Guest Article- Mountain Justice Planning Collective
Southern Appalachia has paid a high cost for the coal that’s powered the rest of the country. The region has been left impoverished while its mines supplied fuel to all the nation’s other industries. The communities of Appalachia have been more hard-hit since the 1970s, when strip mining took hold, with its most destructive form, mountaintop removal, creating a widespread health crisis.
Now, with a worsening climate crisis, it’s more important than ever to end the dependency on coal, which creates 40 percent of America’s greenhouse-gas emissions. This spring, we invite Ohio University students to come to Appalachia, Virginia from March 1 – 10, for Mountain Justice Spring Break, to help move America towards a sustainable-energy future, and join in solidarity with the communities most harmed by the toxic cycle of fossil fuels.
Mountaintop removal is a last-ditch effort by mining companies to turn a profit as underground coal supplies in the Appalachians run out. Blasting the ridgelines off of mountains and leaving behind barren landscapes where nothing can grow, the companies dump the dangerous waste products in leak-prone slurry ponds. People’s homes become uninhabitable, the air filling with coal dust, the foundations cracking from nearby blasting, and the water being poisoned to the point of running orange. Many people are simply leaving.
In West Virginia, the Keepers of the Mountains started fighting back when a man named Larry Gibson refused to be bullied into selling off his land to coal companies. In Virginia, the Southern Appalachian Mountain Stewards has been holding off a proposed blasting site on Ison Rock Ridge, keeping over a thousand acres of forest and five surrounding towns safe from destruction.
Uniting under the name of the Mountain Justice movement, they and other community organizations across five states have stood up to the destruction of mountain towns and ecosystems. They have used direct action to shut down mine sites, lobbied Congress to stop coal subsidies, and used citizens’ enforcement to test water quality while the EPA has turned a blind eye.
But these activists recognized the need to connect with a stronger national movement, to educate the rest of the world about what was happening, and support students in leading campaigns to divest from strip-mining coal companies.
The first Mountain Justice Spring Break, in 2007, was in West Virginia’s Coal River Valley. After a week of workshops and discussions, the students joined local parents in protesting for a newer, safer Marsh Fork Elementary School, since the existing school was a mere 150 feet from a processing plant, where bad air quality was making students and teachers sick and the threat of a spill loomed from the nearby slurry pond.
Since then, the Spring Break has gathered socially-conscious students every year. It has branched off into Virginia and Kentucky, with one spring break summit after the next, so that students whose vacations are at different times can all get a chance to attend one.
Last year, students came to the Virginia MJSB from 10 colleges, from Florida Gulf Coast University to Northeastern in Boston, to Michigan State. This January, children began attending the new Marsh Fork Elementary School.
Come to Virginia this spring, stand with Appalachian communities for healthy living conditions and healthy ecosystems, and build the national movement to avert climate crisis.
Interested students can go to mjsbvirginia.wordpress.com to sign up. Registration starts at $50 per student, and includes lodging and meals for all ten days.