“It's hard to win around here, it really is,” says Lynn Beatty, a resident of Doddridge County, the epicenter of the fracking boom in West Virginia. A neighbor, Linda Ireland echoes that sentiment: “You feel like there's nothing you can do. Because you have these gas companies with all their resources. And the state seems to be on their side as well.”
Once the home to the rise and reign of King Coal, West Virginia is now in the crosshairs of a transition of power: from coal to gas. In the midst of this ecologically violent shift, communities are being ripped apart physically, economically and emotionally. The third poorest state in the nation, Paul Corbit Brown, president of Keepers of the Mountain explains the situation. “People here feel very isolated, they feel very forgotten. They feel very neglected, abandoned, abused – and hungry. For more than just food.” It's no surprise then that West Virginia is ranked number one in the opioid crisis. It's not surprising that forgotten folks have latched on to the lies and propaganda peddled by the likes of Trump.
What is surprising, however, is how much we could learn from West Virginia. Known by many, even inside the state, as a throwaway resource colony filled with nothing but hillbillies and poisoned streams and coal ash, these hills and hollers have a lot to show us about people power, resilience, beauty and indeed, ourselves. More than a microcosm of corporate malfeasance, bad policies and extremist propaganda, West Virginia is home to a radical working class history and the hard work of hoping for and building a better future.
Purposefully buried and now being dug up and amplified by grassroots activists, this history speaks to the power of the working class coming together – across cultural, race and religious dividing lines to organize together for basic human rights. From the sweeping and majestic hills of Southern Appalachia to the methane-streaked highways of the fracking corridor; from the decapitated peaks to the winding holler roads, this is a story most don't ever hear: a story truly of, for and by the people.
“Hard Road of Hope” amplifies the voices of these forgotten and proud rednecks – the ones carrying the torch from the first rednecks who tied on red bandanas and marched for their basic human rights. It seeks to hold a mirror up to all sacrifice zones, to the isolated folks in pain across the nation. This is an American story, an American history – and for the future of all the people who call this place home, this is the path we must all walk if we want to thrive, and indeed, survive.