A Letter to J.D. Vance

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Photo: Nick Mullins – Matewan, West Virignia

Dear Mr. Vance,

I read your book Hillbilly Elegy last year. Actually, my family and I listened to it as a free trial on Audible while traveling back and forth to visit my grandfather in the hospital. He was a career coal miner by the way.

Several friends and colleagues had advised me not to waste my time and money, but after being queried by multiple journalists (and a few audience members at lectures), I could no longer avoid it.

Everything I had read or heard about your book from fellow Appalachians was correct. Ivy Brashear’s article “Why Media Must Stop Misrepresenting Appalachia” hit the nail on the head, as did R. Mike Burr’s “The Self-Serving Hustle of ‘Hillbilly Elegy'”. In light of their articles, I did not feel it necessary to restate what these true Appalachian’s have already stated: you sir, had no authority whatsoever to speak on behalf of Appalachian people as if you are one of our own.

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Coal Exports Increase While Coalfield Communities Still Face Crisis



Clintwood High School, Clintwood, VA | Photo: Nick Mullins

I just read an article in the Williamson Daily News citing that increased coal exports have increased coal production in the area. I’m sure there are many people in the coalfields rejoicing at this news, but before folks begin to celebrate, it’s important to think about what it really means.

The mine where I worked produced high-grade metallurgical coal used to produce steel. It was mined near Clintwood, Virginia in Dickenson County, trucked to the preparation plant in Coeburn, Virginia then loaded onto Norfolk Southern trains bound for coal export terminals on the coast. Most often our coal went to the Dominion Terminal in Newport News owned by Alpha Natural Resources. From there, it went to the world market. Continue reading

Standing in Solidarity with Kentucky’s Teachers


Photo by Michael Reaves/Special to the Daily News

Why did Kentucky legislators have to take away from teacher pensions? Why is there not enough money to make their pensions sustainable? Is it because they cut the un-mined minerals tax so coal companies and other absentee land companies wouldn’t have to pay their share? Is it because they were giving millions of dollars of tax breaks to the Ark Experience in Northern Kentucky?

This is why we have to be knowledgeable about what our politicians do after they are voted into office. They help themselves, their rich friends, their campaign contributors. They siphon public monies away from helping regular people and fixing problems for the working classes. Then everyone is expected to believe they are fixing budget issues and eliminating big government so we will all continue to have a chance at achieving the American dream.

One day, I hope we all wake up and realize that politicians, driven by corporate lobbying and campaign contributions, live the American Dream by forcing us all to live and work in a nightmare.

The Only Way Out for Appalachia’s Coalfields

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Looking out from Cooks Fork near Clintwood, Virginia | Nick Mullins

The boom and bust cycles of coal markets have always worked to the advantage of coal companies more than Appalachian communities.  In some of Central Appalachia’s coal-producing counties, over 90% of the mineral rights are owned by absentee owners—owners who manipulate local and state governments to keep property taxes low on their holdings. When markets are up, coal companies open mines and extract coal as hard and fast as possible. When the markets are down, they idle or close their mines, file bankruptcy to get out of mine reclamation costs and/or debts to their employees (including healthcare) before finally restructuring (renaming) their corporations to prepare for the next spike in coal prices.

Economic Desperation Blackens Coal Miner’s Lungs—Not Ignorance


Back lung among Appalachia’s coal miners has once again made national headlines, and in almost clock-work fashion, many self-righteous individuals took to social media channels to deplore Appalachia’s presidential voting choices. Some of the more common remarks have been, “That’s what they get,” while others attempt to benignly question the region’s intelligence with questions such as, “Why do they vote against their best interests?”

Being from Appalachia, having worked in the dust myself, and having seen the choices my father and many other miners have had to make, I can assure you that the issue is much more complex than over-simplified, stereotypical assumptions about Appalachian people. Continue reading

Exploiting Appalachia’s Heroes


Photo Nick Mullins

Since I left the mines and joined the ranks of people fighting for justice in our world, I’ve met many people who I consider to be honest-to-God heroes. They are the local organizers who rose up in their own communities and sacrificed nearly everything to do what was right. They are the faces of truth, justice, and equality in a world dominated by wealth and unethical business practices. Continue reading

Civil Rights and the All Mighty Economy

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When I attended Clintwood High School throughout the mid-90s, there was an amazing lack of ethnic diversity.  Our school was 99.8% white. It goes without saying that we had a very limited understanding of diversity. What little we did know came in the form of 80’s and 90’s whitewashed television programming pulled in with our 10-foot diameter c-band satellite dishes perched on the hillside. Continue reading

Appalachia’s Coalfields Weren’t Always Red


2000-to-2016-Cover-ImageSince the last presidential election, I’ve witnessed a near constant stream of ridicule against Appalachian people who voted for Trump, “They are getting what they deserve,” “They had a choice and they chose a lying bigot,” “They screwed us all.”  I have even been told “We don’t have time to deal with them (Trump voters). We have bigger problems to fix.” All of these statements are dismissive of Appalachian people and stereotype us as being ignorant, egotistical, and even racist. It is not surprising that these comments have come from people who did not grow up in the mountains, who have not had to face the same limited choices we’ve had to face, let alone work a single shift in a non-union mine to achieve at least some form of stability for their family. Continue reading

The Coal Industry Mantra: Jobs First, Safety…well….


Photo by Nick Mullins

Anyone who has worked in a coal mine knows that only loyalty to the company bottom line could raise someone from the ranks of a coal miner to that of mine management. Coal miners also know that when it comes to “performance-based layoffs” the extra hours you put in at the mines and how well you produced coal will get you a lot further than the number of times you shut down your machine because conditions became unsafe. Safety takes time, and time costs the company money. So when it comes to the appointment of a former mine company executive as the head of the Mine Safety and Health Administration, it doesn’t take much to realize the consequences it will have for America’s coal miners. Continue reading