Appalachia Sitting Down

Sometimes you rise above by sitting down.

Appalachia Rising saw over a thousand Americans take to the streets of Washington, DC for protest and direct action. Calling attention to the poisonous, destructive practices of Massey Energy and other coal companies in the Appalachian region, a diverse mix of Christian activists, college students, veterans, and grizzled greens joined proud, self-described "hillbillies" to demand an end to mountaintop-removal (MTR). If you've never heard of this ugliness, I'll let Jeff Biggers explain it. Much more after the jump...

Beginning with speeches and performances, the crowd marched to the Environmental Protection Agency to demand the agency revoke scores of mining permits issued under the Bush administration. (Activists met with regulators the next day; they reported being encouraged by the meeting.)

Another march brought them to PNC Bank, standing just across the street from the Treasury building. PNC Bank is the world's largest financier of MTR; after demanding the bank stop, they marched to Lafayette Square, where a final set of speakers encouraged volunteers to take part in civil disobedience.

Every faction of the movement to end mountaintop removal mining represented itself. Student based networks turned out in force to take up the baton; astounded by their turnout, grizzled veterans of the movement spoke humbly of their dream.

And it is a dream. The State of West Virginia is in a state of deep capture to Big Coal; all three branches of state government are beholden. Activists face genuine risk of harm. Counter-activists are well-funded and organized from propagandized union and non-union workers. The industry allows no competing energy industries like wind or solar. The worst days of coal history have been reenacted; if the permits go forward and operations are not stopped, there will be devastating effects on the region and its future.

Crossing Pennsylvania Avenue, the volunteers refused to leave the sidewalk. A kabuki took place as police marked a perimeter with yellow tape and ordered them to leave three times; the volunteers then sat down in unison. Officers arrested 114 at a time, cuffing them in plastic and leading them to a Secret Service van and a natural gas-powered bus. Among those detained was Mickey McCoy, a Kentucky activist with a letter addressed to the president in his pocket; he was unable to deliver it in person.

Appalachia Rising defied stereotype: these patient, brave, wonderful, eclectic Americans live in the so-called "flyover states." They are the ordinary folk that movement conservatives pretend to be, but are not. They are the grassroots that tea parties were funded to imitate. But no matter how hard the right tries, it cannot steal this act because it is not an act. MTR is real and their complaints genuine. Perhaps more tellingly, their creativity is compelling, and their courage is yet unmatched in the annals of teabaggery. Those who were there saw me in a Red Sox hat; if anyone can find video of a mass act of civil disobedience by tea party activists, I'll eat it.

And yes, they called on the president to make a choice. That's what community organizers do: force the powerful to make choices and choose sides.

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