Hard Road Of Hope
West Virginia...that's just like the epicenter of the opioid problem, right? And home to a bunch of hillbillies who vote for Trump? And the totally corrupt politicians who just let coal and gas do whatever the hell they want? What could you possibly have to say about West Virginia that's worth hearing?
These are some of the questions I've gotten from people when I told them I'm doing a longer-form piece on West Virginia. Heads cocked to the side like confused dogs, they emphatically demand that they already know what it's about, already know the stories, the characters (whom they don't like), so why bother? I might as well do a piece on why slavery was bad or how the earth isn't flat.
Ironically of course, they've answered their questions by asking them. Folks hear a lot, but they know a lot less. And hey, that included me too. Coal mining, then fracking, trailer parks and people with giant Trump flags in their yards. That's it, right? Truly, scathing headlines and punch lines about West Virginia are a dime a dozen. And the forgotten and isolated rednecks of West Virginia are familiar with this attitude. Indeed, it goes back to the very founding of the state as a throwaway resource colony.
So, there you have it. This is worth hearing because few so far have bothered listening. And this failure not only discards people and places in a manner corporate execs would applaud, it amputates us from our shared history, the understanding of our present and the ability to shape the future. Yes, West Virginia is home to pain, suffering, oppression, corruption and bigotry – but so is the whole country. And more than a microcosm of our agony, West Virginia is an example of radical resolve. Proud rednecks, the people are still fighting and building in the hills and hollers; working to connect their past to a broken present and the potential future that we all share. It's a hard road of hope, a pot-holed and puddled path past the Kings of coal and gas, but they keep walking. We would do well to walk with them for a while – and listen.