With the indictment of Don Blankenship for violating Mine Safety regulations leading to the deaths of 29 miners at the Upper Big Branch mine, comes several opportunities for West Virginia in particular and central Appalachia as a whole. I’m sharing a series of these reflections for your consideration.
Opportunity: To Adopt a Better View of Government
On Good Government
I know West Virginia, you have good reason to be suspicious of government. The feds did bomb your miners for trying to organize. You see a lot of corruption in government with leaders being in the pockets of big industry. People have betrayed your trust on numerous occasions. But with the indictment of Don Blankenship comes a chance to take a closer look at government and what it can do when it is working for your best interest.
Oh, the irony. The bad guy in this instance is the guy who looks like you and speaks with your accent. He has even paid some of you handsomely. But he manipulated your work ethic to pad his own pocket while willfully risking your safety. He then blamed God when you died in his mines. He also manipulated your patriotism to combat your right to organize and bargain together. Finally, he manipulated your distrust of government to shield himself from responsibility as an employer.
Meanwhile, the good guy in this instance (Federal Prosecutor R. Booth Goodwin) is a well-spoken, well-healed, well-dressed, well-read lawyer hired by Obama! Get a hanky out and hear this good guy talk about the Constitution.
Never judge a book by its cover. Instead, take a closer look and learn better ways to distinguish friend from foe. In the end, a blanket distrust of government is foolish and counter-productive. At times, it has led you to isolate yourselves unnecessarily. At other times, it has led you to elect people based on their ability to sound like you, rather than electing people based on ideas. Certainly, bad government can kill you. But good government can play a vital part in lifting up a community.
On Good Citizenship
I believe this is a good time for community organizations (churches, libraries, community colleges, etc.) to offer refresher courses in Civics to teach what government does and how the common citizen can access it. Government can be complicated, for sure. So the people have to keep up. How can government be accountable to the people if the people don’t know what government is supposed to be doing? When you know what government can and cannot do, when you can discern between good government and bad government, you become part of the most powerful force in human history: a well-informed and deeply-engaged electorate.
To be deeply engaged, you cannot disengage after Election Day. Government BY the people doesn’t mean you can check out once the ballots are counted. Being present at city and county board meetings, going to school board meetings, writing and speaking to elected officials, working collectively on efforts to better your communities…these are all ways the common citizen can participate in government.
Remember that time Don Blankenship tried to buy the WV Legislature? Remember when he vacationed in the French Riviera with his judge friend who later sided with Massey in a corruption scheme? You were wise to resist his blatant manipulation of government for his own gain. Now that he has been indicted, you have an opportunity to reset your relationship with government and set a new course for leadership in West Virginia. This is opportunity is knocking. Will you open the door?
Remember last year when your water was contaminated for months because regulations on chemical tanks were lax. Did you know that people in your elected government are seeking to remove those very regulations? Did you know that the carbon industry lobbyists who have contributed to your representatives’ election campaigns are looking to loophole the crap out of those regulations to render them useless? (See the screenshot below for the draft of the bill updating the storage tank law). It is more and more true that corporate money is turning politics into a spectator sport where the common man can only watch and be ruled. The step one in remedying this problem is being informed: reading a bunch, talking a bunch and listening to LOTS of different voices. It means homework: the kind adults do when there is work to be done. These pivotal moments are accompanied by great freedom to change the course of your lives. Godspeed on this important work.