darlings will be killed

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Senior Citizens March Brings Families Together to Fight Mountaintop Removal

This article is part of an actions media for the Senior Citizens March to End Mountaintop Removal. To read dispatches and press releases from the five day, 25 mile March, as well as look at photos and video, visit Climate Ground Zero. It was also published on ZNet.

Herk McGraw drove from the outskirts of Charleston, West Virginia to participate in this week's Senior Citizens March to End Mountaintop Removal. Sue Rosenberg made the trek from Saugerties, New York. They were not solely motivated by the call for elders to join the struggle against environmental devastation in Appalachia; McGraw and Rosenberg are joining the 25 mile march from the State Capitol to the gates of Mammoth Coal Company in part because of young people in their lives. McGraw's granddaughter, Zoe Beavers, and Rosenberg's son, Mathew Louis-Rosenberg, are both active in Climate Ground Zero, a civil disobedience campaign based in the coalfields of southern West Virginia.

“I'm opposed to mountaintop removal, of course,” said McGraw, a Methodist minister and coal miner's son, “But particularly after they arrested Zoe [in August's tree sit at Pettry Bottom, W.Va.], that gave me a little more enthusiasm about coming out and supporting her.” Beavers, 28, served as ground support for the two tree sitters. She was arrested twice over the course of the five day protest; once two days after returning as a liason for the sitters at the request of state police.

Beavers enlisted in the U.S. Army after her high school graduation in 2000 and did not move back to her home state until May of 2009. She credits her return to West Virginia, where she lives with family in St. Albans, to the burgeoning movement for environmental justice in the coalfields.

“My whole life I was taught that nothing can change in West Virginia, we shouldn't fight for it because it's a lost cause,” the Iraq War veteran, who now works with the Student Environmental Action Coalition out of Charleston, said, “We are not powerless.”

Her grandfather's main concern with mountaintop removal mining is the industry's dishonesty.

“What they're talking about mountaintop removal and what actually happens with mountaintop removal are two different things,” he said, “They say that they are putting it back like it was . . . but what's been done with it mostly is the golf course and the prison.”


Mat Louis-Rosenberg grew up in the Catskill Mountains of New York State. Born in to a family with deep activist roots, his first memory is of participating in a march in his hometown at three years of age. Louis-Rosenberg was raised with a strong appreciation for United States radical history- he learned about West Virginia through family friends' stories of the labor movement.

Louis-Rosenberg moved to the Coal River Valley last year to work as a Sludge Safety Project organizer with Coal River Mountain Watch. His work with Climate Ground Zero includes a May 2009 arrest for playing a support role in a lock down to machinery on Kayford Mountain. In a pre-trial hearing, he was among two of the eight activists involved in the lock down who refused to plead no contest and accept a fine of nearly $2,000. He will be tried by jury on October 15 at the Madison Courthouse in Boone County.

“Mat used to say that he walked in the footsteps and on the shoulders of his grandparents and he was very proud of that,” said Sue Rosenberg, 62, who is in West Virginia for both the March and the trial, “I'm proud to now be walking in the footsteps of my son.” Rosenberg was a Civil Rights activist during her high school years in New York City, and later went on to work against the Vietnam War and nuclear weapons; as well as in solidarity with the people's movements of Central America.

Sue Rosenberg was recently arrested at a June 23rd Marsh Fork Elementary School rally. The school, in Sundial, W.Va., sits just below a 2.9 billion gallon coal waste sludge impoundment and next to a coal silo and processing plant. Community organizers, West Virginia Senators Byrd and Rockefeller, and Congressman Rahall are pressuring Massey Energy, who owns the plant, impoundment and silo, to pay for the relocation of Marsh Fork Elementary. Rosenberg has been active in her recruitment of others to the cause, including World War II veteran and anti-war activist Joan Keefe. Keefe, at 88, is the oldest participant in the march.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Zine Review #1: "Being the Adventures of One Fine Summer: A Personal Zine in Photobook Form" {Magpie Killjoy}

Magpie Killjoy is, as usual, experimenting: with form (publishing a zine as a glossy $7 book), with photojournalism (“There’s a lot that I don’t like about the photojournalist world . . . from the bullshit faux objectivity to the insistence that it is a photographer’s right to photograph—and profit off of—anyone and anything they see,” reads the Intro) and with a genre he calls environmental war photography. The results are mixed; some of the chapters are expertly crafted, with well-written narrative and photographs that support the storyline, while others read/view like gallery shows shoved in to book format.

Photo by Magpie Killjoy

The photographs, of course, are striking- punks playing guitar and fiddle in a West Virginia family's living room, tattooed fingers bloodied from digging in to roadkill, an abandoned mailbox at a mountaintop removal site, a tintype photographer on a shoot. The anarchist photographer and founder of Strangers in a Tangled Wilderness Distro has a knack for capturing overlooked and unusual detail.

Maybe I'm biased because I currently live in West Virginia and fight mountaintop removal full time, but Killjoy is at his peak with his environmental war photojournalism. “O Coal!,” the zine's first chapter, is a photo series of activists exploring MTR sites and cleaning up after a flood in the coalfields, accompanied by text outlining Killjoy's experiences in Appalachia. The chapter ties in contemporary and historical resistance- in one part, the author explores an old mine guard bunker in the woods, once used by a coal company to attack unionized workers. While the narrative veers towards simplistic, his evocative language challenges the reader to go and see the destruction for themselves. As a media maker caught up in press releases and advocacy journalism, it's easy for me to forget just how important personal narrative (from the perspective of both hellraisers and curious outsiders) is in capturing the emotional edges of struggle.

As Killjoy leaves the coalfields and heads west, the narrative falls flat. His talent for mise-en-scene and for conveying the stories he has heard is suppressed in favor of vague perzinish writing. At Haymarket Square in Chicago, he writes that he “ . . .may or may not have cried [because of the square being dominated by condos and a Clear Channel Billboard.]” “Well did you or didn't you?” I want to ask him, challenging him to go further with his writing, “Why does what has happened to the physical space matter so much?” The well-developed essay that begins the zine led me to expect the in-depth writing from subsequent chapters.

The photographs are still stunning, snapshots of lives being lived with a certain transgressive intensity. There is shadow play on a Tennessee River and in “Chapter Three: Butchering a Fawn on a Sunday”; a jarring visual essay of friends carving roadkill. The final photograph in this section is a bloody hand boldly holding the fawn's heart in the air, triumphant.

Photo by Magpie Killjoy

Killjoy's best photographs and writing serve as well-crafted dispatches from radical culture and resistance. By blatantly embracing subjectivity, “Being the Explorations of One Fine Summer” begins to deconstruct the false paradigm of the objective and distant photojournalist.

There is a stark difference in his work covering environmental atrocities and his other photographs- while the latter work well without much text, he uses essay to string the former together into coherent and alluring stories. It's not that I prefer one style over the other; perhaps “Being the Explorations of One Fine Summer” should have been two separate projects, not
a pastiche of summer adventures having little more than linear time connecting them.

Of course, every new experiment is by its nature haphazard. I hope Killjoy and others continue to work with the photo zine form and the complicated possibilities of anarchistic photojournalism.

Birds Before The Storm

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

A piece on radical/anarchist politics and the environmental movement will be forthcoming, as well as a report back on the Pittsburgh G20 protests. I'm still processing, journaling and talking through thoughts/feelings with friends, so in the meantime enjoy these photos of the Climate Feeder March on Friday . . .

Ryan Harvey duking it out w/ members of the insurrectionist community . . .

Are We Addicted to Rioting?

And a UPitt student band's hilarious original song about Friday night's on-campus police state . . .

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

The Mason Jar: A Non-Book Review

This was written a while ago for a narrative non-fiction class and was homeless. Now it is squatting my blog. While it is a satirical piece, it does contain some disturbing language. I can't do a "Read More" cut on blogger, unfortunately, but I'm putting a trigger warning up here. -d

The Mason Jar

(drawing by The Argyle Academy)

• Canning
• Fermenting
• Storage
• Beverages
• Menstrual Extraction
• Porch lanterns

I usually head straight to the appliance aisle of the local Five-and-Dime, eager to emerge from the store, five minutes and ninety-nine cents later, cradling the soda-lime glass curves of a Mason jar.
The jelly of our childhoods came in Smucker’s containers that were disposed of with the Monday morning trash. Watching fire flies jet across our front yards, we daydream about collecting them in glass jars sealed with cheese cloth. Bitter that our parents’ generation traded in simple pleasures for flashy 90s convenience products, we sit at urban bars sipping gin & tonics from these former canning implements and, channeling our inner rusticity, use them to ferment honey wine and brew hot tea on cold days.

Contrary to what the first-time observer might imagine, the Mason jar was not developed by an Ikea designer in her quest to create something that melded a country kitchen with the sleek utilitarianism of a Chelsea loft. John L. Mason, who invented the jars in 1858, was primarily concerned with botulism. His screw-on zinc cap replaced the error-prone canning method of using sealing wax to hold on a tin lid. Improperly sealed cans could lead to microbial growth (including botulism, the lethal, paralysis-inducing bacteria), so Mason’s invention allowed farm families to enjoy the preserved surpluses of their harvests without the risk of musculoskeletal paralysis and possible death.

One hundred and thirteen years after the jar was patented, Lorraine Rothman and Carol Downer slipped two tubes in to a Mason, connected one to a syringe and the other to a cannula and began performing menstrual extractions. The two-way bypass valve design prevented air from entering the uterus, giving menstrual extraction an excellent safety record, and the canning jar allowed more material to be removed from the womb. It was 1971, two years before Roe vs. Wade, and the simple kitchen and hardware tools utilized allowed do-it-yourself abortionists to access supplies as easily as if they were fixing the plumbing or making jam. The glass jars that now hold our spare change or our grandmother’s raspberry preserves have also collected the thick blood of distraught women, and sometimes, the fleshy, tiny-limbed fragments of their regrets.

Fermenting is hip again, as New Yorkers who crave half-sour pickles and sauerkraut are moving to the countryside and recreating deli counters in their root cellars. You can make most of the recipes in Wild Fermentation, Sandor Katz’s treatise on the subject, with a Mason. I once brined garlic in a Mason to craft a health tonic and a test-taster compared its’ flavor to a “cross between pickles and floor polish.” My next-door neighbor is making his kombucha, black tea cultured with a colony of bacteria and yeast, with Hershey’s chocolate syrup. Bacteria are allowed in to our one-quart jars to bring improved flavor and health-benefits.

Contemplating uses for my jar as I leave the store and make my way down the street, I almost forget that the object I am holding in my hands has saved the nervous systems of my log-cabin dwelling ancestors and extracted unwanted fetuses from the wombs of my grandmother’s generation. Lime-soda glass, rubber and tin, filled to the brim- at various points in its history- with jam, rusty nails, kraut, blood and nostalgia, the Mason Jar is a truly multipurpose container.

Monday, August 31, 2009

on cook mountain: a look at mountaintop removal

{earth first! journal, sept./oct. 2009: volume 29, issue 6}

on cook mountain
A look at mountain-top-removal

Madison Cook’s miniature hands were covered in the sooty remains of a lump of bituminous coal. She had been collecting treasures all down the road—a yellow spotted salamander, a turkey feather, a magenta leaf—and this was her latest find. But unlike the other members of her Sunday afternoon collection, the coal wasn’t found in the biodiverse Appalachian forest that blanketed part of Cook Mountain. Rather, chunks and pebbles of the infamous fuel littered the top of the high wall that marked the edge of an advancing mountaintop removal site.
Several hundred feet behind us sat the Cook family cemeteries, where 29 of Madison’s ancestors lay at rest. In late June, her uncle, Danny Cook, discovered the access roads—required to be maintained by West Virginia law—blocked by five steep, human-made berms of mud and tree trunks. On the dirt road directly alongside the cemeteries, Horizon Resources LLC, the company mining Cook Mountain, drilled holes to ascertain how deep down the coal seams lay. Should Horizon get its way, explosives will blast away the bones of the dead, exposing a thin strip of coal that will be mined and loaded onto a train, to be burned quickly and cheaply in a factory or plant. Because the Cooks do not own mineral rights to their ancestral mountain, and are unsure of their surface rights, Horizon Resources is free to decimate it.
From the high wall, mines stretch almost as far as the eye can see. They are barren wastelands of brown earth, with dramatic drop-off points where machinery digs in to the heart of the mountain to reach the coal. Mountaintop removal mining began in the 1970s, prompted by the 1973 and 1979 petroleum crises, and became widespread when the desire for high-sulfur coal increased in the 1990s. Since then, bulldozers and draglines have plagued the mountaintops of West Virginia and Kentucky, laying waste to a stretch of mixed mesophytic forest and ridges comparable to the size of Delaware.
The mountain Floyd and Mary Walker Cook settled in the 1840s is part of the Appalachians, born 480 million years ago, during the earliest North American orogeny. Megaflora peat bogs and wetland marshes that bordered the ancient coastline prior to the mountain-forming plate collision became buried under the range. As climate and life eroded the young peaks—which once rivaled the Himalayas—into rolling hills, plant and tree remains deep under the surface metamorphosed into West Virginia’s most valuable fuel resource: bituminous coal.
The southern Appalachians escaped the glaciations of the Pleistocene epochs and have been harboring life for over 200 million years longer than anywhere else in the United States. When the glaciers receded, this pocket of mixed mesophytic hardwood served as the mother forest for all of North America. Today, the second-growth hardwood forest that has swallowed the remnants of the Cook family barn and fence line is part of one of the most biodiverse ecosystems on the continent. Oak, maple and white pine are among the 30 tree species that shade the forest floor in a single patch of woods. The understory is choked with ground cover, ginseng and ramps, punctuated by mushrooms and berry bushes. White-tailed deer and black bears traverse these forests, and over 100 species of fish once filled West Virginia’s streams.
Ninety-five percent of Appalachian forests have been logged or cleared—primarily for agriculture and industry—in the past 200 years, and only a few hectares of old growth remain. Where agricultural land has been widely abandoned, second-growth forests have taken root. While they do not rival the biodiversity of old-growth ecosystems, the pioneer forests of the southern Appalachians have come back strong, replenishing the mountainsides with unusual numbers of plant and animal species. While the forests survived extensive logging, they will not be able to survive the physical removal of the land by explosive-wielding strip-mining machines the size of several-story buildings. And neither will Appalachian culture.
The Cooks that traversed the mountaintop that Sunday afternoon were raised in James Creek Hollow down below, but they still climbed the mountain throughout their childhood and adolescence to have picnics, to visit their ancestors, to hunt and to forage. In the Spring and Summer, they search for morchella esculante, the gourmet mushrooms colloquially known as Molly Moochers or morels. The Cook family and friends set up hunting platforms in trees, putting venison on the family table. West Virginia’s most renowned medicinal plant, ginseng, and its beloved and stinky allium, ramps, have been gathered with aplomb by mountaineering families for generations.
In the hollow, the Cooks grew gardens, from which they harvested fresh produce and herbs. Vickie Cook Stewart, Danny’s sister, recalls long afternoons gardening when elementary school let out. All along the windy roads that criss-cross the coalfields, abundant, well-maintained gardens are planted next to homes. Self-sufficiency has been characteristic of Appalachian mountaineering culture for generations; southern West Virginia was—until the construction of train lines and the introduction of industrial coal mining around the time of the Civil War—virtually inaccessible to outsiders.
With the influx of coal operations and miners, gardens became both a tool and hindrance in resistance to tightly-controlled company town life, which edged on totalitarianism. Homegrown vegetables and fruit afforded miners nutritional autonomy from the company store and its inflated prices (in some cases three times the market rate). Simultaneously, gardening contests were organized by coal operators to occupy the miners’ time, preventing them from organizing with the United Mine Workers of America (UMWA).
Miners in the unincorporated towns of southern West Virginia rented two-family company houses, purchased their goods at the company store in company-issued scrip tokens, attended company churches headed by coal-paid preachers, and were disciplined and bullied by company mine guards. Where the police weren’t willing to enforce the whims of the operators, mine guards and company-hired detectives were called upon to kick families out of their homes and, in some cases, assassinate UMWA organizers. The fascist nature of life in company towns led to a difference in priorities between southern West Virginia union men and UMWA miners elsewhere. A high demand for workers afforded miners decent pay and ample job opportunities—if the company dissatisfied them, they could often move to another town and coal operation. The miners in West Virginia—a few from the old hill clans, and many migrants from other parts of the country and world—focused on fighting the mine guard system and demanding fair weighing of their hauls and political clout.
UMWA members in southern West Virginia sought the autonomy that was a cornerstone of mountaineer history and culture. Some of labor history’s proudest moments—including the Battle of Blair Mountain, the largest armed insurrection in United States history since the Civil War—played out in the coalfields. And yet, King Coal continued to run rampant through the hills and hollows, uprooting the Earth and laying the groundwork for environmental degradation and economic impoverishment.
Pro-coal proponents argue that coal fuels West Virginia, although mountaintop removal and strip mining only employ three percent of all West Virginians and mining jobs have dropped about 30 percent since the wane of underground mining. The destruction of the mountains prevents the development of new industries, including agriculture and eco-tourism. Coal is impoverishing most West Virginians, not enriching them. Abandoned buildings line West Virginia Route 3, which winds through former company towns in the Coal River Valley.
Examples of health risks are never ending: Prenter Hollow is just 21 miles by road from James Creek, where residents drink water poisonous enough to tarnish new pennies in minutes and leave five-year-old children toothless. Eleven thousand acres of mining sites have cracked family wells, and slurry injections have seeped into the main water supply. Ninety-eight percent of Prenter Hollow adults suffer from bladder problems, and bizarre cancers are disturbingly common. Marsh Fork Elementary School, in Raleigh County, is nestled between a plurality of dangerous coal operations. Elementary school students sit 150 feet from a coal silo and train tracks, next to the Goals Processing Plant and just below Massey’s leaking Shumate Sludge Impoundment. Strip-mine blasting is to begin just above the impoundment, increasing the risk of flooding exponentially, although mine officials deny that possibility.
It’s happened before. In 1972, a 30-foot-high, 132 million-gallon wall of water cascaded into Buffalo Creek Hollow, Logan County, from the flooded sludge dams that sat above the community. The dam burst—just four days after a US mine inspector declared it satisfactory—taking 125 of the hollow’s 5,000 lives with it. This past May, the Rawl and Thacker mines in Mingo County caused extensive flooding. Luckily, no lives were lost. Coal CEOs and politicians have taken to calling the dangerous surges catalyzed by mining operations “acts of God.”
What is happening on Cook Mountain is happening across Appalachia—King Coal is leveling four hundred million years of geologic work with draglines, bulldozers and explosives. It’s destroying livelihoods and tearing up gardens, cemeteries and ancient forests. It moves swiftly and forcefully, exempt from laws and reason, with a single goal: the maximization of profit before the thin coal seams beneath the mountains run out. When all the plunder has been taken, the companies will leave, a trail of destruction in their wake.
But His Majesty is scared—his actions have not gone unnoticed. In the hollows, locals are organizing and fighting for clean air and water, employing science, publicity and the courts. Others have gone up to the mountains, locking themselves to machinery and trespassing on company property. Coal company executives have publicly likened the movement against mountaintop removal to war and being under siege; newspapers have referred to it as “another Mine War.”
The hills of West Virginia echo with a rich history of resistance. It was in these coal fields that thousands of miners battled on the slopes of Blair Mountain. That battle was preceded and followed by hundreds of smaller skirmishes—the miners of West Virginia could not be quieted. As King Coal makes his last stand in these hills, let’s go by road and railroad track to stand in solidarity with the people of Appalachia. With creativity and a diversity of tactics, let’s fight until the last piece of machinery has been driven down from the mountaintop with nothing left to do but rust.
To learn more about the ongoing action campaign in southern West Virginia, visit

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Che's Kitchen: Raw Foods For a New Generation

(click on the thumbnails to see a full size version of each page)

Wilder Voice, Winter 2008, Volume 4, Issue 6

Obies Take Scavenging Culture to the Dumpster

Oberlin Review, 11/21/08
When recent Obie grads David Brown and Greg Mann moved into an unfurnished apartment in Berkeley, California with no more than the clothes on their backs and camera equipment, they anticipated a struggle. What they got instead was stuff, and lots of it. Within a few weeks, they had not only food, clothing and mattresses to sleep on but also a neon Budweiser Beer sign and a shelf overflowing with books. These treasures didn't come from stores or yard sales, but from dumpsters. Brown and Mann were conducting an experiment: attempting to live solely on scavenged goods for three months.

The resulting feature-length documentary, i Love Trash, was conceived as a way to publicize dumpster diving. Also called dumpstering or skally-wagging, diving is premised on the idea that our capitalist society produces vast amounts of still-usable trash that is free for the taking. In the United States alone, 236 million tons of garbage is thrown away annually.

The film is low-tech and sometimes veers dangerously close to an art school project, with choreographed trash dances and a scene in which Mann, Brown and two friends re-enact an imagined pre-historic hunt, their arrows pointed toward a dumpster rather than a wooly mammoth. These parts simply distract from an otherwise poignant documentary based on solid research, a multiplicity of voices and Mann and Brown's spirited adventures. While many of their interviewees are college-aged bohemians, the face time i Love Trash gives to older divers shows that dumpstering can outlive youthful leftism to become a sustainable way of life. One man speaks of supporting thirteen of his own children by dumpster diving for fifteen years. Local artist Skip Schuckman builds architecture primarily from scavenged sources, the purchased exceptions being the occasional can of paint or sheet of plastic. The piece our filmmakers visit is constructed leaning against a boulder, with its ceiling beams merging curved wood with scavenged machine parts.

The message of i Love Trash is driven home by the culminating scene, in which Brown and Mann hold a free sale to get rid of everything they've accrued before moving out of the apartment. "Shoppers" swarm in, including a recent divorcee in need of furnishings and a girl who is most excited about taking home the branch hanging on a wall. Others take dishware, button-up shirts and Brown's garbage art creations. These "worthless" goods that never meant to find their way out of dumpsters get a third chance at life.

Four years prior to making i Love Trash, David Brown started dumpster diving while a student at Oberlin. During a winter term trip between San Francisco and Seattle, he and his traveling companions began eating out of the garbage to cut food costs. When Brown realized just how much perfectly edible produce and bread was going to waste, he began supplementing his diet with scavenged foods and sharing them with others. He also began dumpstering for clothing and art supplies, even centering some of his school projects on recycled materials. Philosophically, Brown was interested in the anti-capitalist stance dumpster diving takes, as espoused in cut-and-paste punk zines.

In turn, Brown and his documentary inspired two current students, David Greenberg and Saul Alpert-Abrams, to eat solely dumpstered food during the week of October break. They had already been foraging for wild mushrooms and wanted to explore the urban side of scavenging. Greenberg considered their experiment a chance to see whether dumpstering would be a viable option in his future, when he didn't have access to food communities like OSCA. While Saul mentioned that they went several days of eating only produce and then several of only bread, he saw that as a lack of planning rather than a failure of the dumpster gods. It took them about fifteen minutes to collect food for the day -- about as long as it does to pile a plate at Stevenson Dining Hall. For Alpert-Abrams, dumpstering is also a philosophical act, and he refers to it as making a "negative-negative impact"-- subtracting from the wastefulness of throwing away vast quantities of usable food.

As i Love Trash makes its way to the Wild & Scenic Environmental, Frozen River and Lake Country film festivals, Mann and Brown's dumpster diving gospel will spread beyond their friends and acquaintances. Viewers from all walks of life will be able to virtually accompany them on their three-month adventure and dream up scavenging schemes of their own. It has already been shown in Oregon's Bend Film Festival and an Oberlin campus screening is pending, potentially spawning a new generation of members for the Independent Garbologists Association.