One can\’t deny the mounting momentum of the anti-MTR movement over recent months. While the actions of groups like Coal River Mountain Watch and Katuah Earth First! have gained international media attention and the Mountain Justice Summer campaign has drawn massive volunteer participation from all across the country, young people right here in West Virginia are now escalating their own participation in the movement for justice in Appalachia. A long-time staple of this movement, West Virginia\’s students have decided that it\’s high time the state\’s young people compound their political and visionary strengths, coordinate actions and campaigns beyond individual campuses and coalesce as one state-wide organization taking action to create a more just West Virginia.
While respective campuses have sustained and augmented energy justice and anti-MTR activism for some time, the first (but quite likely not last) West Virginia Energy Gathering (WVEG), held on the campus of Glenville State College on February 11th and 12th, marked a turning-point in the youth-led movement for a sustainable West Virginia. A combined effort of Mountain Justice, the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition and Climate Action, the WVEG was a huge success solidifying youths across the state and establishing a strong chapter of Climate Action’s growing network across the South-East. Altogether the WVEG drew some fifty+ participants, not only from West Virginia colleges, but also from the Glenville community, Pennsylvania, Virginia and Kentucky. Engaging workshops grounded in strategic approaches to making change such as community organizing, non-violent civil disobedience and on-campus clean energy campaigning, gathering-goers developed and discussed ideas for a collective approach to achieving goals large and small, local and regional. Also including a trip to Kayford Mountain to meet Larry Gibson, a passionate movement leader, and see firsthand how the sprawling MTR mine surrounding his home has ravaged what once was his own piece of \”almost heaven,\” a film about MTR made by high school students in Pennsylvania and a strategy session the weekend meeting was a holistic and inspiring event in which intelligent and emotional individuals took clear steps and committed to continue down the path towards Mountain Justice.
The common attitudes of all present were clear early on in the weekend. The first allotment of time, an “intro session” in which folks told not only who they were and where they were from but why it was they had come to the WVEG, revealed a collective eagerness to invest more than just a weekend in this struggle. One participant, Bobby Mitchell from Charleston and WVU, stated poignantly that he’s “watched the coal industry rape this state his whole life and time’s up!” Before the weekend was over, the group had subdivided into three working-groups: clean energy, support for Coal River Mountain Watch’s Marsh Fork Elementary campaign and coordinated action. Consenting on action-oriented campaigning, support for local coalfield groups and an emphasis on Appalachian heritage, West Virginia’s newly yet firmly-established chapter of Climate Action is on the ground running – working to create a positive, just and sustainable future in the Mountain State.