|© Photo R. L. Mullins
There are two resources in Appalachia that make men wealthy. Fossil Fuels and people. After all, no one has been able to design fully autonomous machines to produce coal. Without coal miners the coal industry has no way of retrieving their billions of tons of reserves. When they look to the long term future of their business they realize they must have an ample supply of young men (and in some cases women) willing to work in their mines.
Several months ago I read a quote on the Friends of Coal website that perturbed me and I have been preaching it to people ever since. For those of you who are just now tuning in, Friends of Coal is an organization developed and funded by the West Virginia Coal Association and other coal associations. Coal associations are groups of coal companies who combine their resources to campaign for and lobby politicians with the goal of gaining better legislation to help their profits. See my previous post, “Still a Friend of Coal?”
Friends of Coal isn’t just about gaining support from coal miners to help force their issues in Washington. It’s also about building a pride amongst Appalachian people to help insure they have a continued supply of coal miners. Here is the Friends of Coal Mission Statement. Pay particular attention to the last sentence, the quote I have preached about….
The Friends of Coal is dedicated to inform and educate West Virginia citizens about the coal industry and its vital role in the state’s future. Our goal is to provide a united voice for an industry that has been and remains a critical economic contributor to West Virginia. By working together, we can provide good jobs and benefits for future generations, which will keep our children and grandchildren close to home.
When I first read this my jaw dropped. Could the coal associations really be saying what they are saying? It’s smooth, I’ll give them that. The coal industry is asking us to ally with them as constituents to force their agenda, so they can “provide good jobs”, mining jobs, “for your children and grandchildren so they can stay close to home.”
I began asking all of the older generation coal miners I could find what they thought about their kids going to work in the mines. The responses were often that of utter disappointment. “We wanted you kids to do well in school so you could go to college and avoid having to work in the mines,” my uncle told me when I read him the quote, “that way you could’ve had a chance at a better life.”
I tried pondering the notion that the coal industry really does care about the people living within their coalfields. Perhaps I was just letting my personal experiences and those of people I know overshadow the true ideologies and mission of the coal industry. Could it be the coal industry and energy industry are saying these things because they truly mean it? Is their primary concern our national security through energy independence? Do they really want to provide the impoverished people of Appalachia with good jobs? Maybe the profits they make are simply a bonus and nothing else. Is that why they spend the bulk of their profits helping people besides themselves?
I couldn’t help but think about how little the coal industry actually does help us outside of providing jobs. How much money do they spend to fix the roads which become broken down from coal trucks hauling their coal. How many truck washes have been installed to keep down the filth and dust being propagated by those same coal trucks, dust that people living beside the highways end up breathing.
The haunting image of Jeremy Davis’ bedroom with a large boulder laying beside his toddler bed lingers in my mind. I did not know him, or his family, but I have little ones of my own. I could not imagine the thought of a boulder crashing through the wall and crushing one of my children as they slept peacefully. Was A&G Coal Company thinking about our national security and “Keeping the Lights On!” when they took it upon themselves to mine without a permit above Jeremy Davis’ house? Were they rushed by the worry of our local economy collapsing when they failed to warn everyone living down below, including Jeremy’s family, that they were about to start mining above them?
I began thinking about the twelve men who slowly smothered to death in a cold smoke filled entry of the Sago mine. Why did they have to die and their families suffer before coal companies started spending a little more of their profits on additional self-recuers?
Upper Big Branch mine memorial in Mt Hope, WV. (Photo by Flickr user jamiev_03.)
What of the twenty-nine men at Upper Big Branch who lost their lives producing coal for Massey? If those men could speak, would they speak well of the industry they worked for? Would they forgive men like Don Blankenship and the company officials who pleaded the fifth amendment when asked to testify about the cause of the explosion? If those men could have said goodbye to their children would they have said, “It was a fluke. There is nothing wrong with working in a coal mine. It’s a good paying job to be proud of and I want you kids to seriously think about working in a coal mine yourself. Coal is your future.”
I thought about all of the people who are living in the coalfields right now who are faced with a grim future, a future of working for the coal industry and hoping it doesn’t bust again. I thought about how many of them think they are doing the right thing by supporting coal. I see “Friends of Coal” stickers on cars and trucks, license plates purchased that donates money to the coal associations, rallies and protests held to support the coal industry. Why? Why have we become so worried about the here and now and not the future of our children?
I can’t help but get built into a rage. For the love of God people, wake up and realize coal isn’t our friend. Coal companies have never been our friend. Ask everyone who’s been disabled in a coal mine, who can’t breathe from black lung. Ask the old timers who remember standing in front of machine guns to get better safety and to be paid in something other than script. Look at how little the coal corporations give back to our communities.
The coal operators want all we can give them and more. Just how many more lives will they take, how many more children’s future’s will they ruin before we realize the truth? I heard someone say, “If the people of Appalachia are stupid enough to let the coal industry do these things to them and even help them do it, then perhaps the people of Appalachia deserve exactly what they get.”
I’ll be honest. Sometimes I wonder the same. I wish sometimes I could just let it go and let natural selection take place, but there is a problem. The people of Appalachia are my family and neighbors, fellow mountaineers who share generations upon generations of history, good history. We are a people who can still harbor the true spirit of humanity. If only it could be rekindled within this and future generations. We have been bought out time and time again by the silver tongues of land agents, “natural resource” companies, and other Wall Street giants. First it was a few dollars or a hog for our mineral rights, then it was our lungs and our backs, now we are selling our children’s future for their wages and their “economy”. Screw those bastards and let us look towards our OWN future. We lived without coal for damn near two centuries; we can do it again and we can do it better.