Wednesday, September 02, 2009

West Virginia rally latest example of coal interests mining the grassroots for lobbying boost

A rally and concert dubbed "Friends of America" by its pro-coal sponsors has become the latest example of a growing trend among grassroots organizing by coal interests. Law-enforcement officials are preparing to accommodate as many as 70,000 people for the Labor Day rally featuring musicians Hank Williams Jr., John Rich, Ted Nugent and conservative commentator Sean Hannity, David White of The Charleston Gazette reports.

"There obviously has been an increase in grassroots community-type action and demonstrations in this area," West Virginia University political science professor Chuck Smith told Michelle Saxton of the Charleston Daily Mail. "The most recent development is obviously in response to their concern that the people who are moving to have mountaintop removal ended are being increasingly successful in bringing public attention to that issue."

Saxton points to the Federation for American Coal, Energy, and Security, which bills itself as FACES of Coal, a coalition of more than 70 different organizations joined by a common support of the industry, joining Friends of America and Friends of Coal, created by the West Virginia Coal Association, in leading the new pro-coal grassroots movement. FACES coordinator Brian Brown told Saxton that the group is not a political or lobbying group but does encourage members to "voice their opinions on coal-related issues and benefits." (Read more)

The Labor Day rally will be held on a former surface mine in Logan County and is billed as a way "to stand up for American jobs," White reports. Massey Energy has joined with the coal association, International Coal Group and other corporate sponsors to fund the free concert. The Center for Biological Diversity, Credo Mobile and several anti-mountaintop-removal bloggers have urged Verizon Wireless to pull its sponsorship of the event. Verizon spokesman Jim Gerace told Ken Ward of the Charleston Gazette that the sponsorship amounted to a $1,000 payment to be able to sell their products at the rally, but that didn't stop ICG Vice President Gene Kitts from tweeting his appreciation for Verizon "supporting the working people who actually pay the cell phone bills, even for clueless kids." (Read more)

Coal is also calling on the musical tradition of the mountains in its new organizing strategy. Friends of America performers Taylor Made have published a song rallying against the environmentalist opponents of coal mining. "This is coal mining country, that's what we do, and we don't like you nosing around. For years we've had your kind trying to undermine the West Virginia underground," Taylor Made sings.

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