Tuesday, May 14, 2013

"If You Don't Like It, THEN MOVE!"

Many times I’ve heard it said to people who are fighting the coal industry, “If you don’t like it, THEN MOVE!” I want to share something I wrote a few years ago: 

What makes a home "home"? Some say home is where your heart is, or home is where you hang your hat. For me and my family it has been Georges Fork for the past ten generations. Despite a youth consumed with naivety and a longing to escape the seclusion of these hollows, I was still drawn back to them. This is the home where I was raised. These are the people I know, and the family I love.... This is where people come together to help one another and where being a neighbor means more than living next to someone. This is where children are raised with a good understanding of what it means to live simply and be happy, where they learn giving is better than receiving. This is where people fight for what they believe in, sacrificing and risking it all, joining others to see that everyone is treated with dignity. 

Unfortunately time changes everything.

As the older generations pass on, so do many of those values that were so deeply engrained into day to day life within these hills and hollows. The race to live and to provide for our families has now been tied to the almighty dollar, separating everyone and everything. We now "survive" by placing wants before needs. We sell our lives to the lenders in an effort to achieve the American dream—unending cyclical material happiness. All the many lessons of a simplicity-based happiness have seemed to vanish.
No one talks or visits anymore. Friendships and family ties become distant. Seldom made phone calls replace supper table conversations. Television replaces idle time on front porch swings. Only during times of strife do we pull together, and, for a glorious moment, brandish the mountain spirit, the true grit and humility we were once known for.

Each day I witness the blades of the dozers and the deafening blasts of ANFO destroying our mountains. I can't help but feel as if the coal industry is performing a coup de grĂ¢ce on my mountain home. For me, the raw exposed earth and grasslands that remain have come to symbolize the end of an era, the death of the mountain spirit, and all the wonderful things which made these hills and hollows my home.

If home is where the heart is, what is one to do when that heart has been broken?  

I wrote this not long after we lost our home to a fire. It was a time of uncertainty, a time when my wife and I faced many hard decisions about our children's future. We thought of staying, continuing to live close to family within the familiar hills and hollows that was our ancestral home for 200 years. We also feared for our children’s chances at a healthy future and a good education. Our decision became final and we left Georges Fork to start a new life in the best interests of our children.

In my separation from home I've found solace in holding to the values handed down to me from generation to generation, values such as compassion, minimalism, love of family, friendship, honesty, respect for the land and fighting for what's right. Today it seems as though those same ideals have branded me as an “outsider” in my mountain home.

The coal industry has done its homework. In the last fifteen years they have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on organizations and advertising that has re-defined the Appalachian people, using the pride and heritage coal miners had fostered through decades of sacrifice as a means to gain their allegiance. For many generations, Appalachians saw the coal industry as the outsiders who had come to force change upon them through exploitation and oppression. Today, the coal industry has changed the focus from themselves to a "War on Coal" which many people interpret as a war on the people of Appalachia. The industry contends that a political force with environmentalists as ground troops, are intent on taking away the pride of Appalachian people. What few realize is that it that pride was lost long ago when Appalachian people began taking sides with an industry that has always mistreated them.

Having realized these things, having contemplated the cold calculated methods by which outside industries exploit Appalachiaby feeling the pain of severed roots and clinging still to that place, that time, that love of the mountainsI have now become an outcast amongst my own people. For fighting for the land and a brighter future for every child in Appalachia, one in which they are not destined to a life of pain and suffering in the coal mines, of drinking poisoned water, or  overdosing on drugs, I, Nick Mullins, have become a despised environmentalist.

I have been called a disgruntled employee, a left wing extremist.

People search for reasons to dismiss me, to deny and ignore the truth of what is happening in Appalachia. I do not care what people consider me, I will fight to the very end against the greed that continues to destroy lives, not only in Appalachia, but throughout the rest of the world where money takes precedence over people.


  1. Hello Nick,

    You've written another soul searching, compassionate, and well reasoned summary of reality in the coal fields today.

    I also find the polarization and demonizing of environmentalist particularly distasteful. A troubling aspect of this issue to me; is the two groups descriptions of different "family values".

    One group say they have "family values" the other, despite the all evidence to the contrary, seem to not "value families" at all.

    I'm glad you had the wisdom and the courage to make the right decision. I can already see your quality of life, and the lives or your family, improve every day. I look forward to, and enjoy every new entry.

    Thank you for presenting your well reasoned opinion in this well written blog. Keep up the great work.

  2. Thanks, Nick, for your thoughtful post.

    I am an ecologist who has been working for the last 15 years trying to expose and prevent the damage that coal mining has been doing to streams and wetlands in Appalachia (especially in southwestern PA, in northern Appalcahia) as a result of longwall mining. I have seen whole communities destroyed --- even before the mining begins -- when the mine operator comes in and starts buying up thousands of acres of land for the surface facilities of the mine. Then when the mining goes through, homes and land and streams and water supplies are damaged. And instead of being repaired like the law says they should be, the coal company simply buys up the damaged property, at a much reduced price, and the damage remains. Once a stream has been dewatered, or an aquifer lowered, it cannot be repaired. How can you continue to farm the land without water? Many of the direct impacts of coal mining are not being addressed in the regulatory process --- but what is even more of a problem are the many indirect impacts -- the impacts to peoples lives and community cohesion. The loss of the Appalachia culture for the sake of short-term energy from a finite fuel like coal is simply inexcusable.