Larry Gibson the West Virginia activist who built a movement from his will to save a mountain, died Sunday, from a heart attack while working on his home. He was 66 years old and had become the face of the fight against mountain top removal. Gibson makes one of his last appearances in Chris Hedges and Joe Sacco’s new book, Days of Destruction, Days of Revolt. He toured Hedges and Sacco around his community and described what has happened to the land:
“Living here as a boy I wasn’t any different than anybody else,” he says, “I thought I was the luckiest kid in the world, with nature. I could walk through the forest. I could hear the animals. I could hear the woods talk to me. Everywhere I looked there was life… Now there is no life there. Only dust.”
When Gibson moved back to his family home on Kayford Mountain after being forced into retirement at General Motors mountain top removal was just gearing up. Thirty years later, 500 mountains across West Virginia, Virginia and Kentucky have been stripped of trees and flattened. The constant explosions in one typical week in West Virginia, report Hedges and Sacco, equal the cumulative power of the blast over Hiroshima. The human toll from emissions, of dust not to mention working in the mines, stands at twenty four thousand people a year lost to coal related diseases, Gibson told Hedges and Sacco.
“That’s eight times bigger than the World Trade Center. Nobody say anything about that… Coal kills, everybody knows coal kills. But, you know, profit.”
I had a chance to talk with Chris Hedges about “Days of Destruction, Days of Revolt” soon after it came out. You can read part one of transcript at the Nation.com. Larry Gibson comes up as one of those who fights on against tremendous odds, regardless.
Over the years, his living home on Kayford was vandalized. One of his trailers was littered with gunshots. Two of his dogs were shot. He tells Hedges and Sacco how in 2007, one of his family cemeteries was bulldozed in front of him by Massey Energy operators as he was giving a tour to visitors. Today, the campaign to end mountain top removal or MTR has gained national attention, forcing the Obama Administration’s EPA to issue new rules for protecting mountain streams. Those rules are now being challenged in court.
What kept Gibson going? He told the two authors:
“I’m not a highly-brained guy here… don’t have a lot of education. I just point at the common denominator of things: you screw up one thing, another is gonna fall, and if that falls something else is gonna fall, and how much more do we have to fall before we start saying, ‘Whoa, there’s something wrong here somewhere,’ you know.”
The Gibson family are encouraging people to donate in Gibson’s name to the non-profit organization he founded: Keepers of the Mountains.
Chris Hedges is a Nation Institute Senior Fellow. You can catch an excerpt of our conversation here, or the watch in full here. For the full transcript of my conversation with Hedges, write to GRITtv@GRITtv.org.