How a “Bunch of Badass Queer Anarchists” Are Teaming Up With Locals to Block a Pipeline Through Appalachia – By Mason Adams (Mother Jones) / May 25 2020
“People that grow up in places like this, seeing their environment destroyed, it stirs them, it causes people to want to get involved, and that’s why I’m here.”
“Life in these mountains ain’t always been easy, so people around here take a stand when they see something they don’t agree with—and I’m one of them,” says walrus-mustached Jammie Hale in his thick southwestern Virginia mountain accent. “People that grow up in places like this, seeing their environment destroyed, it stirs them, it causes people to want to get involved, and that’s why I’m here.”
In a documentary-style video produced by Unicorn Riot, a left-wing media collective, in 2018, Hale explains his decision to join a protest movement taking on the Mountain Valley Pipeline (MVP), a 303-mile long, nearly 42-inch wide pipeline intended to move natural gas from the fracking fields of northern West Virginia to a terminal in southern Virginia that connects to markets and export terminals on the East Coast. Settled in among the hardwood trees on Peters Mountain, near where he’s been occupying an aerial platform with another (pseudonymous) activist known as Nutty, he talks of his family’s 150-plus years in Giles County, Virginia, and how that history motivates him to do all he can to prevent the pipeline from crossing the Appalachian Trail.
Now in 2020, the Peters Mountain blockade no longer exists, and although many tree sits have fizzled out, a group of up to a dozen activists have been camped in a steep hollow along Yellow Finch Lane near Elliston, Va. for nearly a year and a half. (Hale lives nearby and visits the encampment several times each week.) It is at least partly to their credit that the Mountain Valley Pipeline remains unfinished. Its production cost has risen from a projected $3.5 billion to $5.5 billion, and the pipeline is two years behind its original timeline due to a series of regulations and litigation preventing it from crossing the Appalachian Trail and multiple rivers and waterways.
Yellow Finch, as the encampment has come to be called, is giving its full-time activists, most of whom are in their 20s, an on-the-ground education in Appalachian direct action. They’re learning how to talk to media, to establish and maintain a defensible blockade in the forest, and to survive a winter in the mountains, all in a region written off by much of the US as “Trump country.” Less explored is the region’s significant history of activism that brought together outsiders and locals to resist corporate exploitation, from the labor organizing by Mary Harris “Mother” Jones’ on behalf of West Virginia miners in the 1910s and ’20s, to the Mountain Justice campaign against mountaintop removal coal mining a century later. Some veterans of the latter campaign are now working with the folks at Yellow Finch, applying lessons learned in the current fight against fossil fuels.