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Activism, Uncensored: "West Virginia Rising" Takes on Joe Manchin
Climate change activists block the entrance to a coal company that pays the Senator a $500,000 dividend
One of the things I like about Ford Fischer’s “Activism, Uncensored” series is the longer run time better captures the feel of protest events. Particularly when they take place in remote locations, like this group called “West Virginia Rising” executing a “Coal Baron Blockade” in front of a coal plant in a place called Grant Town, there’s a ton of down time and subtle negotiation that often reveal as much as the main event.
The police are usually basically on the side of the property owners, but superficially reasonable, working with the protesters to help stage the demonstration. Good local chiefs will give in a little to shorten things, often worried as much about their own deputies as the protesters. The more time cops spend breaking up domestic calls and getting their cars puked in by addicts, the less patience they tend to have with people who are trying to get arrested, creating an urgency to keep things short.
In this instance you see the Marion County sheriff, named Jimmy Riffle, working with the lawyer for “West Virginia Rising” to negotiate the “blockade.” The protesters’ aim is to draw attention to Enersystems, a company founded by Manchin that paid him a $500,000 dividend in 2020 alone. The plant, as Fischer notes, processes “Gob,” a form of coal waste that requires extra refining. Manchin is more heavily invested in this kind of energy business than any other Senator, making his position as chair of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee a particularly troublesome one for energy activists.
The main event goes off smoothly enough, with police waiting with bored faces for protesters to lock arms in a “Sleeping Dragon” maneuver, before hauling the line of them all off together. There’s a comic scene where Ford interviews two cheerful activists while a deputy tries and seemingly fails to figure out a way to cut PVC tubing with a set of long nose pliers. Later, things take an ugly turn after protesters try sneaking onto the property through a back route, leading to rough stuff. In between, we hear from farmers, miners, and demonstrators, many of whom have choice words for their “Coal Baron” Senator.