This weekend was Appalachia Rising. And Appalachia definitely rose. A few thousand people gathered in the capitol this past weekend for a conference and a rally against mountaintop removal coal mining. The weekend was tiring and fun. Here are a few highlights:

The Beehive Collective. A grassroots art activist community based in Maine. They draw artwork on social issues. Now this conference was not the first time I had seen the Beehive Collective. I believe the first time was about a year and a half ago at Powershift 2009. I’ve always admired what they do. However their artwork can be overwhelming because it’s so intricate and complex (much how problems of this world are! Coincidence? Maybe not). I tend to spend a few moments looking at their work and then moving on to some other table to pick up some swag (stuff we all get) or something. However this time I decided to stop and listen as one of the artists told the story of their latest creation, “The True Cost of Coal.” I first learned that they new draw people because that would have the potential of portraying race, age, class, gender, etc. So instead they draw animals. She went through the entire painting which covered everything from colonization to the company store to miner activism to even green-washing! I loved that green-washing was a part of the painting because more people really need to be aware of it. The presentation really got me to look at each part and I was BLOWN away. I now have that poster hanging in my room. It’s definitely worth buying. I believe you can get it straight from their Web site: Beehive Collective. You can also get information on there about getting them to speak at your college if you’re in college. But please, order that poster! It may very well change the way you see some things. It may also make you cry (it did for me).

Faith-based organizing. I went to a session on this topic and it was so refreshing. There were a few Christian environmental organizations present at the conference. Check out Restoring Eden and Christians for the Mountains. Both organizations work within congregations and Christian colleges to organize them to take action around environmental issues. Christians for the Mountains is based in Appalachia and works specifically on mining issues while Restoring Eden works on a broader range of issues mostly with Christian colleges and some congregations. This session really got me thinking about my future. I’m definitely starting to feel a calling towards working within the church on environmental and social justice issues. And I’ve experienced a variety of denominations through my Catholic upbringing and the more evangelical and protestant churches I’ve been a part of in college. I feel as though I understand the language and traditions of a variety of Christian groups, so I’m less likely to judge or be turned off by different things. So that’s one of many possibilities I’ll have to discern throughout the year.

The third highlight was the rally on Monday. I awake around 8:20 a.m. and put on rainboots. It had been raining off and on, so the right shoes are key when I’m planning on being on my feet for at least four hours. My house guests and I eventually catch the bus clad in MTR gear and holding protest signs. I carry a white cross that says “lack of jobs” on it. At the Faith and Organizing session, they handed out crosses with things like “40% of streams destroyed” or “children in poverty” written on them. I really liked seeing the crosses throughout the crowd. It was so good to have a faith presence at the rally. I think I want to bring a cross to other protests I attend. After all, I do this stuff for Jesus.

We arrive at Freedom Plaza and join up with other activists. A few people play music and speak to the crowd. There was so much passion and you could just feel it. People who have been watching their home get destroyed for years ready to speak out and advocate for change. And people who had never lived in Appalachia but were there in solidarity because we all live down stream.

After the program at the plaza we headed for our march. I ran up into the middle of the crowd when the rally began with my cross chanting “Tell me what democracy looks like. THIS IS WHAT DEMOCRACY LOOKS LIKE!!” Our first stop was the Environmental Protection Agency. We chanted “EPA do your job” as we passed it. We stopped for a few minutes in front of their building and a few people spoke.

We then proceeded up 14th St. chanting “One, we are the people! Two, you can’t ignore us! Three, we will not let you blow up mountains!” That may have been one of my favorite chants of the rally.

We then gathered up in front of the White House and I met up with my housemate Rachel. This was the moment in which the people who were participating in civil disobedience i.e. risking arrest went and did their thing and the others watched, supported and cheered. Basically, if a group sits in front of the White House and refuses to move, they arrest you. However, if you’re peaceful about it, you spend maybe a night in jail at the most, your bail is low and you get a mark on your record equivalent to a traffic violation. We had sessions to prepare us for risking arrest at the conference, so everything went fine and smoothly. I hung around and watched as all 100 people got arrested. It was a big number but also tiring to watch everyone. It’s definitely a process having to arrest each person. Oh and the bus they used to take everyone to jail was one of those DC buses that reads “powered by natural gas” on the side. I wonder if that bus was strategically chosen for this rally.

Among the handful of rallies I’ve attended, this is probably one of my favorites. I’m lobbying tomorrow with George Voinovich. Please pray if you feel led.

Here are some stories about the rally:

CNN

AP

NPR

Louisville Courier-Journal

And check out Kentuckians for the Commonwealth’s blog: KFTC!

Here are some photos:

Oh and then when I arrived back to the Maryknoll Office for a bit of work Monday afternoon, I get a call from my father. He tells me he’s been reading that people got arrested at this protest and that he “hopes I’m not one of them.” Oh, you gotta love parents.

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