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Mountain Mobilization Kicks off Summer of Solidarity


Waging Nonviolence

By Wren Awry

A recent anti-strip mining action in the southern coalfields of West Virginia led by Mountain Justice and RAMPS. Photo by Mountain Justice.

Listening to the talk in Washington is depressing these days for those concerned about the future of our planet. Democrats join Republicans in trying to roll back environmental regulation, any discussion of climate legislation is dead and everyone wants to expand domestic fossil fuel production. But all across America in the midst of a long, hot summer, ordinary citizens are telling a different story by confronting out-of-control energy extraction directly.

For instance, when Deirdre Lally isn’t busy fighting fracking or organizing communities, she teaches free health and nutrition classes in rural northeastern Pennsylvania. On Lally’s commute, she passes dozens of gas operation trucks and a number of active strip mines.

“While teaching children and seniors how to stay healthy, I look out the window of the classroom and I see nothing but strip mines surrounding the town,” Lally shared in a meeting between activists fighting mountaintop removal and fracking this past spring. “Poison is running into the streams and water tables and coal dust is in the air. How is a population to be healthy when extractive industries are taking over their towns?”

Lally was at Mountain Justice Spring Break, an annual training camp for anti-mountaintop removal activists. For the past several years, students, community members and activists have gathered together each spring to share skills and fight mountaintop removal, an extremely destructive form of strip mining that scrapes off the top of mountains to get to the coal seams below. Since the 1990s, a growing coalition of activists have engaged in organized resistance to mountaintop removal, using tactics as diverse as media campaigns, direct actions and lobbying.

In a region that stretches from New York to Ohio, a geologic formation called the Marcellus Shale has become a new hot spot of environmental injustice. There, gas companies are using a process called hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, which can crack the water table and lead to groundwater contamination, among other effects. In rural Pennsylvania, where Lally lives and works, gas companies are paying off landowners to frack on their property.

This year, Mountain Justice Spring Break was located in northern West Virginia, where fracking is currently wreaking havoc upon the landscape. The intention of the location was to bring activists fighting mountaintop removal in Appalachia and fracking in the Marcellus Shale region together to share skills, strategies and experiences. The camp was an early step towards a larger vision: to turn the dozens of fights against resource extraction across the country into a unified movement for land, water and health.

Beginning in late May, strategizing and discussion grew into a plethora of actions against coal, fracking and other extractive industries. These actions have included a lock down to a coal barge on a West Virginia river and two blockades of wastewater injection wells in Ohio. In central Pennsylvania, Earth First! activists at the Moshannon State Forest blockaded a road to a gas rig, leading to the first shut down of a fracking site in U.S. history. Much more is planned this summer. In August, Coal Export Action will set up camp at the state Capitol in Helena, Mt. to oppose the Otter Creek Mine and other proposed mining projects in Montana and Wyoming. The national anti-fracking movement is coming together to Stop The Frack Attack in Washington, D.C., while in north Texas, citizens are preparing to blockade the Keystone XL pipeline. Taken as a whole, the actions this summer have been nicknamed the National Uprising Against Extraction.

On July 25, southern West Virginia will again be the focus of this determined coalition of activists. Participants from across Appalachia and the country will travel to West Virginia and, in a mass act of civil resistance, shut down a strip mine. The Mountain Mobilization, as the event is being called, will be preceded by action-focused trainings. Participants will have the opportunity to build nonviolent direct action skills that they can use in the fight against strip mining or bring back to resource extraction struggles in their communities.

The mobilization is being organized by the RAMPS (Radical Action for Mountain People’s Survival) Campaign. Since its formation in early 2011, RAMPS has continued the fine Appalachian tradition of using direct action to stop strip mining. RAMPS helped organize last June’s March on Blair Mountain, a five-day walk to the site of the largest armed labor insurrection in U.S. history, which is slated to be mountaintop removal mined. Later that summer, RAMPS executed a tree sit on Coal River Mountain that, stretching to the 30-day mark, is now the longest lasting sit east of the Mississippi. This spring, they worked with a coalition of groups, including Greenpeace and Mountain Justice, to block a coal train in North Carolina.

The Mountain Mobilization represents an escalation for the RAMPS Campaign and the movement to end strip mining in Appalachia. As Tim DeChristopher pointed out, it is sustained mass action that transforms a human crisis into a political crisis which forces action from an unwilling government. This mobilization is a step towards more sustained, ongoing mass civil resistance on strip mines that the RAMPS Campaign, affiliated groups and allies hope to organize next spring.

To achieve this goal, RAMPS activists realized a bigger coalition was needed. In addition to joining with others fighting extraction, anti-strip mining activists have been building relationships with the Occupy movement and others focused on economic justice. The movement to end strip mining in Appalachia has tactical and ideological links with Occupy; it too focused on issues of economic inequality, which are at the root of strip mining and the struggle against it. Organizers from Occupy Wall Street came to the meeting at Mountain Justice Spring Break and many more are coming to the mobilization.

West Virginia and the other Appalachian states where mountaintop removal occurs—Kentucky, Tennessee and Virginia—have a long history of economic and political domination by the coal industry. Absentee landholders own much of the mountainscape of southern West Virginia. The coal industry has a vast amount of control within the state government, paving the way for egregious environmental impacts at the expense of the state’s communities.

Coal companies have long blamed the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and environmental groups for destroying the industry, but have recently admitted that diminishing resources are a key part of the decline. Arch Coal, one of the main players in the central Appalachian coal market, recently closed a strip mine in Webster County and laid off 122 workers. The Annual Energy Outlook 2012, produced by the U.S. Energy Information Administration, shows central Appalachian coal production declining up to 60 percent by the year 2020. Even West Virginia Sen. Jay Rockefeller, who has toed the coal industry line over the past several decades, recently criticized industry leaders for their unwillingness to embrace changes. In Congress, Dennis Kucinich of Ohio and Louise Slaughter of New York have introduced the Appalachian Communities Health Emergency Act. This bill would put a moratorium on mountaintop removal permits until health studies are conducted by the Department of Health and Human Services.

“King Coal is feeling the pressure like never before, and that means this is the most important time to ramp up resistance,” says Junior Walk, an organizer and lifelong southern West Virginian. “Now we decide if we let the coal industry strip it all before deserting Appalachia or if we send them packing while we still have mountains.”

And if the activists organizing the Mountain Mobilization, the participants attending it and their allies across the country keep the pressure on, it seems a lot more likely that Appalachia will still have its mountains.

Visit EcoWatch's MOUNTAINTOP REMOVAL page for more related news on this topic.


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The patient in the case report (let's call him Tom) was 54 and in good health. For two days in May, he felt unwell and was too weak to get out of bed. When his family finally brought him to the hospital, doctors found that he had a fever and signs of a severe infection, or sepsis. He tested positive for SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19 infection. In addition to symptoms of COVID-19, he was also too weak to move his legs.

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We are neurologists specializing in intensive care and leading studies related to neurological complications from COVID-19. Given the occurrence of Guillain-Barre Syndrome in prior pandemics with other corona viruses like SARS and MERS, we are investigating a possible link between Guillain-Barre Syndrome and COVID-19 and tracking published reports to see if there is any link between Guillain-Barre Syndrome and COVID-19.

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What Is Guillain-Barre Syndrome?

Guillain-Barre syndrome occurs when the body's own immune system attacks and injures the nerves outside of the spinal cord or brain – the peripheral nervous system. Most commonly, the injury involves the protective sheath, or myelin, that wraps nerves and is essential to nerve function.

Without the myelin sheath, signals that go through a nerve are slowed or lost, which causes the nerve to malfunction.

To diagnose Guillain-Barre Syndrome, neurologists perform a detailed neurological exam. Due to the nerve injury, patients often may have loss of reflexes on examination. Doctors often need to perform a lumbar puncture, otherwise known as spinal tap, to sample spinal fluid and look for signs of inflammation and abnormal antibodies.

Studies have shown that giving patients an infusion of antibodies derived from donated blood or plasma exchange – a process that cleans patients' blood of harmful antibodies - can speed up recovery. A very small subset of patients may need these therapies long-term.

The majority of Guillain-Barre Syndrome patients improve within a few weeks and eventually can make a full recovery. However, some patients with Guillain-Barre Syndrome have lingering symptoms including weakness and abnormal sensations in arms and/or legs; rarely patients may be bedridden or disabled long-term.

Guillain-Barre Syndrome and Pandemics

As the COVID-19 pandemic sweeps across the globe, many neurologic specialists have been on the lookout for potentially serious nervous system complications such as Guillain-Barre Syndrome.

Though Guillain-Barre Syndrome is rare, it is well known to emerge following bacterial infections, such as Campylobacter jejuni, a common cause of food poisoning, and a multitude of viral infections including the flu virus, Zika virus and other coronaviruses.

Studies showed an increase in Guillain-Barre Syndrome cases following the 2009 H1N1 flu pandemic, suggesting a possible connection. The presumed cause for this link is that the body's own immune response to fight the infection turns on itself and attacks the peripheral nerves. This is called an "autoimmune" condition. When a pandemic affects as many people as our current COVID-19 crisis, even a rare complication can become a significant public health problem. That is especially true for one that causes neurological dysfunction where the recovery takes a long time and may be incomplete.

The first reports of Guillain-Barre Syndrome in COVID-19 pandemic originated from Italy, Spain and China, where the pandemic surged before the U.S. crisis.

Though there is clear clinical suspicion that COVID-19 can lead to Guillain-Barre Syndrome, many important questions remain. What are the chances that someone gets Guillain-Barre Syndrome during or following a COVID-19 infection? Does Guillain-Barre Syndrome happen more often in those who have been infected with COVID-19 compared to other types of infections, such as the flu?

The only way to get answers is through a prospective study where doctors perform systematic surveillance and collect data on a large group of patients. There are ongoing large research consortia hard at work to figure out answers to these questions.

Understanding the Association Between COVID-19 and Guillain-Barre Syndrome

While large research studies are underway, overall it appears that Guillain-Barre Syndrome is a rare but serious phenomenon possibly linked to COVID-19. Given that more than 10.7 million cases have been reported for COVID-19, there have been 10 reported cases of COVID-19 patients with Guillain-Barre Syndrome so far – only two reported cases in the U.S., five in Italy, two cases in Iran and one from Wuhan, China.

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Though the reported cases of Guillain-Barre Syndrome so far all have severe symptoms, this is not uncommon in a pandemic situation where the less sick patients may stay home and not present for medical care for fear of being exposed to the virus. This, plus the limited COVID-19 testing capability across the U.S., may skew our current detection of Guillain-Barre Syndrome cases toward the sicker patients who have to go to a hospital. In general, the majority of Guillain-Barre Syndrome patients do recover, given enough time. We do not yet know whether this is true for COVID-19-related cases at this stage of the pandemic. We and colleagues around the world are working around the clock to find answers to these critical questions.

Sherry H-Y. Chou is an Associate Professor of Critical Care Medicine, Neurology, and Neurosurgery, University of Pittsburgh.

Aarti Sarwal is an Associate Professor, Neurology, Wake Forest University.

Neha S. Dangayach is an Assistant Professor of Neurology and Neurosurgery, Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai.

Disclosure statement: Sherry H-Y. Chou receives funding from The University of Pittsburgh Clinical Translational Science Institute (CTSI), the National Institute of Health, and the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine Dean's Faculty Advancement Award. Sherry H-Y. Chou is a member of Board of Directors for the Neurocritical Care Society. Neha S. Dangayach receives funding from the Bee Foundation, the Friedman Brain Institute, the Neurocritical Care Society, InCHIP-UConn Center for mHealth and Social Media Seed Grant. She is faculty for emcrit.org and for AiSinai. Aarti Sarwal does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.

Reposted with permission from The Conversation.

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"We've moved the needle a lot, especially on environmental justice and upping Biden's ambition," said Sunrise Movement co-founder and executive director Varshini Prakash, a member of the Biden-Sanders Climate Task Force. "But there's still more work to do to push Democrats to act at the scale of the climate crisis."

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In a series of tweets Wednesday night, Ocasio-Cortez—the lead sponsor of the House Green New Deal resolution—noted that the Climate Task Force "shaved 15 years off Biden's previous target for 100% clean energy."

"Of course, like in any collaborative effort, there are areas of negotiation and compromise," said the New York Democrat. "But I do believe that the Climate Task Force effort meaningfully and substantively improved Biden's positions."


The 110 pages of policy recommendations from the six eight-person Unity Task Forces on education, the economy, criminal justice, immigration, climate change, and healthcare are aimed at shaping negotiations over the 2020 Democratic platform at the party's convention next month.

Sanders said that while the "end result isn't what I or my supporters would've written alone, the task forces have created a good policy blueprint that will move this country in a much-needed progressive direction and substantially improve the lives of working families throughout our country."

"I look forward to working with Vice President Biden to help him win this campaign," the Vermont senator added, "and to move this country forward toward economic, racial, social, and environmental justice."

Biden, for his part, applauded the task forces "for helping build a bold, transformative platform for our party and for our country."

"I am deeply grateful to Bernie Sanders for working with us to unite our party and deliver real, lasting change for generations to come," said the former vice president.

On the life-or-death matter of reforming America's dysfunctional private health insurance system—a subject on which Sanders and Biden clashed repeatedly throughout the Democratic primary process—the Unity Task Force affirmed healthcare as "a right" but did not embrace Medicare for All, the signature policy plank of the Vermont senator's presidential bid.

Instead, the panel recommended building on the Affordable Care Act by establishing a public option, investing in community health centers, and lowering prescription drug costs by allowing the federal government to negotiate prices. The task force also endorsed making all Covid-19 testing, treatments, and potential vaccines free and expanding Medicaid for the duration of the pandemic.

"It has always been a crisis that tens of millions of Americans have no or inadequate health insurance—but in a pandemic, it's potentially catastrophic for public health," the task force wrote.

Dr. Abdul El-Sayed, a former Michigan gubernatorial candidate and Sanders-appointed member of the Healthcare Task Force, said that despite major disagreements, the panel "came to recommendations that will yield one of the most progressive Democratic campaign platforms in history—though we have further yet to go."


Observers and advocacy groups also applauded the Unity Task Forces for recommending the creation of a postal banking system, endorsing a ban on for-profit charter schools, ending the use of private prisons, and imposing a 100-day moratorium on deportations "while conducting a full-scale study on current practices to develop recommendations for transforming enforcement policies and practices at ICE and CBP."

Marisa Franco, director of immigrant rights group Mijente, said in a statement that "going into these task force negotiations, we knew we were going to have to push Biden past his comfort zone, both to reconcile with past offenses and to carve a new path forward."

"That is exactly what we did, unapologetically," said Franco, a member of the Immigration Task Force. "For years, Mijente, along with the broader immigrant rights movement, has fought to reshape the narrative around immigration towards racial justice and to focus these very demands. We expect Biden and the Democratic Party to implement them in their entirety."

"There is no going back," Franco added. "Not an inch, not a step. We must only move forward from here."

Reposted with permission from Common Dreams.