Adkins Fork Campaign: First Step!!

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Dear friends, we are currently initiating a directed campaign to challenge and block Arch Coal’s attempt to renew the Adkins Fork permit at Blair Mountain. This permit is one of the most significant, as it lies in the heart of the battlefield and is the permit closest to the town of Blair.

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This will be a tough campaign, and we will need all the help we can get. The first part of this campaign is the easiest. We need everyone to write a letter and send it to the WV Department of Environmental Protection by November 24. It is best to handwrite these letters, but we know not everyone can do that, so we have written out a form letter below. Print it, sign it, and stick it in the mail!

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As we move forward with this campaign over the next few months, we will have a series of events and drives that you can come out to or that you can participate in at home. Some of the events will be spread out across the nation, so even if you are not in West Virginia you can pitch in.

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If you would like to stay informed, please sign up on our mailing list, join us on twitter, follow us on facebook or send us an email at blairheritage@gmail.com

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REMEMBER, the letters need to be received by Nov. 24!!! Let’s get this campaign off to a bang and SAVE BLAIR MOUNTAIN!!!

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CLICK HERE FOR THE SAMPLE LETTER (printable pdf)

CLICK HERE FOR ADKINS FORK INFORMATION SHEET (printable pdf)

LINK TO WV DEP’S E-PERMIT FOR ADKINS FORK (link)

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Blair Mountain Heritage Alliance
www.blairmountain.org

Celebrate the History of Blair Mountain: Join the Struggle

Blair is located in Logan County, West Virginia.

Ninety-one years ago, the town of Blair was packed with coalminers fighting in the largest labor uprising in US history. Just a few feet away from where we live in Blair today is an old stone foundation of the railroad depot. In 1921, this would have been bustling with grim miners set on attacking an army backed by coal operators and machine guns. The miners commandeered trains, trucks, and automobiles. They also arrived by foot and bedded down in the schoolhouse bottom right in town across the creek from the depot. They controlled over 500 square miles, and wore red bandanas around their necks that made them known as the ‘Redneck Army’.

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These mining families were fighting to gain basic human freedoms such as the right to collectively bargain. They fought to overthrow a system of oppression by the coal operators, of the company town, of mine guards, of unfair wages and dangerous working conditions. They came together from many different backgrounds, religions, races, and ethnicities. They fought for four days until federal forces stopped most of the fighting on the 14-mile front along ridges of Blair Mountain.

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Miners showing off bombs dropped on them by anti-union forces.

The miners were able to break through the anti-union defensive lines at least once before three regiments of US soldiers moved into the combat area to quell the industrial war. After a nationwide lull in union organizing due to economic and political issues, in the mid-1930s the United Mine Workers and other unions were given the legal right to organize. The cadre of leaders from the battle, most notably Bill Blizzard, used the credibility they had gained in the Mine Wars to organize the southern coalfields of West Virginia in a matter of months.

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The UMWA went on to become the most dominant labor union of the twentieth century. Organizers from the UMWA helped form the United Steelworkers and the United Autoworkers. As mechanization set in during the 1940s and 1950s, coalminers across the United States began losing their jobs by the hundreds of thousands. This created a great outmigration of Appalachian coalminers to the industrial centers of the nation such as Detroit and Pittsburg. These displaced mountaineers carried a strong and militant union culture that helped fuel the rise of unions in the twentieth century.

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Bill Blizzard, leader of the Redneck Army, speaks at a later date.

Because of the UMWA, things got a lot better in West Virginia. While the UMWA had some problems that shouldn’t be glossed over by those with an honest interest in labor unionism, they helped raise the standard of living for people in central Appalachia immensely. They built hospitals, they provided health care, they helped ensure that a fair share of money made by the coal industry stayed in coalfield communities. They made mining a much safer occupation where mining families could expect their miners to make it home at the end of a shift. Maybe most importantly, the UMWA provided hope that a better life could be had. They gave hope that a dominant and invasive industry could be opposed, that regular people could gain some control over their own lives.

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Since the 1980s, the UMWA has been aggressively beaten back by union-busting companies. Most notorious was Massey Energy, which confronted the UMWA head on throughout the 1980s until their recent acquisition by Alpha Natural Resources. But possibly even more dangerous were the companies working quietly behind the scenes, such as Arch and Peabody, who spun their union operations into separate operations that became Patriot Coal, and which saddled with huge amounts of pensions versus production to start out. The coal companies did this to purge their ranks of unionists, and to rid themselves of obligations made to their workers such as pensions for retirees. Patriot has since gone bankrupt, and the UMWA is in a tough fight to make sure their pensioners are taken care of properly.

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Even more than pensions, with the decrease in unionism through the 1990s into today, coal mines have become more dangerous. Recently their have been some serious mine disasters such as Sago and Upper Big Branch. There are also ‘silent killers’ like the rise of black lung, and the increase of miners killed individually on the job. When a single miner dies on the job, it may get some coverage in local press, but then it is soon forgotten. As one union miner put it, “With Alpha’s motto ‘Running Right’, if you don’t have a union, they tell you when you’re running right. With the UMWA, you tell them when you’re running right.”

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Things in Blair have changed a lot also. After the Blair Mountain battle, people lived through the Depression, they went to war in Europe to fight the fascists, and they came back and settled into a town that during the 1950s was similar to many other American main streets. But slowly, like many other towns in West Virginia, the people who moved away outweighed the people moving in. Jobs were scarce, and a new route from Logan to Charleston that bypassed Blair was built, and businesses saw a decrease. Then in the late 1990s, the town underwent a huge transformation. A mining company planned to mine the ridges on one side of the town, and started buying out large portions of the town.

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The population in Blair has dropped from about 700 people to about 80 people today. Stores closed, schools were shut down, friends moved away, people sold and once they moved away they found out they got a lot less money than they thought they were getting. The people who stayed have had to deal with significant quality of life impacts such as drinking water laden with heavy metals and non-existent community infrastructure. Now there is a population that is statistically older, and that has already been through one very difficult ordeal with mountaintop removal.

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One of the MTR sites that threatens the Blair Mountain battlefield.

The Blair Mountain battlefield and the community are threatened again by mountaintop removal operations. There are five major MTR operations around the town and battlefield. The future of this town, and many other central Appalachian towns, is precarious.

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But the spirit of the organizers and strikers who fought at Blair Mountain in 1921 still remains in the community members of Blair. Blair Mountain Heritage Alliance works with these people to preserve Blair Mountain and build towards a better future in Blair and the surrounding areas.

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We operate the Blair Community Center and Museum, and have initiated a program to preserve and promote the history through heritage tourism. We work on many different issues, from labor to environmental. Our goal is to work in mutual solidarity with the community around us to break the oppression of coal companies and to work hard in obtaining a more just and prosperous central Appalachia.

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Part of this work is attempting to gain a deep understanding of the problems facing people here in southern West Virginia. Much of the issues that the miners fought against in 1921 remain, although they have transformed into new modes of oppression that are subtler and at times much more hidden. In our work we attempt to move past the simplified dichotomies that often characterize Appalachia and its problems. Looking around, it seems there is a void that exists when it comes to the very real concerns of coal extraction communities.

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Groups of students from Logan learning about their history.

We’re not saying we have all the answers, because there is still a lot of learning that needs to be done on our part. What we are saying is that by most forecasts, coal production is going to decrease. As cost goes up, more mechanization and automation will be used. People are going to be losing their jobs, people are losing their jobs, and they are rightfully tense, angry, and frustrated. They are rightfully worried about being able to continue to live in their community and to take care of their family.

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But this anxiety is manipulated and utilized by those in power to advance their own interests. Rather than politicians addressing some of the root problems, and coming up with real solutions, they instead use all their energy fighting against a ‘war on coal’. What we really need is a strong focus on building jobs and building small businesses. We need workshops and initiatives to help the people create local based economies. Instead of relying on one industry to supply our needs, we should become independent again. We need to create, invent, build, work hard, help each other in our communities, and use this transition to create a better future.

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There is not any black and white in the situation that communities across Appalachia are facing including Blair. We don’t want to see people lose jobs and we don’t want to see our mountains destroyed. We are forced into making this decision by dynamics that seem out of our control. When people ask the question, “What are we going to do without coal”, we need to have something real to point to, we need to have a real response that addresses the basic question of “how will I survive?” At the same time, people who have incredibly toxic drinking water and serious impairment to their quality of life because of mining have just as much of a right to ask how they will survive.

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We do not have to be forced to make the choice between health and jobs. From the organizing of the UMWA and countless community-based movements, Appalachians have for a long time shown that more options can be obtained. We want safe good paying jobs, we want a healthy environment, we want a good future for our kids, and more than that, we deserve these things.

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Because the truth remains that the politicians, the people in power, the Friends of Coal, they will not be around when the bottom falls out. The main players will be in Washington D.C., St. Louis, Virginia and elsewhere. The people left holding the bag will be the people of West Virginia.

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So, there is no easy answer. It is going to take decades and decades of hard work. It is going to take the risk of entrepreneurship, of self-sacrifice, of long days and long nights. It is going to take the combination of practical solutions and clever inventiveness. With this there comes risk and uncertainty, but there also comes a deeper freedom and independence. There comes a sense of accomplishment when we can say that we created something new, something better for future generations, and we did it together.

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Those are some of the things that we are working toward. We not only want to preserve Blair Mountain and stop the destruction of our mountains, but also to very seriously address the future of Appalachia.

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Organizers from Appalachia and India share ideas about common struggles.

We only have to look out our front door here in Blair to see that something new is possible. The miners that fought on the slopes of Blair Mountain eventually won the right to unionize. They had to go through many challenges, but they created a better future. People all over the world are doing the same, right now. A new world is certainly possible. But no one is going to create it for us; we have to do that for ourselves.

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If you would like to join in this struggle, and help preserve this important part of American history, as well as work to build a better future here in Blair, there are a number of ways you can help. Sign up for our mailing list by emailing us, follow us on twitter at BMHA @BlairHeritage, and on Facebook. Check out our webpage. If you want to get even more involved, please get ahold of us, email us, write us!! And of course, we can always use donations – money donated goes directly to our work in Blair and towards preserving Blair Mountain!!

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Remember Blair Mountain!

Solidarity from West Virginia!!