So I made it to Appalachia, but as you probably saw, the tree-sit was already over. We spent the evening hanging out with a bunch of activists and community members, hearing stories about their exploits over the past few days. It was a truly impressive operation!
While two tree-sitters sat in jail waiting for bail to be set (ultimately reported at $25,000 each (!) for misdemeanor charges). We heard about how Massey workers set up a 24-hour vigil to harass, threaten and even torture the two. Workers reportedly set off various types of extremely loud noises at irregular intervals to make it impossible for the tree sitters to sleep for more than a few minutes at a time. We were told that they cut down nearby trees and took a chainsaw to the trees that the sitters were in (stopping short of cutting them down while the sitters were still there).
The more I saw and heard, the more I experienced déjà vu. This trip to Appalachia has so many similarities to my fact finding trip last year to visit to Indigenous communities impacted by palm oil plantations in Malaysia. How so?
• Both are (or were) beautiful forested areas with flowing rivers and thriving local cultures.
• Both are being exploited for the benefit of corporations that promise a good living to community members, but don’t deliver.
• Rivers are being polluted and community members are left with toxic fish to eat.
• Bottled water is the only safe choice.
• Both are company towns (or states), where local government bends over backwards to contort the law to favor the industry over the people, where local police offer no protection, and where local media won’t say a word against the company.
• Both are home to determined people standing up against all odds to save their communities and their heritage.
• People in both areas face trumped up charges, excessive bail and other systematic controls designed to scare off others from speaking out.
• Above all, both of them need our help!
If you can make it to Appalachia to support the struggle, go! If you can’t, help expose what’s going on by writing about, telling your friends, doing a classroom presentation, etc. And tell the EPA that it’s time to stop this horrible practice once and for all!
It’s comforting to think that what’s happening in Malaysia couldn’t happen in a “mature democracy” like the USA. Think again.