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Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Fast continues at West Virginia capitol; civil disobedience planned

Posted By on Wed, Jul 23, 2014 at 3:28 PM

Today is Day 17 of what 85-year-old activist Roland Micklem calls an “open-ended fast” for the environment at the State Capitol building in Charleston, W.V.

Micklem and Roselle on Day 16 of their fast
  • Photo courtesy of Catherine Dees
  • Micklem and Roselle on Day 16 of their fast
Micklem and veteran environmental campaigner Mike Roselle are fasting outside the office of Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin to draw attention to the environmental damage and health effects caused by practices like mountaintop-removal mining. And they say their next step might be civil disobedience.

Reached by phone this morning, Micklem and Roselle said they were feeling strong after more than two weeks of nothing but water, juice and coffee. (They’d been accompanied for the first two weeks of the fast by Pittsburgh-based activist Vince Eirene.)

Micklem, who has fasted for the environment before, said he felt “much better than I expected to be feeling” after 17 days. The army veteran and retired science teacher is a Virginia native who now lives in New York. Roselle is a co-founder of Earth First! A decade ago, he founded the West Virginia-based Climate Ground Zero, an anti-mountaintop-removal mining initiative.

The men hold their vigil at the capitol building from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily (and for four hours daily on weekends), and in the evening retire to a motel.

So far, “We’ve gotten to know practically everybody who works there,” said Roselle. They’ve even gotten some press coverage.

But so far, says Roselle, there’s been no face time with Tomblin or any other high-ranking authority figures with whom they might discuss mountaintop-removal mining (MTR). The extreme form of strip-mining, widespread in West Virginia, involves blowing the tops off mountaintops to reach the coal inside, and typically shoving the rock and soil that once covered it into adjacent stream valleys.

Evidence continues to mount that the practice devastates ecosystems and adversely affects human health by contaminating the air and water.

Groups supporting Micklem and Roselle’s Fast for the Mountains include Coal River Mountain Watch. Debbie Jarrell, the group’s co-director, joined the men at the capitol building today. “I totally believe in what they’re doing,” said Jarrell. Micklem, she said, is “standing up for our own communities, our water and our air, something our own politicians aren’t doing.”

Early in the fast, a spokesperson for the governor’s office told the Charlotte Daily Mail that the governor was aware of the protest and would consider meeting with the men.

But that hasn’t happened yet, and might not, admits Roselle — who said that in November, he was briefly jailed for knocking on the front door of the governor’s mansion to deliver a jar of soil from an MTR site and request that it be tested. A court date is set for September, Roselle said.

Groups including Coal River Mountain Watch have been fighting MTR for decades. But the practice continues. “We’re trying … to re-energize the campaign,” said Roselle. “This is ground zero of the climate movement,” he added, referencing the big contribution burning coal makes to greenhouse gasses.

But Roselle said today that the fast at the capitol building might not last much longer. “At some point we are going to go up on the mine site and continue our witnessing there.” He named several MTR sites where he and Micklem, who walks with a cane, might attempt to halt strip-mining operations with nonviolence civil disobedience.

Or, as Micklem put it, “We’re gonna ratchet up the action to the next level."

Learn more about Fast for the Mountains (including how to help) on the Facebook page of Climate Ground Zero.

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