On January 25th, I was in St. Louis, Missouri where I met up with some friends in Veterans for Peace. It was a long drive from D.C., so I admit to being a bit road weary, but the action I was there to capture for Searching for Occupy was so compelling that my adrenaline took over and I just figured I could sleep... another day (not what some of you expected me to say, I bet...).
Veterans for Peace were to meet up with activists from RAMPS (Radical Action for Mountain People's Survival) who had been doing a 3 week radical action training, along with Native American visitors who came to tell the stories of what Peabody Mining has done to devastate their land, their way of life and their health. Being only one person, I decided to follow Tarak Kauff and Mike Tork of VFP for their banner drop which was not only dramatic, but allowed for a few giggles as they tried (and succeeded) to get the banner, weighted by sandbags to hang straight from the 5th story of the parking garage adjacent to Peabody Energy Corp. headquarters.
Following the banner drop, I stood there trying to hold my camera and my iPhone while tears streamed down my cheeks as I listened to Don Yellowman and Fern Monalli (not sure about the spelling) from the Navajo Nation in Arizona tell personal and tragic tales of black lung disease and the biggest dislocation of their people since the Trail of Tears. They also told us about Peabody's manipulative ways of trying to divide the Hopi and Navajo nations; fortunately, they were unsuccessful in the end. Zakk from Occupy St. Louis also talked about Peabody's 61 billion dollars in tax breaks, and others shouted out about the closures that left miners and families without retirement and health care. The hideous litany of crimes went on and on, and has gone on for generations as Iowa farmer and Veteran for Peace, Paul Appell testified to when he told the story of his own family farmlands co-opted by Peabody generation ago.
As we listened to the testimonies of Peabody terror, more and more police arrived equipped with batons, guns and handcuffs. They stood stone-faced, shoulder to shoulder behind a barrier blocking the stairs to the Peabody tower. Behind them, conferring and clearly giving the orders, were small groups of men in suits. I wonder who they might have been? Finally, about ten protesters, trying to deliver a letter to the CEO of Peabody, Gregory H. Boyce, climbed over the barrier and sat, arms linked, on the steps. In a short time, with more cops arriving by the minute, they were all arrested and carted away.
On the news that night, they ended the story with an interview with a Peabody mouthpiece, Sr. VP Vic Svec who said that the activists have "an anti-everything agenda." Tell that to the Navajo mother whose child is hospitalized with asthma from black lung disease.
On January 31st, I am heading to Kentucky for a walk organized by Footprints for Peace with an emphasis on Mountaintop Removal. Searching for Occupy found plenty to report on in St. Louis. Now, we'll follow up by checking out some of the destruction these 'clean coal' companies are responsible for.