Herk McGraw drove from the outskirts of Charleston, West Virginia to participate in this week’s Senior Citizens March to End Mountaintop Removal. Sue Rosenberg made the trek from Saugerties, New York. They were not solely motivated by the call for elders to join the struggle against environmental devastation in Appalachia; McGraw and Rosenberg are joining the 25 mile march from the State Capitol to the gates of Mammoth Coal Company in part because of young people in their lives. McGraw’s granddaughter, Zoe Beavers, and Rosenberg’s son, Mathew Louis-Rosenberg, are both active in Climate Ground Zero, a civil disobedience campaign based in the coalfields of southern West Virginia.
“I’m opposed to mountaintop removal, of course,” said McGraw, a Methodist minister and coal miner’s son, “But particularly after they arrested Zoe [in August’s tree sit at Pettry Bottom, W.Va.], that gave me a little more enthusiasm about coming out and supporting her.” Beavers, 28, served as ground support for the two tree sitters. She was arrested twice over the course of the five day protest; once two days after returning as a liason for the sitters at the request of state police.
Beavers enlisted in the U.S. Army after her high school graduation in 2000 and did not move back to her home state until May of 2009. She credits her return to West Virginia, where she lives with family in St. Albans, to the burgeoning movement for environmental justice in the coalfields.
“My whole life I was taught that nothing can change in West Virginia, we shouldn’t fight for it because it’s a lost cause,” the Iraq War veteran, who now works with the Student Environmental Action Coalition out of Charleston, said, “We are not powerless.”
Her grandfather’s main concern with mountaintop removal mining is the industry’s dishonesty.
“What they’re talking about mountaintop removal and what actually happens with mountaintop removal are two different things,” he said, “They say that they are putting it back like it was . . . but what’s been done with it mostly is the golf course and the prison.”
Mat Louis-Rosenberg grew up in the Catskill Mountains of New York State. Born in to a family with deep activist roots, his first memory is of participating in a march in his hometown at three years of age. Louis-Rosenberg was raised with a strong appreciation for United States radical history- he learned about West Virginia through family friends’ stories of the labor movement.
Louis-Rosenberg moved to the Coal River Valley last year to work as a Sludge Safety Project organizer with Coal River Mountain Watch. His work with Climate Ground Zero includes a May 2009 arrest for playing a support role in a lock down to machinery on Kayford Mountain. In a pre-trial hearing, he was among two of the eight activists involved in the lock down who refused to plead no contest and accept a fine of nearly $2,000. He will be tried by jury on October 15 at the Madison Courthouse in Boone County.
“Mat used to say that he walked in the footsteps and on the shoulders of his grandparents and he was very proud of that,” said Sue Rosenberg, 62, who is in West Virginia for both the March and the trial, “I’m proud to now be walking in the footsteps of my son.” Rosenberg was a Civil Rights activist during her high school years in New York City, and later went on to work against the Vietnam War and nuclear weapons; as well as in solidarity with the people’s movements of Central America.
Sue Rosenberg was recently arrested at a June 23rd Marsh Fork Elementary School rally. The school, in Sundial, W.Va., sits just below a 2.9 billion gallon coal waste sludge impoundment and next to a coal silo and processing plant. Community organizers, West Virginia Senators Byrd and Rockefeller, and Congressman Rahall are pressuring Massey Energy, who owns the plant, impoundment and silo, to pay for the relocation of Marsh Fork Elementary. Rosenberg has been active in her recruitment of others to the cause, including World War II veteran and anti-war activist Joan Keefe. Keefe, at 88, is the oldest participant in the march.