If Charles Dickens were alive today spinning Christmas yarns, he would be writing about the health and well-being of Appalachia. He wouldn’t write about how industries “keep the lights on.” He’d worry about the grim conditions that keep the hospitals full and the environment foul.
As Dickens heard demands for cuts in environmental and safety regulations—as well as health care access for working Americans—his attention would turn to the calls of struggling families seeking hope and a new era.
Dickens might not be tempted to wax rhapsodic about the ingenuity of American industry. Instead, he would expound on the frailty of human nature in the face of overwhelming greed.
In A Christmas Carol for our time, Scrooge would be a wholly-owned self-interested corporation focused exclusively on the bottom line.
And of course, he would be visited by the three Christmas ghosts.
Appalachian Christmas Past would take Scrooge on a tour of the public health, labor and environmental justice movements. He’d see the moments when people fought for their rights, but lost to the financial power of small super-affluent special interests.
Appalachian Christmas Present would float Scrooge through the grotesquely dismal insurance claims process for black lung disease and cancer…and the many insults and treatment denials the current health care system hurls at the dying.
Appalachian Christmas Future would bring Scrooge to an isolated graveyard, surrounded by sterile rocky fields where toxic streams flow down to a dead and oily sea.
But how does the redemption that Dickens writes into the Victorian-era tale come to Appalachia?
Picture our Scrooge, flinging open the window Christmas morning, realizing that its not too late. Imagine the now-reformed-geezer rallying bipartisan support for environmental protection and humane health-care policies. Imagine his campaigns to put new life into local businesses like home weatherization, renewable energy and farmers markets.
Most of all, imagine Scrooge on his knees, praying for forgiveness, remembering what Marley told him: “Mankind was my business. The common welfare was my business; charity, mercy, forbearance, and benevolence, were, all, my business.”
As the joy of the moment fills us with blessings for each and every one of us, let’s take the pen from Dickens and help draft the happy ending—and new beginning—for our Treasured Appalachia.
Season’s Greetings, Appalachia—here’s a toast to a New Year working together for a healthier future.