An Incident on a Road in Mining Country

by REBECCA PARK

I read with interest Travis Crum’s article in Tuesday’s Charleston Gazette. He reported that before a mountaintop removal protest turned into a deadlock of loud opposition, the mining supporters and those who want an end to mountaintop removal had some “healthy, civil dialogue” and “respected” each other near a mine site last Saturday.

I had a similar experience that day. I found myself on a road where a coal miner said I had no right to be.

He stood in front of my car with an iron pipe. I rolled forward and he stepped up to my bumper. His wife and child sat in a four-wheeler 20 feet away. I knew I was on a county road but exactly where on the county map were we? Then a young man with a knapsack walked in from the other direction and the man with the iron pipe turned on this newcomer. I left my car and stood between them. For the next two hours we stood in the sun waiting for the law to arrive.

Earlier, a sign at the ice cream stand said there would be a mining protest and a counter-protest in the area, but I had passed two state police cruisers long ago and believed they were escorting people away. Thinking the hoopla was probably over, I thought I might enjoy a rare day by myself in the country.

I had always wondered what I would say if someone accused me of being a treehugger. I am very guilty of loving trees. Moments before I had been admiring the hemlocks below the narrow gravel road.

I also love the hard-working people who run heavy equipment, so again and again I have found myself on the middle ground of this conflict. Turns out there was plenty of shared territory in this microcosmic stand-off: The young man whose presence was so offensive is at the bottom of the economic ladder–a manual laborer; the man with the iron pipe is a miner with fresh memories of bad treatment under Massey Energy; his retired-miner father who moved in and out of this scene is against mountaintop removal, and both families–grandparents, parents and three good-looking boys–live off the grid using a combination of wind, solar and fuel-powered generators.

My thoughts from teetering on the balance of possible violence that day?

We are never going to move past being consumed by hate until we resolve to listen to our neighbors’ concerns.  Every sentence that we utter that begins with “They believe..” or “They think..” does two things: It paints real people as cartoons to be ridiculed and despised, and it makes us deaf to the stranger’s needs and heartfelt desires.

I found out later that the action against mountaintop removal took place 100 miles away. This young man said he was camping with the protesters, but for whatever reason he had not gone to the protest. He said to me this was the first time he had walked that road in the daylight. He had been walking this place in the dark, walking silently, a stranger in the hills we love.

When he was confronted by the man with the iron pipe, he quietly apologized for offending the landowner. When the wife said they had been insulted by protesters, he said he was sorry that had happened, that she did not deserve to be insulted like that. He affirmed his support for a man to be able to feed his children. He listened, I listened, and I began to hear the angry landowner, the miner, giving voice to his frustrations. “Things should never have gotten like this,” the miner said.

For a moment I believed that I had wandered into a scene and saved a young man from violence. But as I think back, he was in complete control of himself and, through active non-violence, he was in control of his situation.

The gift I received in all this was not that I saved someone, but that I bore witness to how a quiet Christ-like person such as this young man was, could transform an impossible situation into something productive.

At our worst in working out the future of Appalachia, we are manipulated by the most greedy, depraved operatives; our ears are stopped, our hearts full of violence. At our best, we listen and think without malice; we combine talents and work to create a harmonious future full of the best that we are as Appalachians and Americans.

Standing in the sun on that gravel road, teetering, waiting, we became real people to each other. We asked each other and listened to each other around the all-important question:

How do you want this to turn out?

If you are interested in the future of our land here in Appalachia you are invited to meet with our group in Charleston–the “Little Old Ladies who Love Our Land.” We meet on Tuesdays to educate ourselves and create a plan of action. Write to LOLwLOLwv@gmail.com for more information, or write to receive our weekly emails.

Rebecca Park lives in West Virginia.

Like What You’ve Read? Support CounterPunch
September 02, 2015
Paul Street
Strange Words From St. Bernard and the Sandernistas
Jose Martinez
Houston, We Have a Problem: False Equivalencies on Police Violence
Henry Giroux
Global Capitalism and the Culture of Mad Violence
Ajamu Baraka
Making Black Lives Matter in Riohacha, Colombia
William Edstrom
Wall Street and the Military are Draining Americans High and Dry
David Altheide
The Media Syndrome Between a Glock and a GoPro
Ruth Fowler
Ask Not: Lost in the Crowd with Amanda Palmer
Yves Engler
Canada vs. Africa
Ron Jacobs
The League of Empire
Andrew Smolski
Democracy and Privatization in Neoliberal Mexico
Stephen Lendman
Gaza: a Socioeconomic Dead Zone
Norman Pollack
Obama, Flim-Flam Artist: Alaska Offshore Drilling
Binoy Kampmark
Australian Border Force Gore
Kim Nicolini
Remembering Wes Craven’s The Hills Have Eyes
September 01, 2015
Mike Whitney
Return to Crisis: Things Keep Getting Worse
Michael Schwalbe
The Moral Hazards of Capitalism
Eric Mann
Inside the Civil Rights Movement: a Conversation With Julian Bond
Pam Martens
How Wall Street Parasites Have Devoured Their Hosts, Your Retirement Plan and the U.S. Economy
Jonathan Latham
Growing Doubt: a Scientist’s Experience of GMOs
Fran Shor
Occupy Wall Street and the Sanders Campaign: a Case of Historical Amnesia?
Joe Paff
The Big Trees: Cockburn, Marx and Shostakovich
Randy Blazak
University Administrators Allow Fraternities to Turn Colleges Into Rape Factories
Robert Hunziker
The IPCC Caught in a Pressure Cooker
George Wuerthner
Myths of the Anthropocene Boosters: Truthout’s Misguided Attack on Wilderness and National Park Ideals
Robert Koehler
Sending Your Children Off to Safe Spaces in College
Jesse Jackson
Season of the Insurgents: From Trump to Sanders
August 31, 2015
Michael Hudson
Whitewashing the IMF’s Destructive Role in Greece
Conn Hallinan
Europe’s New Barbarians
Lawrence Ware
George Bush (Still) Doesn’t Care About Black People
Joseph Natoli
Plutocracy, Gentrification and Racial Violence
Franklin Spinney
One Presidential Debate You Won’t Hear: Why It is Time to Adopt a Sensible Grand Strategy
Dave Lindorff
What’s Wrong with Police in America
Louis Proyect
Jacobin and “The War on Syria”
Lawrence Wittner
Militarism Run Amok: How Russians and Americans are Preparing Their Children for War
Binoy Kampmark
Tales of Darkness: Europe’s Refugee Woes
Ralph Nader
Lo, the Poor Enlightened Billionaire!
Peter Koenig
Greece: a New Beginning? A New Hope?
Dean Baker
America Needs an “Idiot-Proof” Retirement System
Vijay Prashad
Why the Iran Deal is Essential
Tom Clifford
The Marco Polo Bridge Incident: a History That Continues to Resonate
Peter Belmont
The Salaita Affair: a Scandal That Never Should Have Happened
Weekend Edition
August 28-30, 2015
Randy Blazak
Donald Trump is the New Face of White Supremacy
Jeffrey St. Clair
Long Time Coming, Long Time Gone
Mike Whitney
Looting Made Easy: the $2 Trillion Buyback Binge
Alan Nasser
The Myth of the Middle Class: Have Most Americans Always Been Poor?