A Victory for the Earth and for Future Generations

By Jean Hays, Earth Democracy Leadership Team, Fresno, California

For a decade, Jesse Morrow Mountain, a predominant foothill at the gateway to the Sierra Mountains and to Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks just northwest of Fresno, California, has been the target of the Cemex Corporation, one of the world’s largest purveyors of construction material. Cemex wanted to turn the mountain into a gravel quarry, for all purposes, slashing a giant hole in its side.

WILPF Fresno’s Earth Democracy Issues Group decided it wanted to help the Friends of Jesse Morrow Mountain of nearby Reedley, and WILPF’s gaggle of Raging Grannies also took on the task.

California Highway 180, a designated two-lane scenic highway running by Jesse Morrow Mt. and into the national parks, would become a road on which 700 gravel trucks would travel each day. This, together with the elevated dust levels in an already air-polluted San Joaquin Valley and the thousands of gallons of water scheduled to be used at the mine, made it an environmental nightmare.

The crowning insult to the Earth was the fact that the mountain, called Wa-ha-lish by the Choinumni Tribe who has made their home there for close to a thousand years, is sacred ground.

The Cemex plan to mine the mountain was first presented to the Fresno County Planning Commission three months ago. Several of our WILPFers testified, and the Grannies serenaded during breaks in the meeting. Our coalition was relieved when the Commission rejected the mining plans; however, the struggle was far from over. Cemex appealed the ruling to the Fresno County Board of Supervisors and we waited for that hearing date to be announced.  

On August 28 hundreds of people were on hand to speak on behalf of the mountain: gathered in a rented ballroom together with proponents provided with t-shirts saying “Cemex: Mining = Jobs.” The hearing lasted nine hours; both sides giving presentations in the morning and the afternoon being open to testimony by the general public. One of the most stunning moments in the afternoon, a moment near and dear to hearts of WILPF’s Earth Democracy members, happened when one County Supervisor asked if the Choinumni Tribal Elders had been consulted when the first plan to mine the mountain was introduced by Cemex. County staff answered that they had tried, but it was not apparent who the head of the tribe was. The supervisor then asked, “Who is the Tribal Chairman now?" Staff did not know. Then, a man from the audience stood and said, “I am." Some of us were invited to a meeting some time ago with Cemex officials, and those of us who were opposed to the mine were not invited to more meetings."

Toward the end of the nine-hour hearing, the supervisors couldn’t muster enough support to approve the mine’s environmental impact report, making it impossible to proceed to the final vote for the mine’s approval.

WILPF’s Earth Democracy members were filled with joy upon hearing Supervisor Susan Anderson say, “It’s a long-term decision. It’s a decision that will live long past our lifetime, and I’m having difficulty with it." This sentiment was echoed by Supervisors Debbie Poochigian and Henry Perea.

In our Earth Democracy vision statement we talk about the effects of our actions on future generations. Environmentalist and WILPF California’s guest speaker, Carolyn Raffensperger, would call it “becoming beloved ancestors.” This also reflects our emphasis on the Indigenous perspective of Earth not belonging to us, but, instead, us belonging to the Earth.

Another of our Earth Democracy statements is that Nature has rights. It is the right of Jesse Morrow Mountain to exist, free from invasive attempts to destroy it. I think the three of four County Supervisors realized this on a deep level.

As the Raging Grannies testified in song:  
“Supervisors, get it right!
Don’t let Cemex dynamite!
For the mine would be a blight,
Morrow Mountain, here we come!
(To the tune of “California, Here I Come”)

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