A Mountain Justice Summer
by Grant A. Mincy
The temperate, deciduous, mountain rain-forests of Central and Southern Appalachia are recognized as a biodiversity hotspot of global significance. In Eastern Kentucky stands Pine Mountain, among the most beautiful and biologically diverse mountains in the region — equipped with gentle views, waterfalls, endemic flora and fauna and undisturbed forests. In June the mountain was also home to a community dedicated to a sustainable Appalachia — the folks of Mountain Justice.
Mountain justice is both a call to action, and a call for help, from communities in the Appalachian Mountains. Specifically, Mountain Justice is a gathering of numerous concerned citizens and coalitions who are part of a growing network to abolish mountaintop removal valley fill operations and transition mountain communities beyond coal.
To date, more than 520 mountains throughout Appalachia have been leveled by mountaintop mining. More than 1.1 million hectares (an area three times the size of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park) of temperate forest have been converted to moonscape and more than 2000 km of streams have been buried. Though there are reclamation requirements, to date, there is no evidence to suggest the environmental impairment of this practice can be offset.
There is a large toll to human populations as a result of these operations as well. Numerous health risks exist in Appalachian communities as a result of air and water pollution and industrial disaster is rampant in the coalfields. As environmental health is depressed, so are markets. Billions of dollars in wealth have been extracted from mountain communities only to enrich extractive resource industries, energy monopolies, state governments and the federal government – leaving coalfield residents in immense poverty. Appalachian history is wrought with class struggle, environmental degradation and corporatism. The mountains are on the front lines of the war with the politically connected – and Mountain Justice is striking back.
For ten years now Mountain Justice has worked on a diversity of tactics to end the destruction of Appalachian coalfield communities — from “paper wrenching” to non-violent direct action. Mountain Justice summer camp has become a staple of the Appalachian movement, it is a community; many know each other and alliances are quickly made. Mountain Justice Summer lasted ten days and featured workshops, training sessions, and good old fashioned story telling about Appalachian history and culture. Of course what is a summer camp without traditional foot stompin’ mountain music, films, bonfires, home cooked meals and camping? All were present at Mountain Justice, accompanied with a healthy dose of revolution.
Particularly interesting about Mountain Justice (and almost all of Appalachian organizing for that matter) is the leaderless coordinating style of the movement. Groups are organized, decisions are made and actions are carried out without top-down hierarchies, but rather cooperative decision-making. The movement operates in the tradition of anarchist, anti-authoritarian social innovation. I cannot claim the entire movement hopes for a stateless society, but it is important to note the decentralized themes prevalent throughout Appalachian transition. The movement strives for economic and environmental sustainability — all to be achieved by local and worker ownership of the means of production, community owned democratic energy systems and solidarity economics.
Most importantly, the movement is achieving its goals. These small scale, decentralized markets are rising in the Appalachian coalfields. In West Virginia, coal miners who lost their jobs to the mechanization of the industry have started developing environmental markets. Worker coalitions are helping communities save money via efficiency programs. Coal River Mountain Watch is achieving democratic energy. Direct action after direct action raises awareness and halts new coal generation, closes strip mines and alleviates poverty. Because of groups like Mountain Justice regeneration is coming to Appalachia.