Before I registered for the twelve day “Walk for Appalachia’s Future” I was largely ignorant of its focus: the monstrous, 303 mile long, partially completed Mountain Valley Pipeline (MVP), that runs roughly north to south through West Virginia into Virginia (with a planned extension in North Carolina), intended to carry fracked gas for conversion to LNG for export. And though I was actively involved in opposition to fracked gas pipelines in Western Mass (NED and CT Expansion), and following pipeline resistance in western states (Dakota Access and Line 3), I was barely aware of the eight year struggle that determined WV and VA residents have pursued over the same period of time. Their fight has thus far been unable to prevent pipeline construction from causing degradation to their farms, forests, air and waters. Their tactics have included the familiar tool box of legal maneuvers, FERC intervening, complaints to state and federal entities, appeals to legislators, plus some truly inspiring and creative actions so no new work on the pipeline has gone ahead for the past two years.
Our “walk”, whose ultimate goal was to highlight the need to move away from fossil fuels was, as it turned out, more of a drive in a rented 15 passenger van (irony duly noted), up and down twisting, one lane mountain roads as we moved roughly along the pipeline route starting in rural WV and ending in Richmond VA. We travelers were all from north of that area and all were involved in environmental justice work in one way or another. Our local guide, Maury Johnson, is one of the WV farmers/landowners of modest income who had a slice of property seized by eminent domain in 2014 by the MVP company (actually a consortium of 5 corporations). He became mad as hell and has dedicated himself to the fight against MVP ever since, along with an ever-expanding coalition of others.
As we drove and sometimes walked short distances we met local activists and just plain folks who generously shared their stories and took us around, sometimes on private land, other times illegally onto the pipeline easement and into pipe yards; in places where pipe has already been laid and other places where only a tangle of downed trees remains, construction stalled while the company waits for permits to cross streams and rivers. The landscape vistas of overlapping mountain ranges, verdant agricultural valleys, broad rivers and rushing creeks is still breathtakingly gorgeous; the degradation we witnessed caused by construction, from the gashes in forests to silty waters that once ran clear, was starkly horrible in contrast.
Of the many stories I will share just one: that of Ted Vest, whose daughter Aimee told us in tears how her dad came home from the Vietnam War “a different man”, but who after four difficult years found a piece of land where he happily farmed for decades until the MVP seized good productive pasture, turned his driveway into an access road for huge construction vehicles, caused his cattle to sicken, and ultimately caused Ted two strokes in his ‘70s, the second one fatal. “The land healed him and it killed him”, Aimee concluded..
Holding in our hearts the sadness from such stories, we traveled to several places where creative resistance actions flourished over the years of struggle against MVP. We visited the site of the two and a half year Yellow Finch Tree Sit and nearby the place where one woman stayed in a monopod on an erected pole for 57 days. We visited Becky Crabtree (now running for WV legislature), as well as Red Terry who sat in a tree on her own land for a month until arrested. In a field on Becky’s landland were parked a couple of colorfully decorated old cars that had both been used in blockades (one of them: three people stopped construction for part of a day, locked down on the car on which is painted “Old Hills and Old Folks Resist”). Our own actions during our days there included numerous short stand-outs and photo-ops, rallies in Charleston and Richmond, community meetings and gatherings, a banner drop across the river from Senator Joe Manchin’s house, and even a prayer circle or two. Almost all of these were organized by local activists to educate and include us.
Since returning home and telling my own story, I’m frequently asked: “What was the purpose of this trip and what do you all hope to accomplish?” Though it would be gratifying to be able to state that we helped shut that pipeline down (it could still happen), the more realistic answer is this: We helped build solidarity with these people, in this place, who are a small part of the great international struggle against pipelines which are a manifestation of fossil fuel extraction and its destruction to our planet, along with the racism, social injustice and war that it spawns. The people we met, though mostly white and largely focused on their regional issues, were not unaware of the intersectionality of their work. And so, we carry on.
For more information, my email address is firstname.lastname@example.org (please put MVP in the subject line). Also see: https://www.facebook.com/WalkForAppalachiasFuture/ and https://beyondextremeenergy.org/