Friday, May 27, 2011

GIVE NO CONCESSIONS: Organizing for Freedom

Written by Event Organizer and Middle Tennessee State University student Charles White


           Our role as the Students for Environmental Action (SEA) on our campus empowered us to look into hosting a leading figure of the climate justice movement on campus. Larry Gibson seemed to be the perfect choice. We initially made contact with his organization in October of last year. We set up a date and a location, committed to funding, and started spreading the word.  The Keeper of the Mountains' Operations Director, Daniel Chiotos, was very helpful throughout the entire process. We shared friendly phone calls every few weeks updating the process. He was more than helpful, sending us a packet of information about Larry and the Foundation as well as suggestions for media outreach. We got the Ideas & Issues section of our Student Programming to set aside funds for the event. We also asked for funding from the school as SEA and were able to fundraise more by hosting a benefit concert. We created a Facebook event very early in the process (which I ‘shared’ rather frequently). We made posters and handouts. We contacted local media and received coverage in the school newspaper. We setup a table with food and information for the event. It was simple, awesome, and rewarding!

On April 19, 2011, Middle Tennessee State University was graced by the presence of climate justice HERO Larry Gibson. It was Larry’s first official speaking engagement after he regretfully had to miss Power Shift 2011 (which a group of MTSU students had attended the previous weekend in Washington D.C.) due to personal health concerns. We are thankful he was well enough to speak here in Murfreesboro. Larry was joined by Amber Whittington of Ameagle, WV.  Amber is one of fifteen youths from the coal-mining region of Appalachia who Larry is personally training to become leading organizers.  Larry hopes that through sharing his experiences with this group of promising protégés he will be able to help empower this new generation to carry on his outstanding work of educating and motivating people of action to resist corporate greed- especially in regard to environmentally and socially destructive coal extraction. Amber spoke to us of the poisonous drinking water in affected communities, of grandmothers who have to fight for their safety when they should be comfortably retiring, and of the extremely high rates of cancer, liver and kidney diseases which are the results of current coal-mining practices in her home state. She did an outstanding job for her first time in front of a crowd- keep up the good work, Amber! She also inspired our own budding students-activists.

Here at MTSU have been working to spread the word about the atrocity of Mountaintop Removal since a number of us attended Mountain Justice Training Camp during May of last year. We realized the magnitude of this issue and its direct connections to Murfreesboro, Tennessee. According to, Murfreesboro receives energy from Widows Creek- a TVA operated coal-fired power plant on the Tennessee River in northern Alabama- that receives a portion of its coal from mountaintop removal at the Spruce No. 1 mine in West Virginia. As many of you know, this is the surface mine that is encroaching on the historic site of Blair Mountain. It disturbs me that even as I type this I am inadvertently supporting destruction of this extraordinarily important place in our nation’s history. I will get back to that part in a moment.

Larry was completely on point for the entire hour and a half presentation. He began by telling the audience a story about his recent visit to the Ecuadorian Amazon; of the acrid smell of burning oil that is now present in the rainforest because of Chevron’s oil-extraction practices, and crude oil seeping from the ground and polluting the Ecuadorian’s sacred waterways. His experience reminded him of what is happening to his own people back in the mountains of Appalachia. Peoples’ well-being is being compromised for profit by corporations such as Massey Energy- now owned by Alpha Natural Resources, the 2nd largest coal company in the country. Larry told us about how he has always had a connection with the land and all the plants and critters that inhabit it. By not standing up and fighting for the healthy world which we believe to be the right of all Earthling life-forms we are allowing our mother’s blood- the precious water- to be infused with toxic heavy metals such as arsenic, mercury, lead, etc. This devastates the lives of all her children who drink thereof.

Water is what unites all planetary citizens. We need it for survival. Take away our clean water and you are destroying our livelihoods. From the Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan, to the BP Deepwater Horizon spill in the Gulf of Mexico; from chronic oil spills in Nigeria and Ecuador (that dwarf the tragedy in the Gulf) to the Tar Sands of Utah and Alberta; from unregulated Hydraulic Fracturing all over the world to giant fields of  Monsanto’s genetically modified crops sprayed with fossil carbon-fuel derived compounds; from Mountaintop Removal in Appalachia to every other extractive atrocity destroying global citizens’ lives worldwide, people are beginning to make connections. We are living in a world that is ensnared in a global system of greed that cares nothing about our future- only about short-sighted initiatives benefitting  a small global elite. This system is poisoning our water, polluting our air, and obliterating our right to have healthy and sustainable realities.  At the same time, this system of greed justifies the dirty industries that are responsible for these atrocities. But no longer will we allow them to play these dangerous games and gamble with our lives. It is time to grow up as a species, my fellow Homo sapiens sapiens!

I join Larry Gibson in calling for a revolution in this country and the world! We shall give no concessions, nor shall we accept them. We are the freedom fighters, and we will organize to create a better world! The board is set. The pieces are moving. We are building a broad social movement the likes of which has not been seen for some time. Please join Larry, myself, and many others as we walk for freedom from corporate oppression at the March on Blair Mountain, from June 4-11, 2011, to kick off a summer of escalated direct action campaigns worldwide.

The website created for the march says, “The March on Blair Mountain is a unifying rally involving labor unions, environmental organizations, scholars, artists, and other citizens and groups. The march commemorates the 90th anniversary of the Battle of Blair Mountain in 1921, when 10,000 coal miners rose against the rule of the coal operators and fought for their basic right to live and work in decent conditions. Currently, Blair Mountain is threatened with obliteration by mountaintop removal (MTR) coal-mining, and it is here that a new generation of Appalachians {and all Planetary Citizens} takes a stand” (for more information and to register, please visit

Thank you, Larry, for sharing your inspiration with our community of Murfreesboro, TN. We face the evil of a giant, unlined, toxic landfill that is a mere hundred yards from our primary community water source- Stones River. We have one of the leading music-recording degree programs in the nation; we have and a town full of radical musicians, artists, and activists who are learning to find their voices and shout them loud and clear for the entire world to hear. We are with you all the way, Larry. We see the future. It’s beautiful and full of small egalitarian communities which have formed a special relationship with the earth- which no longer need to extract death to fuel their lives. I promise, we are going to create it. Thank you for electrifying a new generation of leaders to take on the epic task at hand. Courage, camaraderie, endurance, and ingenuity will help us lead the way to a healthier, happier planet. May we all be well and stay true to our purpose.