Our friend and ally Lou Martin wrote this (in response to Nick Mullins’s blog post “The Problem with Environmentalism in Appalachia“) and asked us to post it. Although this isn’t an official communique from RAMPS, we’re posting it in the spirit of fostering dialogue so that our movement can be stronger and more effective…
I wish more people knew the environmental movement in central Appalachia the way I have gotten to know it in the last four years.
I have been a longtime fan of Nick Mullins’s blog The Thoughtful Coal Miner, and I hope Nick knows that I appreciate and respect him and his family for their work—work of all kinds—to end mountaintop removal. And I appreciate this recent blog post because it is grappling with a difficult subject and because, to be effective, we need to take a hard look at ourselves and our strategies.
As I understand the post, the main problem with environmentalism in Appalachia is that environmental organizations have not won over coal mining families. Nick writes, “Coal mining families are not very receptive to environmentalists—and that’s putting it lightly. Why should they be? In what way have environmentalists approached coal mining families over the past two decades? In what way have environmentalists presented themselves to the public?”
Throughout the blog post he talks about “environmentalists” and “coal mining families” as being two different groups, opposed to each other. In another place he writes, “At the end of the day, I had to realize that perhaps many environmental organizations are just as ‘out of touch’ as Appalachian people think them to be.” Here, environmental organizations and Appalachian people as if they are almost mutually exclusive.
When I think back to why I got involved fighting mountaintop removal, I think of the people who inspired me, and almost every one of them came from a coal mining family or were former coal miners—and all those people belonged to environmental organizations.
But Nick is talking about a general perception of “the environmental movement” that someone in the region might get if they only watch the occasional news report or witness a demonstration. Those people, I suppose, might not really be able to differentiate between a small organization based in the region and a national organization like the Sierra Club. Between an organization that advocates civil disobedience and those that do not.
My understanding of the movement is different from the general perception. The people I’ve met come from many walks of life, at different points in their lives, and at different places in their understanding of issues, strategies, and the movement itself. When Nick wrote that somebody told him they were tired of talking to pro-coal people, I wondered if that was a twenty-year-old who has been at it for a year or a sixty-year-old who has spent a lifetime in the coalfields. Either one of them may just need a break and will get back into the conversation a year from now.