Front Porch Blog

Globalizing Appalachia

Driving up to Norton, in Wise County, VA, on Saturday – the Saturday of a Fourth of July Weekend – I had just about all 4 lanes of the road to myself. What a contrast from Damascus, just 45 miles to the southeast, where traffic was almost in a gridlock. Everywhere were smiling families on bikes out for a ride on the Creeper Trail, and teenage kids with backpacks going out for a day or two on the Appalachian Trail.

The mountains in Wise County and Washington County look pretty much the same – at least those mountains that haven’t been blasted into rubble like the one from Wise County in the photograph. What makes that 45 miles into a lightyear in every other way is the fact that the mountains in Wise County have coal, while Washington County was blessed with the lack of it.

Washington County is building an economy and an infrastructure around the incredible natural beauty, rich cultural traditions, first-rate music and everything else that part of Virginia has to offer. Wise County, under the overwhelming power of coal companies, has embarked on an entirely different path: flattening the mountains, filling in the streams, and creating a whole bunch of flat land for “economic development.”

I have to admit that I was one of those who never really understood exactly what the World Trade Organization Protests in Seattle were all about, or exactly what “anti-globalization” protesters were protesting. But if what is happening to Wise County can be called “globalization”, I think I understand what all the fuss is about.

Imagine telling the people of New England that we need to level the mountains in which they live so that we can build more shopping malls and more prisons. Imagine telling that to the people of Colorado, or the people of the Coastal range of northern California.

What kind of people would make that choice – to blast the tops of their mountains into rubble, bury their mountain streams with the waste and debris in order to make room for more Wal-Marts and more parking lots.. Who would choose to make their lives a living hell as earth-shaking blasts and earth moving equipment of unimaginable proportions grind away endlessly – day and night – and giant boulders and floods devastate the families, homes and communities living below? Not the local folks of Wise County – it’s pretty clear if you talk to them that they want nothing more than to rein-in the lawlessness and destruction being wrought by the coal companies.

But this is the choice being made in central Appalachia – not by the people who live there –but by the U.S. Government. While it would be easy to blame the hugely powerful coal companies who have written the laws in their own favor and corrupted the political system for more than a century, the fact is that it is our democratically-elected government that, under the Bush Administration, has gone from complicit to a central mover in pushing this monstrous type of globalization onto the people of Appalachia.

We all, my friends, are complicit in the globalization of Appalachia. What are you going to do about it?




AV Mountain border tan1

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Leave a Comment