Fall break trip to Appalachia to study coal industry
11 students from Haverford, Bryn Mawr, and Swarthmore joined a six night, seven day service learning trip to study the effects of mountaintop removal coal mining on the politics, economics, and environment of Appalachian communities.
Students were able to attend the memorial service for Larry Gibson as an introduction to our week of learning and service.
The group was graciously hosted at the volunteer house for Coal River Mountain Watch. CRMW staff organized a wonderful program of activities for the week. See our complete annotated photo album of activities on Facebook.
We were able to visit with youth and elder activists in the CRMW offices who provided us with a stimulating overview of the movement to end mountaintop removal coal mining and to share their personal stories about growing up in Applalachia and coming to join the movement at some significant personal cost.
We were given a day-long tour of Kayford Mountain, where we had a close-up view of an active mountaintop removal site.
We spent a day in service to the community. First at the Good Shepherd Thrift Store in Whitesville, WV, and then at the farm of Sidney and Dana Moye, spiritual elders to the young activists at Coal River Mountain Watch. Sidney and Dana took us under our wing, fed us food and wisdom, touched our hearts and deepened our commitment to the movement.
On our way home, we spent one night visiting with activist students at West Virginia University, one of about 40 "PNC alliance schools", deepening our friendships and our shared work to support Earth Quaker Action Team's campaign to get PNC Bank out of the business of financing mountaintop removal coal mining.
In the words of Larry Gibson: "Someone needs to do something about ending mountaintop removal coal mining. Your are someone. I am someone. Let's go do something." We know that to keep faith with the courageous and kind people who made our trip possible, we need to continue to show up and do our part.
There will be an opportunity to join with others to take the message back to PNC Bank on Saturday, December 1st.
Some comments from students after the trip:
"I have always been interested in how economic development has impacted the environment and how Quakerism addresses to that problem. However, I have hardly involved in learning and acting on those issues in these years. This fall break Mountaintop Removal trip has definitely taught me how devastating the industry has destroyed the nature in an unethical way and how Quakers and everyone who love the mountains act out against it. Every day in the trip is a step forward for me to understand the issue and think about how to improve the situation. I felt extremely grateful that I grow from a totally ignorant and “irrelevant” person into a concerned human being that acted out (I joined the group to the PNC bank to explain the issue to the staffs there) and is ready to do something more. I also feel thankful that I was among a group of lovely people that care about each other and are willing to act out for justice. “Don’t sit down. Don’t lie down. Don’t get pushed around.” Like what Larry Gibson said in this quote, the research trip has aroused my awareness of the issue and given me huge impetus to go forward and learn more."
"I'm also incredibly grateful, not only for the challenging and moving trip, but also for the opportunity to attend the EQAT training afterwards. Thanks to everyone for coming along, and I'm sooooo looking forward to the next steps that we take together. I'm also interested in devising a plan to thank all of the people who made the trip possible, in the form of letters, baked goods and actions, so let's keep the conversation going this week about how to make this happen."
"In a way it was the saddest place I have ever seen: in peak foliage the contrast between the natural beauty and desecration was especially stark. The way the coal companies own the state is truly frightening, and as mountaintop removal [MTR] mining replaces traditional mining and so-called "clean-coal" [which means rinsing off the coal so it will burn cleaner and then pumping the residue into the valleys and old mines to poison the people who live nearby] it is worse then you can imagine. We saw an elementary school in the shadow of a 7.8 billion gallon coal slurry where children are becoming ill at alarming rates, towns where no one's tap water is safe to drink, and met a person whose partner miscarried and who has stomach bleeding and may not live past 30 just from bathing in and washing dishes in the water. Another person was kicked of his house for advocating against coal by his father; a miner who actually supports his son but would be fired if he didn't kick him out. The companies have busted almost all of the unions and since MTR mining is mostly automated it offers almost no jobs, yet people still support the coal companies. We visited the home of one of the most prominent activists, which was covered with bullet-holes from coal company workers. He had become an activist when they had illegally blasted for coal in his family cemetery, obliterating 100 graves. All the while, the constant hum of machinery cast an ominous backdrop to the innocent humming of insects and calls of birds. This was much sadder than a developing country; it was a declining country.
However my view was challenged as the trip progressed. Despite the profound sadness of the place, it was powerful to find people who had found a way out and left the state, yet missed it so much that they returned to be activists. This was a place where people want to be; a place that they want to be proud of. They have a right to be, and we have an obligation to defend their right."
More to come.