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Fighting Ecological Injustice From the Perch of a Tree

August 17, 2011 By:
Becks Kolins
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Becks Kolins

Growing up in Ardmore, my family always taught me to be a "do gooder." I remember instances throughout my childhood of seeing injustices and trying to figure out a way to fight them.

So when I learned that much of Appalachia was paying the true cost of the rest of the country's need for cheap electricity through something called mountaintop removal, I took a break from college and moved to West Virginia to lend my voice in protest.

Mountaintop removal is a highly mechanized and intensive form of coal mining that involves clearing forests and blowing off the tops of mountains with explosives in order to get to the coal underneath. The debris gets dumped into neighboring valleys, burying streams and destroying ecosystems.

Additionally, toxic metals extracted with the coal are injected underground, seeping into the water that supplies nearby communities.

In the eight months since I moved here, I have seen the discolored orange of heavy toxic water flow into a clear stream. I have talked to a community member who pointed out everyone in his high school yearbook who had died young or was currently living with cancer; I can't even count how many people there were. I have seen boarded-up ghost towns that once were bustling towns. The people have been poisoned and the land pillaged. There is nothing legal or just about this.

Working with RAMPS (Radical Action for the Mountain People's Survival), a direct action, civil disobedience campaign located here in southern West Virginia, I took a stand on July 20.

Along with my friend, Catherine-Ann Macdougal, we walked on to land owned by Alpha Natural Resources and climbed 80-foot high trees. We stayed there for two weeks, halting blasting -- and halting work from happening.

By "illegally" staking out on Alpha land, I not only affected the company economically, I also helped spread awareness about mountaintop removal and the true cost of coal.

I am very privileged to have grown up in a middle-class Jewish family, and I am using that privilege in a way I feel is most important. Working "with" Alpha only got us so far. As long as the company continues to blast and destroy mountains, there never will be enough regulations.

We should all be willing to put ourselves out there to help others who, as a result of a corrupt system, are oppressed. That's not being a "do gooder"; that's being a just person.

When I think of tikkun olam, I think of doing good, repairing the world not because the Bible tells you to, but because it's the right thing to do. What I am doing, what I am fighting against, is not because anyone is telling me to or because I am following the word of some higher power. I am fighting the system because it's the right thing, it's the only thing, to do.

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