Stop The Teabaggers, Give Them Green Jobs: Lessons From the Coalfields of West Virginia
West Virginia shows us how we could easily win over this key segment of society, working class whites, with a New Deal-style industrial policy. Currently, 85,000 people in the United Statesare employed by the wind industry; Slightly more than the 81,000 in the United States working as coal miners.
On election night 2000, the biggest shocker for me wasn't Florida, but that West Virginia had voted for a conservative Republican presidential candidate for the first time in nearly 70 years.
For decades, West Virginia, with one of the highest rates of unionization in the country, regularly voted for progressive candidates, even being one of only nine other states in 1988 to vote for the epitome of a Massachusetts liberal - Michael Dukakis. To know the story of West Virginia is to know why the progressive movement is failing to win over white working class voters. Because of their primary concern: jobs.
Driving around West Virginia as a young union organizer with Marshall University labor historian Gordon Simmons, I quickly learned that underneath its beautiful mountain lay a history of exploitation, broken promises and economic degradation. Despite being "the Saudi Arabia of Coal," West Virginia is engaged in a yearly neck and neck race with Mississippi for being the poorest state in the country.
As a result of coal mining, West Virginia has a cancer rate that is nearly 70% higher than the national average . Every day more than three million pounds of ammonium nitrate explosives (a highly carcinogenic substance) are exploded in mountaintop removal. This is the equivalent of a Hiroshima bomb worth of explosives being dropped on West Virginia every month. Over 100 billion gallons of toxic sludge are contained in poorly regulated, coal sludge reservoirs from mountaintop mining contaminating local water supplies, leading to mind boggling rates of cancer.