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West Virginia mine tragedy everyone's


I recently had some relatives stop by while on a vacation/business trip and we treated them to the movie Food Inc. One of the stories contained in this telling documentary was that of the poultry farmer. Typically, these hard working, salt of the earth types will sink their entire life’s savings into building a business which includes the chicken houses, buying the stock, feed and all other essentials. The major manufacturers have strict guidelines as to how the houses need to be constructed and how the chickens are to be fed. Citing regulations and standards, these mega-corporations will tell the farmers each year that in order to meet code they will have to upgrade their production which requires the investors to go further into debt in order to maintain their livelihood. I immediately saw the similarity between this type of exploitation and the Company Store. This cultural phenomenon was brought into vivid consciousness in the movie “Matewan”, which told the story of the struggle between the Stone Mountain Coal Company and the miners in a small Southern West Virginia town. 

I grew up in Southern West Virginia and have memories of playing in coal camps with my cousins and other local children. Present reality, historical records and my childhood memories all attest to the same impoverished conditions which characterize this beautiful yet heavily exploited region of America. I live here by choice. As I write this article, I am sitting on my deck soaking up the spring sunshine listening to the babbling brook that runs through my back yard and watching the country side spring to life. A beauty that is presently dimmed by the awareness that 29 others no longer have the privilege of experiencing it and 29 families find little solace from it today.

I, like many others in Southern West Virginia, find myself ambivalent about the coal industry. On some deep inner level, in order to be completely truthful, shame resides. Coal mining offers nothing in the way of glamour, prestige or status. By its very nature it is a dirty, brutal and harsh industry. However, it provides an essential service and good stable employment in the area. Intellectually I know that this shame is both unnecessary and irrational. I also know that the honest, simple values achieved and maintained by steady labor are worth far more than the glitz and glamour of complicated, highly pressurized lifestyles. I suppose that the shame I feel is directly attached to the envy I have of those who appear to enjoy the finer things in life. While both of these negative principles are destructive as well as deceptive, they are also quite common in this small part of the world. However, the negative principles of envy and shame I can fully control by simply embracing the Truth. What is more difficult to control is another negative force which directly impacts the area in which I live. That force is exploitation.

In the wake of the Montcoal tragedy, politicians and coal executives scamper for the moral high ground and point their fingers in every direction but at themselves. Everyone wants to find the scapegoat on which to pin the tragedy. Always in the crowd are those who will attempt to exploit the situation even further. With seemingly the best of intentions they will impose regulations, establish agencies and further expand their own level of power and revenue. Democrats will shout for more regulations against big industry, posturing themselves while pocketing bribes and lobbyist’s favors. Republicans will make promises and excuses while also pocketing bribes and lobbyist’s favors. Meanwhile, the rest of us will continue to enjoy our electricity, steel, synthetic rubber and numerous products brought to us by the coal industry.

 Recently, I watched with interest as a libertarian oriented candidate made a momentary flash in the Texas Republican primaries. I know for a fact that some of those voting for the Bush - Romney type incumbent were tea partiers who listened to the bought out media and voted for comfort rather than truth. I have not come across one politician in West Virginia who is willing to stand up to the coal industry and declare that those who will benefit first and foremost from West Virginia’s natural resources are her citizens. It seems every one is bought by the company store.

If we are to survive as a nation, we must get back to simple truth. True and lasting change is always in

the direction of Truth and usually requires simplification rather than complication. Ron Paul has been preaching a simple message of Liberty and Peace for over 30 years while few have paid heed. Recently he spoke at a Republican convention in which his message of peace was eclipsed by other candidates’ pledges to “support Israel”. If people of faith believe that God is behind the nation of Israel, why does she need the support of America? The answer is, Israel doesn’t, at least not any more than the rest of our allies. It is like the nerdy pupil who supports the teacher in hopes that when or if trouble comes, he will be protected. The basis of this blind support is superstition, like sleeping with a Bible under one's pillow.  The question from the Almighty will more likely be “why were you not busy loving your neighbor instead of beating the drums of war?”

Our tragedy mirrors that of the nation. Miners are like poultry farmers and auto workers. We are told what to do, when to come and when to go. We pay more to stay healthy yet have to pay dearly if we get sick. We cannot afford a healthy lifestyle, yet we cannot afford treatment. The government wants to give us cheap health care, yet the strings attached are unbearable. The question is, are we willing to do what is necessary to get back to this simple, serene lifestyle or have we become too addicted to our complexities and dependent on corporations and government to change? The stakes of recovery are always life and death and the bottom line is always, “if nothing changes, nothing changes”.

I leave you with the haunting words of a song by John Fogerty of Creedence Clearwater Revival…

Don't Look Now (it Ain't You Or Me)

(J.C. Fogerty)

Who will take the coal from the mine?
Who will take the salt from the earth?
Who'll take a leaf and grow it to a tree?
Don't Look Now, it ain't you or me.

Who will work the field with his hands?
Who will put his back to the plough?
Who'll take the mountain and give it to the sea?
Don't Look Now, it ain't you or me.

Don't Look Now, someone's done your starvin';
Don't Look Now, someone's done your prayin' too.

Who will make the shoes for your feet?
Who will make the clothes that you wear?
Who'll take the promise that you don't have to keep?
Don't Look Now, it ain't you or me.

Who will take the coal from the mines?
Who will take the salt from the earth?
Who'll take the promise that you don't have to keep?
Don't Look Now, it ain't you or me.


  • Cynthia Cox 5 years ago

    The truth is the harshest word in life filled with emotion and the hardest to accept and change~Your article brings up very good points. The truth is never easy to accept.

  • Rick 5 years ago

    Yes, but healing always accompanies Truth, they abide together...

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