november 2009

Roland Micklem: ‘The real criminals are those in charge of the demolition operations that are wiping out such mammoth sections of Appalachia's mountains.’

Open Letter to Area Christians

By Roland Micklem

This letter was published on September 8, 2008, by 81-year-old environmental activist Roland Micklem the day before he led a non-violent protest against mountaintop removal onto the property of the Massey Energy regional headquarters, where Micklem and three others chained themselves to the guard gate. Those arrested were charged with trespassing, conspiracy to commit a crime and damage to private property. Bail was set at $5,000 apiece.

By the time this letter is published, I will be in jail.

Tomorrow morning I and 3 fellow activists will chain ourselves together and block entry to a road leading to the headquarters of the Massey Coal Company a few miles from the West Virginia state capital in Charleston.  This part on an ongoing campaign to stop the practice of mountaintop removal (MTR), which is resulting in the obliteration of entire mountain ranges in order to access a few seams of coal. Massey is the dominant coal interest in the region, and is responsible for almost all of the MTR operations.

MTR is the single most egregious environmental crime of this or any other century.  Not only are the mountaintops themselves destroyed, but the down slope streams are filled with rubble and the health of inhabitants of the mountainside hollows is seriously compromised by the inhalation of silica dust and by impurities in the drinking water. Throughout Appalachia, a land mass the size of the state of Delaware has gone the way of mountaintop removal. Reclamation efforts have by large been ineffective, and studies indicate that restoration of these mountains to their to original states is next to impossible.

Despite its unpopularity with most West Virginians, the practice continues, due to the influence of mining interests on legislative policy at all levels of government, and  the complicated patterns of land ownership of the mountain tops themselves.

I am acting in solidarity with comrades who, unlike me, are not professed Christians, but believe as do I in the sanctity of the mountains, and indeed of all that God has created.

But in this letter, I can only speak for myself. As a Christian and an environmentalist, Creation care for me is both a spiritual and a secular mandate. The illegal action in which I will be involved tomorrow is the culmination of over thirty years of activism within the framework of the laws of the land. As a writer for two weekly newspapers, the author of innumerable op-ed letters to regional news publications  in upstate New York, I have expended much printers ink on such environmental issues as sustainable life styles, anti pollution policy, recycling, and most important: climate change. I've communicated fairly regularly with my elected representatives, participated in local town hall meetings on matters dealing with local environmental policy. As far as my individual life style is concerned, I've striven to minimize my carbon footprint. I use a bicycle as my chief means of transport as I don't own a car, As a near 100% vegan, I try to avoid the industrial food chain, and am conservative in my domestic energy consumption.

But the weak response of the power structure as compared to the urgency of enacting effective climate control policy has forced me to reevaluate my own priorities and to realize the need to escalate the level of my involvement. And perceiving that MTR is the banner issue in the struggle to promote awareness of the climate crisis, I decided to come to West Virginia and join CLIMATE GROUND ZERO'S campaign of non-violent, direct action to bring an end to MTR.

And here in West Virginia on the eve of this action, I look around me, and despite spoilage by the restless energy of humanity, I see the hand of the Creator at work in every tree, in every rock, in the multiplicity of living things with which he has populated the earth, and particular in the majesty of the mountains. And from the book of Genesis (2:1-2) I read a most relevant passage: "And God saw all that He had made, and behold, it was very good." One does not have to be Biblical scholar or a rocket scientist to pick up on the idea that if God thinks that  "it" is good, "it" meaning, of course, all of Creation, then His followers-namely us-must do what we can to protect and preserve it.

The Scriptures, in fact, are replete with passages which either directly or indirectly exhort humankind to care for Creation. When we are told to "love thy neighbor as thyself," we do not pollute our neighbors environment or undermine his/her life support systems.

There is ample precedent in both the history of the nation and the history of Christianity of individuals who suffered incarceration for their beliefs and their efforts to bear witness to their convictions. St. Paul in the course of his ministry to the peoples in and around the Holy Lands, spent a total of seven years in prison.  Both Mohandas Ghandi and Martin Luther King were in and out of prison throughout their activist careers. Henry David Thoreau was jailed because of his refusal to pay tax to support the war with Mexico. While I do not have the effrontery to even remotely compare myself to these towering figures, it is in their spirit and tradition that I will act as I will tomorrow.

No substantial gain in our efforts to continually evolve into a more humane and caring society has been made without the willingness of individuals—with non-violence as both a creed and a strategy—to step outside the framework of law and tradition in order to correct wrongs when conventional measures had failed. The abolition of slavery, the enactment of civil rights legislation, the right of women to vote, the termination of the Vietnam war could not have come about the help of the same kind of non violent, direct action that we are using here to stop mountaintop removal.

And as a Christian as well as one who basically respects the laws of the land, I see the growth and maturing of Our Faith to be in direct proportion of our readiness to stand for truth and to embrace causes, however unpopular, that will contribute to our moral progress as the dominant species on the planet-and perhaps the only one with a soul.

Ed. Note: From his jail cell Micklem sent another letter to supporters of the MTR movement. It read, in part:

The language of the indictments may have made us sound like seasoned criminals, but as we are quick to point out, the real criminals are those in charge of the demolition operations that are wiping out such mammoth sections of Appalachia's mountains. Among our charges was conspiracy. There's is an ongoing conspiracy with their political hacks in Charleston and Washington which legalizes MTR (mountaintop removal), and they damage more property on any one of their sites than the combined efforts of all of the vandals in all of the major cities of the nation.

Many of us do not think of this campaign in terms of winning or losing. I, as many of my companions are here to make a statement with our lives; we are announcing to the world that we will no longer tolerate the business-as-usual policies of a power structure that are largely responsible for our economic, health, and environmental crises. The forces arrayed against us are powerful and perhaps overwhelming. But when I am called upon for an accounting of what I have done with my life, I want to be able to say that I have done everything humanly possible to implement my convictions.

This is the reason I'm prepared to carry on, regardless of the outcome.

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