As the coal industry pulls up its stakes amid a shifting energy market, it is crucial that the historic memory of Blair Mountain inform our region's next epoch. For that reason alone, the land and legacy of this mountain should be preserved and honored.
The empowering history of Blair invites us to build a new kind of solidarity among West Virginians and Appalachians more generally, among those of us who feel called to stand together for a better tomorrow. As mountaineers, we have this power, but like the potential of renewable energy, it has yet to be fully unlocked.
We saw some of this power at the recent United Mine Workers mobilizations, as retired and disabled miners movingly protested an effort by Arch Coal to rid itself of retiree health benefits via bankruptcy proceedings. Never in my lifetime have I seen West Virginians reclaim their streets in such numbers. These protests remind me that though the circle can seem broken, there are bridges to be built between generations by ideas of justice that transcend history.
Where power now resides in the hands of those few who control Appalachia's coal mono-economy, let us lift up the efforts of those who bring alternative perspectives to our mountains and dare to see the forest of healthy communities for the trees of short-term gain.
This challenge is not extended lightly. As polarized as our homeland has become due to industry propaganda and divisive, non-consensual environmental actions, speaking to our true hearts' knowledge can feel dangerous, even destructive to the human connections we have left.
Appalachian mining communities have much --everything, really -- to lose when it comes to looking past our historic lifeblood in coal. But the alternative --remaining subject to an unsustainable boom-bust cycle that leaves us progressively worse off than the previous generation -- no longer feels like an option.
Blair Mountain brings a constellation of issues to light. We as Appalachians and as Americans must dare ourselves to see this mountain as more than a seam of coal, more even than the economic development opportunity for heritage tourism that it offers.
We must preserve these acres as a place of reflection, but more importantly, we must preserve the dream of resistance they inspire, the trampling of barriers they represent. We must gather there the audacity to firmly and non-violently demand economic diversity, alternative energy, and politicians who can, with our votes, deliver those dreams.
Coal has been our history. It is beautiful and complicated, and we are haunted by it. But in every moment we stand together on a mountaintop and demand something more worthy of our love of home, we make history anew.
Moore, a former Gazette Flipside writer, is a print and radio freelancer in Oak Hill, beautymountainstudio.com.