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Deep Down / Sunday, 14 November 2010 15:54

A report from "Deep Down" protagonist Beverly May

Why I disobeyed a lawful order...

In front of me, my young friend Carrie Moore disappeared behind a metal door and I heard the heavy metallic clunk of the lock turning. Then my own voice blurting out: "Oh!... That’s a jail cell." Officer Clark turned, looked me in the eye with a smirk she couldn’t quite hide and said what she must have said a thousand times before: "Well, you wanted to get arrested didn’t you?"

No, not really. I’d just a soon not be in trouble with the law for any reason. But almost a half century ago my family’s homeplace, like thousands of others, was auger-mined against our will. Twenty years later, I campaigned to defeat the Broad Form Deed, believing that landowners, when given the right, would turn the dozers away. Along with hundreds of KFTC members, we worked phone banks, knocked on doors and spoke to groups large and small until the Broad Form Deed Amendment was passed.

But that didn’t stop mountaintop removal and in 2006 a coal company made plans to obliterate both sides of my holler. With a tremendous amount of help and support from KFTC, we asked the state Dept of Surface Mining to spare our community through a Lands Unsuitable for Mining petition. But we couldn’t stop mountaintop removal in our holler unless it was stopped everywhere, so there were meetings beyond measure, and letters to newspapers and elected officials (although I was dismayed when the one to my representative, Greg Stumbo, came back marked "Return to Sender") and more speaking to groups large and small. And like so many mountain people, I jumped down the rabbit hole of the state regulatory process, that sinister Wonderland where those paid to protect the public instead protect the scofflaws, where poisonous mine refuse is "fill", and where inspectors insist house-shaking blasts can’t be the cause of cracking foundations or the boulder in my neighbor’s bedroom.

No, Officer Clark, I didn’t want to get arrested. I just couldn’t think of another darned thing to try.

Of course, before any of this got said, there was the unmistakable clunk, this time behind me.

There is only one elected official who can bring an immediate end to strip mining and shepherd in a whole new economy for the mountains and if he doesn’t do it within the next two years, there is little reason to hope anyone else ever will. So along with other mountain folks, supporters from all parts, a host of religious groups including the "Earth Quakers" and yes, those blessed college kids with dreadlocks and piercings, I stood in front of his home, singing "Amazing Grace". And we sang on as we disobeyed a bullhorn-issued order to disperse. That seems benign enough but in most countries, we would have been cleared away with tear gas and truncheons, and the leaders might not have been seen again. As it happened, all the 115 who stood our ground and the couple-three thousand marchers who supported us, were treated with respect and even kindness (an arresting officer asked if I wanted to take off my rain poncho before guiding me to the steamy paddy wagon).

I thought a lot about my friend and distant relative Joe Begley that day. In his younger years, Joe was a deputy sheriff in Letcher County but also one of the Appalachian Group to Save the Land and People, the folks who sat down in front of the dozers in the late 1960s. He had seen his share of jail cells from both sides of the door and he firmly believed "everybody ought to go to jail, there ain’t no shame in it."

Joe knew it’s impossible to appreciate liberty, or even recognize it as liberty, until you’ve heard the clunk of the jail cell door. He knew those who have chosen only silence cannot cherish the freedom to make their voice heard. And Joe knew a yearning for justice will lead you places you once thought were too scary to go.

Walking across the lawn to the gate out of the detention center, it became clear: Joe Begley was right. And I have never been so proud to be an American and a hillbilly.

#17 (AKA Beverly May)


Well written and from the heart.
On some positions, Cowardice asks the question, "Is it safe?" Expediency asks the question, "Is it politic?" And Vanity comes along and asks the question, "Is it popular?" But Conscience asks the question "Is it right?" And there comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular, but he must do it because Conscience tells him it is right. I believe today that there is a need for all people of good will to come together with a massive act of conscience and say in the words of the old Negro spiritual, "We ain't goin' study war no more." This is the challenge facing modern man. - Martin Luther King Jr.

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