Living in Trees and Fighting Injustice

Saturday, August 6th, 2011
posted by rampsmedia

Becks Kolins writes about fighting to protect the Coal River Watershed and their experience coming down from living 80 feet up in a poplar tree, being arrested and taken into the jail system. Becks spent 14 days in the trees with Catherine Ann, who still remains in her tree and intends to stay put. Becks plans to take the fight into the legal system and plead not guilty based on necessity. The devastation that coal companies are inflicting on the people and environment in Appalachia is absolutely unjust and wrong. 

I came down from my tulip poplar late Tuesday morning, my legs wobbly and my body weak from not eating that morning. After two weeks of sitting and enough food to sustain just that, the hike up to the mine to meet the state police was rather treacherous.  However, with much encouragement from the manager of the mine, I made my way up the steep, and what was becoming less green, incline, poop bucket in hand.  I gasped for air as I set foot on the site; hunched over I was able to see an unbelievable contrast.  Bee Tree Hollow, the hollow I overlooked for 2 weeks, is a luscious green, covered in trees of varying size and species, different animals meandering around, and a trickle of a stream flowing next to my tree.  The site is brown, gray, dusty.  It lacks any sort of animal besides humans and the only trees that could be seen were coming from where I was.  This, I thought, this is what I’m fighting against.

The two weeks sitting in a tree were filled with a lot of different emotions for me—happiness, fear, sadness, joy, inspiration, power, calmness, peace, loneliness; I felt most emotions I’ve known myself to feel.  But a constant feeling, a feeling that never seemed to leave, was this feeling of fight.  I knew that regardless of where my head was, I was stopping work on this specific site.  I knew that I was telling Alpha, that I was telling the coal industry, that we aren’t going to take this anymore; we aren’t going to sit back and watch communities be destroyed and we are going to fight like hell, putting ourselves on the line if need be, to make that point known.

For me, the answer to a lot of things is collective liberation.  I believe with my entire being that if we, the oppressed, are able to truly come together and fight these larger powers, that we can, together, defeat them.  Those that benefit from the way our society functions aren’t the average, “run of the mill” folks; it is the CEOs of large corporations, it is the wealthy politician.  That person, they don’t give a damn about the person on the bottom, nor do they give a damn that the laws, regulations, the things that govern how our society functions, work against that “average” person and leaves them in such a place of blatant injustice.  This system oppresses in a way that it also leaves us divided and hopeless, unable to discern a way to work together and fight back.

In my tree I read two books, “Assata” and “Wobblies and Zapatistas.”  Each of these books, though very different in their specific content, both discussed revolutions and the necessity to work together.  Though I admit that I generally lack hope, they both were able to provide me with just that.. hope.  The fights that those have fought in the past (and currently)—the civil rights movement, the anti-globalization movement, the labor movement—have all been fighting this larger system; it is this system — capitalism— that puts the interests of the wealthy above the interests of the majority, of the working-class, of people of color, of queers, of the young, of the old, of the disabled, and of countless of others.  It is this system that creates a sacrifice zone out of Southern West Virginia, poisons communities, escalates cancer rates, obliterates mountains, and destroys incredibly rich and diverse eco-systems.  And still, it is with this system, that we can, should, and need to realize our connections, realize our strength, and stand up, fight back, and take back what is rightly ours.

After my breathing slowed and I gathered myself, Officer Mitchell led me to his car, asked me to put my hands behind my back, and arrested me.  It took us about thirty minutes to get to the police station, the majority of the drive being through the mine.  As I stared into what seemed like a horrible abyss, he proceeded to ask me questions about my reason behind doing this, all the while trying to justify strip mining.  It didn’t take long for him to realize that he wasn’t going to win an argument with me and that after two weeks of only having one companion, I had a lot of pent up rage against strip mining inside me.  The conversation soon halted.  We made our way to the police station; as we approached I saw a familiar car and several friends of mine get out, wave, and fill me with so much elation.  I sat as Officer Mitchell asked me for my information and began to process me, slyly making comments about the dismal future I would now have and my inability to work for government—yeah, ‘cause that’s what I really want to be doing.

We continued to make small talk as we drove the hour to where my arraignment would be.  I was handcuffed and placed in a holding cell with four other people.  I was stared at and almost immediately, with total confusion, asked why I was there.  This question led to a long conversation I had with one of the women about how her hometown is being destroyed by strip mining and that what she remembers of being able to hunt for wild edibles is no longer feasible; with that I had a renewed confidence in my ability to survive jail!

My confidence in surviving jail lasted the rest of that 45 minutes in the holding cell until I was brought to my arraignment with Magistrate Tanner.  He told me that he so kindly reduced my 13 counts of trespassing to one, and then proceeded to put paper after paper in front of me to sign, quickly reading over the paper detailing a release on my own recognizance.  Though I will say that it is my fault for not better understanding what that entailed, he certainly did not explain with great detail that signing this would mean me not serving time in jail, something contradictory to the statement I had released just the day before.  Even so, I was told I could leave, with this $1000 bond over my head for any future infractions that may occur.

The two weeks I spent in the tree were indescribable and as I look back on them I’m overwhelmed with the experience.  Although I was unable to take my fight into jail, I plan on continuing to fight by pleading not guilty and having a trial by my “peers.”  Acts of civil disobedience continue on, particularly here, where the coal industry’s control doesn’t end on the land, but continues into the legal system.  Similarly, the struggles that we all face don’t just end with the privatization of land and control of land by larger entities, but continue into all other aspects of our lives. As I’ve said before, we need to fight back; the coal industry needs to see that we will not take this anymore.  We will not be abused and let our land and livelihoods be taken from us.  We are the people and it is our duty to take a stand, speak up, and fight back.

You can read Becks pre-action statement here.

2 Responses to “Living in Trees and Fighting Injustice”

  1. Amanda says:

    Hi RAMPS

    Props to you for taking this inspiring stand and for drawing so much attention to the atrocity that is the destruction of coal river mountain.

    There was an interview with Alpha’s CEO Kevin Crutchfield published in yesterday’s Wall Street Journal, that included this question:

    WSJ: Were you upset when two environmental activists recently climbed trees to protest a surface mine that had previously been operated by Massey?

    Mr. Crutchfield: Certainly given my druthers I would wish that they had not done that. But it’s a free world and they’re doing something they believe in. We actually had a really good conversation with these folks. There are big areas of disagreement, clearly. But there are some areas we find that we have some essence of a positive platform to work with.

    I’d love to hear your thoughts on what Mr Crutchfield said – do you think it was a “good conversation” and that you’ve got a “positive platform” to work with?

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