FRANKFORT – Fourteen protestors, including internationally-known writer Wendell Berry, remain in the office of the Kentucky state governor for the third consecutive day. The protesters say they want Gov. Steve Beshear to engage in a serious conversation about mountaintop removal and a sustainable economy for Kentucky’s miners and mountain communities.
“Our purpose is to protect our land and water. And we most certainly bear no ill will against those who work in mines,” Berry says.
The protesters are staying in the state Capitol at the governor’s invitation. He extended the offer for them to remain in his office after they said they would not leave until he engaged in a “real conversation” about the method of coal mining that has been widely criticized by environmentalists as the most destructive form of coal extraction.
The Environmental Protection Agency has recently stepped up its efforts to regulate MTR, which has led Gov. Beshear to join with the Kentucky Coal Association and file a lawsuit against the federal agency. In his State of the Commonwealth address he repeatedly said the EPA should “get off our backs.”
On Saturday the group extended an invitation for the Governor and the First Lady to join them but has received no reply.
The protesters have passed their time by discussing new alternatives for mountaintop removal, writing their stories and posting them to a blog they have created for the event at http://www.kentuckyrising.blogspot.com , playing card games, reading, and cleaning up the governor’s office.
Gifts from across the nation have been flooding the Capitol. A couple from Florida sent pizzas. A viewer of the blog’s live stream heard that one protester hadn’t brought along his reading glasses, so they sent him a pair. Other gifts include blankets, pies, coffee, artwork, books, and various other items. They have received messages and phone calls from as far away as Argentina.
A large rally is planned on the Capitol’s steps at noon on Monday. The annual event, I Love Mountains Day, was planned at least a year before the group decided to visit the governor’s office.
All of the protesters are from Kentucky. Nine of them live in Appalachian Kentucky.
Those remaining in the governor’s office include Wendell Berry, 76, the acclaimed writer who has been a leader in environmental issues for the past fifty years; Beverly May, 52, a nurse practitioner who was the subject of Deep Down, a documentary about MTR that was shown on PBS; Mickey McCoy, 55, former educator and mayor from Martin County, where more than 300 million gallons of toxic sludge were released into the water supply in 2000; and Stanley Sturgill, 65, a retired underground coal miner and former MSHA inspector.
Also in the office are Lisa Abbott, 40, a community organizer and mother of two; Chad Berry, 47, a writer and historian; Teri Blanton, 54, a grandmother of three and one of the most outspoken opponents of MTR; Doug Doerrfeld, 60, a concerned citizen; Kevin Pentz, 38, a community organizer; Herb E. Smith, 58, a documentary filmmaker; Rick Handshoe, 50, a retired Kentucky State Police employee; John Hennen, 59, a history professor at Morehead State University; Martin Mudd, 28, a grad student at the University of Kentucky, and Tanya Turner, 24, a community organizer.
Some of the original protest group left to work on media. Two journalism students from the University of Kentucky, Brandon Goodwin, 20, and Matt Murray, 21, both reporters for the Kentucky Kernel, have remained in the capitol to cover the event from inside.
“I think we’ve started a conversation with the Governor that was civil and respectful and was returned in kind. But it was just a start,” says Bev May. “We’ve got a long way to go.”
Lisa Abbott 859.200.5159 (inside the Governor’s Office)
Silas House 606.344.0662 (media liaison)
Jason Howard 606.224.1208 (media liaison)
Chad Berry 859.779.1594 (inside the Governor’s Office)
Lora Smith 606.524.4074 (media liaison)
Photos by Silas House.
1030-A statue of Lincoln stands in the state Capitol rotunda as the protest gets underway in the Governor’s Office on Friday.
1037-Bev May and Rick Handshoe, both of Floyd County, settle in for a restless night’s sleep in the governor’s office.