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Letters by Sarah Vekasi
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Dear friends,

            I just got out of jail! Well, I was arrested at any rate, on Monday along with 114 friends from throughout Appalachia, including Sage. We were arrested after linking arms and sitting down in front of the White House, as part of the largest national mobilization to end mountaintop removal coal mining to date called Appalachia Rising. Our request was, and is, for President Obama to put an end to war on our mountains. We linked arms and sat down all together on the sidewalk at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, while thousands of our friends surrounded us with chants, songs, signs and spirit. We said we would stay until the President came out and told us personally that he would commit to ending mountaintop removal coal mining. Instead, we were arrested and charged with an infraction “failure to obey a lawful order,” and each fined $100 after spending the day in handcuffs and getting processed.

            You probably know, I am not someone to go to jail lightly. I love freedom and do not have enough resources to take on legal fines, (we now owe $200 and would love your help paying these fines if possible). I have been to handfuls of demonstrations and been careful to avoid arrest, however, this time I willingly engaged in civil disobedience because I felt like it would really make a difference; and the reason is that Appalachia Rising was organized and primarily attended by people from within the region who have been working exhaustively now for years to spread the word about the horror going on in their homes from valley fills and mountaintop removal. This was our moment to bring this regional atrocity to a national level, and to do it by following the lead of impacted residents turned community-activist like our best man, Larry Gibson.

I have to be honest and say that I was not even considering getting arrested until I was at the weekend summit called Voices of the Mountains, and watched a new movie about this issue called Burning the Future, where Maria Gunnoe talks about her home getting flooded out and shows the scale of the mining above her home, and then the filmmakers brilliantly show the connection between the electricity we consume and the destruction of the mountains for coal. Living in Ansted, and spending all of my days involved in this movement, you would think that new documentaries would seem like “old news” – but it is not that way at all. I will never ‘get used to’ the site of a mountain being dynamited, of the gaping scars left from the draglines, the ensuing poverty left over, the poisons in our water and air….etc.

 While my tears were still fresh, Teri Blanton told us all that she was going to risk arrest because enough was enough. I have met Teri a few times, she is an organizer originally from Harlan County, Kentucky, and she said to the packed auditorium that while she has talked at many meetings, rallies, community group sessions, etc., she has never been arrested, and she was going to do it even though she didn’t really savor the thought, because it was time, way past time. I thought, well if Teri is going to do it, if Larry Gibson is going to go and get arrested again, I better stand with them. Isn’t that a part of this ministry? And so I looked at my fear straight on, and decided to willingly engage in civil disobedience.

            All in all, Appalachia Rising was a stunning success. We filled the streets with a single voice asking for an end to mountaintop removal coal mining from hollows, coves and hills throughout the region. I spent the weekend leading workshops about eco-chaplaincy and faith-based organizing, and sitting at an informational table for Christians for the Mountains, so I got to see the success in action of the event, feel the inspiration, sit with people as they realized the grief-soaked impact of mountaintop removal for the first time, and watch young people from nearly everywhere awaken to the spirit of nonviolent resistance. I cried huge tears on Monday when we marched by the offices for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), thousands strong, chanting “E.P.A. Do Your Job”…“E.P.A. Do Your Job.” I cried because they really could end mountaintop removal by doing their job – protecting the watersheds and air quality we all need to survive. And I lifted my heart and sang Amazing Grace over and over again in front of the White House and on the paddy wagon. We chanted “We say Mountain, you say Justice: Mountain! Justice! Mountain Justice!

            So I am finally home again after navigating the city, carpooling home with friends, and giving an early morning talk on campus at Warren Wilson College down the road from our house. I am glad this movement has moved into a national stage, and grateful to be a part of it. We would love any and all help continuing this momentum by calling the White House and asking for an end to mountaintop removal (202-456-1111 begin_of_the_skype_highlighting              202-456-1111      end_of_the_skype_highlighting), and staying engaged.

            Below is a copy of the invocation I gave at the beginning of the demonstration, as well as links to media stories. My sister Kristin saw a newspaper article where it said that “members of the faith community” were arrested as a part of the Appalachia Rising, and I am proud to say that was Sage, myself, and Allen Johnson, director of Christians for the Mountains! I didn’t bring my camera, but there are great pictures online on flickr if you type in “Appalachia Rising.”

If you feel moved to help support us monetarily with this, Sage and I would really appreciate it, since we are living on a prayer.  We owe $200 in legal fees and spent about $150 in gas and for food. You can send a check to PO Box 890, Swannanoa, NC 28778, or donate directly through paypal online at www.ecochaplaincy.net. (I have been having some web problems so just call me if the site doesn’t work.)

Thank you friends, I love you all. As the Reverend Billy from the Church of Stop Shopping (no joke, check him out at ….) Appalachiallujah!



Sarah Vekasi-Phillips


My invocation delivered at Freedom Plaza at the beginning of the demonstration:

Let us pray. Let us each invoke the blessing of all those who have gone before us and who are right now working together with us. Let us remember all of the native people who are from this place we love, this land, and ask for their help. Let us remember the many miners and families of miners who marched on Blair Mountain and formed the union through their toil, who fought to improve the lives of the Appalachian people, and ask their help. Let us remember the many people who have refused to leave their land, who continue to love the mountains even now, and the mountains and rivers themselves that sustain us.

            May we touch into that which we each call Holy. This is history unfolding through our actions, so let us take this moment to come into presence so that we can fully participate in it. If you are willing, allow yourself a moment to breathe into this place. Close your eyes and follow this short meditation.

Breathing in: I feel my feet on the ground, and my body planted here.

Breathing out: I hear the sounds of those around me and feel my heart beating.

Opening your eyes

Breathing in: I look around and see friends, companions, neighbors and allies all around me,

Breathing out: I know that Appalachia is Rising!

May our actions of body, speech and mind come from a place of love and compassion, for the sake of all our neighbors downstream and upwind and at home. May this day be one of power soaked in equanimity, joy and peace, and may Appalachia continue to rise.



Links from Appalachia Rising:

Appalachia Rising:http://appalachiarising.org/

CNN: http://www.cnn.com/2010/POLITICS/09/27/white.house.protest/

Democracy Now: http://www.democracynow.org/2010/9/28/appalachia_rising_100_arrested_at_white



Youtube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RYTDAAH9k9s


Sarah Vekasi-Phillips

PO Box 890, Swannanoa, NC 28778