Current events suggest the jury is out on this question
By Michael M. Barrick
In Charleston, W.Va. yesterday, somewhere in the neighborhood of 6,000 to 7,000 workers rallied at the state capitol to protest legislation that labor leaders say are trampling on workers’ rights. Notably, the legislature is controlled by the Republicans for the first time in roughly 80 years. While I sympathize with the workers, a few questions must be posed to them:
• Did you vote last year? If not, why not?
• If you did vote, did you vote Republican? If so, why?
• Did you vote a straight ticket? If so, how much thought did that take?
Business interests will stop at nothing to gut the gains made by labor since the West Virginia Mine Wars of a century ago. While plenty of Democrats have not been friends of labor, the Republican Party made it very clear during last season’s election cycle that it would do what it has done this legislative session. It has honored its campaign promises.
How many protesting in Charleston yesterday helped put these scoundrels in office?
Open for Business
A few years ago, the state of West Virginia changed the state slogan on signs welcoming travelers into the Mountain State. “Wild and Wonderful” was replaced with “Open for Business.” While the signs have been changed back, the reality has not. West Virginia is quickly losing its claim to being wild and wonderful as the energy industry rapes the landscape. This legislature is beholden to an energy extraction mono-economy. One need only read the state’s eminent domain law – passed under Democratic control – to see that the coal, gas and oil industries are free to take your land if they want it.
West Virginia, is indeed, open for business – to a wealthy few. How many West Virginians can afford a $100,000 breakfast? Or one for a mere $25,000? Well as you will learn here, the Republican Party is having such meals to raise money.
Obviously, much of this money is coming from out-of-state donors. Since the 19th century, when the Rockefellers and other robber barons extracted the state’s energy resources, a few outsiders have gotten rich and the vast majority of West Virginians have gotten misery. This is our history. It will remain that way so long as we remain willfully ignorant.
Perverting the State Motto
West Virginia’s state motto, Montani Semper Liberi – Latin for “Mountaineers are Always Free” – is being perverted. Those who have had their land taken for eminent domain have learned the hard way that the state’s real motto is, “What is ours is ours; what is yours is negotiable.” This is being driven home by proposed legislation that would allow “forced pooling.” Essentially, this would allow companies engaged in fracking to take a person’s land if enough of their neighbors cave into the gas companies. As explained by The Wheeling Intelligencer, “The bill would authorize forced pooling for horizontal drilling if a driller has leased at least 80 percent of the acreage in a proposed unit and has made good-faith efforts to negotiate with the other mineral owners, who would receive compensation determined by a seven-member Oil and Gas Conservation Committee.”
If this wasn’t so sinister, it would be laughable. Who will define “good faith”? Certainly not the landowner. This “Conservation Committee” is Orwellian in name. History suggests it will be in practice as well.
Recently, a gas company official was quoted in a local newspaper as characterizing West Virginians as “docile.” We didn’t look that way in Charleston yesterday. That was just one day though. Time will tell if he was right, or if yesterday’s rally reveals that Mountain State residents will stand up to the corporate interests and their political lackeys who wish to hand over what is left of West Virginia to a privileged few. We may learn, the hard way, that acquiescence and ignorance are a lethal combination to all that we hold dear – our personal freedoms and the wild and wonderful hills and valleys that we call home.
© Appalachian Preservation Project, LLC, 2015. The Appalachian Chronicle is a publication of the Appalachian Preservation Project. The Appalachian Preservation Project is a social enterprise business committed to preserving and protecting Appalachia. If you wish to support our work, please consider becoming a member.
The Appalachian Preservation Project is also handling planning for the “Preserving Sacred Appalachia” Earth Day conference scheduled for April 20-21 in Charleston, W.Va. Learn about it here.