Maria Gunnoe is a long time activist in the coalfields resisting mountaintop removal coal mining. Her and her family were nearly killed by flooding caused by a nearby strip mine several years ago. The flooding ended up washing away over 5 acres of her land which has been in her family for generations. In the wake of a recent court injunction against a new mine permit near her homestead, Maria has received several death threats. These are to be taken seriously, resistors in the coalfields have had there pets killed, houses burned, and attempts on their lives from coal company thugs. Below is her account of what happened
On September the 19th we (OVEC members) had a meeting on the proposed valley fill that Jupiter Coal company wants to put in Dry Branch hollow in Bim, WV. This meeting was to help to engage local people in legal battle to stop a proposed valley fill in Dry Branch Hollow. The meeting was held in a community building in Wharton WV, near my home, that I had rented for the evening in OVEC’s name. The meeting was due to start at 6:00 and around 5:30 the workers from Jupiter Coal Company started gathering in the parking lot. Within 15 minutes the workers had filled the parking lot blocking any areas for any community members to park so instead of coming to the meeting they had no choice but to pass by.
I went to the parking lot to ask these men to leave to allow people to park and this is when things started getting ugly. The workers literally surrounded 79-year-old Jim Foster (OVEC member and retired UMW deep miner) and were screaming at him calling him stupid and instigating anger in an elder man with heart problems.
The workers were very threatening and intimidating and made verbal threats on myself (“You might move and you might not”-“Your not gonna win Gunnoe No Matter what you won’t win.”) and other members of OVEC that were present this evening. Some of the workers were drunk and all was out of control. At 6:00 PM when the meeting was due to start the mass of workers came crashing into the building. Vivian Stockman and myself (my co-worker) were literally pushed out of the doorway by a mass of angry workers.
My daughter is 13 and attended this meeting also she got very upset and was crying. One of the workers actually winked at a crying 13-year-old child that they had upset. Just to let you know the mentality of these workers. The workers invading the building and taking every seat in the building shut down the meeting. We then continued the meeting on at the end of a dead-end road next to where I live.
Since this there has been many threats on my and my children’s safety in our home. There was a young man that works for Jupiter that said to a friend that “it was odd sometimes how houses just catch on fire and people died in them.” The workers have organized at a local convenience store to help garner support for the jobs. They have started petitions and posted a 4X8 foot letter on the front of the building blaming me for the loss of their jobs and referring to people who don’t want this valley fill as idiots who think rocks and trees are more important than jobs. Problem is this carryout is also my children’s bus stop and it is also where our post office is. So it is not a place that I can not go. There has been a man on an ATV pass by my home in the wee hours of the morning (2-4 am) and he wears stripes (workers uniforms have broad orange strips) and he was followed the last time and he drove straight to the mine office at Jupiter Coal Company. Also there was about 15 of them that just walked by my house in the middle of the night. There is a railroad track that runs very close to my home and this is where they were walking. They weren’t threatening but they were intimidating simply by their presence after the threats that they have made I was very unsure of outcome of this organized walk by my home.
In response to these threats I have people helping guard my place 24-7 to watch over my home while I am working and sleeping. I am also in the process of getting video cameras set up around my home. This has become a very real threat to my children and me. My son looked at me the other night and said Mom I am afraid to go lay down I am afraid they will burn us up in our home while we sleep.
I am very concerned for our safety at this point because the judge did rule in our favor and now these men are likely to get laid off. This is where it will start getting really serious. The workers are brain washed by the company to believe that their jobs are more important than our lives and they firmly believe that. I was asked “Why don’t you just leave?” This is what they want. They want me out of here for many reasons and the main reason they want me out is because I am successful in organizing the community members here to fight their activities. I live on my family property and refuse to give up the only memories I have of my family before me. They want me out at all cost and I refuse to go dead or alive.