If You Really Want to Help Appalachia


I’ve been writing this blog for 6 years now, working to hammer home many points. The most important have included the coal industry’s means of winning the hearts and minds of our mountain communities, and how people in the environmental camps have ignored the industry’s acculturation of Appalachian values.

Since leaving the coal industry, I’ve tried to get folks to understand that we Appalachians, coal miner’s especially, do not respond to traditional environmentalist messaging. At minimum, those who agree with the environmental concerns are not going to push their throats further into the coal industry’s blade. More often, they will join in the socialized ridicule of those who are being othered, i.e. the environmentalists. What is needed is for people to understand the issues and the way we have been manipulated and controlled, then apply it to their own communication strategy.

As a 9th generation Appalachian and the 5th generation of my family to have worked in the mines, I can say with confidence that no outside organization will ever be successful in turning the tide in Appalachia. We have been fighting the coal industry for 150 years and fighting poverty for the last 50+. Millions of dollars have been funneled in through organizations like the Appalachian Regional Commission, and yet we are still fighting the same battles.

So if you really want to help Appalachia, you’ll help us help ourselves.

The first step is to tear down the coal industry’s facade of benevolence, and remind people of the industry’s history in our region. Many people already distrust the industry, but will fight for it in the face of an outside threat. Coal mining is part of our identity, and the coal industry has spun the “War on Coal” to be a threat to that identity. The result, as Dr. Shannon Bell has stated in her book Fighting King Coal, is the cultural hegemony of our region.

So what do we do to fix it since there’s no silver bullet?

It will take a lot, there’s no doubt about it, but the best place to to start is with educating the public. In a technological world where audio/visual has become the primary means of conveying a message, we must embrace it. This is why I focused a bit on film and broadcast journalism during my recent studies at Berea College. Just as I was re-entering the world from four years of college, some wonderful folks had already done a lot of work before me and the documentary film Blood on the Mountain was in the process of being released.

I believe the film has become the best means to help tear down the industry’s previously mentioned facade of benevolence towards Appalachia. It shows the true history of coal and how they have maintained control of us, even in contemporary times, dividing our communities, destroying the unions, and raping our lands.

In many ways, the film embodies the very mission I have dedicated this blog—and my life—to achieving . When I was asked by the filmmakers to be interviewed for the film, and later to help get it out to as many people as possible,  I saw it as a perfect opportunity to bring real tangible change to my mountain home.

The next phase of the film is coming, but we need the funding to accomplish it. We want to take this film into as many union halls, churches, homes, and community centers as possible FOR FREE . We want to turn it into a tool that can be used not only in Appalachia, but in any area where people face the same issues we face with corporate corruption.

The coal industry has ruled our lives under false illusions and economic control. We can break free, but people, both in Appalachia and outside of Appalachia, must better understand the mechanisms of control through which industries operate, and understand how we can empower entire Appalachian communities to fight against them. I wish I could say that the past 15 years of activism in the region have accomplished this in some small way, but the region’s continued support of men like Mitch McConnell—and now Jim Justice and Donald Trump—is pretty strong evidence to the contrary.

It pains me to think of the amount of time and money that has been invested in so many organization’s “grassroots” campaigns, only to see these kinds of outcomes. We are overdue for this new strategy.

We have launched a Kickstarter to fund Blood on the Mountain’s public outreach campaign. Our goal is $25,000 and it is all or nothing, meaning, unless we raise the full amount, we don’t get anything. We are going to use the funds we received to create a curricula and educational materials to complement the film, and we will use the remaining funds to get the film into Appalachian communities—FOR FREE.

Based on the size of your donation, you can receive DVD copies of the documentary, digital access to it, other documentaries such as The Appalachians and Coal Country,  and many other wonderful rewards. So please, give what you can give and advocate to help us raise money for this outreach. Given the divisiveness of our recent election, we need this film to bring people together, now, more than ever.

So please, please share this post and the Kickstarter link far and wide. Donate/purchase a copy of the film and more.




In Hope and Struggle,
Nick Mullins

“The Thoughtful Coal Miner”

12 thoughts on “If You Really Want to Help Appalachia

  1. I am the outreach coordinator for a black lunch clinic in PA. I would love to A.) get a copy of any film posters available to hang in our clinic, and B.) get a DVD of the film. How can I do this?
    Jill Armentrout


    • Jill,

      Right now we are doing the best we can to raise funds and get some of these materials created for distribution. We’re all tapped financially. It took everything the filmmakers had to make the film and get it out there into the world. Right now we’ve got our fingers crossed that some money will come from somewhere (Kickstarter included) to help us so we can get stuff like this out there to people–and so we can feed ourselves.

      In the meantime, you can go to http://bloodonthemountain.com/ for more info on DVD pre-order and contact info for community screenings and other things.

      Hope this helps!



  2. I, for the life of me, can’t see how this video or the distribution of it will bring an ounce of prosperity or relief to the Appalachian people. It’s like preaching to the choir. Everybody in the world knows that coal mines are inherently dangerous for the people who work in them and also for the environment but are they any more dangerous than any other kind of underground mining?
    So the author of this video wants to spend $25,000.00 to show others in the Appalachian region and beyond what hardships they/we are enduring. They are going to spend $25,000.00 to invite others to their/our pity party. What a waste.
    Rather than piss away more money educating the world on the dangers of coal mining, why not invest in research of new uses for coal and new mining technology and other products of the Appalachian Region. At the end of the day, not one single person will benefit from seeing this video. It will not put food on a single table nor will it cloth anyone or send anyone to school. In short, it will bring hope to nobody.
    This follows the same mentality of the Appalachian Regional Commission which has spent billions of tax payer dollars and done nothing for the hope of Appalachian Americans. They have lined the pockets of a few state, county and city politicians and thrown money at the Appalachian people but offered nothing in the line of hope for the region or our people.


    • This video is more for Appalachia than it is the rest of the world. Look at the Friends of Coal stickers, look at how people still think the coal industry is here to help us, that the coal industry can still provide enough jobs to support the region’s economy when it never really has. Sure it’s provided some jobs on and off through the years. When markets were good, the economy did fair, but by and large, the region has always suffered from extremes in poverty not seen elsewhere except for inner cities and Native American reservations.

      And you advocate for new technologies in mining? The past 70 years have seen extreme drops in coal mining employment while production has gone through the roof. This is because of “new mining technologies” and includes mechanization. Investing money into new mining technology means FEWER JOBS.

      This film, and our outreach campaign, is about getting the people of Appalachia to realize that coal has never been, and will never be, our saving grace. This film is about helping our communities move on, to bring in politicians who don’t keep coal as the center of the terrible economy it has built for the region.


      • Have to agree with Nick on this one. Both my Grandfathers’ were miners and both were involved in the SW VA Mine Wars so I grew-up with stories of what is was like before the UMWA and the stuff that went on while forming the Union. Coal owners and operators are NOT friends to miners and most of them are carpetbaggers who are concerned only with profits; cost be damned. This film is important for education as a lot of people have forgotten the history and story of the people who fought, and died, for basic rights and freedom for this region. As an example a few years ago I was in Beckley for a funeral and ended up educating a union organizer about the Battle at Blair Mountain. And…that was an Organizer! Education before action: Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. I am in the Ohio part of Appalachia and I can see it as it is next door. To help the Appalachian people they will have to learn other skills/trades than digging for coal.
    The people in the hardest hit areas fight for coal no matter how bad they are treated because it is all they know.
    There was a short miniseries (on Spike TV) named Coal it showed a small mine in WV. http://usatoday30.usatoday.com/money/industries/energy/2011-04-08-cobalt-coal-tv-safety-.htm
    in one episode they gottheir tag line on video when one of the younger miners said

    “All we Know how to do is Dig Coal”.

    I’m sure every coal mine owner was beaming with pride.


    • Yup I saw that mini-series also. This film is about helping people see coal in a different light than they have over the past decade and a half, to realize we have to move on, learn something different. I have friends who are working diligently to address the skills issue. The Department of Labor has released millions of dollars to retrain coal miners in different skill areas, but many aren’t taking them up on the offer. They believe Trump and other industry propaganda that coal will rise again and give everyone a job.


  4. Glad to see the film out and doing well. As one who also spent some time as an underground miner (Union!) and teaches Union history, I have come to the conclusion that beneath all of the specifics we may share about coal, the fundamental need is to realize “It ain’t about coal”. The great evil is capitalism and the inherent contradictions within. We live on a round rock and politicians and so-called economists preach of the need for growth. Anyone who can pass a basic math class (fewer all the time) understands that a growth rate of as much as 1/2 of 1% is suicidal–much less the 3-5 percent usually hailed as indicative of a “healthy economy”. Infinite growth on a finite planet is an absurdity. Time to re-boot the paradigm.

    Liked by 1 person

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