Images from my 12-day Walk for Appalachia’s Future
Of all the indelible images from my 12-day Walk for Appalachia’s Future along the 303-mile route of the under-construction Mountain Valley Pipeline through West Virginia and southwest Virginia, none sticks with me more than 13-year-old Callie Coffey swinging on the playground of the community center where we camped one day. She is a child and that’s what children should be doing, instead of fighting for their future during climate chaos. So, she planned the grand finale rally in Richmond, VA, on June 4 with her middle school classmates.
There are many other memorable images, mostly of the gorgeous green mountains and the raging rivers and streams after some heavy rains. This region is full of mountains and water – some of the best drinking water in the world, which is threatened by this 42-inch diameter pipeline. It goes through some of the steepest terrain where pipeline construction has ever been attempted. The geology it would pass through is karst – limestone that is full of holes and caves that filter the water — but that is a terrible place to build a pipeline, as the land has a tendency to slip. Still other images of the gashes made by pipeline construction on the steep slopes. After seeing gash after gash, to an outsider, they honestly look all the same – but each one is a total desecration to a family’s land, air and water, and I even heard there were plans (since abandoned) to run the pipeline through family graveyards.
Our “Walk” was more of a drive, as we always prioritized meeting with frontline groups and individuals fighting the pipeline. We often had three meetings a day, and after 8 straight days of that I was delighted to get a morning “off,” which was when I was able to catch up on my journaling and audio editing. We did get to walk a few miles in beautiful places, usually along a river or stream, and one day we walked about four miles of the Appalachian Trail – an easy, beautiful hike on a gorgeous day with temps in the low 70s. We passed out small flyers about the Walk to anyone we could along the trail or on the roads or in the towns we passed through and got mostly positive responses.
The good news is that the company is years behind schedule and billions over budget, and no new construction can happen until (if) it gets the permits it needs to proceed.
We have walkers doing all kinds of media – Twitter, Facebook, blogging, radio – and then there are the journalists covering us as well. We learned about the endangered, multi-colored Candy Darter that will hopefully help stop the pipeline, which was covered by two reporters from Bloomberg News. Click here for my segment on this for Between the Lines. Other reporters covered one of the daily memorials we did honoring people who had been lost during the pipeline fight, and also covered a tour of the historic Black section of Roanoke, which was almost destroyed by urban renewal – or “Negro removal” as the residents called it. We visited one of the few markers commemorating the famed labor organizer Mother Jones, who was arrested in West Virginia, and we learned about one of the biggest labor catastrophes in U.S. history when hundreds of Black and immigrant workers hit silica rock when building a dam on the New River and died from inhaling silica dust. One day we held a vigil outside the jail in Roanoke where, outrageously, 10 people held there had died over a four-year period. So, it was a very intersectional two weeks!
One of the things I liked best was how many older women have been on the front lines. Retired teacher and author Becky Crabtree locked down into her beloved old Pinto on the pipeline right-of-way on her own property at the base of Peters Mountain, WV, which was taken by eminent domain after she and her husband refused to sell it to the MVP. Three other elders locked down across a different right of way in a Crown Victoria in Virginia. Both actions stopped construction for about a day. Becky (photo below) said that didn’t seem important to most people, but, “It was important to me. You got to have some dignity in this world. You’ve got to stand up for something.” She is now running for the West Virginia House of Delegates. You can hear/read the short interview with Becky for Between the Lines here.
Then there was Red Terry, who at 61 years old sat in a tree for 34 days in 2018 on Bent Mountain near Roanoke to stop the pipeline, along with her daughter in a nearby tree on their family’s property, which they also refused to sell and lost by eminent domain. It’s a big commitment to do a tree sit, obviously, and it also requires lots of on-the-ground support. And sometimes the authorities cut off that support, and still the tree sitters hung on for several weeks, catching rainwater and irregular resupplies when folks could get around the opposition.
We also visited the historic twin tree sits at Yellow Finch on Bent Mountain, which were occupied for 932 days by a changing cast of protesters. The final two who were extracted ended up spending many weeks in jail on misdemeanor charges before being released on bail.
We finished the “walk” in Richmond, with an action June 3 that focused on Wells Fargo Bank as the main funder of the Mountain Valley Pipeline, and included some beautiful spiritual elements; and the youth-led action on June 4.
I’ve always loved mountains, and have spent many vacations in Vermont and the Adirondacks of New York. But there was something about the beauty and fragility of the land we passed through, combined with the fierce commitment of the people to their home places and to each other, and the new friends I made, that gave me the feeling this is a part of the country I will belong to for the rest of my life.
Cover image: The Mountain Valley Pipeline (Source: Appalachians Against Pipelines)
Editor’s note: this article originally appeared on Common Dreams