My Summer in West Virginia…

Nathan Rutz ‘09

This summer I am participating in Mountain Justice Summer, a collective effort by several Appalachian environmental groups to help stop mountaintop removal (MTR) strip mining. Mountaintop removal strip mining is exactly what it sounds like – coal companies run people out of their homes, clear cut the forest, and then use explosives to destroy the mountain in order to get to the coal seams. Results of this include: destroyed ecosystems, polluted water, and massively decreased property values. The coal industry often argues that MTR is necessary for the economy, but according to the Appalachian Regional Commission’s data, the counties with the most coal mining have the worst overall economy and highest unemployment rates. You can read more about MTR on wikipedia.

I am currently stationed in West Virginia, where the most mining occurs, and where the laws are not friendly toward the environment or the citizens. The department of environmental protection here relies on coal companies’ self-reporting any environmental hazards or downfalls, so that pretty much never happens. As a chemistry dude, I am helping out by taking water samples and testing them and hopefully proving illegal dumping and improper waste disposal by the coal companies. †It’s a tough battle here, but definitely one worth fighting. The Appalachians are a beautiful mountain range, and the forest ecosystems are some of the most diverse in North America, trumped only by the rainforest in the northwest US.

You can help out by using less electricity, not supporting "clean coal" initiatives which neglect the problem of extraction, and calling your power company and requesting that as much of your electricity as possible come from environmentally friendly sources. Mountain Justice Summer also realizes that environmental issues do not happen in a vacuum, that the systems of oppression and greed that cause MTR also cause social problems. This is why, on my birthday, May 26, we counter-protested a KKK/Nazi rally in Knoxville, TN. We dressed up as clowns and called ourselves the CCC – Coup Clutz Clowns. We developed an ethic of fighting hate with humor, and came up with several short skits with the idea that we were just a bunch of happy clowns trying to get in on the KKK’s street party, knowing nothing of their hate. So we made a bunch of letter signs and arranged them to spell various puns on "white power,” like "wife power,” "white flour,” "might shower,” and "white KKKowards.” With each pun, we had a little skit showing what we meant.

When I actually got to the rally, I was flabbergasted that people could actually harbor so much hate, I was totally floored by the crazy signs the KKK/Nazi members held. Fortunately, the clown feeling prevailed, and we performed our zany skits, much to the chagrin and hate of the KKK/Nazis.

You can read about, see, and watch what happened at the rally here.

Some pictures taken by a woman on our side.

Click here to watch video of the Knoxville Rally.

Check back through the summer. I may post a few more times about what’s going on here.


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One Response to My Summer in West Virginia…

  1. Jamaal says:

    Hey Nathan,
    I must admit it, you never cease to amaze me. Not too long ago a friend of mine told me about an awesome group of people who were in Knoxville counter protesting a KKK rally. Sitting in my Boston home, I smiled and thanked God for that wonderful group of people. Today as I was randomly searching through Wabash pages, as I often do in search of details of my former college and past friends, I stumbled across this article. Soon I put two and two together and realized that it was none other than my Kappa Sig/Glee Club pal who happened to be part of a merry mob. Cheers to you, Nathan Rutz! Your actions and deeds are inspiring.
    Jamaal Barnes