Larry Gibson’s family has lived on or near Kayford Mountain since the late 1700’s. He and his family used to live on the lowest lying part of the mountain, and looked “up” to the mountain peaks that surrounded them. Since 1986, the slow motion destruction of Kayford Mountain has been continuous — 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Eighteen years after the “mountain top removal” project began, Larry Gibson now occupies the highest point of land around; he is enveloped by a 12,000-acre pancake in what was previously a mountain range. Here are reflections from some of the participants of the school.
It was really intense. I wasn’t completely ignorant, so it wasn’t a big shock that what was happening was happening. The emotional impact of being there and seeing what happens and being with people who have been there…the first moment I had alone I felt like I broke open. I had a knot in my throat the rest of the time. I felt a real intense love and connection to the people. Julian, I felt really connected to him. It was devastating.
One of the things that was particularly powerful was the realization that I was completely in the heart of coal country and that it was surrounding me in e very way from these huge coal trucks passing all day long to the memories of these guys and their grandparents and those who had been involved in these coal wars. Then up to the physicality of this tiny peninsula of forests that was left, surrounded by the monstrosity…To be in the heart of it and to be confronted with it on that scale for me, triggered these very strong feelings I did not really expect. I almost got into a meaningless argument on the van ride back to camp. I was trying to figure out a way to move forward with those feelings.
Picture the Homeless
I was responding to it on two levels. The first one to me was visceral and religious. The other was in terms of politics and activism. Little man vs. big corporation. What should we do? When Larry said that people have to come up to the mountain and we have to talk about it. The religious piece was seeing the hand of God created beauty and the hand of man destroyed it and made this ugly scene.
Picture the Homeless
As I went with you guys today and bore witness to this atrocity, I find myself wishing it was as simplistic as one struggle that our brother Larry is waging with the coal mining magnates. I submit that the struggle is vastly more complex than that. Twenty-five years ago, there were only 5 metropolises that boasted over 1 million citizens. Today there are 11. According to population projections, by 2025 there will be 25 such metropolises. Accordingly, we have to ask who controls the land and who controls the resources? Who determines how that power is disseminated is the crucial issue of our time.
Dr. Mazwi Nzimande
I once said to myself about the roles and responsibilities to protect our communities and our people… who protects us? Who leads the leaders? From that little guy I learned that we as leaders we need to lead ourselves. We as leaders we don’t need to only protect people, we need to protect mountains. We need to be proud of our precious things. We need to speak out and say this is wrong. He said, “No I will keep on pushing until the very last end.” That says [something] to us young people. We want to be like that guy. For me, it was like I was in a classroom learning how to struggle.
I grew up in Crosslanes my whole life, 22 years. This is my first time going to Kayford Mountain. I visted the Seneca Rock, which is beautiful. Look at what God has created. Then I went to see this place and thought…look what man has created. God has created beautiful things. We’ve created ugliness. I thought it was scary up there. I’m fortunate to have electricity, but look at those who don’t have electricity. It makes you feel weird and kinda awful because you’re blessed with all the things you want. Power, hot water and all this. Some people have a five gallon bucket on top of their head in a outhouse taking showers with a sunbeam. We have hot water. I hope we can put a stop to this mountaintop removal. That will make verything a lot better and safer.
Mayday New Orleans
I guess the thing that goes with that is the question of where does the power for the electricity come from. We get the majority of our energy from coal. We overconsume. Wind power is a great power. How many people have been killed by windpower and how many by mining? The fact is we don’t consume at a rate where wind power can provide our energies. We need a multi-prong solution. I think if we look a little deeper at how we consume, we may find a way to move to what is a more feasible energy source.
Church of Scotland
The question of the environment and how we live in an intricate way, we have to think systematically and in the long-term. We have to take this into consideration. We don’t want jobs that impact human health. Justice with sustainability somehow has to be part of the thinking. In my world, never having visited before, this was like a known place. I think what struck me when I went there today was this feeling that he was very alone. We came with these buses of people and then we drove away. There he was. I thought there were a lot of people, and there probably are. I felt like he felt discouraged and struggling alone and wondering when the next group will come by.
When we were listening to the talk in the rain was, “What can we do to help Larry?” I came back to talk to people on the staff and said we need to get Larry into the Union Quarterly magazine and mobilize the Union community. He has obvious ties with Union. He loves Derrick. So, we’re going to try to get some pictures on Friday.
The closing moment was one of the most spectacular moments I’ve encountered with the poverty initiative . Derrick sang. Charon sang and everybody hugged. That’s really something. I don’t think any of us should lose that moment. It won’t happen again for a while in any other environment. It was something special that happened with us. My other reaction is that the state sold itself to the devil. If they had dams on these two big rivers there’s no teloing what would happen in that state. Most people don’t recognize that it exists.
I felt very very angry. I’m not going to talk about my anger now. I also felt that maybe one day we need to sign what we call a record of understanding of some kind or a memorandum of some kind stating that 40 organizations meet and will take a decision to fight this until the end in West Virginia. Capitalism doesn’t care about justice or humanity. When do we say something is a sin or is a sin against humanity? Those are my questions. I felt that the leader has a peace with the world because he is trying to protect the environment. But sometimes in my heart I feel guilty because I am one of the people who betrayed him. Maybe I know who is consuming those coals. Maybe if I can take action now to boycott the coals, that might stop this sin against humanity. This coal is full of blood. We need to take action. The time to take action, if it is that, the time is now.
I really resonate with that because I felt like there really only a couple of other things that were as ugly as that terrible, gouging gaping hole. I just wondered how am I contributing to this. What do I do everyday in a mindless way that is allowing this to happen? How am I connect to it and what can I do about it? We’ve become so inured to the ways we’re used to having hot water and heat and electricity…so… and there is so much inertia around that. I’m not strong enough to live off the grid completely. I do’tn hink I can do that. The other level I have is when did we stop believing and feeling that the earth is sacred that human lives are sacred to be treated with tenderness and gratitude. Each living thing is a miracle…instead of mindlessly grabbing it. To me to feel reverence for human life is a deeper need than having stuff. Why, as a culture, do we seem to choose to ignore reverence for creation and each other? When did we start?
Church of Scotland
I’ve seen mountain top removal couple of years ago and then I saw it again today. Interestingly, I had a different reaction today than I had the last time. It’s not that I don’t agree with what y’all said here today. I’m coming from a place in thinking about how do we at the same time resist what is going on and join with the people who are doing this in trying to get to some resolution? It’s a hard place for me to sit because I can feel the anger and I can feel everything that has been expressed here about what’s going on. There is a part of me that wants to fight and sign something and take some kind of action and at the same time how do we invite the people in power that we say are the “enemy” into the conversation about how to stop it? It’s interesting that we all come from different areas and we all have different issues we’re working on, but this one issue that we as a collective can work on.
There was a lot of hard stuff to think through today but one thing that felt sustaining was that I had a great conversation with Sage (Christian for the Mountains) He said that in terms for church support, they got a lot of support from the most backwoods, rural, conservative, Pentecostal churches. When we think about who is at the core of the movement and who is the base, it’s very often the communities who are either visible by mainstream media or vilified by mainstream media. They found strong solidarity from populations who alienate themselves from communities or are pushed out from the national discourse. That was real crucial for me to be reminded of that again. We have to not forget people and leave people behind when we’re talking about what our next steps are and our strategies. Everybody should be paid attention to.
Church of Scotland
For me, the most important thing is leaving a man standing alone is his safety. How do we make sure this man is safe? The anger will not get us anywhere. It’s a bit trying to get people to the table. How do we support that man to make sure he’s safe? Small steps big successes. Let’s look for people who have influence who can support this man. His life is the most important thing in this present time.
By the sharing of the stories, he said his safety depends on people continuously coming to see the mountain. He’s not as vulnerable. Sharing stories is a powerful and tangible thing. I’m going to put it on facebook. I’m going to share it with my network. I’m going to send it out on my listserve. I’m going to tell the story.
Mayday New Orleans
This guy here was very very strong to be there and take all that abuse. His heart is real, real big to be such a short guy. My heart went out to him and I could feel what he was going through. He’s just like the Katriona survivors. He’s there to conquer whatever is going on there. I felt for him. I wanted to tell him, “I’m gonna stay here with you Larry.”
We have met a MLK kind of person. We have met somebody who we all are in some ways and who we will be in some ways in our own effort.