Kathy Mattea: Blair Mountain – Our Common Ground

On June 11, 2011, Grammy Award winning singer and environmental and social activist Kathy Mattea spoke to over 1,000 participants at the March on Blair Mountain rally, Blair Mountain, WV.  Here are Kathy’s remarks.

I am here because I care about these Mountains.

I am here because I care about my own people.

I am here because I care about ALL of the people.

But mostly, I am here because I care about civil conversation, and I care about everyone’s human needs and human rights.

I grew up here. My Dad’s dad was a miner in Cannelton Hollow in Fayette County, and my Mom’s Dad was a miner in Plymouth Hollow in Putnam County.

My Mom was born in 1921, 6 months before the March on Blair Mountain. My Grandpa Legg helped organize the UMW in WVa. He once walked 50 miles, from Bancroft in Putnam County, all the way to Cabin Creek, to see Mother Jones speak. 50 miles each way, on his day off from the mine.

He and his Union brothers helped finish what was started here on Blair Mountain.

My Mom worked at the UMW office in Charleston, and my brother works in the coal industry today.

I came to stand here, on THIS ground, on this day, with all of you, because what we are attempting to save here echoes what I value deeply in my own life.

In 1921, thousands of people on this mountain—miners, and ordinary people from all walks of life who supported them—stood together to say NO MORE. You can kill us, but we are going to stand together and CLAIM our rights as Human Beings…… You may take our lives, but you cannot have our dignity, or our co-operation. THAT, WE STILL POSSESS.

There are lots of heroes here today. Many of them have stood on this stage and spoken to you. But for me, you are all heroes. This is important work you’re doing. You’ve left your lives and your comfort to come here, some of you from many miles away, because you can see the importance of human dignity and environmental responsibility.

Each of you is one small person, just a drop. But together, you have made a great WAVE here this week.

I am proud to say I have 7 family members marching here today.

This is what happens when we band together: the voice gets louder, the message gets stronger, and all over this country they are starting to HEAR US.

If the prosperity of some is built on the exploitation of others, everyone loses. And yet, if we simply exchange one group’s needs for another’s, we still lose.

There is a great challenge before us….

Can we imagine a place where there is room for ALL of us? Can we dare to dream that big?

I believe we must hold very clearly in our hearts, the needs of the people who depend on this mining for their livelihoods. Their human dignity, their needs MUST be considered, as we consider our own. This is true nonviolence. No one is expendable.

EVERYONE, ALL people… need a safe place to live, a way to make a decent living and a sense of security for themselves and their family.

I believe there is a way to move towards a civil conversation. And it starts with REMEMBERING, that we are not enemies, we are brothers and sisters in conflict.

Blair Mountain is the place where ALL of us, have a stake: environmentalists, coal field residents, Labor Unions, miners and working people.


We all have a connection to this mountain.

I do not stand against any fellow Appalachian.

I am simply FOR ALL Appalachians.

I desperately Yearn for EVERYONE to be safe, to have CHOICES, and to be FREE to make them.

“Montani Semper Liberi.”

“Mountaineers are Always Free.”

I have seen the power of ordinary people to change the world, even against great odds.

I believe it is possible, because I have seen it happen. I have even seen glimpses of it here in the coalfields.

So let’s keep showing up and telling this story, and swelling our ranks, until the rest of the world HEARS US.

But let us also LISTEN. Let us strive to sit still for a minute and consider our brothers and sisters on the other side, what it feels like to be scared of losing our livelihoods, our way of providing for our families, how SCARY that would be.

This is true nonviolence…it is nonviolence in the HEART. And it is a tall order.

Let’s take this grassroots movement and start CREATING.

Let’s reach out to those with vision, who understand economics and diversity.

I have a vision of a West Virginia where the people don’t just get by with a job—they PROSPER.

We need leaders—leaders, not politicians— who can help us diversify our economy, so that coal is no longer the only game in town.

So when you go back home, to Salt Lake City and New York City and Kansas City and Atlantic City….when you go back to college, you students….throw yourselves into the solution here…. Inspire others.

Tell them what close knit communities we are, tell them about the hard working people, tell them how we take care of each other.

Let’s go forth from here determined to channel our pain and frustration towards REAL, LONG TERM change.

Even as we come here now…. to witness and support the people who have lost so much, and help them to tell their story.

Like a great ebb and flow, let’s KEEP coming back and witnessing the TRUTH of what is going on here.

You ARE change.

It IS happening now.

Let’s not forget this place, this day….and lets not forget those who were here before us, whom we remember today.

The Union miners lost here. But they still prevailed in the long run. They held steady, did not falter and claimed an even greater victory down the road.

Let’s take them, their determination, their strength, their tenacity, WITH US ALWAYS….. Let’s dream big.

And let’s keep them ALIVE IN US, as we take this movement forward.

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2 Responses to Kathy Mattea: Blair Mountain – Our Common Ground

  1. Bo Webb says:

    I love and respect Kathy. She is a beautiful human being with a wonderful message.
    Let us also be aware of the message that those of us who live beneath the mtr nightmare are reminded of with each blast, each day our homes and lungs are filled with toxic fallout. If we were reaching out to reasonable people our message of togetherness would be wonderful. The problem is we are not reaching out to reasonable people as witnessed by this statement from the president of the United Mine Workers.

    President Roberts’ statement re: EPA veto of Spruce #1 mine permit
    January 13, 2011

    (TRIANGLE, VA) United Mine Workers of America (UMWA) International President Cecil E. Roberts issued the following statement today:

    “It’s never a good day when hard-working people lose their jobs. The current and future job losses caused as a result of this decision will cause great difficulties for the Spruce mine workers, their families and their local communities.

    “Although we do not represent the workers at the Spruce mine, every job is precious in the coalfields and we don’t like to see any lost. It is truly unfortunate that the EPA and the mine operator could not come to an agreement that would allow many of those jobs to be saved.

    “As we move forward from this day, we must be about the work of creating good, safe coal jobs in the coalfield communities, not eliminating them. We believe that can be done within a reasonable regulatory framework and with a willingness on the part of government to share that goal.”

  2. Bo Webb says:

    Not a word in Cecil’s statement about the health effects mtr is posing on us. No acknowledgement even though there are many scientific peer reviewed studies on the subject. That refusal to acknowledge the harm being done to us is the sticking point that prevents dialogue. Mtr is killing people; no job justifies this injustice.

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