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Some notes on the March on Blair Mountain logistics

A March on Blair Mountain organizer readies his walkie talkie as he prepares for the start of the March on Monday. Coordinating approximately 250 marchers is one logistical challenge for the March team. | Photo by M.L. Ramsburg

 

BY M.L. RAMSBURG

It undoubtedly takes a lot of preparations to plan a 50 mile, 5 day march. Elliot Grayson, one of the media liaisons for the March on Blair Mountain, said organizers spent at least six months making preparations for the event. And with good reason. According to March reps, there are 250 marchers currently in route to Blair, and a total of 600 to 1,000 (estimates vary, according to whom you ask) are expected at the rally on Saturday. So what all does it take to make such a large event run as smooth as possible? A look at some of the March logistics and safety.

  •  Organizers use a color-coding system to group individuals together. According to Grayson, each attendee is assigned a certain color, and then becomes a member of that color group. This allows organizers to help marchers locate their personal goods (goods can be transported together based on color group), Grayson said. It also helps members quickly band together in the event of an emergency, she said. In addition to individual color groups, organizers have also divided various volunteer tasks by color. Team members wearing red armbands, for instance, are in charge of medical assistance. Those with purple assist the press.
  •  Andrew Munn, core community organizer and logstics team member, said there are eight trained EMT marchers who are there to help with first-aid medical response in the event of an emergency. EMTs will have access to medical supplies, Munn told me. Although he was unsure of exactly what types/numbers of supplies were available, he said that most of the items on hand would be used as a first response, until other emergency responders could arrive on the scene. As per Blair Mountain Media reps, at the time of this writing, no injuries have occurred.
  • Munn also said that Kanawha County, Boone County, Logan County, Marmet, Madison, and West Virginia State police will all lend their support in keeping marchers and others safe during the journey. In Marmet on Monday, police helped to escort the marchers safely through town.
  • Grayson, the media liaison, said that for every person who attends the march, 10 gallons of water are needed each day. Water is transported in “water buffalos”, or large storage tanks, Grayson told me. Drinking water is provided throughout the trip, and stops are made as needed, she said.
  • March organizers have collected safety information on all attendees, Grayson told me. In addition, marchers were required to take a mandatory training session that went over safety, conflict de-escalation, and other topics of importance to the march, Grayson said. According to the March on Blair Mountain’s official website, another training session will be offered for participants in Saturday’s rally.
  • Food for the marchers will be transported daily to the march sites, Grayson said. Meals will be prepared on site. The menu, Grayson said, was prepared by two chefs, and march volunteers help in the food prep. All meals are planned according to daily nutritional needs, she said. According to the March website, vegetarian options are also available for those who choose them.
  • A team of volunteer drivers transport supplies, including those items brought by March attendees, Grayson said. Volunteer drivers are also available to transport those feeling ill or not able to walk, she said.
  • Portable toilets will be transported during the journey, Grayson said. And showers? “Those are harder to come by,” she said.

The Day | Marchers’ first night camping interupted, but Tuesday brings cheering schoolkids and money

March on Blair Mountain participants prepare to start their walk on Monday. After arriving in Racine Monday evening, they were asked to leave county-owned John Slack Park, where they had set up camp. Marchers complied with the request, and returned to Marmet. | Photo by M.L. Ramsburg

 

BY M.L. RAMSBURG

March on Blair Mountain attendees were ushered off a Racine park where they had set up camp late Monday night.

According to the March on Blair Mountain website, around 10 p.m. Monday night, “Boone County Officials showed up and told us that we no longer had permission to camp in the park, and that if we didn’t leave we’d all be arrested.” The Marchers had set up camp at the John Slack Park in Boone County. A media liaison representing the March said the group’s logistics team had received advanced permission from the park director to stay overnight on the property. The liaison said she did not know the park director’s name because she was not a member of the logistics team planning the overnight stays.

Jim Gore, Boone county commission administrator, confirmed that he was the one who met the group at John Slack Park Monday night. Gore said that representatives of the march had contacted his office three times about staying on the park grounds, and each time, he said, his office responded with a no, citing a 32-year old rule that prevents overnight camping on John Slack grounds.

“Marchers have a right to march,” Gore said in a telephone interview Tuesday. “But they [the no-overnight camping rules] are rules we enforce for everyone.”

Gore said Marchers were given a few hours to leave the site’s premise.  He said that everything went over fairly “smooth”.

Both Gore and March on Blair Mountain representatives say Marchers agreed to leave without incident. A post on the group’s website about the order says marchers,  “decided to leave because we aren’t marching to take a stand at this park, or confront the Boone County Commissioner.”

After leaving John Slack Park, marchers were taken back to the group’s headquarters in Marmet, a media liaison said. On Tuesday, they were driven from Marmet to their Tuesday starting point. They were expected to arrive in Madison later Tuesday evening.

Also on Tuesday, the March on Blair Mountain website posted a request for donations, asking each of it’s nearly 1,000 “virtual marchers” to donate $5 each.

“We’re arranging alternative camping arrangements, and ensuring that we have walkie-talkies and safety equipment to keep everyone safe and secure,” the website reads. “Bottom line is, we need to raise $5,000 to keep the March moving safely and securely.”

By 8:00 p.m. Tuesday, a post on the group’s Twitter account (@marchonblairmt) revealed that they had raised 80% of their goal monies.

Tuesday’s marching was met with high temperatures and some afternoon storms. But that didn’t seem to keep organizers from keeping up their optimism. Tuesday afternoon, another tweet revealed, “Marchers have been cheered on by 40 schoolkids, given money by supportive locals, and there has been a general positive response!”

“The Day” brings you up-to-date on what has happened at the March on Blair Mountain within the past 24-hours.

March attendee: “I was very amazed that this is something we don’t teach”

Regardless of whether you agree with the principles of the March on Blair Mountain, it’s hard  to deny that the event acts as a catalyst for helping others learn about the history of Blair. And, considering most school children — or adults, for that matter — have most likely never heard the story of Blair, that’s an important aspect of the event. Recently, I caught up with a young lady from Pennsylvania who shared how she first heard about Blair (it’s rich historical past, and the present conditions that in many ways are effecting its very existence). Here’s a short audio version of her story. [Running time: 01:11]

NOTE: As a means of reference, the Brandon the woman in the audio clip refers to is Brandon Nida. As you may recall, Brandon Nida was featured in an earlier post, which can be accessed here.

81 year old former underground coal miner: “We’re invested here”

AUDIO/PHOTO  BY M.L. RAMSBURG
Leonard Petry worked as an underground coal miner for over 30 years. The 81 year old Cabin Creek, West Virginia resident said he still gets a paycheck in the form of retirement pay from his days as a coal miner. He said he understands the importance coal plays in West Virginia’s economy. Still, he said, “the mining of coal can be done a lot cleaner and a lot more efficient.” In this audio report, Leonard speaks about why he thinks strip mining — otherwise known as mountaintop removal — is not the solution. [Running time: 01:24]

Faces in the Crowd | Scott, the Coal Miner’s Grandson

AUDIO/PHOTO BY M.L. RAMSBURG

Scott Coffman, a resident of Hurricane, West Virginia, said he is unable to make the entire march to Blair mountain. He was, however, at the march’s start on Monday, and he said he will be at the culminating rally this coming Saturday in Blair. Scott is the grandson of a coal miner. He says mining’s not the problem — but blasting the top off a mountains is. [Running time: 01:00]

“Faces in the Crowd” is an occasional series of profiles on March attendees and supporters.

Some voices of opposition meet marchers in Marmet

Counter protesters hold a sign showing their opposition to the marchers in Marmet on Monday, June 6. / M.L. Ramsburg Photo

BY M.L. RAMSBURG

MARMET, WEST VIRGINIA — As reported in an earlier post, the Blair Mountain marchers faced some of their first – albeit small – groups of counter protesters in Marmet, West Virginia on Monday. Some counter protesters stood on the sidewalk holding signs that read things like, “Coal keeps the lights on.” Others remained empty handed, watching the marchers pass in front of small businesses along Marmet’s main route.  A few counter protesters and observers were asked their opinions on what they were seeing. This is some of the opposition’s reactions. [Running time: 01:25]

Photo Essay | March signs send messages – perhaps some more than others

TEXT/PHOTOS BY M.L. RAMSBURG

One of the hallmark staples of a political, social or environmental movement that calls for the gathering of any amount of people in this democracy of ours is the tried and true position sign. The March on Blair Mountain is no different. Banded with a similar ideology, Blair marchers have reduced their messages to micro sizes, attaching words with art to form symbols of their values. A fancy, artful, tangible tweet to the world, if you will.

The messages of the signs are simple, for the most part. Short, and to the point. “I love coal.” “Save Blair Mountain.” “Abolish mountaintop removal.” The information is clear, thoughtful, easy to decipher. The signs speak for themselves.

The marchers aren’t the only ones with the signs, of course. The opposition has their own, too. Just as their stranger/enemies, they know that to catch the attention of others — the media, say, or the passer-by — they need to be brief, catchy, to the point. “Coal keeps your lights on.” “No coal= No electric.” “Friends of coal.”

Still, I would argue that it’s not always the sign’s catchy design, or simple words, that is so easily understood. Sometimes, the messages are better left hidden, wordless, yet blaring loud all the same. Sometimes, you see, it’s the sign with no words that sends the loudest message.

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