One Mom Activist’s Obscene Tale

BY ON August 8, 2012
Maria Gunnoe standing in front of mountains that have been impacted by mountaintop removal

Maria Gunnoe in Bobwhite, West Virginia


Be careful what you say about coal. Maria Gunnoe found this out recently when she testified in front of the House Committee on Natural Resources, Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources. Gunnoe is a life-long resident of West Virginia, where she fights against environmentally devastating mountaintop removal mining. Her work brings attention to the polluted and toxic conditions from mountain top coal mining and it has won her the The Goldman Environmental Prize in 2009 (video below).

In Gunnoe’s presentation before the House Committee, she sought to illustrate conditions that arise from mountain top mining, and how pollution and nullification of drinking water impacts residents. In furtherance of this, Gunnoe intended to present a slideshow, but one of the slides from the presentation came to the attention of senior staffers of Republican Congressman Doug Lamborn. They considered the photo child pornography and swift action was taken by Lamborn and his staff. The photo in question was taken by award-winning photojournalist, Katie Falkenberg. It shows a naked five-year-old girl sitting in a bathtub full of filthy orange-brown water. Neither the girl’s face, nor her private parts are visible. Nevertheless, the photo was removed from Gunnoe’s presentation and she was questioned by Capitol police officers for 45 minutes.

Falkeberg has said that the parents of the child were in the room when the picture was taken, and Gunnoe had their permission to use the photo in her presentation. Those of us who advocate on our children’s behalf really have to be conscious of the fine line between sharing our children’s stories and exploiting them in the name of our causes. We know that when we show harm to children, people pay more attention. And so we must be vigilant not to cross the line. Congressman Lamborn is the lawmaker who last year referred to President Obama as “a tar baby.” His top donors are coal, oil and gas companies.

It’s unfortunate and heartbreaking that Congressman Lamborn and his staff thought the presence of the little girl in the bathtub was more obscene than the filthy water she is forced to bathe in. And how screwy is their thinking that they needed to take swift action to protect the child from some imaginary pornographic assault rather than take action to save her from the real threats to her life: pollution and toxins?

We parents must stand with Marie Gunnoe, an environmental warrior who has devoted her life to improving the conditions in West Virginia for her children and grandchildren. We must demand that our lawmakers keep their eye on what is real and pressing: strong air and water regulations that will protect children’s future.

Maria Gunnoe’s advocacy has led to stricter regulations of the coal industry. Watch Gunnoe here:

Photo: Amanda Paulson via The Christian Science Monitor


TOPICS: Activism, African-American Community, Clean Air Rules and Regulations, Coal, Motherhood, Pollution, Social Justice