By Rachel Witkin, Managing Editor
In 1921, 10,000 miners marched the fifty miles from Marmet County, West Virginia, to Blair Mountain to protest the workers conditions in the mines. To stop the protest, police shot an unknown amount of workers until they went back down to the coal mines to work. Blair Mountain has since been a monument to the workers and labor unions in America. However, coal companies have persuaded the National Archives to take it off the list of monuments in order for coal to be extracted through mountaintop removal.
Ninety years later, hundreds followed the historical march from Marmet to Blair Mountain in memory of those who died in protest, and to protest the plans to destroy the mountain. Incoming sophomore Thalia Patrinos was one of the marchers standing up to mountaintop removal this June. “I decided to go because mountaintop removal is the most destructive and dangerous legal means of coal mining in this country, and not enough people know about it or realize the long-lasting effects it has on not just the rivers and wildlife, but the communities, people’s health and coal worker’s rights,” she wrote in an email to The News-Letter.
The March on Blair Mountain took place from June 6th to June 10th, and on June 11th there was a rally on top of the mountain. The March had been planned for months beforehand. “The organizers worked incredibly hard in order to plan the March, gather materials, fundraise, book fantastic speakers such as Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., contact the media and figure out all the logistics concerning food, water, shelter, police protection and medical aid,” Patrinos wrote.
As energy becomes more expensive and scarce, coal industries are having a large effect on the economy. According to Patrinos, even though West Virginia has valuable coal resources, it is the 49th poorest state, due to the way the coal industries treat their workers and the environment. “They’re blowing up mountains,” she wrote. “When most people hear this, they might think it’s actually kind of cool, but if you have friends or family that live near mountaintop removal sites like I do, it’s a completely different story.”
Proponents of mountaintop removal believe that it is necessary to keep up with the nation’s demand for coal. However, Patrinos says that mountaintop removal does not just affect the mountain, but the families involved in coal mining as well. “Children breathe in the coal dust that is released after sitting for millions of years in the mountain, and get deathly ill. Families are forced to leave their communities or drink poisoned water,” she wrote. “ Coal workers all the while are being replaced with machinery and thousands of tons of explosives, and even when mining in extremely dangerous conditions they are not guaranteed health benefits or pension. And it’s not just West Virginia, mountaintop removal is spreading all over Appalacia.”
Patrinos, who was an intern this year at the Chesapeake Climate Action Network and helped plan Powershift, an environmental grassroots movement for youth, will spend the rest of her summer working with the Sierra Student Coalition. Through the coalition, she will educate students on how to organize their own campaigns.