Another incredible woman who I got to spend the day with is Elise Keaton Liegel, Director of Keeper of the Mountains Foundation. Keeper of the Mountains was started by Larry Gibson, an activist from southern West Virginia who spent his life opposing mountaintop removal coal mining. Similar to Patricia and dozens of other women from the Amazon, Larry once walked across the state of West Virginia to protest and speak to communities along the way about mountaintop removal. He started Keepers of the Mountain Foundation to raise awareness and campaign to end Mountaintop Removal. Larry Gibson passed away on September 9, 2012 and is buried on Kayford Mountain – an island forest surrounded by thousands of acres of mountaintop removal devastation. Since I started working on stories about resource extraction in West Virginia I have met so many people who deeply loved and cherished Larry. It seems like every person I interview that knew him has a story they want to share about how he impacted their lives. Through these stories I have come to learn that he was an incredible person and inspired so many to take action. Elise Keaton grew up in southern West Virginia and is one of many people who loved Larry. She has also spent much of her adult life fighting the same fight. One of the many things Elise is currently focused on is working with the Kanawha Forest Coaltion to revoke a mountaintop removal mining permit that is less than 5 miles from the state capitol building in downtown Charleston, West Virginia.
On Sunday I couldn’t help but be moved, maybe it was the enormity of the event. Maybe it was the fact I had traveled to the city on a bus with people from West Virginia and was marching with several people who I had met before and had listened to their stories about how their lives and communities had been affected from resource extraction. Maybe it was this and the recognition that there were thousands of others marching on Sunday with their own stories about how resource extraction has affected them and their communities. But a few times throughout the day I couldn’t help but be moved to the point that my eyes swelled. However, there was one specific moment that really got me.
I was walking with Elise by my side. Her one hand was holding the end of a Keepers of the Mountains banner and in her other a stop mountaintop removal sign, all around us were dozens of people from West Virginia. As the march turned onto 6th Ave we spotted a group of people from Kentucky holding a sign about mountaintop removal in their state. Elise yelled over to the group and said ya’ll from Kentucky? They nodded and yelled back yes. Elise when said “Well we’re all from West Virginia.” The look on their faces was of surprise followed by recognition and joy. There was an unspoken connection. As one woman from Kentucky started to cry I couldn’t help but do the same.
Ultimately, what made the People’s Climate March so special was that it connected communities. (The first two images below reference the last paragraph)
Elise Keaton Liegel Executive Director of Keeper of the Mountains Foundation
Paula Swearengin, an activist from southern West Virginia and volunteer with the Huntington-based Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition.