The first time that I learned about the reality of mountaintop removal I was in Alabama, being guided through the woods by a man across what had been his family’s land. He had lost it to the coal companies, but to him it was still his. He led us through the woods, and the closer we got to the mine the more barren, dead the forest became with the water levels rising where they shouldn’t be. As we looked out over the mine with the backdrop of massive machines bigger than houses, I remember him choking up, saying, “I don’t want this to be my family’s legacy.”
I live in Asheville, NC now, and I’m an herbalist there. I learned in the mountains of Tennessee. As I talk to other herbalists, and other Appalachians, and other Mountain Folk, the more I learn that MTR has taken away our access to mountain medicine; it takes away our ability to heal ourselves and our ability to live self-sufficiently. What these companies are doing takes away our self-reliance, and our ability to be a part of a community and to take care of each other. And part of that culture is being accountable to those around you. We have to have accountability to our communities and to our lands.
One of the things that I want to maintain is an anti-capitalist perspective. MTR is capitalism at its most basic and purest form. It is the oppression of people and the environment, really any living thing. Everyone who participates denies accountability for what they are actually doing. Everyone wants to avoid culpability, and that sickens me.
Mother Jones said, “Pray for the dead. Fight like hell for the living.” I really believe in that. So many have died in this fight, Larry Gibson, Judy Bonds. Larry was a real elder in our movement. He opened his arms and heart to all of us—he called us his children. MTR takes our elders from us. It gives them cancer and destroys their health. Judy died from cancer. One thing that I learned from Larry is that we have to keep fighting. This movement needs to keep growing and keep fighting because so many of our elders, so much of our community is dying.
I have no faith that we can appeal to our government and ask permission to have our livelihoods back. We cannot appeal to our government to have people stop raping our land and poisoning our friends. We have to take the power back. Maybe if I believed that petitioning our government would make a difference, that might be what I would do. But I do not believe that would do anything. I am taking this action because I want to see those CEO’s, the armchair dictators of oppression who are profiting off of the land and the oppression of rural peoples, and I want to hold them accountable. Accountable to my elders and the land—my community.