On this day ten years ago, thirteen men were still trapped following the explosion that rocked their mine over 28 hour before. Rescue efforts were in a state of disarray. The company, and many politicians, were busy doing damage control in front of the press to preserve their image.
But the men, those men who just went to work one morning to earn a living for their families, were facing the knowledge that they may never see their loved ones again. Being Appalachian family men, there is little doubt that their final moments of anguish—their final moments of fear—were not for their own souls, but for their families and the suffering they would endure in their absence.
Flight – Williamson, West Virginia – Photo by Nick Mullins
Since leaving the mining industry six years ago, I’ve gone in search of justice for Appalachia. It has been a hard journey coping with the deepening realities of our situation and the staggering amount of damage that’s been inflicted upon our communities—culturally, economically, and environmentally. I’m not going to lie. There have been many times I’ve wanted to give up and just find a quiet little farm off to ourselves, but I can’t. Perhaps it’s sheer insanity, but I can’t stop fighting.
I realized early on that when the union left, much of the fight for justice in Appalachia left with it. The only people who seemed to care and continue the fight were the environmental organizations that came to stop mountain top removal. It was only natural that I would join in to see what I could do to help. While many were discounted as being out-of-touch and caring only about trees and salamanders, I knew their cause was much further reaching than environmental justice. They were also working to end the social and economic injustices being inflicted on us by the coal and natural gas industries.
I learned a great deal from my time spent working with organizations like Appalachian Voices and the Southern Appalachian Mountain Stewards . Because of their help and guidance, I was given the desire to create this blog and take a chance on a new life in Berea, Kentucky. I even applied to Berea College where I was accepted to attend one of the few tuition-free work colleges in the nation.
In January, I came across the first of a new series on the Daily Yonder titled “In the Black.” It is an accurate and gritty portrayal of coal mining as told through the personal story of former eastern Kentucky coal miner, Gary Bentley. Admittedly, I lost track and didn’t continue with the series before eventually dropping back in on his 16th installment, “An Unlikely Band of Brothers.” As with the first segment, a theme of drug abuse emerged, painting present day miners in a not so flattering light.
Widow of Vietnam veteran who was killed in in the Scotia Mine Explosion. Photo by Earl Dotter
Today marks the 40th anniversary of the Scotia Mine Disaster that took the lives of 15 miners on March 9th, 1976, and a second explosion that took the lives of 11 mine rescue personnel on March 11th.
There is an unspoken promise that has been made by politicians and coal companies in Appalachia. It states that if people fight against the “War on Coal” companies can begin to open up mines again, thereby sending miners back to work making good money. There is the promise that Appalachia can be made great again, and that life will somehow improve beyond what it ever has been. But it is a promise that can never be fulfilled—it is a promise that has never been fulfilled.
There are many times I have been writing a post and stopped mid-thought to reflect on purpose and place. The majority of what I have stated on this blog and in public address is nothing original. My thoughts are simply reiterations precipitated from decades of struggle. Perhaps the only thing new is the time in which I speak them.
A few friends re-posted the article below on Facebook and it spurred my thoughts on a subject near and dear to my heart.
There are some miners who think only of themselves, who take the paychecks and say “I’m a proud coal miner, with a proud heritage,” then spit hatred towards anyone who says anything negative about their beloved coal industry. Of course, I should put much of the last statement in the past tense because that “beloved” coal industry has done exactly what I’ve expected, they’re pulling up stakes and leaving us with nothing—again. But hey, at least they have the common decency to ask for millions of dollars in bonuses for their CEOs while they strip their aging coal miners of their pensions and healthcare benefits. That last sentence was loaded with sarcasm if you couldn’t tell.