Chapter 16
A Community of Tennessee Writers, Readers & Passersby

Mountain Man

To protest mountain-top removal mining, Silas House leads a sit-in at the Kentucky governor’s office

February 21, 2011 When former Harrogate, Tennessee, novelist Silas House joined legendary Kentucky poet and essayist Wendell Berry and twelve other protesters outside Kentucky Governor Steve Beshear’s office, he didn’t pack pajamas, but he came to stay the night. The protesters hoped the sit-in would call media attention to the environmental and human devastation caused by mountaintop-removal mining, a practice which House has long worked to see ended. (To read Chapter 16‘s review of House’s recent book on the subject, click here.)

On February 14, the sit-in by the group known as Kentucky Rising ended peacefully after three days, with no arrests though also with no indication that Beshear had been moved to withdraw his support for the mining practice. Attention in the local media did inspire an outpouring of support, howver: “We’ve heard from people in Argentina, Germany, all over the United States,” House told a reporter for WYPL. “Five hundred farmers in Vermont signed their names to a letter of support and sent it. Churches all over the south reported they were holding prayer services for them.”

On the op-ed page of yesterday’s New York Times, House took his message to an even larger audience. In an essay called “My Polluted Kentucky Home,” he carefully laid out the human costs of mountaintop-removal mining: “The news media and the rest of the country typically think of mountaintop removal as an environmental problem. But it’s a human crisis as well, scraping away not just coal but also the freedoms of Appalachian residents, people who have always been told they are of less value than the resources they live above.”

And then he took the media to task for ignoring the problem: “The coal companies, the news media and even our own government have all been complicit in valuing Appalachian lives less than those of other Americans. Otherwise, it might be harder for them to get that coal out as quickly and inexpensively as they do. Those of us who protest mountaintop removal do it for the environment, but we’re also fighting to prove we are not unwarranted burdens. Our water and air are being poisoned, but the most dangerous toxin is the message that people don’t matter.”

Read the full essay here.

For more updates on Tennessee authors, please visit Chapter 16‘s News & Notes page, here.