Locks Sheared for The Mountains

Marilyn Mullins had a dream and then she acted on it.

Via Facebook, to call for an end to mountaintop removal, she organized a Memorial Day head-shaving event for women at the State Capitol. What a deeply personal sacrifice these beautiful women (and some men standing with them in solidarity) made on behalf of the mountains and people! Mullins said this act of protest was meant to symbolize all that has been sacrificed and forever lost by Appalachians fighting mountaintop removal — barren moonscapes instead of lush mountains, poisoned water, obliterated communities, and people stripped of their homes and health.

I read that ritual head-shaving, a fairly ancient ritual, is part of many religious traditions —Christian, Buddhist, Muslim, Jain and Hindu. In some religious traditions, head-shaving is an act of devotion or it symbolizes renunciation — renouncing the world for the love of God. In Hinduism, the underlying concept is that hair is a symbolic offering to the gods, representing a real sacrifice of beauty, and in return, those who shave their heads are given blessings in proportion to their sacrifice.

For more than a decade, so many have already sacrificed too much in their efforts to bring mountaintop removal to an end. For some women who led the efforts, like Judy Bonds or Laura Forman, it was the ultimate sacrifice. But neither of them was thinking about or focusing on their own well-being. One of my favorite quotes by Forman still is: “West Virginia is truly almost heaven. She has given so much to my life. How could I not try to help save her?”

At the Funeral for the Mountains in 2001, I remember hearing Bonds say that every mining law in West Virginia had been written in blood, a sad truth. Without dying miners and community members in our southern mountain communities, laws like Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act (SMCRA) or the Mine Health Safety Act, would never have come about.

It seems most politicians are moved by either by hefty campaign contributions from the coal industry that insure their re-election or shame when a preventable disaster occurs during their term of office. The 125 lives lost, thousands of homes destroyed and lives disrupted because of the Buffalo Creek disaster shamed Congress into passing SMCRA. The 29 miners who died because of Massey Energy’s negligence and a lack of state and federal regulatory oversight at the Upper Big Branch mine in 2010 has prompted greater scrutiny of underground mines. Bonds, of course, was right; it took blood on the coal and ultimate sacrifice.

I, for one, believe that this self-less, spiritually powerful act of head-shaving has already had a positive impact on the struggle to end mountaintop removal. A news agency reported that the West Virginia Coal Association had no comment. Was that a calculated non-response or was the spokesperson just unable to come up with pithy sound bite?

You don’t have to shave your head to take action to end mountaintop removal. Write a letter to the editor. Sign up for our action alerts. Check back to this blog next week (the week of June 4, 2012) for actions you can take in solidarity with The Alliance for Appalachia’s End Mountaintop Removal Week in Washington.

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Janet Keating

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