This opinion piece was written for Earthjustice and is reprinted here with permission.
Inspiration abounds in America. Despite the problems and troubles of this expansive land, we have heroes, champions and everyday people who, day in and day out, rise above their circumstances to the inspire those around them and lead their communities toward change.
After all, that's the story of America, isn't it? At the heart of every great triumph in our nation's history is the story of everyday people who stood up and demanded better for themselves, for their neighbors, for their brothers and sisters, and for their fellow Americans.
Since I began working on Earthjustice's campaign to stop mountaintop removal mining, I've met teenagers who feel driven by the dream of saving the mountains of Appalachia for future generations. I've met husbands and wives who want to fight for clean water for their unborn children, grandparents who dedicate their retired days to preserve what's left of the rare wild places on earth, and former Marines who have found a new purpose—to ensure that their fellow Americans have access to clean water.
I've met mothers made ill from toxic waters, and who won't be held down—fathers and daughters who sacrifice to fight for what's right, and folks at the end of their lives who get out of bed every morning, despite the odds, to keep the fight alive. I've heard poets who have found the words others were seeking, singers who give voice to whole communities that struggle to be heard, and so many, many more.
It has never been more clear that this work to stop the destruction of mountaintop removal mining -- though it is a fight to save the environment—was never just about the environment. It has always been about the people. It has always been about the right to clean water. It has always been about the preservation of a way of life for people who live among the oldest, most biodiverse mountains on this continent. And it remains, still, about the health and future of our fellow Americans in Appalachia.
We launched a new campaign that aims to tell just a few of these mountain heroes' stories, the true and very real stories of five people who are living among the destruction of mountaintop removal and among the Appalachian mountains and waters that we need to save.
Through beautiful and detailed portraits by photographer Mark Schmerling, we hope to give the public a look into the eyes of those fighting to stop mountaintop removal. On a new section of our website, you'll be able to read their stories—in their own words—and hear their voices.
You'll meet Karen Woodrum, a courageous and brave woman who broke social norms 30 years ago to become an underground coal miner. Or Ken Hechler, the longtime U.S. congressman and fiery 96-year old who now devotes his time to saving his home state of West Virginia from being ravaged by mountaintop removal.
You'll meet James Tawney, a 39-year-old with dreams of starting a recreation business on his farm near the Gauley River National Recreation Area; Sid Moye, a dedicated father who waited his entire life to retire and go fishing, only to find polluted and contaminated streams instead of the crystal clear mountain streams he once knew; and Donetta Blankenship, a mother of four who realized this was her battle to fight after being told that her liver was failing and her life was in jeopardy due to contaminated well water from nearby mountaintop removal mining.
These stories reflect commonly held family values, sense of home and love for the mountains—and they show us that our brothers and sisters in Appalachia have the same dreams and values as most Americans: to live a healthy, happy life and to provide a safe and healthy future for our families. We hope they show the humanity of the fight to stop mountaintop removal mining in a way that touches you and inspires you to take action.
The action you can take is super easy: We ask that you upload your own photo, along with a very short message about why you want to join in on this fight to stop mountaintop removal mining, or why you care about mountains and clean water. These images will form a major photo petition to be delivered to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Obama administration. They'll also be available on our online photo gallery, which will unite people from around the country and world who want to save the mountains and waters of Appalachia.
At the end of the campaign, we'll present the photo petition—a strong message of solidarity for those living near the destruction of mountaintop removal and among the majestic Appalachian Mountains that we need to save—to the Obama Administration and to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
I hope this powerful public petition will help stop the destruction of mountaintop removal mining, and I hope you will join in this fight.