Student arrested in West Virginia
Published: Monday, August 27, 2012
Updated: Monday, August 27, 2012 18:08
On July 28, Dorian Williams ’13 was arrested with 19 others in Charleston, W.VA for trespassing and obstruction at a protest hosted by Radical Action for Mountain People’s Survival. Initially held on $25,000 bail, Williams was released from jail after ten days with a fine of $500.
According to its website, RAMPS is a campaign in West Virginia aimed at ending coal mining in Appalachia in order to fight for the survival of land, people and a healthy, sustainable future.
The event this summer, “Mountain Mobilization,” shut down the Hobet 21 coal mine for three hours after scores of activists, including Williams, locked themselves to a truck in protest.
“I had made the decision beforehand that it was worth the risk,” Williams said in an email to the Justice. This is Williams’ third arrest for environmental activism. “Mountaintop removal is one of the most glaring injustices happening in this country right now. One of the fundamental issues here is that no one should have to die so that we can keep the lights on,” she said.
Mountaintop removal involves blasting mountain tops with explosives to reach coal underneath. Williams learned about the issues of mountaintop removal from a documentary called The Last Mountain which she watched in 2011. According to the documentary’s website, the health and environmental cost of coal production is estimated to be $345 billion annually, and contributes to over 43,000 premature deaths every year from health hazards such as brain damage and asthma. Additionally, it says that while coal production in West Virginia has increased 140 percent in the last 30 years, 40,000 jobs have been eliminated.
Opposition to coal mining both for environmental and labor reasons, has been going on for decades. According to the RAMPS website, this summer’s protest was part of a series of events called “Summer of Solidarity Against Extraction,” a series of events and protests from many environmental organizations against extracting fossil fuel, either from coal mining or otherwise.
Brandeis alum Rachel Soule ’12 also participated in the action, although she did not risk arrest. In an email to the Justice, Soule describes that one of the reasons she chose to participate is because of coal’s impact on climate change. She said that because of climate change, “People are boiling in their homes across the country, their crops are dying of thirst because of the droughts, and their back yards are torched by wildfires.”
Prior to the event, the activists participated in trainings to prepare and organize.
On the morning of July 28, one group from RAMPS, including Soule, rallied at Kanawha State Forest to distract the police so the other activists could lock themselves to the truck at the mine site, according to Soule.
Williams and the others climbed up a large truck at the Hobet mine site and locked themselves to railings using bike locks, chains and pipes. The police arrived after they were set up.
The police then arrested the protesters and brought them to a processing center to take fingerprints and check each arrestee’s identification. There, Williams said that “several of the arrestees who continued to be non-compliant … were met with police brutality,” saying that the violence she witnessed was one of the scariest parts of the whole experience.
She saw the police dragging an arrestee across the gravel by his feet, tearing his shirt and skin, and eventually hitting his head on a door frame. “Witnessing physical violence is nothing like seeing it on TV…I felt as though the breath had been knocked out of me,” she said.
Williams and the other arrestees were brought to Western Virginia Regional Jail and kept in holding overnight, which was “not one of the most comfortable experiences of my life,” Williams said. “We were all glad when they gave us those classic orange jumpsuits and let us go to bed, even if it was on the concrete.”
While in jail, support in the form of letters and phone calls from friends and family kept her spirits high, she said. She was in the same pod as the other ten female arrestees from the action, as well as other inmates who showed them the ropes, played cards with them, and lent them books. “Small kindnesses in foreign places can mean the world,” said Williams.
At her court hearing on July 31, she was released with the other remaining arrestees after the prosecutors representing West Virginia dropped the obstruction charge on the condition that she does not set foot on mine sites for a year.
“What Dorian did was amazing,” said Soule. “She really gets the crisis we are in and she does not compromise one bit what needs to be done and what is easy.”
Soule described counter-protesters, mostly miners, speaking out against RAMPS from an organization called Friends of Coal.
According to the FOC website, coal in West Virginia pumps more than $26 billion into the economy annually, including more than $3.2 billion in wages, and employs more than 60,000 people. FOC says that mountain top removal “is unfairly singled out … as somehow harmful and immoral,” and that “the mining industry is committed to environmental stewardship.” FOC did not respond by press time.
Soule said that these arguments “made me feel for them, because it is obviously a difficult situation that they are in. However, my reasons for opposing coal extraction are stronger; millions of people’s lives are at risk from coal use and climate effects.”