Activism, Coal and Arizona

“Just seeing the future for us and knowing that they [our parents] wanted a better future for us, fern benallyI have the same feeling for, not myself, but the kids and for my relatives and that something better will be in the future for them, that keeps me going. Knowing that we have succeeded in one step and maybe we can continue on and see a better future for all of us.

[One of] the other things that keeps me going is knowing that one of my great aunts and my great uncles [had] respiratory problems. Their breath was taken away slowly inch by inch, feeling like they were being suffocated. When they died, thinking about them and thinking that how much better it would be for the rest of the people here. I don’t want them to die that way anymore, I want them to be able to breathe.” Fern Benally, Navajo Activist.

Shadia Fayne Wood from Project Survival Media and I just finished an assignment in Arizona, covering an incredible group of activists that are working hard to stop dirty energy on the Navajo Reservation and pushing the envelope on clean energy development. We are focusing on the closing of one of the coal mines in the area, the tactics that were used and what this means to the people affected by the closure.

The former coalmine is in the Benally’s backyard, land that has been the families for thousands of years. For the last 30 years, 24 hours a day, the large coal trucks would rumble by the house and the coal crusher would drown out nature. Now, thanks to incredible co-operation and dedication amongst groups like the Black Mesa Water Coalition, Grand Canyon Trust and the Sierra Club, the life of mine permit was revoked in January. Now, the Benally’s can hear the birds sing and watch the stars like their ancestors did long before Europeans came here.

There are still many examples of environmental racism here in Arizona and across our planet. But, it is important to celebrate victories and share the knowledge so that we can all move towards a sustainable future. More to come on this project in the future.

Rainy March in March for TVA

The water pours off my hood and dribbles onto the lens of my camera, frustrating my attempts to clear the drops of Tennessee rain. However, drops of rain, otter hair and the condensation in my rain cover are minor issues compared to the issue that I have been photographing today.

This afternoon, the March in March, an action organized by Mountain Justice took place in front of the TVA headquarters here in Knoxville. Activists gathered from all over the USA to protest against Mountain Top Removal Coal Mining, ‘Clean Coal’, and the recent TVA coal ash spill in Harriman.

On Dec. 22, 2008 a coal ash spill estimated at 5.4 million cubic yards, enough to cover 3,000 acres of property and houses with a one-foot layer of ash, swamped the town of Harriman in Tennessee.

In response, today, over 100 people braved the rain and the cold, marching around the TVA headquarters and participated in a Die In in front of the building. Those that participated in the Die In were led away and charged by Knoxville police.

The rain goes away, the clothing dries and the cameras survive to shoot another day. What won’t be the same in the future is the current coal industry.