Mountain Justice Takes on King Coal in Columbus
How often do you get to witness a band of activists deploy a direct action and successfully pressure the CEO of a corporation into agreeing to their demands - before the police even arrive on the scene?
On Friday afternoon, student activists with Ohio Student Environmental Coalition and members of Mountain Justice occupied the lobby of American Municipal Power and forced an impromptu meeting with CEO Mark Gerken – who was not a happy camper.
AMP is planning to build a 1000 MW pulverized coal power plant in Meigs County, Ohio – one of the most impoverished counties in the state, with some of the highest lung cancer and premature death rates due industrial pollution in the country. There are already 4 coal power plants within 10 miles of Meigs and the coal barons of the Midwest are planning on building five more – the largest and dirtiest being the AMP project.
Determined to put an end to this economic and social injustice, concerned Meigs residents have been working with student and youth activists to organize and empower communities to break out of the socio-economic slavery of king coal. Mountain Justice Spring Break - an event where many students, rather than spending their holidays in Florida or Cancun, have opted instead for more meaningful pursuits in building solidarity, developing consensus, discovering affinity and exploring nonviolent direct action - showcased this collaboration over this last week.
Today marked a watershed moment in the movement against King Coal in Ohio. The activists’ demands were simple: cancel plans to build the coal plant, fund renewable energy, and schedule a meeting between the AMP Board of Trustees, local students, and frontline community activists to discuss how AMP can best chart a course towards these goals.
So, this morning, about fifty student and youth activists – most of whom had never participated in a direct action – marched to AMP headquarters in Columbus, Ohio, at which point a group of four negotiators entered the building and demanded a meeting with Gerken. Even when confronted by irate AMP employees, the youth negotiators kept their cool and stuck to their demands. They not only managed to meet with Gerken, but also got him to commit to a meeting between students, Meigs County activists and the AMP Board – and to agree that AMP wouldn’t begin construction on the plant until after this meeting has taken place.
This action was part of an ongoing campaign by activists – including residents of frontline communities, and student activists from groups like Mountain Justice, Ohio Student Environmental Coalition, Earth First, and Student Environmental Action Coalition – against AMP’s plans to bring further destruction to Southern Ohio. On a Sunday morning in early March, a group of concerned citizens visited the home of CEO Marc Gerken, and demanded that AMP reconsider its plans to move forward with the plant. (At that point, Gerken brushed off their requests for a meeting.) Earlier this week – as part of the Listening Project – several students visited the homes of Meigs County residents, listened to their concerns about the AMP project, and empowered them to take action and join the campaign against the coal plant.
Today’s action was the biggest step to date in this campaign, and has laid the groundwork for even bigger victories against King Coal in Ohio. Stay tuned for updates on what this collaboration will do next!
Adrian & Ananda in Columbus