Fall Book Outlook

I first published this post 8/24/12 at 7:59 p.m. and updated it last on 8/27/2012 at 4:07 p.m.


Press 53 has sent me a review copy of Roanoke writer Kurt Rheinheimer's new short story collection, Finding Grace ,which I'll be reviewing, as well as Gail Tsukiyama's new historical novel, A Hundred Flowers (St. Martin's), which I found in Virginia Tech's popular reading collection.

Today, I looking for other promising book publications and discovered that  Dennis Lehane has turned publisher, having been offered his own book imprint from his publisher,  Harper Collins.  The first novel will be by  The Cutting Season by Attica Locke.  This follows her debut, Black Water Rising, which the Financial Times called "a seamless marriage of socical comment and slick crime action."  Lehane is so enthusiastic about Locke's writing that he tells us,
I was first struck by Attica Locke's prose, then by the ingenuity of her narrative and finally and most deeply by the depth of her humanity. She writes with equal amounts grace and passion. After just two novels, I'd probably read the phone book if her name was on the spine.
And I'm enthused enough about Lehane to check out his judgement. (BTW, Lehane studied Creative Writing at Florida International University where my friend John Dufresne teaches.  Happily John just won a 2012 Guggenheim fellowship). Harper Collins has promised me a review copy of The Cutting Season and and I'll be sharing my reactions as soon as I finish reading it.  In the meantime, Virginia Tech thinks well enough of her  to have included her first book in its humanities collection and Purdom Lindblad, the librarian for the collection offered to order The Cutting Season today. I've checked out Blackwater Rising and look forward to starting on it this weekend.


Lindblad also indicated she'd welcome other suggestions, so here goes. First, from BEA Buzz Books: Excerpts from over 30 Top Fall 2012 Titles by Publishers Lunch (downloadable gratis from Amazon for the free desktop Kindle reader) , there's Lehane's new novel, Live By Night. Two other works of fiction that caught my attention were Pulitzer Prize winner Junot Diaz's This is How You Lose Her  (stories featuring his recurrent character Yunior,  coming out in September from Riverhead--a Penguin imprint)  and Bill Roorback's  novel, Life Among Giants,  due out from Algonquin in November. Buzz books also mentioned a number of books beyond those excepted that I'm looking forward to reading soon:
And while these went unmentioned by Buzz Books, it looks like the following will deserve a look:
Not only do we have Wallace's own essays but also a biography coming out August 30 that's well-regarded by Kirkus from D. T. Max:  Every Love Story Is a Ghost Story: A Life of David Foster Wallace (Viking). Max wrote about Wallace for The New Yorker and his first non-fiction book, also got good reviews and is included in Virginia Tech's humanities collection. 

I haven't seen a review yet for Orhan Pamuk's Silent House (October, Knopf).  It's the first English translation of his second novel.  Amazon, I think, mistakenly, quotes Margaret Atwood as reviewing a previous edition for the New York Times.  I sent a chat to Amazon questioning that and the individual answering promised to have it researched and get back with me.

Last, Lucy Wood is gaining acclaim across the pond for her first book of short stories., The Diving Belles (review) which came out in paperback from Mariner Books  in August.

BTW,  Tech's popular reading collection  has some other recent books I'll be reading soon.  I just checked out Mario Vargas Llosa's The Dream of the Celt.  I've put Toni Morrison's new novel, Home
 (Knopf 2012 ) on hold. And here are a couple of others I'm considering:
There are also some new books of interest in the regular collection.  For instance:


The Talented Mr. Ripley: What Minghella Made

Poster for The Talented Mr. Ripley, which premiered December 12, 1999 and opened on Christmas day that year.


Anthony Mingella has been gone now since 2008, having died of a hemorrhage following surgery.  Minghella's best known film is  The English Patient (1997), an adaptation of Michael Ondaatje 1992 novel, winner of the Booker award. He made Cold Mountain (2003), an adaptation Charles Frazier's 1997 Civil War novel, which won the National Book award. Every time certain type of literary novel gets published, I'm prone to ask WWMM (What Would Mingella Make?)

I'm a fan of both Matt Damon's and Jude Law's acting and love crime thrillers. I can't really tell you why I hadn't watched The Talented Mr. Ripley (screenplay), Anthony Minghella's 1999 adaptation of Patricia Highsmith's 1955 novel. The film had been on my wish list for quite a while, and today, I finally decided to get a copy and look at it. It had me from the opening sentence by Tom Ripley, played by Damon:
If I could just go back. If I could rub everything out. Starting with myself. Starting with borrowing a jacket.
The jacket in question is one sporting the Princeton crest which Ripley borrows from Fran (Getchen Egolf)'s boyfriend with an injured wrist who has prevailed on Tom to take his place as Fran's accompanist  while she sings at a 1950s garden party on a Central Park West terrace.  The jacket leads ship builder Herbert Greenleaf (James Rebhorn, most recently appearing on tv in White Collar) and his wife Emily (Lisa Eichorn) to assume that Ripley has gone to Princeton, the alma mater of their jazz loving reprobate son, Dickie (Jude Law). Ripley plays along--after a pause--asking, "How is Dickie?"

In actuality, Ripley works as a men's room attendant at the theater hall where he peeks out to watch a concert and later plays the piano onstage until he is discovered by a janitor and leaves quickly among apologies. Tom is more than glad to accept Herbert's offer of $1,000 to go to Italy and try to talk Dickie into returning home.  Minghella sets all of this up in the less than five minutes, during the first part of the credits. During the remaining credits he shows Ripley working to learn to identify jazz greats. As Tom leaves on his mission, the Greenleaf chauffeur tells him that the the family is friends with the Cunard line and that association with the name "open a lot of doors."

We see just how close an association he is willing to feign when he tells a woman who has introduced herself as Meredith Randall(Cate Blanchett)that he is Dickie Greenleaf, traveling incognito under his mother's name. What is her name, Meredith asks and he improvises, "Emily. Just kidding." Meredith allows as she is traveling incognito, too, under her mother's maiden name, as she is actually one of the textile Logues.

And so, the telegraphing of a lot of information continues, as we are now at minute ten, two or so past the credits. And we haven't even seen an appearance by some of the others you will be awaiting: Dickie himself, his girl friend Marge Sherwood (Gwyneth Paltrow)and Freddie Miles (Philip Seymour Hoffman), for starters.

As often, I'm glad I saw the film BEFORE reading the book. When I read a book first, I find myself casting it in my head and can be annoyed when the filmmaker diverges from my choices. It will be interesting to see what choices Minghella made. I am also looking forward to finding out a bit more about Highsmith, who for some reason I have never read and know little about. One book at the Tech library that looks especially interesting is The talented Miss Highsmith : the secret life and serious art of Patricia Highsmith by Joan Schenkar (NY, St. Martin's Press, 2009.) Apparently the biographer and her subject shared a distaste for their families as the former revealed in her 2011 essay for The Paris Review.


Phyllis Diller, Shock Trooper

Screen shot from Phyllis Diller's video on her Spice Girls Auditions. This was first posted at 11:45 a.m on August 21, 2012 and updated at 1:18 p.m.  I'm still working on the post, but need to leave to get some lunch, so check back.

I'm not sure the year of this video of Phyllis Diller, uploaded to YouTube in 2006. Although the dress style of the audience looks like something out of the 1960s and Mad Men, the British pop group, The Spice Girls, formed in 1994 and released their debut single on (the ironically titled) label Virgin Records two years later. Since Phyllis Diller was born in 1917 (two years before my late mother), that would have made her at least 79 when this was filmed.


Phyllis, in Ovid's Heroides, is the mythic woman who threatens to kills herself after  thinking she has been spurned by her lover.  The name would seem more apt for someone who promoted traditional roles for women, such as Phyllis Shaffley.  Diller, rather, was an iconoclast, who who broke into the then-male field of standup comedy, paving the way for the likes of Roseanne Barr.

It's appropriate to call her a pioneer.  But in the broader sense. American Heritage Dictionary tells us the word derives from the French word pionnier and before that the Old French peonier, meaning a foot soldier. It comes from the Latin pedon--one who has broad feet. The word has several meanings, but the one closest to this this derivation is the third one, "A soldier who performs construction and demolition work in the field to facilitate troop movements." Other meanings include one who "ventures into unknown or unclaimed territory to settle", who "opens up new areas of thought...or development" and in ecology, a species that "establishes itself in a previously barren environment." Yes, Phillis Diller was pioneer, but she was more--she was a soldier, she was a shock trooper.


Lyric TED Talk: Sir Ken Robinson on Education

 Illustration by Deanna Halsall for an article, "The Educator" on Robinson by in Google's Think Quarterly.

The Lyric Theatre is showing its second TED talk by Sir Ken Robinson, "Bring on the learning revolution!"  The panel will consist of Tech faculty:
  • Peter Doolittle Director for the Center for Instructional Development and Educational Research
  • Mitzi Vernon Professor, School of Architecture and Design
  • Alan Weinstein Assistant Professor, Department of Music

Robinson argues that education needs a transformation beyond the "tyranny of common sense." We are following a fast food model of conformity. We need to move beyond this industrial model  to an agricultural one because life itself is organic.

He finished by quoting from W. B. Yeats ("Aedh Wishes for the Cloths of Heaven" from The Wind Among the Reeds (1899).
Had I the heavens' embroidered cloths,
Enwrought with gold and silver light,
The blue and the dim and the dark cloths
Of night and light and the half-light,
I would spread the cloths under your feet:
But I, being poor, have only my dreams;
I have spread my dreams under your feet;
Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.
Then concludes, 
And every day, everywhere, our children spread their dreams beneath our feet. And we should tread softly.


Eco-Chaplain Sarah Vekasi: First Hand Report on Mountain Mobilization

Photo  from Facebook of Sarah Vekasi taken at the Mountain Justice 2012 Summer Activist Training Camp May 19-26 at the Appalachian South Folklife Center in Pipestem, WV. This guest post by Vekasi, first published on August 1, 2012 at 8:00 p.m. is adapted with her permission from the letter she wrote following her attendance at the Mountain Mobilization.


Editor's Note

Sarah Vekasi (email, website) has a Masters of Divinity degree from Naropa University in Boulder, CO and lives in Swannanoa, NC, where she throws pottery and operates the Eco-chaplaincy Initiative. 

Vekasi coined the term"eco-chaplaincy" in 2005 for inter-religious and secular spiritual chaplaincy designed for people engaged in environmental and social justice work.  In a letter to her followers on August 1 before the RAMPS (Radical Action for Mountain People's Survival) Campaign announced that Dustin Steele had been released from jail, Vekasi explained that she returned home the previous night from attending the Mountain Mobilization. Before writing, she
had to sleep for about 30 hours first, which helps me know that the organizers need rest too. It is hard to rest though, because we know that at least one of our activists, [Dustin Steele] was hurt pretty bad by the law, and that is ...[he] is spending ...[his] 21st birthday today in jail...I know Dustin well, and love this person so much that it hurts to think about [it.]
She wrote that as the evening of July 31, 2012,
...[W]e were still not able to visit ...[him] or anyone else in the jail. There are twenty people incarcerated, all in the same jail, held on charges of misdemeanor trespass and obstruction, we think, yet held with a $25,000 surety bond each, which means we need $500,000 cash or WV property to get them out. They have not had a formal hearing yet, and we are affectionately calling them the Hobet 20. This is outrageous and we are working on reducing the bail, while also collecting money. There are names and addresses online if you are willing to write or need to know if your child or friend is one of the Hobet 20.
Vekasi describes the Mountain Mobilization

As of last night  I have just returned home from providing support at the Mountain Mobilization organized by the RAMPS Campaign at the request and guidance of locals in West Virginia.... It is a story our whole country needs to know about, and one that deserves our attention immediately since there are a lot of people currently in jail who need support, organizers who need sleep, activists in need of trauma relief, communities in need of reconciliation and safety, and a powerful story about continual resistance and courageous people to be lifted up.

This past Saturday, over a hundred activists were able to walk on to an active mine site at the Hobet Mine, the largest mountaintop removal site in West Virginia, and shut down mining at its source, while simultaneously holding a rally and trainings at a nearby park. Some activists physically locked down to the mining equipment until arrested and brought to jail, while everyone brought forward a message that it is time to end mountaintop removal coal mining and work for a just and sustainable Appalachia now. The demonstration was the first in a “Summer of Solidarity Against Extraction,” so along with RAMPS, Mountain Justice and Appalachian activists, we had people fighting to protect their homes from Fracking, from the Keystone XL Pipeline, from the Coal Export trains in the northwest, and from Occupy Wall Street and Occupy D.C. The reality of blowing up mountaintops to get to the coal underneath, filling in valleys with the overburden, hence polluting the water supply of all nearby communities and permanently destroying the mountains is so outrageous, so horrifying, that this invitation went out to the world to come to West Virginia at the invitation of local communities to directly witness the atrocity of surface mining, and shut down a mine site with our bodies.

The Mountain Mobilization was advertised as “the largest direct action yet” in the movement to end mountaintop removal by doing a “mass walk-on to an active surface mine” and by all accounts – it was. As our movement’s eco-chaplain, I live to tell the tale, and the story continues as we all pass it on. The primary version of the story for public consumption is that there is still an ongoing atrocity called mountaintop removal coal mining, and even as mining companies are going bankrupt there needs to be serious commitment by the companies and the states involved to restore the land and re-employ the people.

The inner story

The inner story is that we are using direct action techniques of public walk-ons and lock-downs to draw attention to the issue and that we were met with organized mobs of people using violence, intimidation, harassment, and hate speech to try to stop us, in collusion or at least without attempts to stop it by the state and local police.

As of Saturday night, all of our activists are accounted for, but the need for ongoing support is acute, particularly in terms of getting our friends out of jail, supporting one another through trauma recovery, and the ongoing efforts of ending mountaintop removal coal mining for a just and sustainable Appalachia. I personally would appreciate your support as I just went to the edge of my ability to hold the safety of our group with an awareness of the whole, and am now home recovering before offering support for our activists and their families in this intense time....

The idea of doing a massive direct action was, and is, to show the coal industry that we will not back down in light of harassment and attempts to silence local leaders, rather, we will invite more and more people from around the country to come and witness the situation first hand, and by doing direct action, continually grab the attention of the public to force the lawmakers who have been sitting on the fence not passing any of the legislation our movement has put forward, and shine a light into the shadowed halls of the decision makers throughout Appalachia who rubber-stamp permits for more valley fills and surface mines.

The back story

Here is the back-story: We gathered for three very full days of extensive trainings in nonviolence and non-violent direct action tactics, de-escalation trainings and mine safety, while having daily talks by local organizers about what life is like day to day in the mountain communities impacted by the coal industry. The trainings are significant because we will not allow anyone to join in these actions without committing to a full code of nonviolence and learning de-escalation techniques to follow through with them. This means carrying ourselves with the dignity one can possess with walking as a mountain, for mountains, with the knowing that the whole nation is impacted by mountaintop removal coal mining, and everyone, especially including the folks who are employed by the coal industry, have a stake in our collective survival, and that survival is put in immediate threat when we blow up mountains and fill in valleys.

We all commit to bringing no weapons of any kind, and not even engaging in debates or escalating dialogue during actions, since that doesn’t lead towards actual dialogue. Instead, we go into actions with our awareness wide open to the fact that we are marching and demonstrating for the good of the whole and out boundaries up to protect ourselves the best we can from violence. I lead people through trainings specifically oriented towards holding compassion particularly towards the folks whose jobs put the health of their whole hollows in jeopardy, since that is where a lot of the tension generally arises, and this time did in a large degree.

Our messaging to encompass the whole community

Even the messaging on the banners is written to encompass the whole rather than feed a “environmentalist” vs. “miner” divide the coal industry front groups like the Friends of Coal and the media like to perpetuate. Want to know what some of our banners said?

“Coal Leaves, Cancer Stays.”

“Re-employ our Miners, Restore our Mountains.”

“Stop Mountaintop Removal for all Appalachians”

“Repair, Reinvest, Retrain, Re-Employ”

This is all preface to say that on Saturday, nearly on hundred courageous people followed the call and did pull off the largest direct action protest in the movement to end mountaintop removal coal mining to date by simultaneously holding trainings and a rally in a state park while fifty people walked on to the Hobet mine in Lincoln County, WV, the largest mountaintop removal mine in West Virginia.

The counter-protest  with its threats and acts of violence

Both in the park and on the mine site, we were met with hoards of counter-protesters, most likely organized through the Friends of Coal, certainly organized somehow, whose intention seemed singularly to make us go home or never speak out again against mountaintop removal through threats and acts of violence – both physical and verbal. Did they succeed? I really hope not. It began in the morning leaving our campsite with an organized attempt to block us by felling trees over the road, and continued throughout the past few days. On Saturday, the day of action, the counter-protest was intense, to say the least.

I witnessed an incredibly well organized group of people I would call a mob, mainly dressed in mining stripes, some sadly dressed up with coal on their faces, lining up and doing everything in their power to seem menacing, cruel and mean by singling people out from the group and picking apart their identity – be it that they were an active marine, or a trans-gendered person, a recognizable local resident, a person of color, a hippy, a punk, a woman, a child, etc. The words that were hurled by these counter-protestors were so racist, so homophobic, so mean in general, that it was easy to recognize the fear underlying all of it. The fear in the mob was so thick that any hateful thought was hurled out toward our activists. Most of it was non-sequitor, just any old comment meant to be threatening, which helped show the hopelessness these folks feel about the situation – the mines going bankrupt, the water polluted, jobs scarce, etc., but hate speech all the same.

Our intention to take this stand for the sake of everyone is so strong, that the organized strategy of harassment, intimidation, violence and fear did not and does not work to take down our commitment to ending mountaintop removal, and through using nonviolent direct action to keep the conversation going.

The toll violence takes

That said, the hate hurled toward us these past few days, and for months and years for our local residents does take a real toll. Above all else, it make us feel sad. And traumatized too, because the things that were said, and way in which the mob behaved, was scary, and something we would all like to think ended a few generations ago. The intensity of the racism and homophobia was so thick it rings in our ears. Meanwhile, we all have a need for safety, and our very survival was at risk, so of course that leaves trauma. It was sad, and embarrassing, because I know from experience that this mob does not represent West Virginian’s very well.

I know that sometimes with direct action strategies, it is easy to say, “well – y'all shouldn’t have put your lives on the line like that.”

Direct action pushes forward the conversation, just as in the Civil Rights movement

I guess. But then again, we know that mountaintop removal coal mining is literally killing this region through economic poverty and toxic waste which creates cancer, etc., and are simultaneously doing every other strategy for change without satisfactory result. As an eco-chaplain supporting this movement, I work with people in all spectrums of strategies, and will advocate for the inclusion of direct action and support of the folks going through it with all my heart. We have multiple national bills in the house and senate, extensive state and regional organizing, and way too many scientific studies proving how deadly this form of mining is to the land and people. So there is a real reason why we use direct action as one of the strategies to push the conversation forward and not let it get forgotten in bureaucracy and corruption.

If you are noticing yourself wondering why RAMPS and Mountain Justice would use direct action knowing the situation is volatile, I encourage you to take a moment to think back on what we remember now from the Civil Rights movement, and how far our nation has come, and how far we have to go. When we remember now about all the violence from police dogs and water hoses, guns, and mobs of scared white people perpetuating white supremacy hurling toward the activists fighting for civil rights, we honor those activists for their courage rather than explain why the mob had a right to assault the nonviolent Freedom Riders, etc. Please find space to do the same here, or at the very least, hold back judgment while we work to get all our friends out of jail and participants back into balance.

A call for solidarity and cohesion

This is one of those times that we need solidarity and cohesion. This whole summer has been such a big deal – climate chaos is no longer theoretical but right here, and all of us are feeling the tension from that, and right now is the time to really love up all of the courageous people who are in trauma from putting their lives on the line for the sake of Appalachia at the moment.

There were times throughout the past four days when I have witnessed the state police and local police step forward to protect us from hostility, and for those times, I commend them, but there were too many other times when they looked the other way, and overtly worked with the mob to put our lives at risk.

Witnessed police contribution to putting activists lives at risk 

Here is a small example... On Sunday morning, while we were waiting to hear from our friends in jail with the thought we could get them out soon, the neighbors of the Tawney Farm, where we were camping, drove up to the driveway to continue the harassment that had been going on all night. The previous evening there were gunshots and more trees down in the road, we found nail-spikes tire strips in the road meant to destroy our vehicles, and all the while the police had not arrived. James Tawney, the farmer and owner of the campground was nearly ran over by one of the trucks, so we made the decision to call 911 again. This is how the phone call went:

911 Dispatch: “What is the emergency?”

James Tawney: “I was just nearly ran over by a truck and there are more threats of violence over here at my campground.”

911 Dispatch: “Are those tree-huggers bothering you?”

James Tawney: “Excuse me?”

911 Dispatch: “Are those tree-huggers bothering you?”

James Tawney: “That is rude beyond belief, they are great people, and the folks you mean as tree-huggers are camping out on my campground legally, and the law isn’t protecting them. I was just nearly ran over by a truck, last night they were shooting at us, now I need protection over here now.”

And so on, and so on…. Eventually the local sheriff and state patrol arrived, but hours later when we had an armed mob sneaking through the field on our whole group that evening, they were nowhere to be seen. We did not panic and used all our skills to stay peaceful and alert and keeping one another safe. Now that I am home and in a safe place, I am able to think about all of this. You know what comes to mind – that it is horrifying what can happen when we de-humanize one another. The use of “tree-hugger” in this instance was jargon like many known to take away our humanity, our fullness. The fact that even 911 dispatch could use the term nonchalantly and assume we ‘tree-huggers’ were harassing our neighbors after hours of getting calls to the contrary shows how thick the fear and mis-information is.

How readers can help

If you or anyone you know have political ties that can be pulled to help reduce the bail and get these folks out of jail, we would appreciate it. Furthermore, if you are willing to donate to the legal fund, you can do so online at http://rampscampaign.org/ and if you are available to write letters to the folks in jail there is information on that site as well. There is also a big need for media and political pressure, so if you can write a letter to the editor of your local paper, and connect us with friendly reporters, and write letters to politicians asking for an end of mountaintop removal and differential treatment for activists than the mob, that will help too.

Rachel Anne Parsons: A Native West Virginian's Diary on the Mountain Mobilization

Photo of Rachel Parsons from Facebook. I first published this post on August 1, 2012 at 4:48 p.m. and last updated it that date at 5:34 p.m.

I interviewed Rachel Anne Parsons about the Mountain Mobilization here.  I've  republished with permission with slight reformatting her diary of her thoughts on the Mountain Mobilization from her blog post, "West Virginia: The Third World: If they hurt you, should you back down?"

Parsons, 22, graduated in May 2012  from East Tennessee State University with a B.A. in English and a minor in Japanese. She explains that her passion is writing "both fiction and nonfiction about her home" in Mercer County, West Virginia. Her goal is to "raise awareness about Appalachia and the issues faced by the region, and also to write about the unique culture" she grew up in.  She has been published in Now and Then: The Appalachian Magazine and has a novel she wrote in November 2011 during National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo)


“The earth is not dying, it is being killed. And the people who are killing it have names and addresses.” – Utah Phillips

July 28, 2012

It’s Saturday, July 28, and there’s something big happening. I’ve known about it for months. People are going to get arrested today, lots of people, to make a statement. Everything has been planned meticulously, most people in the movement – the movement to end mountaintop removal and strip mining in Appalachia – don’t even know where it’s all going to go down, but we know it’s going to happen. A lot of people sign up to go. The action is called “Mountain Mobilization,” and it is organized by RAMPS, or Radical Action for Mountain Peoples’ Survival, one of many groups protesting coal in the mountains of Appalachia.

Some people, myself included, don’t go. For me, it’s because I don’t want to get arrested right now, although I believe strongly in the importance of it. There are many personal things I’m dealing with that make me stay home. My mother and I go to an antique auction to take our minds off the action, worried about our friends who are going with the intent of getting arrested. We are miserable and cranky the whole time. When we get home, we make a beeline for our computers, hoping for good news.

Instead we get bad news. 20 people were arrested on Hobet Mine in southern West Virginia. That’s not the bad part. We had planned on getting lots of people arrested to make a statement and draw attention to West Virginia’s plight, all the poisoned water and polluted air and mountains reduced to rubble. The bad news is that the other 30 people who were on the mine were sent on a 15 mile walk by police officers who refused to let the shuttle cars meant to pick them up drive down the small road to the mine. However, the police did let pro-coal supporters down the road and the anti-coal protesters were forced to walk almost four hours through a gauntlet of hate until they reached the rest of their party and were picked up. The cars carrying our protesters were then harassed on the way home, with coal supporters in big trucks trying to run them off the road.

July 29, 2012

It’s Sunday, July 29, and we get news that at least one of the arrested protesters, Dustin Steele, has been severely beaten while in police custody and has been denied medical treatment. A cry of outrage goes out across the web. Dustin will be 21 on August 1, a year younger than myself. I know this guy. Someone I know has been beaten by the police and refused treatment. Any lingering delusions I might have had of living in the land of the free? Well, those are gone, if they were ever there. Home of the brave, on the other hand, well, maybe we can still claim that title. The next few days will show.

The bond for each of the 20 arrested protesters is set at $25,000 in West Virginia property. That adds up to $500,000 dollars with of property in exchange for the release of 20 people who were arrested on misdemeanor trespassing charges. Naturally, we all think this is outrageous.

A pro-coal group online has found several of our Facebook pages, including Ramps Campaign. The page where we have all been watching for news of our comrades is bombarded with comments from the other side. Our opposition tells us “dirty, tree-hugging hippies” to “go back where we came from.” A large number of protesters, including myself and Dustin Steele, the arrested protester who was beaten, are West Virginia natives. We say so. We regret engaging any of our assailants in conversation as we are swept away in a sea of hate. Someone says the arrested protesters should be hung from trees. Someone else tells the arrested protesters “not to drop the soap.” They think these comments are funny. Well, they’re not.

July 30, 2012

Monday, July 30, I drive to my grandparents’ house to spend a couple of days with them. My plan is to relax and distract myself by helping on their farm. Instead, the three of us compulsively check Facebook for news. We’re worried and outraged for Dustin. We have no idea how the movement could possibly post bond for Dustin and the others, and Dustin still has not seen a doctor. Fingers crossed, we share articles on Facebook, trying to spread the word if we can do nothing else. Donations for the legal defense fund for the arrested protesters are still asked for, in hopes that cash will eventually be accepted by police.

That night, I am stressed and have trouble going to sleep. My anxiety issues hit me full force. On Tuesday, July 31, I wake up tired. The news is dreary at best and so is the weather. It rains and all I can think about is Dustin and how I don’t even really know how hurt he is. It’s not like I’ve ever been close to Dustin, but I know this kid. He could have been me if I’d been a little bit braver. And he had a right to protest and to stand up for what he believes in. I’m so angry that the police, who are supposed to keep citizens safe, would do this to 21 year-old kid who had no way of defending himself.

Ramps Campaign reports that the other arrested protesters witnessed the brutality against Dustin. More bad news, the Environmental Protection Agency loses a court case about water pollution restrictions in regards to coal mining. It’s not looking like a good day for the movement.

All the hate people are spewing everywhere is too much. It hurts to hear Governor Tomblin on the news say that the decision against the EPA is a “victory for West Virginia.” It’s not a victory. Coal is going to kill this state and I’m miserable and think that maybe I made a mistake by coming back here instead of staying in Tennessee after I graduated. More and more bad news. I have a negative confrontation with a supposed “friend” and it just blows everything sky high for me. I call my mom in tears and tell her I’m moving to Canada. She tells me I’m going to stay here and fight.

I call my Dad and explain everything that has happened over the last few days. I cry some more. He says, “Write about this. You are a great writer. Don’t be upset because the opposition has finally recognized that you are a force to be contended with. You should feel empowered by it. Congratulations.”

August 1, 2012

Wednesday, August 1, I wake up feeling better. It’s Dustin’s birthday, and it’s the birthday of Mother Jones, a historic figure in our movement. It’s also the anniversary of the death of Sid Hatfield. Such a day can’t be anything but powerful. News from Ramps says that they’ve finally convinced authorities to allow them to pay bond with cash, and I have high hopes that Dustin will soon be released.

There are two petitions circulating, one demanding justice for Dustin and the other demanding that the bail be reduced for the “Hobet 20″ as the arrested protesters are called. I sign them both and watch with high hopes as more and more signatures are added.

Word from Ramps that Dustin’s bail has been paid and he is finally safe with friends. The fight’s not over. There are still 19 more of the Hobet 20 to get released. Dustin’s abuse cannot be allowed to go unpunished. But I am feeling more empowered now. So I write about it, because writing is what I do and I will never be afraid to write about what’s important, no matter who threatens to hang me from a tree or put me through a wood chipper.

I am home and I am here to stay.