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Energy & Environment

A Weekend Of Protest Ends On A Spiritual Note

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Chris Schulz
/
West Virginia Public Broadcasting
Rev. William Barber, seated, and Rev. Liz Theoharis prepare for a Palm Sunday service at the gates of the Grant Town Power Plant April 10, 2022.

The Grant Town Power Plant was the focus of protests this weekend, calling on Sen. Joe Manchin to take action on climate change.

On Saturday, despite rain and snow, hundreds of protesters descended on the power plant in an action that resulted in 16 arrests.

On Sunday, a smaller group of about 50 joined in front of the Marion County plant’s gates to celebrate a Palm Sunday service.

Rev. William Barber, of the Poor People’s Campaign led the crowd in a rendition of “Walk With Me,” a traditional African-American spiritual and standard of the Civil Rights Movement.

Campaign co-chair Rev. Liz Theoharis, presided over the ceremony with Rev. Barber and said the protest was a call to action for Manchin.

“Senator Manchin, and then this coal represents a major blockage to passing of programs that could uplift the poor, that could protect the environment that could raise wages for workers,” she said.

The power plant has become a focus of climate and policy activists because of its relationship to Manchin and its pollution. Grant Town burns “gob” coal, short for “garbage of bituminous,” a dirtier and less efficient fuel the plant purchases from Enersystems, Inc.

Enersystems is owned by the Manchin family and in SEC filings, Sen. Manchin reported receiving nearly $500,000 from Enersystems in 2020 alone. Activists claim this relationship unduly influences the senator’s decisions as the chairman of the Senate's committee on energy and natural resources.

D.L. Hamilton helped organize the weekend’s activities as part of West Virginia Rising. Like many who attended the weekend’s actions, she expressed frustration at watching her elected representative block legislation she believes would help most West Virginians.

“A lot of the locals did not want this to happen, especially when they called it a blockade,” she said. “But I got to thinking, you know, Manchin has blocked so much that it just seems kind of appropriate to do a blockade.”

Hamilton said she believes the state has a bright future beyond coal, and as a native of Fayetteville, she has seen firsthand that communities can transition away from coal dependence. It just takes community, unity, and a variety of approaches

“It takes all kinds. It takes all strategies and tactics,” Hamilton said. “The fact that this was Palm Sunday. And so whatever rabble rousing happened yesterday, we're here for beauty and peace.”

In the Christian tradition, Palm Sunday commemorates a procession into Jerusalem. Rev. Theoharis drew parallels to the weekend’s action.

“That's actually what Palm Sunday is about, is being committed in our vision, that it can change and then dedicating ourselves to march on towards justice,” she said.

For now, it is a slow march. Although no concrete plans were shared, organizers said there would be more actions in the coming weeks in the hopes of enacting change.


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