Monday, April 21, 2008

Gauley Mountain, Coal, and Rhetoric

The rising demand for coal is heating up local rhetoric again. While it never stopped in the western part of West Virginia, things had been quieter here. Now people who look for good jobs in the mines are pitted against the tourist "industry" and people concerned about damage to the environment, their health, and their homes. In The Fight for Gauley Mountain Bob Kincaid claims the hot tongue of Mother Jones to chastise coal miners.

I live in Fayette County, West Virginia, the heart and soul of West Virginia's whitewater rafting tourism industry....They roar down gorges as old as the earth itself, past the ghost towns that are all that's left of the mine wars of a century ago; towns where...Mother Jones worked to organize the slaves of the coal industry...These are the Tombstones and Dodge Citys of Appalachia.

If asked, most folks would tell you that the days of the mine wars are a long gone piece of West Virginia's violent past. Most folks would be wrong. I saw with my own eyes last Saturday, April 5, that the past is never so far away that we can't see it come to life before our eyes. There's a war going on in West Virginia again.

I don't like the false dichotomies created by this sort of polarizing rhetoric. There really isn't a choice between jobs and income on the one hand and safe, healthy, environment on the other. If you can't strike a balance, everybody's in trouble. Do you suppose this industry/environment, Democrat/Republican, capitalists/workers split reflects some fundamental feature of the human mind?

(In case you're wondering about the Pocahontas County connection here, Louise McNeill named her book Gauley Mountain, although the inspiration for the poems, her family farm and family history, are located here.)

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