Editor’s Note: Sandy Reid of the People’s Tribune interviewed Paula Swearengin, a leader from Appalachia, about the fight for clean water. Paula is the mother of four boys.
I am very happy about the protest of thousands at our state capital. Donald Trump brought a lot of unity here. On election night I felt anger not only because of Donald Trump, but also because of what happened in West Virginia. One of the most polluting coal barons—Jim Justice (D)— was elected governor. He is well known for polluting people’s water supply and men have been injured and killed in his mines because of poor worker safety. Most of the people here in the southern coal areas don’t like him.
I’d like to send a message to Jim Justice and Donald Trump: Although West Virginia and our nation have been divided— we will not fall short to the false promises any longer. Hear us loud and clear. We want clean water. We want clean air. We want safe jobs. We want our children and grandchildren to have a clean, safe and sustainable future.
People have fought and died in the social justice movement to save Appalachia. The struggles have gone on far too long. Children are getting sick with diseases and illness from the water and air pollution in coal mining communities. Asthma, cancer and black lung have not only plagued our workforce. People are dying from coal. Now fracking is coming into play. That is not an acceptable alternative.
The people in Appalachia are tired of sacrificing to power in this nation. If coal mining ends, who is going to clean up the mess? The Appalachian Mountains are the birthplace of rivers. Our sacred life force (water) is left in polluted conditions comparable to what it would be in a third world country. The Cherokee Nation settled here. Most of my lineage is Cherokee. Our sacred places have been blown to bits with dynamite because of a destructive mining practice called Mountain Top Removal. Nobody’s cemetery or burial grounds are safe in areas where there is Mountain Top Removal. They will blow them up with dynamite and have no respect for our loved ones that we laid to rest. The only protection to burial sites and cemeteries is if they are registered with the state. Then the coal industry has the ability to blast around them, leaving families to ask permission to visit their loved ones surrounded by a barren moonscape with the escort of guards.
Everything that is of value to us has been unjustifiably taken away. There is irreversible damage to our water, health, heritage, land and communities. The platform for genocide laid here has spread all over the nation. My ancestors settled here before the coal industry did. They have more than worn out their welcome. Appalachia stands with Standing Rock, Flint, Alabama and everybody else in the nation dealing with the same struggles we are. We are ready to rise as a nation and stand together and actually make America great again. (To be continued.)