Aug 242011

Science teacher Martin Mudd recently returned from a two hour stint in Governor Steve Beshear’s office as part of the ongoing Sit-In for the Mountains. Mudd spent his time there lying on the ground beneath a homemade tomstone that read, “RIP: In memory of our friends in Appalachia past present and not yet born who suffer under the sin of strip mining.” North of Center tracked down Mudd, a Lexington resident living in Kenwick, to ask him a couple questions.

NoC: Why were you in Frankfort last weekend?

Mudd: I went to Frankfort last Thursday to occupy the Governor’s office and send the message to Steve Beshear that people are dying in Appalachia and we will not be ignored. I also wanted to participate in the weekly sit-in that has been happening at the Governor’s office since the Kentucky Rising action in February.

NoC: What specifically did you do while you were there? Why?

Mudd: When my comrade Greg and I arrived at the Capitol, we passed through security and went straight to the Governor’s office. After saying hello to the UK students who had been holding down the sit-in for an hour or so, I walked into the office, set down the “tombstone” I made the night before and lay in front of it on the red carpet floor. Greg handed the receptionist a copy of the recent report on elevated risk of birth defects in MTR-impacted communities.

Photo by Don Pratt

I stayed in that position for nearly two hours, while business as usual went on right around me. Staffers made jokes about the action, visitors asked Greg what the action was about, and I even think two politicians shook hands over my dead body. For me, that was symbolic of the problem: our fellow citizens are being poisoned in Eastern Kentucky and no one in Frankfort loses any sleep over it, much less does anything to stop it.

NoC: You are notable in that you partook in the Kentucky Rising occupation of the Governor’s office this past February, yet you live here in Lexington.  Besides that Kentucky River lowlander Wendell Berry, this makes you the only activist spending the weekend who was not of the mountains. How did you end up in the final group?

Mudd: Ever since I moved back to Kentucky, I had been involved with anti-strip mining work with Kentuckians for the Commonwealth and Mountain Justice, and for a while I had been talking with people about the need to do some direct action in the Capitol building, specifically aimed at Beshear. About a year beforehand, I participated in a direct action and de-escalation training where I shared my experience getting arrested for civil disobedience in West Virginia. For a while, I think people were a bit anxious about risking arrest for civil disobedience, but the first Appalachia Rising action in DC [where many activists got arrested] broke the seal for a lot of them and I think it made the Kentucky Rising sit-in possible. Around New Year, I was getting frustrated with waiting and had decided to get a few Mountain Justice people together and plan an action, but right around then Bev May calls me and asks me to join them in an action at the Governor’s office. So I said “hell yes!”

NoC: Your sites of protest are interesting: In addition to being active in the coal fields, you’re also at Chase Bank in Lexington calling for coal divestment, at Beshear’s office in Frankfort keeping heat on statewide coal practices, at the Capital in D.C. attempting the same heat for the federal chickens. Those are interesting scales of protest. Is part of this a result of your own center, of where you live? Do you think about your scales of protest at all?

Mudd: It is definitely something I think about, and it reflects my radical understanding of the causes of MTR. For something as insane as MTR to occur daily in spite of damning evidence of its absolute criminality requires a massive conspiracy between the coal industry, finance capital, the mainstream media, and of course corrupt politicians at every level. To protest one of these without protesting the others is to reduce the complexity of the problem. If I lived in Whitesburg, I’d be up in a tree right now stopping the destruction of Black Mountain. If I lived in Pittsburgh, I’d be locked down at PNC headquarters. I live in Lexington, which is close to Frankfort, so I raise hell at banks and Kentucky Utilities and the Governor’s office.

Anyone can participate in the Sit-In for the Mountains. If you’re in or passing through Kentucky, contact Caroline at to sign up for a time slot at the Governor’s office in Frankfort. 

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