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.


Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Will Alpha Listen to Coalfield Residents?

Written by On The Road Again Program Speaker and Glen White, WV Resident Paula Swearengin

Yesterday as a mother fighting against "Disposable Appalachia" and a representative of the Keeper of the Mountains Foundation I got to join some great people and visit Alpha Natural Resources in Abingdon, Va. to approach them with many questions about the future of Appalachia.  We met with Kevin S.Crutchfield, chief executive officer, and Michael R. Peelish, executive vice president to discuss what they "inherited" from Massey Energy. Alpha Natural Resources recently announced plans to acquire Richmond, Virginia based Massey Energy with a $7.1 billion buyout.

We approached them with many topics such as a general overview of the effects of mountain top removal and coal mining on the people of Appalachia. Michael Clark and Dorothy Taulbee, both coalfield residents and representatives of the Southern Appalachian Mountain Stewards (SAMS), discussed how they had been affected on a personal level by mountain top removal. Dorothy showed them pictures of what used to be her home and explained that her town no longer exists because it is now buried beneath a slurry impoundment. She went through a list of loved ones and friends she had lost due to illnesses they acquired from exposure to toxins. She went on to explain that she had gotten sick as well with lung cancer (she never smoked) and even survived the loss of a lung. She paused in her speech and gently patted Michael Peelish on the shoulder to say "I think God spared me so I can be like Moses and spread a message. You can't do this, honey." She almost brought me to tears.

An image that is lingering in my thoughts is a big picture they had hanging in their board room. It was of a miner's hands clenched together. The hands were dirty from coal and the thumbnail looked somewhat bloody. Michael Peelish started his introduction by talking about those hands.  He proudly said he gave a copy of the picture to each miner they employed. He talked of things like integrity and safety while I was drawn to the reality of what those hands mean. They only thing I could think about was the sacrifice the people of Appalachia have made for coal and what coal has cost us. When it came to be my turn to speak I couldn't stop myself from telling them what those hands meant to me. I pointed to the picture and said "Those hands are my grandfather's hands. He died with dirty lungs. Those hands are my Daddy's hands who died of lung cancer from asbestos and dirty lungs. Those hands are my Stepfather's hands who now has heart disease and dirty lungs!"

Debbie Jarrell of Coal River Mountain Watch continued talking about "those
hands" when it came to be her turn to speak. She talked about "those hands" being her families too. She also said "We have always dealt with the boom and bust of the coal industry. When you are through this time we are really going to be hurting!" Throughout the entire meeting we then tried to portray to them what they had on THEIR hands. The destruction of Appalachia and its people for profit. These are the stories Alpha's executives need to hear when they are worried about bottom lines and this country's demand for coal.

The rest of the meeting consisted of discussions about Coal River Mountain, Kayford Mountain, reclamation, the slurry impoundment in Brushy Fork and with each of us sharing something personal with them and how we were affected. I left feeling somewhat optimistic because even though they said a lot about safety they didn't give us any reassurances or promises about ending mountain top removal. They did promise to investigate our concerns, including visiting the Brushy Fork Impoundment just as soon as things were finalized in June and invited us to come back some time in July. We'll see what comes from that.

I want to thank everybody that got involved in the meeting and for giving me the opportunity to share my voice. I encourage all of you to write letters to Alpha Natural Resources and share your concerns and experiences. They need to know that not only did they inherit more coal production by buying out Massey Energy they also inherited more of the demise of innocent people that goes along with coal production.

Blessings to you all,

Paula Swearengin

Attendees for this meeting were as follows:

-Debbie Jarrell of Coal River Mountain Watch
-Dorothy Taulbee of the Southern Appalachian Mountain Stewards
-Glen Collins of RAMPS Campaign
-Kim Ellis of RAMPS Campaign
-Junior Walk of Coal River Mountain Watch and Keeper of the Mountains Foundation
-Michael Clark of the Southern Appalachian Mountain Stewards
-Paul Brown of Pax, WV
-Paula Swearengin of the Keeper of the Mountains Foundation

Friday, May 20, 2011

Larry Gibson and Mari-Lynn Evans Energize Ohio Citizen Action's Cleveland office

Post Written by Stephen Gabor, Ohio Citizen Action

CLEVELAND — Larry Gibson, Keeper of the Mountains, and Mari-Lynn Evans, 2010 West Virginia Film Maker of the Year for her documentaries “Coal Country and “Low Coal,” spent an hour at Ohio Citizen Action’s downtown Cleveland office yesterday talking to staff about their work to end mountaintop removal coal mining.

According to Gibson, mountaintop removal is “the tsunami of Appalachia,” having destroyed over 6 million acres. Gibson told the staff that 82% of West Virginia land found in the coalfields is owned by coal companies and “wherever coal goes, misery goes.”

Gibson and Evans were featured speakers at the protest outside FirstEnergy’s annual shareholders’ meeting at the John S. Knight Center in Akron. FirstEnergy’s Lake Shore power plant, three miles east of downtown Cleveland on Lake Erie, buys coal from companies engaged in mountaintop removal mining. The extraction site most closely connected to the Lake Shore plant is Kayford Mountain, Gibson’s home.

Gibson has successfully saved 50 acres of his own family’s land even while the land around him continues to be destroyed by mountaintop removal. Gibson said, “There are two trains leaving Appalachia. One has coal on it. The other has money on it.”

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Bowl for the Mountain Keepers Yourself!

For a PDF Version of this guide or to let us know you're interested, email or call us at 304-205-0920, happy bowling!


The Keeper of the Mountains Foundation aims to educate and inspire people to work for healthier, more sustainable mountain communities and an end to mountaintop removal. We believe a better future in the coalfields requires everyday people to come together and recognize their power to make long-term, lasting change. We envision an organization, led by West Virginians, with real power in West Virginia. We support communities that want to move beyond a coal-based economy and put in its place an economy that values people, land, and mountain heritage.


Bowling for the Mountain Keepers is a FUNdraiser for Keeper of the Mountains Foundation (KOTM). The first Bowling for the Mountain Keepers event was held in Morgantown, West Virginia, and had approximately 25 people attend who together raised over $700 for KOTM. It involved great people, bowling, greasy food, and outrageous costumes.

Organizing a Bowling for the Mountains Keepers event is an incredibly do-able and useful way for you to contribute to the movement to stop Mountaintop Removal and build a better Appalachia. The KOTM is dedicated to raising money from our grassroots to grow new leadership within the Southern West Virginia Coalfields. This is a great way for you to help us grow our movement to stop Mountaintop Removal and for you to have a great time at a bowling alley!


 This is how it was done in Morgantown, WV.

Organizing the event

1. Ask your most dedicated and active friends about a date to hold the event. You will want some help with outreach and preparation, so you don't want to schedule the fundraiser on a day when nobody can come. Bowling by yourself isn't that much fun.

2. Once you know when people can attend, set a date and time.

3. Set up a Facebook event for the fundraiser and invite as many people as possible.

4. Reserve bowling lanes. Based on an expected number of participants, find a bowling alley and reserve enough lanes for everyone to bowl. Usually there are six people to a lane. Be sure to reserve at least two extra lanes for unexpected bowlers. **Also, if a lot of people are likely to attend, be sure to negotiate a deal with the bowling alley. For Morgantown, the price of each game was reduced by $1 and the shoes were provided for free!!!

5. Add more fun to the event!!! In Morgantown, Bowling for the Mountain Keepers included a costume contest, and everyone from “Larry Gibson” to Superwoman showed up!!

6. Invite a speaker from the KOTM On The Road Again Program to lead a short talk on Mountaintop Removal so all the bowlers are educated and motivated to take action. Folks need to know why they're there and why they should donate. This should be a SHORT talk though since people are primarily there to have fun & bowl.

7. Make sure that everyone knows to bring enough money to cover 2-3 games of bowling, plus bowling shoes.

Setting up a donation process: There are many ways to raise funds for KOTM through Bowling for the Mountain Keepers.

1. Use email, Facebook, or other means of outreach to ask invited bowlers to donate directly to KOTM and to get their friends, family, and colleagues to donate as well.

2. Set up a Google donation form. This form simply collects information from people and does not accept donations. You can find this option through your Google account. It only takes 30 minutes to set up the form. You can learn how to set up a form by doing a quick search for “how to set up a google form.”

a. The form should, at a minimum, require entries for Full Name, Address, Phone Number, Email, and donation amount (either direct donation or pledge). Additional options are to set up a check box for donaters to sign-up for receiving KOTM emails, or for volunteering.

b. When you create the form, you can set up the option for folks to either pledge a direct donation or to make a per-pin pledge. This is a fun way to get your friends and family involved (tell them that you're a terrible bowler and maybe they'll pledge a higher amount!!!). In Morgantown, friends and family of the bowlers pledged anywhere between 5 cents and $1 per pin that the bowler knocked down. Some bowlers even pledged a per-pin amount for their own bowling games.

3. Once the form is set up, copy the link to the form and send it out through the Facebook event page, your email, and any other means possible. Be sure to ask folks to pass it around.

4. At and after the event, collect the donations. Be sure to ask bowlers to bring their checkbooks to the event, and to make things easier, if any of their friends pledge a direct donation but can't make it to bowling, have the bowler collect those donations ahead of time and bring them to the event as well. For all per-pin pledges and uncollected donations, you will have to collect these after the event, by emailing or calling the bowling participant and having them collect and deliver the donations.

5. Send all donations to Keeper of the Mountains Foundation at 179 Summers St, Suite 234, Charleston, WV, 25301

Bowl for the Mountain Keepers: The Day of the Event

1. Items to bring:

a. Sign-in sheet and pen as well as a bucket to collect the donations in.

b. Prizes for highest bowling score and for best costume (if you incorporate a costume competition into your event – this is lots of fun and easy to pull off).

c. A creative costume (if you have a costume contest)

2. Be sure to have someone serve as the "Keeper" of the event.

a. The Keeper will need to help make sure that everyone gets onto a lane, signs the sign-in sheet, and has a good time.

b. The Keeper will also need to stop bowling for 15 minutes and introduce the speaker(s).

c. The Keeper will also coordinate the voting process for best (and/or worst) costume, collect each person's "best game" score, and then hand out prizes for the winners.

d. At the end of the event, the Keeper will need to make sure that everyone pays for their games, and make sure all donations are collected. Remind the bowlers to collect their unpaid donations and pledges, and let them know where and how to submit donations they collect after the event.

e. Thank everyone for helping to stop Mountaintop Removal

Friday, May 13, 2011

Pushing UVA Beyond Coal

Written by Event Organizer and University of Virginia Student Kenneth Hawes

The University of Virginia is one of about 60 colleges nationwide that operate coal-fired power plants on their campuses. The UVA power plant, which is located adjacent to the university hospital (a “clean air zone”), provides the majority of the university's heating needs. Electricity comes from the grid, which means it comes from about half coal power. While the University has a history of widely publicized sustainability efforts, it is the single largest electricity consumer in the city of Charlottesville and its power plant is the most threatening source of pollution in the community. The students recognize that the devastation that coal causes throughout its life cycle is inconsistent with Thomas Jefferson’s vision of stewardship of the earth and service to the community, but often feel helpless when faced with the bureaucracy of the administration.

Thankfully, the newly formed UVA Beyond Coal campaign is changing that sentiment. In one of their largest events of the year, Beyond Coal invited Larry Gibson and Adam Hall to speak at the university on Earth Day, April 22. Larry called out the university for flagrantly violating its fundamental ideals, and gave a firsthand account of the death, destruction, and suffering that results from the use of coal. He also energized the student body and instructed them not to become discouraged, saying, “You got more people at this college than you do administrators here.” He emphasized the power that students and communities members have over the President and how important it is that students not give up fighting.

While Larry brought “facts and figures” with him, Adam Hall gave some personal stories that were, in many ways, even more inspiring. He told of the pride of the people of Appalachia, of the history, culture, and natural beauty that he loves so much, then he described why this issue is such an urgent one. “When you turn on that light switch, you’re blowing up mountains. When you turn on that light switch, you’re destroying communities.” After hearing Larry and Adam speak, the students are more fired up than they ever have been, and more determined than ever to move UVA onto clean, renewable energy. After the event, students from Beyond Coal went with Larry and Adam to President Teresa Sullivan’s office, where they personally delivered a letter outlining the goals of the campaign. After just one year, and with the help of Larry Gibson, Adam Hall, the Sierra Club, and countless other allies, the Beyond Coal campaign has the administration’s ear, and doesn’t intend to let go until UVA starts truly living up to its ideals.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

VIDEO: March on Blair Mountain with Larry Gibson

2011 is a very successful year for us, and our speakers are in very high demand because of you. We are activating new leaders in the coalfields of West Virginia to speak all over this country about Mountaintop Removal, from Florida to California to right here at home in West Virginia. Thank you for stepping up to the plate, you have made it possible for us to rapidly spread the movement to stop Mountaintop Removal.

While our speakers have been touring the country educating people all over about what Mountaintop Removal is doing to their communities, people are gearing up here at home to save an important mountain. I want to invite you to the coming March on Blair Mountain from June 5th to June 11th. The original march took place in 1921 and we will be re-enacting this March to save Blair Mountain from Strip Mining. This will be a 60 mile march and I invite you to take part in any part of the March that you can. I am trying to get all my friends from across the country to come to West Virginia for this week.

All of you, the working people, should be there to protect this symbol of labor in this country. The 1921 Battle of Blair Mountain took place so you would have the right to organize and negotiate for a decent days pay for a decent days work. I would appreciate it if you would join us!

Again thank you,
Larry Gibson
Keeper of the Mountains Foundation

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Hokies Love Mountains

Written by Virginia Tech Event Coordinator Kara Dodson

In less than 3 years, environmental stewardship has become a main focus within the Virginia Tech University system and student body. We’ve got a “Climate Action Plan” to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, a new Office of Energy and Sustainability, and a dozen environmental student groups tackling recycling and dining issues on campus. BUT, the same school that’s proud to “invent the future” and serve the community (school slogan: “Ut Prosim”) burns 43 tons of coal per year at the on-campus steam plant. The 1970’s plant contributes to 50% of VT’s greenhouse gas emissions. Student residents living in Thomas Hall (100 feet from the coal plant) breathe in coal dust night and day throughout the year. The school has no Committee, long-term funding, or concrete plan for moving off of coal.

When Larry Gibson and Adam Hall visited VT on April 21st, they called out VT for its blatant eyesore-smokestack. Without hesitation they both linked the coal plant to Appalachia’s destruction, Blacksburg’s increased health risks, and VT’s tarnished “innovation” image. Both men are fervent speakers, preaching from the heart. The 60 “Hokies Love Mountains Rally” attendees were blown away by the heart-wrenching stories of Appalachian families suffering from health, financial, property, environmental, and cultural woes caused by the coal industry. Children diagnosed with brain tumors. Birds dropping from the sky. Fathers fighting sons from opposite sides of protests. Ghost towns in the wake of mines closing.

Adam Hall was especially effective in challenging VT students to “get off their asses” and do something about the coal plant. He’s a courageous young man, serving our country in Afghanistan, Iraq, and now in the US. As a 22 year-old he’s got more guts and seen more tragedies than any of the rallyers last Thursday. Walking away ashamed of Appalachia’s abuse, many of us decided that we can all dedicate time and energy to shut down the VT coal plant. We can all call out the VT Administration for its irresponsibility and defense of ancient technology (much like Larry and Adam did). Beyond Coal at VT, supported by the Sierra Club, has a new fire under its butt, stirred by Larry and Adam. Community by community we can all defeat coal and replace it with CLEAN, SAFE energy.