Duke’n it Out with King Coal: Victory on the Other Side of Cliffside

War takes many forms on this imperiled Earth. King Coal is one of the most profitable and destructive, particularly in the mountains of Appalachia.


As the storms of Climate Change gather strength, resistance to the War against Nature is rising and gaining power on all fronts. When presidential candidate Obama spoke in Asheville last October, his earnest campaign workers were careful to keep out any critical signs or banners.  As thousands gathered in the outdoor stadium, a large van painted with a Clean Coal message pulled up and parked close to the entrance touting the dirty lie.  Not to be daunted or censored, local war resisters secreted in a large banner:  “Appalachia Says, Don’t Betray Us—Clean Coal Kills.”  We unfurled it and held it high in full view of the candidate and thousands of his avid supporters. It took twenty minutes before Obama’s crowd controllers demanded we fold it up. Only when Barak left the stadium, did we comply and fold up the banner.

The movement to halt Mountaintop Removal coal mining and the deadly coal-fired energy plants, which it feeds, is growing rapidly. It is a movement of persistent activists who are increasingly willing to take personal risks on behalf of their planet. The Cliffside Climate Action Call to Conscience, in Charlotte this past weekend, should be a wake up call to King Coal that such crimes against the Earth and future generations will not be tolerated.

Its about power. It’s about money. It’s about who gets to decide, said Jim Warren of NC WARN addressing the crowd following an afternoon of Direct Action Training. The determination to stop Mountaintop Removal and Dirty Coal is uniting activists across many areas of struggle. There are some very powerful voices calling us to action.

 Mountainkeeper Larry Gibson is one. His family has lived on Kayford Mountain in West Virginia since the early 1700s. I’m against coal. Coal kills, he told the crowd assembled for Direct Action Training at the Unitarian Church in Charlotte. “I’ve been told I should be arrested for treason, I’ve been told that I was a radical, an extremist.  But how should I react to what has been happening around me all my life!

A 12,000-acre flattened moonscape, that used to be mountains, now surrounds his home. Where once he looked out on a panorama of mountain ridges above his home, his house is now the highest point around – amid the devastation of this strip-mine. His 50-acre property near Charleston is an oasis he regularly opens up to students and activists from throughout the world who come to witness the cost of our reliance on coal for electricity and to join the battle against King Coal

 I fully expect to get arrested tomorrow, Gibson continued, referencing the planned civil disobedience at Duke Energy.

I fully expect to lose my life in this struggle. I do it for you. I do it for the people coming behind me. I do it so they won’t take it all. I do it because it is right. You people now—you can change it.

 Gibson’s words stirred many in the audience to risk arrest, including Asheville residents Laura and Ole Sorensen, who we traveled with to the rally. Also in the van from Asheville were Michael and Jessica, two young activists from the east Tennessee communities of Seymour and Gatlinburg. We first met them at the nonviolence training we facilitated for the Capitol Climate action in D.C. They braved the snow and cold on that adventure, and we caught up with them again in Oak Ridge, on a sunny-day vigil at the Y-12 bomb plant. Debralee from Black Mountain, an advocate of the Department of Peace, took time off from her household cleaning business to join us. We seven were offered gracious hospitality in the Charlotte home of retired banker Pat Brugh and his wife, Molly.  The coalition of organizers saw to it that everyone who attended was well cared for throughout the event.

The nonviolence training drew more than sixty people. Greenpeace Action coordinator James Brady and Hendersonville, N.C. activist Bruce Turk co-facilitated and helped prepare folks for the peaceful confrontation with Duke Energy. This corporation profits from the extraction and combustion of coal—the most urgent environmental issue threatening the world today. It’s the money. Current data on supply and demand for electricity reveals that eight coal plants could be taken off line today. But, at a combustion rate of 50-60 tons per minute and at $80 to $95 per ton, one can see that the construction of the Cliffside facility is not motivated by future demand. As society learns to conserve more and more there will be even less of an energy demand.

At the Sunday potluck supper, the food, music and camaraderie showed the heart of this movement. There was some persimmon pudding from an old mountain family recipe, lively tunes from a string band, and rousing protest songs from Asheville songwriter and street musician Ginnie Waite.

Peacekeepers consult at MLK,jr statue in Charlotte

Peacekeepers consult at MLK,jr statue in Charlotte

The march stepped off from Charlotte’s lovely Marshall Park, where green-helmeted peace-keepers gathered around a bronze statue of Martin Luther King, Jr., and prepared to assist the 350 to 400 walkers moving along sidewalks into the heart of downtown.

Stop Cliffside Rally Outside Gov. Bev. Purdue's Charlotte Office

Stop Cliffside Rally Outside Gov. Bev. Purdue's Charlotte Office

Police on bicycles, Segways and motorcycles kept the marchers on the sidewalks while thousands of Charlotte’s lunch crowd watched the passing parade, including scores of workers sitting on a low wall across from the Duke Energy headquarters where a new building is under construction. 

Various speakers took the microphone in the park, others spoke at the door of Governor Beverly Perdue’s office.  Earth First! , RAN, and The Ruckus Society founder Mike Rosselle,  and the Rev. Nelson Johnson of the Greensboro, N.C.  Beloved Community Center rallied the crowd to action on the corner across from Duke Energy. Forty-four modern heroes stepped over a line painted along the sidewalk in front of the offices of Duke Energy. Rather than coming out to address the crowd, CEO James E. Rogers authorized the arrest of these peaceful protestors, including teachers, students, nurses and doctors, workers, organizers, young and retired persons. Many who were participating in this act of  civil disobedience did so for the first time.

Be strong, be courageous, know that you’re doing the right thing and victory will be ours, Rev. Nelson Johnson called out as those risking arrest prepared to approach the line. “There is victory on the other side of Cliffside. There is victory on the other side of darkness.”

The actual arrest went peacefully. The police seemed unprepared for the large numbers of protesters and persons willing to “cross the line”. They were quoted as being, “appreciative of the organization and orderliness” of this mostly symbolic stand. The result was a virtual media coup. Local and national print and radio picked up the Associated Press feed and mobile satellite units made sure it was on national TV everywhere. Kudos to our media spokespeople for a great job!

The vigil at the jail went well into the night. Arrestees were released in batches. The final ones out the door included our van-mates Laura and Ole Sorensen, Asheville physician Richard Fireman of the N.C. Interfaith Power & Light, and Larry Gibson of Kayford Mountain. It had been a long day and an even longer night for those confined in the 2,000 capacity Mecklenberg County Jail . Those doing jail support, waiting outside, breathed a collective sigh of relief- 44 IN & 44 OUT.


Duke Energy’s Cliffside power plant has become a national symbol as one of the last bastions of dirty coal and corporate irresponsibility in ignoring economic, health, climate change and other environmental consequences, said Donna Lisenby, North Carolina Riverkeeper of the Upper Watauga River and one of the organizers of the Cliffside Rally. 

Laura & Ole free at last! The crew heads back to Asheville

Laura & Ole free at last! The crew heads back to Asheville


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