Nonviolent direct actions against coal: 2011

From Global Energy Monitor

Information on earlier actions as well as on the anti-coal movement in particular states or countries can be found at the following articles:


Nonviolent direct action - a term which, in contemporary social movements, is usually used to refer to acts of civil disobedience, in which activists blockade or occupy public or private space - has become an increasingly common tactic of anti-coal climate activists since 2005. While Greenpeace has used direct action tactics since the 1970's, since 2004 other climate justice, Appalachian environmental justice and anti-mountaintop removal movements (such as Rising Tide, Rainforest Action Network, Earth First!, Mountain Justice Summer, and indigenous groups) have used direct action tactics in order to escalate pressure on coal mining and power companies, financial institutions which invest in coal companies, and government officials that support the coal industry. Anti-coal activists have staged dozens of such direct actions in the past few years, many of which have been highly successful at directing public attention toward the growing anti-coal movement.[1][2]

Definition and history of nonviolent direct action

The term "direct action" refers to political activities which attempt to bring about changes in the world in a direct and unmediated way. This concept of mediation is key to the distinction, drawn by many proponents of direct action, between direct and symbolic action: in a symbolic action, participants appeal to government officials or other power-holders to make changes on their behalf, while, in a direct action, participants directly make the changes that they want to see in the world.[3]

Several categories of political and economic activities can thus be understood as direct actions:

  1. Strikes or boycotts against economic authorities
  2. Blockades and occupations of physical spaces
  3. Destruction of property or resources
  4. Violent resistance against authorities
  5. Building alternatives to existing social/economic relationships

Descriptions of specific actions

Wendell Berry Speaks with Jeff Biggers about Sit-in

February 11, 2011: Wendell Berry Joins Retired Coal Miners and Residents in Kentucky Rising Capitol Sit-in

On Friday, February 11, 2011, poet and activist Wendell Berry joined a group of affected coalfield residents, retired coal miners and bestselling authors have launched a sit-in in the office of Kentucky Governor Steve Beshear to oppose the practice of mountaintop removal.

“I feel good about our conversation with governor because he made our difference very plain and clean cut. He thinks that all we have on our side are our own personal opinions, and that he evidently has on his side established governmental policy," Wendell Berry was quoted as saying after meeting with Kentucky Governor Steve Beshear. "And he thinks that surface mining can be done without harm to the land or streams or the people. It’s very plain to me that nobody on our side thinks that it is true because they’ve seen the results with their eyes or experienced the results in their own families and homes. I would say moreover that the idea here that two sides can legitimately disagree is simply wrong. I don’t think there can be a legitimate disagreement about the destruction of ecosystems and watersheds.”

Protesters left the Governor's office on the morning of Monday, February 14, 2011. A total of 14 people participated in the weekend long sit-in.[4][5]

Coal Activist Reports in from Banner Hang

Protester and Morehead State University Professor John Hennen stated that when the group of activists spoke with Gov. Beshear the two sides did not come to an agreement, but the governor said he'd visit coal fields and residents in Eastern Kentucky, an area affected by mountaintop removal.

“He heard some of our concerns and consented to come and visit some of the coal fields and meet with coal residents in eastern Kentucky whose lives and properties have been directly damaged,” said Prof. Hennen.[6]

February 17, 2011: Greenpeace Activists Climb Coal Plan in Connecticut

On Feb. 17, 2011, Greenpeace activists scaled the Bridgeport Harbor coal plant and unfurled a 20 X 40 ft banner with the message "Shut it Down: Quit Coal." The event marked the first major action of Greenpeace's 'Quit Coal' campaign, which seeks to highlight the devastating consequences of continuing to rely on the fossil fuel in the United States. According to Greenpeace, the Bridgeport Harbor plant is an old, polluting coal plant that is no longer necessary to provide power to the Connecticut grid, and should be shut down to mitigate the worst effects of global climate change.[7]

Police cut the banner down, and at least five activists were reportedly arrested for their connection with the event.[7]

February 22, 2011: Washington University students shut down "clean coal" meeting

On Feb. 22, 2011, a National Coal Council meeting in downtown St. Louis was canceled following a protest from Washington University Green Action. Directly after council members had finished taking roll call, students from Green Action and Missourians Organized for Reform and Empowerment entered the meeting at the Hilton St. Louis at the Ballpark. The students unfurled a banner proclaiming, “Coal is never clean” and sang, “Clean coal is a dirty lie.” The group was escorted from the hotel by two officers from the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department. The Hilton’s head of security had not yet arrived at the event. Following the disturbance, the council chose to cancel the meeting. The National Coal Council is a federal advisory committee to the U.S. secretary of energy. The meeting, which was open to the public, was intended to review an ongoing study on the use of carbon capture and sequestration technologies. The CEOs of St. Louis-based Peabody Energy and Arch Coal are both on the council and are members of the University’s board of trustees. After being escorted out, Green Action members continued their protest outside of the Hilton, where they engaged with passersby and various news outlets.[8]

February 23, 2011: Protests in Utah against Longview Terminal

On Feb. 23, 2011, clean-energy backers rallied outside the Salt Lake City office of Australian company Ambre Energy to oppose the company's proposed port expansion of the Millennium Bulk Logistics Longview Terminal. Millennium Bulk Terminals (MBT), a subsidiary of Ambre Energy, owns the existing bulk commodity terminal on the Columbia River near Longview, Washington, and is seeking approval to use it for the export of coal to Asia.[9] Protestors were also supporting climate activist Tim DeChristopher, who will soon face trial for disrupting a federal oil and gas lease sale. DeChristopher’s Peaceful Uprising group, along with the Rainforest Action Network, sponsored the rally.[10]

February 28, 2011: Massive protest against Phulbari and Barpukuria mines in Bangladesh

On February 28, 2011, roughly 2,000 protesters blockaded a highway in the Phulbari region of Bangladesh, location of the proposed Phulbari Coal Project. The protesters demanded that the government honor a six-point agreement signed in 2006. The agreement bans open pit coal mining throughout Bangladesh and calls for the permanent expulsion of GCM Resources from the country. Demonstrators also demanded rehabilitation for lands damaged by land subsidence around the Barapukuria Coal Mine.[11]

April 2011: Rising Tide North America stages bank protest in Portland, Oregon

On Sunday, April 2, 2011, activists affiliated with Portland's Rising Tide chapter targeted major banks in the Portland metro areas as a call to them to divest from the fossil fuel infrastructure, including coal. The banks included Wells Fargo and Bank of America for this investments in practices such as mountaintop removal. Some participants staged a "die-in" on sidewalks while others used mud to stick "dirty money" to bank walls and windows, letting customers know the banks were "closed for climate crimes". No arrests were reported.[12]

April 2011: Activists Stage Sit-in at Dept. of Interior in Washington D.C.

On April 18, 2011 over a thousand climate activists marched to the Department of the Interior’s headquarters in Washington DC, with 21 people being arrested after they committed civil disobedience inside inside the building where they performed a sit-in. The group called for the abolition of offshore oil drilling, coal mining and tar sands extraction.

“The Dept. of Interior has been allowing the killing of my community and Appalachia’s mountains by the coal industry for decades,” said Junior Walk from Boone County, West Virginia. “King Coal has poisoned Appalachia with toxic water, toxic air and toxic waste. It’s time for real action, not merely political posturing. I commend these fiery activists taking risks and making change for our communities and the climate.”

It was reported that the group was led by residents of residents of the Gulf Coast, Appalachia and the interior West – regions the group stated is directly impacted by oil, gas and coal extractive industries. Participants called for the Obama Administration and the federal agency to phase out harmful mining and drilling practices and facilitate transitions to sustainable local energy systems.[13][14]

May 2011: Activists stop coal barge, climb on coal plant in Illinois

I Can't Sit By: Stopping Coal in Chicago

On May 24, 2011, Greenpeace activists stopped a coal barge from the Pulaski Bridge, displaying a banner on the river bridge that said “We can stop coal” and “Nosotros podemos parar el carbόn.” Dangling above the water, the presence of the activists prevented three coal barges from passing, according to the activsts. From the bridge, the activists proclaimed to Edison International that people have the right to choose clean energy for their communities. They demanded that Edison International shut down the Fisk and Crawford plants. In spring 2011, the Chicago City Council failed to vote on the Chicago Clean Power Ordinance, which would have forced the plants to clean up or shut down.[15]

In a separate action the same day, Greenpeace activists climbed the smokestack of the Fisk Generating Station and unfurled yellow banners with "Quit Coal" printed on them. After several hours atop the structure, several of the climbers rappelled down the smokestack and painted the same words on it. The eight activists were arrested and released on bail on May 26, and are scheduled to appear in court on July 1, 2011. They are charged with felony criminal damage to property.[16]

June 2011: March on Blair Mountain

June 6, 2011 began a 5-day march on Blair Mountain in West Virginia to draw attention to a historic labor battle, the Battle of Blair Mountain, and to prevent the destruction of the historic site - Blair Mountain - through mountaintop removal mining.

In 1921, 10,000 unionizing coal miners battled police and armed guards on the mountain, making the conflict the largest armed uprising since the Civil War and only ending when federal troops intervened. The miners sought the right to be paid by the hour and not by the ton, a 5-day work week, and fair and equal pay. At least 16 men perished in the event before the miners surrendered to federal troops on September 5, 1921.

Appalachia Rising and supporters hoped to tell the story of the coal miners who fought for principles that helped shape modern U.S. labor laws. Additionally, they hoped to keep Blair Mountain from becoming subject to mountaintop removal mining. According to Appalachia Rising's March on Blair Mountain's website, the march was intended as "a peaceful, unifying event involving environmental justice organizations, union workers, scholars, artists, and other citizen groups. Today, Blair Mountain, like dozens of other historic mountains throughout the region, is being threatened by mountaintop removal and it is here that a new generation of Appalachians takes a stand. By working to preserve this mountain we are demanding an end to the destructive practices of MTR that threatens to strip Central Appalachia of its history, its economic potential and its health."

Participants in the 5-day march sought to protect the historic battlefield by putting it on the National Register of Historic Places. Such a designation would not automatically stop mining, but it would slow down the review process. Surprisingly, the battlefield on Blair Mountain was once briefly on the National Register of Historic Places. It was later removed by a federal law that barring sites from inclusion if the majority of the landowners object. After a review of the dissenters, state and federal agencies reviewing the case ruled that the opponents dominated.

The 2011 memorial march began in Marmet and continued over 50 miles and 5 days, traversing narrow country roads used now by coal trucks. The route is the same one coal miners took in the summer of 1921.[17]

June 2011: Greenpeace dumps coal at Eskom

On June 27, 2011, Greenpeace protesters blocked one of the entrances of the Eskom headquarters with five tons of coal, to publicly demand that Eskom stop the construction of the Kusile Power Station and shift to renewables. The activists held banners calling on Eskom to clean up its act and stop coal.

Kusile coal-fired power plant will be one of the biggest coal-fired power stations in the world, with 4,800 MW of power production, using 17 million tons of coal per year. According to Greenpeace, the action highlighted the true cost of Eskom’s addiction to coal: environmental destruction at every step, the pollution of scarce water supplies, and the destruction of people’s health and wellbeing.

Greenpeace Africa’s climate and energy campaigner Melita Steele said: “To date, Eskom’s investments in renewable energy are limited to tiny projects of 100MW of wind and 100MW of solar. This illustrates Eskom’s lack of commitment to a sustainable future for South Africa.”

Greenpeace Africa’s 2011 report, "The Advanced Energy (R)evolution", says that South Africa - as the largest CO2 emitter on the continent, and the 12th largest in the world - has a moral responsibility to address climate change, and that switching to 50% renewables by 2030 would create 150,000 direct jobs.

According to Steele, “Greenpeace has tried repeatedly to engage with Eskom about its addiction to coal and nuclear energy. Eskom has however not shown any intention of changing its tune. Today Greenpeace publicly calls on Eskom to clean up its act."[18]

July 2011: Direct action halts coal seam gas rig in Australia

On July 5, 2011 the NSW Nature Conservation Council released a statement stating that peaceful protesters stopped a coal seam gas exploration rig in the Pilliga Forest, south of Narrabri, Australia. One protester in climbing gear was suspended high above the ground at the top of a 25 metre rig at an Eastern Star Gas operation, with another group of protesters on site. Local groups Friends of the Pilliga and the Northern Inland Council for the Environment, and Newcastle-based Rising Tide conducted the action to highlight the environmental costs of Eastern Star’s proposed 1100 gas well project in the Pilliga Forest.[19]

August 2011: Tree-Sit on Coal River Mountain

On July 20, 2011, protesters associated with the RAMPS Campaign halted blasting on a portion of Alpha Natural Resources’ Bee Tree mountaintop removal mine by ascending two trees and hanging banners that read “Stop Strip Mining” and “For Judy Bonds” in honor of the strip mining activist. The activists demand that Alpha Natural Resources stop strip mining on Coal River Mountain and that the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection prohibit future strip mining in the Coal River Watershed. As of January 2011, Marfork Coal Company, a subsidiary of Alpha, has destroyed about 75 acres of Coal River Mountain on the Bee Tree permit, the only active mountaintop removal permit on the mountain. Lisa Henderson, Judy Bonds’ daughter and Coal River Valley resident, said she saw the action as a continuation of her mother’s work.[20]

On July 27, 2011 it was reported that that two tree-sit activists, Junior Walk and Eli Schewel, were arrested by state police on the first day of the tree-sit protest and charged with trespassing at the Bee Tree surface mine site.[21] It was reported on August 3, 2011 that Becks Kolins, who had been occupying a tree in protest, descended the tree voluntarily and was arrested a day earlier by the West Virginia State Police. Kolins, along with Catherine-Ann MacDougal, had been sitting in a tree eighty feet above the ground since July 20th to protest the strip mining of Coal River Mountain. [22]

Catherine-Ann MacDougal remained in her tree remained in her tree until August 19, 2011 at which point she descended. “The reality of limited resources now necessitates my descent but this is not the last they will see of us. I plan to remain here and fight for this mountain for years to come,” said MacDougal.[23]

August 2011: Fifteen arrested taking action against Peabody in St. Louis, Missouri

On August 15, 2011 fifteen people were arrested in St. Louis, Missouri while protesting the practices of Bank of America (BoA) and Peabody Energy. Over a hundred people marched in protest of BoA's coal investments and Peabody's coal mining activities. The arrests occurred in a downtown St. Louis intersection that connects Bank of America’s regional offices and Peabody’s world headquarters. The actions were carried out by Midwest Rising! Convergence, a group associated with Rising Tide North America.

Activist Scott Parking wrote, "Midwest Rising was a convergence for climate and economic justice that brought together a diverse coalition of groups fighting home foreclosures in cities like Chicago, St. Louis and Pittsburgh, communications workers on strike against Verizon Wireless, local labor organizers, Appalachian activists fighting mountaintop removal and climate justice activists from around the world."[24]

September 2011: Protester chains himself to test drilling rig

In September 2011 an environmentalist chained himself to a test drilling rig that was located eight metres off the ground to protest the Bacchus Marsh coal mine project. The activist, Shaun Murray, of the Switch Off Coal group, said he would not leave until has was removed forcibly. He said he had a group of supporters that were helping him maintain his protest.

The activist said he was prepared to be charged with trespass. "There is police here and they've asked me to leave, but I've told them I wouldn't be leaving voluntarily," he said. "I'm prepared to stay here for as long it takes. At the end of the day if I haven't been removed I'll probably call it a day and consider that a good day's work. But I expect the police will call a search and rescue unit and bring a cherry picker to cut me off."[25]

October 2011: Anti-coal group stages "zombie" march on banks

On Halloween 2011 in Portland, Oregon a man dressed as a zombie was arrested during a protest by members of Portland's Rising Tide at a downtown Bank of America. The activists, calling themselves "zombie army against coal" were protesting the bank's loans to coal companies.[26]

November 2011: Greenpeace protests South African coal plant, 9 arrested

Authorities arrested nine people at the Kusile power station near Witbank in South Africa on November 7, 2011. Greenpeace activists chained themselves to a gate while others climbed a crane to protest dependence on coal just weeks before the country hosts a global conference on climate change. The plant is owned by the state-owned power company Eskom, the country's number one greenhouse gas emitter.[27]

December 2011: Protesters Target Navajo Generating Station

On December 2, 2011 sixteen people were arrested at the Salt River Project (SRP) offices in Tempe, Arizona. The protesters demanded that SRP shut down the Navajo Generating Station. The protest was the third in three days, all targeting the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). ALEC is a policy research group that focuses on building private-public partnerships. SRP lobbyist Russell Smolden is Arizona’s private sector chair in ALEC.[28]



  1. Ted Nace, Stopping Coal in Its Tracks, Orion Magazine, January/February 2008.
  2. Mountain Justice SummerPrevious Actions, April 2008.
  3. What is Direct Action?. Infoshop website, accessed January 2008.
  4. "Wendell Berry Joins Retired Coal Miners and Residents in Kentucky Rising Capitol Sit-in" Jeff Biggers,, February 11, 2011.
  5. "Monday Roundup: Coal Protest Continues" Daily Yonder, February 14, 2011.
  6. "Protester Says Beshear Will Visit Eastern Kentucky Coal Fields After Sit-In" Gabe Bullard, February 14, 2011.
  7. 7.0 7.1 Brian Merchant, "Live Blogging: Detained by Police at Greenpeace Anti-Coal Protest" Tree Hugger, Feb. 17, 2011.
  8. Michelle Tab, "Coal meeting canceled after student-led protest" Student Life, Feb. 22, 2011.
  9. Ambre Energy, "Ambre Energy completes acquisition of Port site in Longview, Washington", Media Release, January 13, 2011.
  10. Brandon Loomis, "Protesters rally in SLC against coal-export plan" The Salt Lake Tribune, Feb. 23, 2011.
  11. Kate Hoshour, "Massive protest against Phulbari & Barapukuria coal mines in Bangladesh," International Accountability Project, March 4, 2011
  12. "Wells Fargo, Bank of America Closed for Climate Crimes" nickengelfried, It's Getting Hot in Here, April 3, 2011.
  13. "Activists Staging Sit-in at Dept. of Interior Demanding Phase Out of Fossil Fuels" Tanuki, It's Getting Hot in Here, April 18, 2011.
  14. "21 Arrested Staging Sit-in at Dept. of Interior Demanding Phase Out of Fossil Fuels" Press Release, Rising Tide North America, April 18, 2011.
  15. ceaton, "BREAKING: Greenpeace activists stop coal shipment at Pulaski Bridge in Chicago" Greenpeace, May 24, 2011.
  16. Dick Johnson and BJ Lutz, "Anti-Coal Activists Released from Jail" NBC Chicago, May 27, 2011.
  17. Mark Johanson, "Saving Blair Mountain: Hundreds March in West Virginia" IB Traveler, June 7, 2011.
  18. "Greenpeace demands Eskom cleans up its act" My Broadband, June 27, 2011.
  19. "Direct action halts coal seam gas rig" NSW Nature Conversion Council, Green Left Weekly, July 5, 2011.
  20. "Activists Block Mining Operations on Coal River Mountain" Rampsmedia, July 20, 2011.
  21. "Activists sit in trees vs. W.Va. coal firm", July 27, 2011.
  22. "Tree-Sit on Coal River Mountain Continues after One Sitter Arrested" July 27, 2011.
  23. "Tree-sit Concludes After Thirty Days of Blocking Work on Coal River Mountain" RAMPS, August 19, 2011.
  24. "Fifteen Arrested Taking Action Against Banks and Big Coal in St. Louis" Scott Parkin, It's Getting Hot in Here, August 15, 2011.
  25. "I won't budge, coal-mine protester says" Adam Cooper, The Age, September 19, 2011.
  26. "Portland police arrest protester dressed as zombie", November 1, 2011.
  27. "Greenpeace protests SAfrica coal plant; 9 arrests" Associated Press, Donna Bryson, November 7, 2011.
  28. "Protesters Target Salt River Project's Coal-Fired Power Plant" Devin Browne, Fronteras, December 9, 2011.

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