UPDATE: Activists rally on the Capitol steps in support of the 14 protesters

Wendell Berry looks out a window at the Capitol building in Frankfort during a support rally for the sit in protest. Photo by Britney McIntosh


The group of protesters in the capitol got to see their support first-hand this afternoon as groups from across the state came to the Capitol steps for an impromptu rally.

Now in their third day in the Capitol, the group is in good spirits thanks to the support from the outside.

Kentucky Rep. Tom Riner (D) visited the 14 activists in the Capitol Saturday afternoon in an effort to show his appreciation for their sit-in in the governor’s office in protest of Beshear’s lawsuit against the Environmental Protection Agency.

The sit-in began after the group wasn’t satisfied with the meeting they had with the governor Friday morning.

Saturday morning the group wanted people to know they “had a good night’s sleep and are feeling fine.”

After the unsatisfactory meeting with Gov. Steve Beshear in his Capitol office, the group of writers, environmentalists, former coal miners and other activists said they planned to stage a sit-in and wouldn’t leave until the “I Love Mountains” rally scheduled for 11 a.m. Monday morning at the earliest.

They plan to meet this afternoon to decide how and when to end the sit-in.

“(Inviting us to stay the weekend) may have been an astute decision by his staff and his campaign staff. We appreciate it because we feel it’ll help us communicate our message more effectively,” said John Hennen, a history professor at Morehead State University. “I feel its a maneuver that’ll work to the benefit of both parties. It’s let us build unity and focus on our goals and helps the governor avoid a potentially embarrassing situation. No one would want to see Wendell Berry taken out of the governor’s office in handcuffs.”

The sit-in is meant to protest Gov. Beshear’s lawsuit against the Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Water Act. Last week, Beshear said in his State of the Commonwealth speech that he wanted the EPA to “get off our (Kentuckians) backs.”

The group has dubbed itself “Kentucky Rising,” and says it plans to stay until Beshear returns on Monday so they can “continue the conversation.”

“I think we had a little start of a conversation today,” UK graduate and nurse practitioner Beverly May of Floyd County said on Friday. “I think we need a lot more conversation, and it gives me hope.”

Originally the group had planned on staying until they were arrested but Beshear instead invited them to spend the weekend in his outer office and the group took him up on his offer.

The group has received gifts such as six pizzas from a couple in Tampa, Fla. as well as coffee, art and letters.

“The custodial and security staff has treated us with nothing be hospitality,” Berry said.

The group shared pizza and coffee with the security and custodial staffs, and has been socializing and laughing with them throughout the duration of the protest.

Judging by the circle of laughing friends that formed in the rotunda just outside the office early Saturday morning, the subpar sleeping conditions hadn’t dampened anyone’s mood.

On behalf of the group, Martin Mudd, a 28-year-old physics graduate student at UK, wrote an invitation to the governor asking him to come back after church on Sunday for brunch to continue the conversation that began on Friday.

The letter will be delivered to the governor’s house Saturday evening.

“I figured we’d give him a day of rest and then ask him to come back,” Mudd said.

The governor’s spokesperson, Kerri Richardson, said the Capitol building in Frankfort, Ky. was secured at 4:30 p.m. Friday, its normal time, but the group’s members are allowed to stay as long as they want.

Anyone who leaves the building over the weekend, however, cannot re-enter until Monday morning, Richardson said.

May said the group wants to encourage the governor to rethink some of his positions.

Last year, Berry pulled his writings from UK’s archives in protest of the naming of Wildcat Coal Lodge, a dorm for UK basketball players.

“I … don’t believe that there is a justification for permanently damaging the world, and I’m here to say that and to be a part of this effort,” Berry said.

During the stay in the Capitol Berry can be found both socializing with fellow protesters and also taking time to himself, reading “The Tempest,” quietly in a corner when he can steal a moment.

“I’m very pleased and proud to be here with these friends,” Berry said.

Mountaintop removal mining involves the mining of a mountain’s summit in order to extract coal.

“I’m not here to take miners’ jobs away,” said Mickey McCoy, a retired schoolteacher from Inez, Ky. “I’m here to take cancer away from the central Appalachians area.”

“This action, you can call it, is one part of a historical struggle and an Appalachian struggle,” Mudd said.

“Also really important to me is that we exercise our democracy — true democracy in my mind is participatory and representative. That’s not the way it is right now.”

Rep. Jim Gooch (D) serves as the chair of the Natural Resources and Environment Committee and said he feels the protesters are commenting on areas that they don’t fully know.

“First of all, the majority of the people who are protesting don’t live in the areas that we’re talking about,” Gooch said. “All the representatives that are from the area see the benefits of having flat land.”

Check back with the Kernel for more information.

Who’s in the Capitol?

Wendell Berry, 76: A writer and activist who has stood against abusive mining for ten decades. Berry pulled his writings from the UK library after the university named its basketball dorm the “Wildcat Coal Lodge” in December of 2009.

Beverly May, 52: a nurse practitioner from Floyd County. She got her degree from UK.

Mickey McCoy, 55: former schoolteacher from Inez, Ky.

Teri Blanton, 54, an activist from Harlan County

Stanley Sturgill, 65: Former underground coal miner of Harlan County.

Rick Handshoe, 50: A retired Kentucky State Police radio technician from Floyd County.

John Hennen, 59: A history professor at Morehead State University.

Martin Mudd, 28, An environmental activist and physics graduate student at UK. Mudd is from Louisville, Ky.

Tanya Turner, 24: An environmental activist living in Letcher County.

Herb E. Smith, 58: Filmmaker from Letcher county.

Kevin Pentz, 38: Organizer at Kentuckians for the Commonwealth from Richmond, Ky.

Chad Berry, 47: Writer and history professor from Berea, Ky.

Lisa Abbott, 40: Organizer at Kentuckians for the Commonwealth from Berea, Ky.

Doug Doerrfeld, 60: Carpenter/furniture maker from Elliot County.