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Harrop chose wrong word for W.Va.

By Denise Giardina

Dear Ms. Harrop:    

  I am a writer, the author of several novels published by W.W. Norton, including "Storming Heaven" and "The Unquiet Earth," fictional accounts of 100 years of life (plus rebellion and repression) in the West Virginia coalfields. I have also been published over the years in the New York Times, the Washington Post and The Nation. I live in Charleston, West Virginia.

Your column on our current water disaster appeared this morning in our local newspaper (the Gazette reprints your columns fairly regularly, and I generally find them insightful.) Although I can understand some of your conclusions in this column, I respectfully suggest you are also misunderstanding some things. The comparison to a cult is not particularly helpful and smacks of blaming the victim, as well as lumping all the victims into one category. I would suggest another "c" word as a better comparison - West Virginia is a colony. As such, it functions as colonies everywhere always have:

1. Its resources are extracted and sent elsewhere, with little benefit locally.

2. Local government is wholly captive to the outside occupier and its functionaries are puppets who do as they are told.

3. A minority of the colonists identify with their oppressors and internalize their "inferior status", in a sort of Stockholm Syndrome.

4. The majority feels powerless to change the situation and generally has given up trying.

5. A minority fights back and gets kicked in the teeth.

The view that "Others don't appreciate the personal sacrifices West Virginians make to provide the nation with chemicals and coal" may be parroted by politicians like Joe Manchin, but I rarely hear most of my fellow West Virginians say such a thing. We understand very well that we are not making some "sacrifice" but rather are being exploited. When you suggest we deserve to be disrespected because others "can't understand why anyone would let absentee landowners level their mountains and bury their streams in waste," I must cringe.

Since the late 19th century, the people of West Virginia have tried everything from the ballot box to civil disobedience to armed rebellion to keep the coal industry at bay. Nothing has worked. What do you suggest we try? To accuse West Virginians of fouling our own nest comes perilously close to blaming a rape victim for her invasion.

I too thought, by the way, Eric Waggoner's "rant" was spot on (he's from my hometown). And yes, as he suggests, we West Virginians cannot absolve ourselves from responsibility. But a colonial situation is far different from a cult. And although you don't point it out, Eric indicts the entire nation. Let me suggest that it is at the U.S. government, captured as it is by giant corporations, where your finger should be pointed.

I hope, now that I have vented a bit (going without water makes one testy), that you also understand I actually appreciate that you at least attempted to tackle this subject. Most of the national media have ignored it.

Best wishes,

Denise Giardina

Giardina, of Charleston, is a novelist. She wrote this letter in response to a column by Providence Journal writer Froma Harrop that appeared in Thursday's Gazette.


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