Last weekend, ten REInvesters piled into cars and drove to West Virginia for the 2015 Mountain Justice fall summit. The summit was held at Kayford Mountain, adjacent to a “reclaimed” mountaintop removal site. This is the third time that REInvestment members have been present at a Mountain Justice summit, but for most of the student who made the trek this year, it was the first time seeing an MTR site in person. This year’s trip was funded by the generous donations of Earlham alums and REInvestment allies to the EAR Student Travel Fund.
The following are reflections from Rachel and Caleb about the experience:
by Rachel Ritter
“From playing ‘Take Me Home Country Roads’ almost every other song on the drive to West Virginia, to networking with other students and activists, I think it is safe to say that Mountain Justice was an incredible experience. Sharing a space with such cool and inspiring people really rejuvenated and motivated me to keep plugging away at our campaign. Through conversations with students from several other schools, I learned new strategies for finding information and helpful tactics for divestment. After hearing a speaker talk about art activism done by the Beehive Design Collective and hearing two candid activists present on social media strategies, I knew we had to amp up our presence on social media and use every resource that we can to spread our message.
Although each presenter was inspiring and wonderful, I think that the most moving part of my time spent on Kayford Mountain was walking out to the mine sight. My breath was taken away when I was able to look over a ridge and see how much physical mass is just gone from the mountain. As much fun as it was to bond with other Earlhamites, students, and activists, seeing the destruction caused by mountaintop removal was truly devasting and grounding. We have made so much progress as a group, but we have so much farther to go.
I am very appreciative of the effort that the Earlham Alums for REInvestment have put into providing us a chance to attend these kinds of events, and I hope that we can continue to get firsthand experience and hear from people who are really being impacted by extreme extraction. This campaign has not been easy, but it is not over. I feel as though Mountain Justice has given us new perspectives and ideas, and I look forward to seeing what we can accomplish in these next three weeks of activism on campus.”
by Caleb Smith
“As I reflect on the weekend, I keep being drawn to the lyrics of the song Paradise, by John Prine:
And daddy won’t you take me back to Muhlenberg County
Down by the Green River where Paradise lay?
Well, I’m sorry my son, but you’re too late in asking
Mister Peabody’s coal train has hauled it away.
Though the song was written over 40 years ago, Mister Peabody is still at it, and the lyrics ring truer than ever. As we pulled into the Mountain Justice Fall Summit this past Friday, the history and power of the region, along with it’s stunning beauty, began to fill me with a profound sense of purpose. We unpacked the cars and began to set up our campsite, but that was soon over, and I began to feel the pull to go visit the mine site. I attended the Fall Summit two years ago in my freshman year and took a tour of the Kayford Mountain site, and the image of a mountain completely flattened had stuck with me since then. I felt this immense call that everyone else in our group needed to visit the site as soon as possible. We rounded ourselves up, and made the short hike to the actual site.
Though I thought the image was fresh in my mind, my heart still jumped into my throat as I breached the ridge, and the vast expanse of former-mountain stretched out in front of me. Though we had all been laughing and joking around on the walk up, we all entered into contemplative silence as we gazed out onto the foreign landscape that is what is left of Kayford Mountain. We spent a long time gazing out over the brutally altered landscape, and then slowly picked our way down to the actual surface, walking through tons of broken schist and slate, picking up tiny pieces of coal and finding the small intricacies and beauty of what was left of Kayford. Though what we were witnessing was very hard to process, we all began to find small pieces of inspiration, from the surrounding landscape full of beauty to the small trees and grasses that were beginning to find a foothold again. After a while the wind began to get the better of us and we made our way back to camp. Though it was sobering, it set the tone perfectly for the weekend, and reminded me right away why we were all there.
The rest of the weekend passed in a blur: panels, workshops, singing around the campfire, amazing food, incredible conversations, networking, and most importantly, meeting and hearing the stories of the people of the region. Though the story of the land is incredibly important, hearing the stories of the people who live there and are having their land, water, air, and communities destroyed was what most re-energized me and focused me for the work we are doing here at Earlham.
As I learned in many of the workshops I attended, storytelling is the most critical aspect of movement building, and by attending the Fall Summit I think myself and my fellow organizers with the REInvestment campaign have been equipped with the tools we need to win. We heard the stories of people on the ground, learned about collective liberation, developed our social media model, and build tons of amazing connections with important people in the movement (from front-line leaders, to national organizers, to other students just like us!). I can’t thank enough everyone who helped us get out to West Virginia, the energy this past weekend gave us is going to carry us to victory!
P.S. Keep an eye out for what we’ll be doing moving forward – a lot of it directly inspired by the things we learned this weekend!”