The Whippoorwill Festival was founded in the Spring of 2011 by Dave Cooper, a former mechanical engineer and Vanderbilt graduate who spent 20 years working in industry, mostly designing and maintaining machinery. He most recently worked at the 3M Corporation plant in Cynthiana, Kentucky, and was responsible for machines that wrap Post-It Notes in beautiful, shiny, clear plastic. He became involved in the anti-mountaintop removal campaign after inviting Larry Gibson, of Kayford Mountain, West Virginia to speak at a Kentucky Sierra Club meeting in March of 1998.
After hearing him speak, Dave accepted Larry's invitation to see Kayford Mountain and the mountaintop removal mining that surrounds it. Dave became involved in the mountaintop removal campaign first as an Organizer for the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition, in Huntington WV, followed by 8 years on the road touring America on the speaking tour that he founded. The Mountaintop Removal Road Show had over 800 speaking and radio gigs in 26 states, all with virtually no foundation support. The Road Show was funded almost entirely by small donations and honorariums.
The Mountaintop Removal Road Show reached community and civic groups, religious organizations and environmental groups, but most speaking gigs were on college campuses. This outreach work contributed to a burst of energy in the coalfields in 2004 following the death of a small boy, Jeremy Davidson, who was crushed while sleeping in his bed by a boulder from a mountaintop removal mine in southwest Virginia.
This tragedy was the impetus for Mountain Justice, and he became a founding member in 2004. Mountain Justice is a multi-state non-violent direct action campaign against mountaintop removal. Mountain Justice's greatest achievement has been bringing national attention to the mountaintop removal issue, and helping bring pressure onto former Massey Energy CEO and coal baron Don Blankenship. Mountain Justice initially focused their campaign on a 300-million gallon lake of toxic coal sludge located on the mountainside above the Marsh Fork Elementary School in Sundial, WV. Although it had its roots in Earth First! and anarchist philosophies, Mountain Justice continues today as a non-heirarchical grassroots campaign that lends support to local communities and campaigns when invited. www.mountainjustice.org
Dave helped organize some of the the Mountain Justice Summer training camps, which featured speakers, Appalachian music and cultural appreciation, trainings on peaceful, non-violent direct action skills such as blockades and lock-downs. Initially some other primitive skills workshops were offered at Mountain Justice camps, but Mountain Justice decided to focus their attention on the MTR campaign, Dave decided to found the Whippoorwill Festival as a camp that would combine elements of the Firefly Gathering and the Mountain Justice camps. Sort of a mash-up.
Dave basically invited all of his Mountain Justice friends to come and lead workshops, and he got Knoxville Food Not Bombs to prepare meals with help and support from Mountain Justice and their kitchen crew. Food Not Bombs co-founder Keith McHenry spoke at the first Whippoorwill in 2011, along with the late, great and sorely-missed Kentucky treasure, Gatewood Galbraith. And Joel Pett, Pulitzer-Prize winning cartoonist!
Whippoorwill was greatly inspired by Dave's trips to the Firefly Gathering in Asheville, NC, which continues today as the premiere skills gathering in the eastern United States. Dave was also influenced by the non-heirarchal anarchist philosophies of Earth First! and Mountain Justice, and he found Richard Louv's Last Child in the Woods to be a profound call to all adults who care about the future of our planet to get children back playing in the woods and creek and trees.