On the Ground with the Movement against Mountaintop Removal (Review)

By Carol Polsgrove
Saturday November 12, 2011 - 09:13:00 PM

For insight into the Occupy movement, one of the best places to look is Tricia Shapiro’s new book on the movement against mountaintop removal – Mountain Justice, published by AK Press in Oakland.

When young urban anarchists joined with longtime Appalachian residents in the Mountain Justice Summer campaign of 2005, Shapiro signed on as the campaign’s chronicler. She sat in on strategy sessions and scrambled up a mountain during the night with demonstrators. She listened. She asked questions. She recorded what people said, and she understood what she heard.

An experienced author of young adult histories and biographies under the name Tricia Andryszewski, Shapiro had written about the movements for civil rights and gay rights. She had described the devastation of the Dust Bowl. She wrote then as a historian.

For Mountain Justice, she has written as a reporter, and the movement could not ask for a better one – she is both sympathetic and honest, frank about the disagreements that arose, clear about the failures as well as the successes. 

I wish the book had included images of the devastated wastelands that were once tree-covered mountains. They are a graphic symbol of what happens when corporate power meets political power: the target of the Occupy movement. But those images are abundant on the web (see http://ilovemountains.org/multimedia#photo_gallery). 

What Shapiro has given us is a powerful story—its end not yet in sight. When I talked with her recently in Asheville, she said she had thought the book would be just about Mountain Justice Summer – that it would be a story with a clear end. Instead, she found herself still writing several years later, following the twists and turns of the struggle against coal companies and government agencies until finally, the story unfinished, she ended the book: 

“The fight against MTR in Appalachia is also a fight for better choices for all of us. Free people are choosing to engage in that fight not just to defend their own freedom….but also to make it possible for more and more of their fellow citizens to freely chose to live, in grace and comfort, in ways that are good for the land and its people everywhere. Their fight is our fight too.” 

(Carol Polsgrove is author of Divided Minds: Intellectuals and the Civil Rights Movement. For her interview with Tricia Shapiro, see http://carolpolsgrove.com.)