By CARL GREEN
Clayton, MO – The sight of people protesting in front of the Peabody headquarters in downtown St. Louis has become familiar, especially since the company filed for bankruptcy.
The rallies have been about protecting the company’s employees and retirees, making sure their pensions and all-important health care are secure, and about protecting the environment, to see that land despoiled by the company’s mining is restored before the money runs out.
But the rally held on June 24, had a different look – it was a group of mostly Native Americans marching, chanting and riding horses through the pristine office world of downtown Clayton.
Peabody executives could breath a sigh of relief that this protest wasn’t on their turf, but their lawyers found themselves in the middle of the fracas.
“Peabody has declared bankruptcy, and so we are going on a tour of the bankruptcy lawyers of Peabody,” said organizer Jeff Ordower of MORE (Missourians Organizing for Reform and Empowerment).
About 150 marchers, mostly wearing bright native costumes and carrying signs, gathered in Shaw Park and then walked up Forsythe Boulevard to the headquarters of Armstrong Teasdale.
The marchers were acutely aware that the bankruptcy judge had just allowed spending of up to $3.24 million out of the company’s settlement to pay bonuses to about 42 salaried employees in the personnel, finance, technology, legal and marketing departments. That’s being done even before the company issues its bankruptcy plan for the court’s consideration.
The bonuses were opposed by the coalition of retirees, Native Americans and the United Mine Workers.
“The Mine Workers argued in court that their pensions and health care needed protecting. Peabody didn’t guarantee that, but they voted bonuses for 42 of the top people,” Ordower said. “This march is about that, and it’s about linking that to the struggles in Illinois and the struggles for the land in Arizona. So it’s all inter-related.”
The most striking scene was of Marshall Johnson and Sheldon Natoni riding their horses down Forsyth at the head of the march. In April, Johnson knelt in front of the Peabody headquarters and used a powered megaphone to broadcast prayers in his native language and call out for Peabody executives to come down. He made similar calls at the law office in Clayton.
One sign spelled out Native American demands for protection and restoration of the Navajo Aquifer, a vital water resource in Arizona that has been depleted by coal mining that still continues.
They are also calling for 160 holding ponds to be cleaned up and for an end to destruction of ancient cultural sites.
That’s more than the people of Clayton knew as the lively march proceeded past the St. Clair County offices.
They could hear the crowd shouting slogans such as, “We are unstoppable! Another world is possible!”