Poor People's Campaign

Speaker: Rockwool’s Danish owner keeps plants open in Russia as attacks on Ukraine continue 

Martha Waggoner| [email protected]
Lauren Zehyoue| [email protected] 

RANSON, West Virginia _ Surrounded by symbolic tombstones that carried messages such as “RIP Children’s Health” and as an acrid odor wafted through the air, people protesting an insulation plant in West Virginia learned that one of their speakers was unavailable.

Why? Because her son, who attends a school located less than half a mile from the Rockwool insulation plant, had to go to an emergency room for another asthma attack. 

“Just the exact sort of thing we worried about when they proposed building this factory,” said Catherine Jozwik, a board member of the Eastern Panhandle Green Coalition and Jefferson County Vision. 

The protest took place on day 2 of a 23-mile march from Harpers Ferry to Martinsburg organized by the West Virginia Poor People’s Campaign and supported by the Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival. Both Bishop William J. Barber II and Rev. Dr. Liz Theoharis, co-chairs of the PPC:NCMR, spoke at the protest, which can be viewed here.

The WVPPC is holding the march along with rallies, to draw attention to Sen. Joe Manchin’s neglect of his own state and the nation by blocking living wages, health care for all and refusing to support legislation to protect the climate. 

The West Virginia is one of several actions that the PPC:NCMR is joining ahead of the 

Mass Poor People’s and Low-Wage Workers’ Assembly and Moral March on Washington and to the Polls on June 18th.”

The Denmark-based Rockwool has spread its pain from Ranson to Ukraine, speakers said. 

Lifelong Jefferson County resident Christine Wimer, president of the Jefferson County Foundation, said over 50% of the students qualify for school lunches and as economically disadvantaged. 

“This is an egregious example of environmental injustice,” she said. 

Diane Blust, a former US State Department employee and Jefferson County resident, said Rockwool has kept its four Russian factories open despite pleas from the president of Ukraine for Western companies to withdraw from Russia. 

“Any company that’s there is helping Russia kill people and it’s horrifying,” she said. 

Jennifer King, local beekeeper and business woman, speaking out against Rockwool. Photo: Steve Pavey/Poor People’s Campaign/Repairers of the Breach/Kairos Center 

Sen. Manchin has been silent as the plant violated its water pollution permit and the children at North Jefferson Elementary School have shown signs of being hurt by the chemicals being released. 

“So we’ve got to name this and put it right squarely on the back of Senator Manchin – let’s not generalize about it,” Bishop Barber said by phone. “The other thing we have to understand is that this is not just racism. This is because it’s a poor community and a Black community, and the same thing happens to poor white communities.

“The same people that push cooperation pollution are the same people that cut public education money, the same people that cut public education money are the same forces like Manchin that vote against health care.”

The WVPPC, the PPC:NCMR and partner organizations are demanding that Manchin move from policy cruelty to compassion and from policy meanness to mercy to help not just the 40% of West Virginians who are poor or low-income – 710,000 people – but the 140 million nationally who are since his votes hurt not just his constituents but people across the country. 

When the people fight, they win, said Rev. Dr. Theoharis said.  

“We don’t just have to get used to injustice. We don’t have to just get used to poisoned air and water and the pushing of our kids out of the way,” she said. “We are going to let Sen. Manchin and all of the leaders in West Virginia who are making life worse for people in WV and across the country know that when the people get together then there is no stopping us.”

Rev. Gusti Linnea Newquist, moderator of Shepherdstown Presbyterian Church, said she doesn’t live close to the plant and never expected that it would come into her yard. 

She and her husband lost their fight to top the gas company from polluting her yard with fossil fuel. 

“Everything that we say happens when you put in a pipeline happened to us,” she said. 

A stream in her backyard that eventually flows to the Potomac and Chesapeake is now dead, she said.  

But the people will keep up their now four-year fight against Rockwool, said 

Sharon Helman, president of the Eastern Panhandle Green Coalition.

“We’re not done. We’re not done at all. We’re going to make it so they realize, finally, that Jefferson County was a terrible place to think about locating.And we also want to make sure that nobody else thinks about doing the same thing.”

The march resumes at 10 a.m. ET Thursday. Other actions for the march include: 

_ April 9: Rally at Sen. Manchin’s office in Martinsburg and then support West Virginia Rising in its blockade at Manchin’s coal plant in Grant Town that afternoon. 

_ April 10: Bishop Barber and Rev. Dr. Theoharis preach a Palm Sunday service across the street from Manchin’s dirty coal plant in Grant Town.