The fight to save Blair Mountain from mountain top removal coal mining has reached new heights. Tonight at 8:00 P.M. E.D.T., CNN will bring this hotly contested issue to its viewers with an hour-long documentary called “Battle for Blair Mountain: Working In America.”
If you’ve been reading The Revivalist for a while, you probably remember that West Virginia’s Blair Mountain was the site of the largest armed insurrection since the Civil War. In 1921, as many as 15,000 miners faced down a coal company’s hired militia in a fight for reasonable pay. Today, coal operators find themselves embroiled in another battle. This time they are pitted against environmentalists, historians, and health advocates who want to prevent them from blowing this mountain apart to access coal under its surface.
On the heels of the successful March on Blair Mountain, which attracted around 1,000 people in June , I heard about the upcoming CNN story. At first, I figured that it would be good exposure for a critical Appalachian issue. Then I saw this clip.
I don’t know about you, but I was appalled by the amped up conflict between mining families and the folks trying to save Blair Mountain. My first thought was, “They are playing this all wrong. The choice isn’t jobs or intact mountains.” My second thought was, “I should talk to Brandon Nida.”
Brandon is the Vice-Chair for Friends of Blair Mountain. He spoke with me just before the march, and he took time again this weekend to discuss the CNN coverage.
TR: Brandon, it’s good to talk with you again. First, how did the march to save Blair Mountain go?
BN: The march went extremely well–we overcame every roadblock the coal companies threw out, and we significantly raised awareness of Blair Mountain and the threat of Mountain Top Removal (MTR). The energy created from the march is helping the whole MTR movement push forward and stay one step ahead of the coal companies.
TR: That’s great. What has happened since the march?
BN: There have been multiple developments since the march. We filed a lawsuit after the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection refused to review the Lands Unsuitable for Mining Petition we submitted.
We are still pressing ahead with another lawsuit in federal court for the National Park Service to review the National Register for Historic Places delisting of the Blair Mountain battlefield.
And the biggest development has been our opening of the Blair Community Center and Museum. We have large tour groups that are starting to come through, and we are attempting to develop the area around heritage tourism. The community of Blair is very excited, and so are we.
TR: What do you think about the CNN clip that’s online?
BN: The previews that I saw frame our struggle as a conflict between two sides and pits “environmentalists versus jobs.” This is the standard framing that has been driven by Madison Avenue PR firms employed by coal operators. So the CNN special takes an establishment framework and misses the real story.
The conflict is really between mountain people and immensely powerful corporations. The real story is about our efforts to revitalize an area of West Virginia that has seen 50-60 years of job loss due to mechanization such as MTR.
We are trying to start local businesses and prosperity around the huge resource that is the Blair Mountain battlefield, as well as in other Appalachia communities that have their own unique offerings. But the CNN crew fell for the standard industry line that it is either jobs or environmental/health issues, when instead we think the American people are smart enough to figure out how to have both. So while the CNN documentary helps raise awareness, it also helps reinforce the narrative the dominant narrative coal operators have constructed.
TR: I didn’t realize that big coal’s PR firms were pushing this angle, but it makes total sense. If someone reading this post could do just one thing to help save the mountain, what would it be?
BN: For those people who would like to be involved, there are multiple entry points. We always need funds, so people can donate to our efforts to preserve the battlefield and build the community center and museum by going to www.friendsofblairmoiuntain.org. You can sign our petition. You can sign up for our email alert also at our website. If you would like to be more involved, send us an email, and we can discuss where you would like to fit in.