since the issue emerged in the seventies. Since 2005, Mountain Justice has combined the energy of college students and community residents to stand together in solidarity.  Mountain Justice offers trainings and outreach in community organizing, public education and non-violent direct action.

Through consistent and creatively applied pressure, since 2004 Mountain Justice has supported communities in delivering such tangible wins as getting a new school for the children at  Marsh Fork Elementary School in Raleigh County WV, which was formerly threatened by a massive lake of toxic coal sludge above the school, bringing national attention to the TVA coal ash disaster in Kingston, Tennessee, the establishment of a community resource center in Wise County Va. and positive media coverage in publications such as National Geographic, Orion, Vanity Fair, the American School Board Journal and the Oprah Magazine.

Come to Mountain Justice Spring Break and join the movement!