Tim DeChristopher and the March on Blair Mountain
“I went in thinking that I was sacrificing my freedom by taking such an action. This is not really the case. The sacrifice had happened before: when I had spent years being obedient to a system that is powerful and destructive; when I accepted the myth I had no power to change things; when I voluntarily disempowered myself.
“The moment I fully resisted this system, I discovered real power and liberation. I would never go back.”
-Tim DeChristopher on his peaceful derailing of an oil and gas auction in December, 2008. For the full interview: http://www.redpepper.org.uk/time-to-be-honest
I don’t remember exactly who it was or when I heard it, but early in my life as an organizer and activist I read or heard someone say, “I’m a revolutionary because it’s a better way to live.”
I believe this, and I’ve experienced this, though not every day. There are some days when I have my doubts. But without fail, when I think deeply about what I’ve been doing with my life since I decided in 1969 to leave college and work full-time against the Vietnam war, I never regret the path that I’ve taken. I totally get what Tim is saying.
Tim DeChristopher’s sentencing on June 23rd in Salt Lake City is one of two major events happening with the U.S. climate movement in the month of June. He is facing 10 years and a fine of $750,000. Peaceful Uprising, Tim’s group, is calling for people to either come to Salt Lake City or to take action locally at federal buildings on that date.
The other major event is the week-long March on Blair Mountain, being organized primarily by Appalachia Rising, as well as Friends of Blair Mountain. From June 6-10, upwards of 300 people will march 50 miles following the route taken by thousands of coal miners 90 years ago as they rose up against the severe repression of their efforts to organize by the coal mine owners. Then on June 11th much larger numbers of people will come together for a mass demonstration and nonviolent direct action in the town of Blair and on Blair Mountain.
Blair Mountain is slated for destruction via mountaintop removal by Arch Coal and Massey Energy. Massey Energy is the company which owns the Upper Big Branch mine where an explosion killed 29 miners on April 5, 2010. Just two weeks ago a government report set up under former governor and current U.S. Senator Joe Manchin put the blame for that explosion squarely on Massey Energy.
Blair Mountain could be mtr’d by Massey and Arch because it was taken off the National Register of Historic Places several years ago after pressure from West Virginia state agencies acting on behalf of coal operators.
There are four demands of the March: preserve Blair Mountain, abolish mountaintop removal, strengthen labor rights, and invest in sustainable job creation for all Appalachian communities.
The linking of these issues has generated wide support at the grassroots. Organizers for Appalachia Rising: March on Blair Mountain have been going door to door along the route of the 50 mile march and have reported general support or neutrality, with a small amount of hostility. Local coal miners and leaders of local unions of the United Mine Workers have publicly voiced support.
An article in the May 14th Charleston Gazette quoted Terry Steele, a march organizer and coal miner for 26 years, about the job-destroying and generally non-union nature of mountaintop removal (mtr) and other forms of strip mining: “In Boone County, the state’s largest coal-producing county, Steele pointed out, underground mines hired 2,053 miners who produced 10 million tons of coal last year, while strip mines hired 1,086 workers who produced 12 million tons.”
The marchers may be facing more than 50 miles of walking and camping in 5 days. There is a recent history of angry counter-demonstrators, many employees of Massey Energy, showing up at events organized by anti-mtr groups. About two years ago the late Judy Bonds was injured after being hit in the head by a counter-demonstrator, and local organizers have had threats of violence, vandalism, and confrontational encounters at past activities.
I’m looking forward to taking part in this march, starting a week from now. I have been very impressed with the organizing taking place in West Virginia to bring this idea, this visionary idea, this linking of issues in an exemplary way, to life. It is an action that shows many signs of being as successful, or more so, than Appalachia Rising’s historic three days of action in late September last year in Washington, D.C.
I don’t know if Tim will be part of the march, but there’s no question that his spirit will be
there. I am sure that as we walk through the beautiful mountains of southwest West Virginia and as we talk at our campsites in the evening, Tim’s upcoming sentencing and his example will be spoken about. And I fully expect that this week of action is going to be a life-changer, or a life-deepener, for all of us, a time where we feel the power and the joy that comes from standing up for what is right and just despite the risks.
The March on Blair Mountain and actions in Salt Lake City and at federal buildings around the country on June 23rd when Tim DeChristopher is sentenced are important next steps for the grassroots, activist, youth-led and -inspired climate movement. They will build upon the historic Power Shift weekend in D.C. in mid-April. They deserve the broad support of all who want to shift power from the fossil fuel industry and their corporate allies to the people. Si, se puede!
To contribute much-needed funds for the March on Blair Mountain, go to www.marchonblairmountain.org.
To find out more and connect with Peaceful Uprising and the June 23rd actions, go to http://www.peacefuluprising.org/climate-trial