I’ve written a number of columns in the University of Maryland student newspaper about the horrendous practice of mountaintop removal, in particular the Obama Administration’s failure to acknowledge the science behind mountaintop removal, a call for a ban on MTR following EPA regulations earlier this year which in hindsight were over-hyped, and an introduction to the practice and impacts of blowing up mountains for coal. Although I’ve participated in protesting a bank over funding MTR and taken part in a few campus educational events about it, I’ve never gotten a chance to directly witness the passion, fight, and energy of the movement stemming from Appalachia to stop mountaintop removal. That changed Monday, where I was fortunate enough to take part in one of the best organized rallies and fiercest urgent calls to action that I’ve seen in my years of environmental and climate activism.
How many people were there? I don’t know, some people say thousands, others might guess lower, all I know is that there were a lot! I arrived at the beginning of the rally at Freedom Plaza, where I joined up with a few friends and listened as artists played music along with passionate demands for justice and action from the Obama Administration, along with condemnation of the coal companies for their monumental destruction. The speakers able to draw the best connection with the crowd and really define what’s at stake in this battle were coalfield residents who might not have been professional speakers, but spoke from the heart in a way that conveyed how dire the situation was to those like myself who are fortunate enough to have clean water and (relatively) clean air, something far too many of us take for granted.
After the speakers were done we were led away from Freedom Plaza and marched towards the White House, with a couple of pit stops on the way. The first stop was at the EPA building, which in my opinion was the highest of many highs in this rally, as the energy that had been building up in the marchers for hours was unleashed. As leaders of the march and the movement stormed the steps of the EPA flanked by cameras, reporters, and security, a frustration and anger swept over the crowd (see photo), including myself. What the hell is the EPA doing? Certainly not its job, which is why the crowd chanted extraordinarily loudly “EPA do your job!”, so thunderously that if Lisa Jackson was in the building, her desk may have shook. More local coalfield residents spoke about how the EPA needs to regulate MTR because it’s poisoning their communities, and that Lisa Jackson needs to take a trip to Appalachia to understand the calamity being caused the corrupt politicians and their corporate coal masters.
After the EPA building, we marched onward to the steps of PNC bank, where speakers highlighted how PNC bank is a top funder of MTR. It was great to see cameras flashing, security guards surrounding the entrance of the bank, and bewildered bank workers looking out onto the massive protest. There’s a saying that all press is good press. That quote was proven WRONG today. What PNC got on September 27th was definitely very very BAD press, which is what it deserves. Since PNC portrays itself as a green bank because of it’s building practices, it’s hopefully sensitive to this kind of negative attention, and will reconsider its policy of financing MTR.
Next we marched to an area across from the White House for more speakers along with instructions for the civil disobedience that was to follow. One might expect a crowd to dissipate throughout the day, particularly with the rain that had been pouring on and off throughout the rally. Not this rally! If anything, the crowd grew as time wore on, to the point where I looked around when we got to the White House and realized that this wasn’t just a good turnout, this was a great turnout. Now came the moment of truth, where well over a hundred of the protesters in the rally marched over to the White House fence, risking arrest. The crowd watching stayed strong in numbers, chanting repeatedly alongside the soon to be arrested protesters. It took a real long time for the police to start arresting people, and even then they appeared to move very slowly, which I’m sure is owed to so many people risking arrest. Where were the police going to put all of them?! I stayed until the very end, taking part in many more chants, and cheering on as one by one the protesters were placed in handcuffs and walked (and in a few cases dragged) away. Many danced, egged on the crowd, and carried out the action right until the very end. The was one incident where it appeared the police were being too rough with a protester, which is unfortunate but it demonstrated how big this rally was, as hundreds of rally participants scrambled over to the side of the police tape where the incident was taking place. The police were forced to bring out officers on horses to push the crowd back and expand the perimeter.
Despite being hungry(but hungrier for change!) and needing to finish work on an essay, I’m glad I stayed for the whole event when I had only intended to march to the White House. Everyone who came deserves a high five, but everyone who stayed all the way to the end to forcefully support those risking arrest deserve two, it really made a difference. Needless to say, the protesters who got arrested deserve much more!
The energy in large numbers displayed throughout this rally was truly impressive. The decision to hit the EPA for their inaction, PNC Bank for placing profit above people, and then President Obama for allowing this atrocity to take place under his watch was smart and strategic. Apparently some activists also visited the Interior Department.
I have no doubt that those in power and big coal took notice of this day. I’m very proud to have been a part of it, and sense I will eventually look back on this day as a big stepping stone on the inevitable path to victory. But I know that before any of us can look back, we have to move forward. This was a great day of fighting for Appalachia. Despite living in Maryland, I know I can do better than one day of action, and I encourage everyone to step up their efforts to win this.
Read more from: Get Energy Smart Now, AP, CNN International, Washington Post, San Francisco Chronicle, Forbes, Jeff Biggers, Wonk Room, Itsgettinghotinhere, Washington Examiner, RAN. MSNBC, Climate Progress