Elm Dance Healing Ceremony

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On April 9, CUHF National Convener, Nastasia Lawton-Sticklor, and eight New England activists held a Healing Ceremony at the ash disposal site for the Merrimack Station in Bow, NH, the last coal plant in the region. Dressed in tyvek suits and respirators, they gathered to honor the Earth and heal the desecration caused by the dumping of toxic coal ash. After decorating the fence with flowers and posters, the activists performed the “Elm Dance”— a Latvian ceremony originally created for the healing of Chernobyl.

The activists are a part of the No Coal No Gas campaign to close the Merrimack Station and end coal in New England. They say burning coal is not only unnecessary, but harmful to residents near the plant and a major contributor to climate chaos. In addition to their determination to retire Merrimack Station, they stressed their commitment to stand in solidarity with activists currently blockading Senator Joe Manchin’s coal plant in West Virginia.

“It is important to be here at a site that represents the end of this toxic process of using coal as fuel, in solidarity with our comrades who are rising up in West Virginia near the process’s beginning,” said Nastasia Lawton-Sticklor, lead organizer for this action. “They are using the power of their voices and actions at a place decimated by the extraction of coal, and we are here in the aftermath of its burning. We are together in this struggle, together in active resistance, and together in our solidarity to each other.”

The No Coal No Gas campaign formed in 2019 with the goal of forcing the Merrimack Station to shut down. Since then, the campaign has built a large community of supporters and taken direct action targeting the coal plant and grid operator ISO-New England. On October 3, 2021, 18 activists with the campaign were arrested for planting native, toxin-absorbing plants on plant property. Returning to the site this weekend after the ceremony at the ash dump, activists checked on their garden and commented on the need for a process of restoration and healing.

“The time has come to not only stop harm but also start rebuilding, redressing wounds caused by rampant disregard for the precious resources of the earth that are in our care,” said Michele Vitti, one of the action organizers. “Our ceremony today was designed to acknowledge the harm that’s been done and declare our commitment to building a more regenerative way of living.”