Dear West Virginia,
First, a confession: I'm not from around these parts. I haven't grown up here. I don't have roots that can be traced far back to a time when roots weren't shriveled and eroded, but fresh and thriving in the rich soil that gave birth to all kinds of wild and wonderful.
I feel like I need to be honest about this, because this is simply not a place where trust is given freely. Your past and present are burdened with the acrid lies of exploitive interests. It has left a wound that lies raw and open, disallowed to heal as more harsh chemicals are poured in, and increasingly scarce life-giving minerals are leeched out.
For mountains that may have once created such a thunderous echo, sound doesn't seem to carry far beyond these state boundaries. And when a people have chafed their voices raw for so long declaiming injustice to no avail, it is not surprising when they one day lower their heads in reluctant silence.
And yet, I have heard quite a lot. I have heard you say that you are tired of being strong, and I understand. You have been strong for so long. Who would not grow weary of carrying this silent strength: It is an asset in appearance only, hiding an implicit weakness that rots it from the inside out. While you are praised for being strong, the very foundation of this strength is devoured.
For over a month now, I have read so many articulate, prescient articles by West Virginians voicing their deep frustration and rage, directed at adversaries of both the present and past. I have listened to countless impassioned tirades filled with justified indignation from activists and private citizens alike, diagnosing the underlying poisons in this intricately flawed state: Greed, corruption and negligence just to name a few. I have seen others throw their hands up in wordless grief. Where to even start?
Though I am not from here, I fell in love with West Virginia immediately. My love for this place, (that is both intensely beautiful and seemingly irretrievably contaminated), has only deepened as I better understand its complexities: From the melancholy memory of better times past that trails you like a ghost, to the warm satisfaction that fills your heart up every day because you live among people with such unpretentious generosity of spirit.
A sense of home is what I came here looking for, and it is what I found in spades. For that I am extremely grateful.
But I'm not writing this just to thank you for being hospitable, or to tell you that I admire your impressive strength in the face of such prolonged injustice and incessant oppression by insensible politics and industry. I won't offer naïve aphorisms, because (unlike clean drinking water and trustworthy politicians) I think we already have an abundance of those.
I only offer this certainty: What you have here is irreplaceable, and it is, in every way, still worth fighting for, perhaps now more than ever. This new enemy might look like all the others, but the end of this story doesn't have to.
It's simple: Clean drinking water is a human right. The way you have been treated by those that have allowed this to happen is inhuman. You should be outraged. You should fight. You should stay loud. And you shouldn't let anyone convince you otherwise.
I say nothing that most of you don't already know. But I am proud to join you and add my voice to the many who call West Virginia home. Keep on fighting, friends.Brunello is an Americorps VISTA worker in Lincoln County and a 2013 graduate of the University of Richmond.