Friday, 14 September 2012

Larry Gibson's Legacy Lives On

posted 9/14/2012 by Flora Bernard

Larry Gibson and Tim DeChristopher ignoring the "No Trespassing" sign on Kayford Mountain, WV
What do you have, in your own circle of life, that is so precious that you cannot put a price on it?  What would it be?  And if someone tried to come and take it from you, what would you do... how far would you go, to stand for it?  For me, it was my land. For me, it was my mountain. --Larry Gibson 

A couple of years ago, I took a road trip to West Virginia with some close friends, one of whom was incarcerated environmental folk hero Tim DeChristopher. Tim was born in West Virginia, and watched his mother fight mountaintop removal mining through his early upbringing through every legal channel. After lobbying, petitioning, appealing permits, and otherwise doing her damndest to create the political will necessary to stop MTR for as many years as she could stand, she moved her family out of West Virginia. Decades later, coal companies continue to blow up mountains.

Tim organized the road trip because he wanted his climate activist friends and colleagues to experience mountaintop removal mining up close and personal, and no one ever did MTR up close and personal better than one Larry Gibson.

The founding father of the Keepers of the Mountains, Larry Gibson was praxis manifested. Larry watched and endured the agony brought onto his friends and family as industry giants destroyed America’s oldest mountains and, with them, entire Appalachian communities. Larry steadfastly refused to let the coal companies take his family land, holding fast to the deeds of his property, even as mountains were literally cut down around him, and his neighbors, friends and family abandoned their homes one by one.

The day I met him, the game-changing day I first laid eyes on the sheer unforgivable violence of MTR, Larry described to me what it felt like to watch his family cemetery—the bones of his ancestors, a fragile connection to his lineage—turned under by a massive dragline, which unceremoniously ground headstones and remains alike into a pile of detritus. Nothing, indeed, is sacred to the fossil fuel industry.

Instead of allowing the coal giants to buy him out, Larry opened his home to anyone who wanted to see exactly what mountaintop removal mining looks, and more importantly, feels like. This alone imperiled him, as Appalachia's political and economic climate guaranteed him some powerful enemies. He founded the Keepers of the Mountains to be a brave, uncompromising group, allowing opponents of the ugliest extractive practice in these United States to organize and fight. He spoke to more people, with more candor, than any other anti-MTR advocate, ever—he would travel anywhere to tell his story to anyone who expressed the smallest interest or the least concern. Thousands and thousands of people, my humble self included, were educated, outraged and activated by Larry Gibson.

But Larry was more than a powerful wielder of intensely bold and honest rhetoric; he was more than a peerless advocate for an issue that makes most Americans squirm and look away. He was an infinitely kind, sweet, generous, patient and lovely human being. He opened his home and his heart to me. With just his generosity, passion, and powerfully compelling story, he radically altered my own life’s trajectory.

Larry Gibson offered all of himself, his resources, his home and his heritage without hesitation or regret. His mountain meant far more to him than anything, including his own life. He gave every single thing a man can give, in order to force Americans to stop ignoring the death and despair and irrevocable devastation our insatiable need for cheap energy rains down upon Appalachia every single moment. On Sunday, September 9th, Larry offered up his final resource. 

If the climate justice movement can be called a movement, it sustained a near-mortal blow on Sunday. Larry was one of the last of the truthsayers: those uncompromising and relentless fighters who remind us exactly what is at stake, and what we have already lost to industry giants who tyrannize and commit nothing less than murder without remorse. The death of Larry Gibson leaves a grave deficit in a movement all too willing to sugarcoat, compromise, and apologize. I hope his passing inspires fiery, fed-up activists to take those few steps further and speak up a few decibels louder.  

The loss of Larry also leaves a hole in my own heart. I was lucky enough to know Larry, and to know him was to love him. I will do my personal best to honor him for the rest of my days. As long as his story and his powerful, unparalleled voice echo through the nation and the world, Larry Gibson’s legacy will live. That is the absolute very least we owe, to such a fine and ferocious man.

Photo thanks to EarthJustice

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