A staffer for a West Virginia politician with an office in Washington, D.C. recently referred to Crystal Good as a “poverty profiteer.” Crystal is a poet and a thinker. A West Virginia girl, born and raised, she has lived around the country, but now makes her home in West Virginia. For the record, I’ve never met Crystal and I doubt she has ever heard my name, except that we are Facebook friends through some mutual connections.
This politician’s assistant suggested she profited from poverty and liked that West Virginia is “last in everything.” Having read some of Crystal’s work, my impression is the exact opposite. She isn’t afraid to talk about poverty or the things that are wrong in West Virginia, but I’m fairly confident she would much prefer to see her friends, family and fellow West Virginians doing well. And it is hard to imagine anyone suggesting a poet is a profiteer. It is the rare poet who actually makes a profit.
In reality, this attempted shaming (which really backfired) was about coal. Having seen what coal mining does to miners and coal mining communities, Crystal had the nerve (gasp) to suggest that something that politician spouted off about the coal industry was propaganda.
My friend Daniel Boyd’s new graphic novel “Carbon” has been labeled “controversial” in a couple recent news reports because it dares to portray the coal industry negatively. For the record, coal MINERS are the heroes of the story. Just not the industry itself.
We refuse to have a real conversation about coal. Our “leaders” want to blame the president’s policies for coal’s decreasing market share because he is unpopular in this state. Automation and heavy machinery have drastically reduced the number of people who work in coal mines. This isn’t something that began with the latest president. Those same “leaders” won’t put any thought into job retraining or education or a plan for what to do after coal.
There is a general election coming up and a lot of people are paying lip-service to coal and being “for” West Virginia jobs. I want to hear what they plan to do to move West Virginia into the 21st century—we should already be there. How about business start ups? Or economic diversity? What about making sure another “water crisis” doesn’t poison the drinking water? How about protecting the quality of life in West Virginia that makes people from outside the state want to move here?
In the news business, a truism is to “follow the money.” Donations to political campaigns are public record. Find out who is donating to particular candidates and then ask yourself why. What does that company or industry hope to gain from those donations?
Another truism from the newspaper business is that you don’t start a fight with a person who buys ink by the barrel. In the modern world where words are digital, rather than ink-based, I would say you don’t want to start a fight with someone (like Crystal or Danny), who uses words, not just for a living, but because they HAVE to.
– Eric Douglas is an author and journalist. His latest adventure novel, “Heart of the Maya,” begins in West Virginia and ends up in the Mayan ruins of Tulum, Mexico. He’s also edited “River Town,” a collection of short stories set in West Virginia in 1890. His documentary work includes “Common Valor,” a book about West Virginia war veterans. He is also the “Lessons for Life” columnist for Scuba Diving Magazine and a former newspaper reporter in Charleston. To learn more, go to booksbyeric.com.