From Marmet to Blair, West Virginia, hundreds of activists are marching across the Appalachian region this week to honor the historic Battle of Blair Mountain of 1921. This event, designed to mark one of the biggest civil uprisings in the United States history and the largest armed insurrection since the American Civil War, however, is not just about history. Appalachia Rising and Friends of Blair Mountain are using the five-day march to protest the controversial practice of mountaintop removal coal mining.
Dave Roberts of Grist detailed well the brutality of mountaintop removal in a 2008 guest post at TheNation.com:
“Mountain ridges and peaks are clear-cut, stripped of all trees and other flora. Explosives are buried underground, and enormous blasts dislodge millions of tons of rock, dirt, soil, and animal and plant life. That ‘overburden’ is then carted away or dumped into the stream and creek beds in the mountain hollows below, destroying or polluting thousands of miles of running water. Huge 20-story-tall draglines pull away the rock to expose coal seams. Similarly huge machines then yank the coal out and dump the remaining waste down into those streams.”
A coalition that seeks to ignite a major uprising against mountaintop removal, Appalachia Rising declares on its website that it “supports non-violent direct action to build the movement to end strip mining and support sustainability and self-determination in Appalachia.” Through the “March on Blair Mountain,” the coalition hopes to move one step closer to abolishing mountaintop removal, strengthening labor rights, creating sustainable jobs for Appalachian communities and ensuring the preservation of Blair Mountain.
The other major organizational component of this week’s actions, Friends of Blair Mountain, describes itself as a “core group of people involved in preservation efforts at Blair Mountain.” Members, who come from states like West Virginia and North Carolina, constitute a “grassroots group of scholars, activists, concerned citizens, and union workers” committed to commemorating the memory of the miners involved in the Battle of Blair Mountain. (In March 2008 the mountain was placed on the National Register of Historic Places. Pressure from coal operators had it removed from the list and now it is under threat.)