Dear Washington Post—With Love, from a West Virginian

Dear Washington Post, an open letter:

If we learned nothing else this election cycle, we learned that polls and pundits and journalists can get it terribly wrong. And we learned that many people on the coasts didn’t understand “flyover” states like West Virginia.

I was born here. I love West Virginia. So let me explain a few things. I’ll start with this:

Hi there, WaPo! I’m a progressive, and it seems you have me confused with a unicorn. However, I exist, as do many, many other WV progressives.

In general, WV Democrats—meaning rank-and-file Democrats, not those who are established “leaders” of the state party—are quite progressive. WV also has an active Green Party chapter, called the “Mountain Party” in our state. They endorsed several progressive Democratic candidates this year. In fact, Dem party leadership was so worried about Mountain Party gubernatorial candidate Charlotte Pritt that the Democratic state party chair actually stooped to smear tactics.

This was dropped after what was probably a pretty humiliating hue and cry, but no apology was ever issued.

Have you read the 2016 WV Democratic Platform, WaPo editors? The platform and our resolutions (the resolutions are hidden quite deeply on the WV Dem website) are all quite progressive. To emphasize, they weren’t just pretty progressive. They were so progressive that the state chair actually took offense. She called it “a slap in the face.” Mind-blowing.

No apology was issued there, either.

WV Democrats called for a $15 minimum, single payer healthcare, support for cannabis, clean water, opposition to destructive MTR and fracking, and banning for-profit prisons, among other things. But while county delegates were accomplishing what has been called the most progressive Democratic state platform in the nation, the leadership of the party was busy ousting the progressive vice-chair, Chris Regan. And although all 55 of our counties were strongly Sanders, superdelegates—the leadership, in other words—flipped the state to HRC in the primary.

Shane Assadzandi, one of WV’s 18 Sanders delegates at the Democratic National Convention, explained the response when leadership was pressed about why they were ignoring the voices of West Virginia democrats.

According to Assadzandi, “Only one person offered us a respectful explanation for her choice. That was Kanawha County Chair Elaine Harris, an early Sanders endorser who cast her superdelegate vote for Hillary at the instructions of her union. The other 7 superdelegates were dismissive toward our position.”

Another Sanders delegate, Selina Vickers, suggested that superdelegates should cast their votes in proportion to the results of the primary.

“It wouldn’t have changed the overall outcome,” Assadzandi said, “but it would have been a symbolic olive branch from the party establishment. Of course, that didn’t happen.”

The Sanders delegates were treated with such disdain that some like Assadzandi actually disowned their credentials.

They felt they were not just betrayed, but silenced by their own party. The Democrats wanted a theme of “unity” at the national convention, but by failing to listen to the voices of their democratically elected delegates—and what WV voters overwhelmingly wanted—indeed, by actively stifling those voices, they gave the lie to their own ideals.

Ironic. Tragic. Typical.

But this is digression of a sort. If you want the nitty gritty details, give me a holler and I’ll burn your ear. But knowing what our political landscape is like may help you process the following.

I’m writing you today about this story of yours, “Interior Adopts Controversial Last-Minute Rule…” Allow me to issue a comment about this rule change, because the typical pattern from here is that our politicians will tell you how angry West Virginians are, how hurt we’ll be.

Our self-interested politicians repeat industry talking points ad infinitum, ad nauseum. Then, editors, you print those talking points, as if they are somehow truer when they emerge from the mouth of a politician dependent on industry money for his or her job than they are when they come directly from the industry.

But these politicians don’t represent us. They represent the industry. It is not in their self-interest to talk about how we’re suffering. So let’s break that pattern.

Clean air and clean water is as important to people here as it is to everyone… even moreso for us, because the risks and social costs of extraction aren’t spread evenly over the whole country. They are concentrated on top of extraction communities. They are concentrated here in WV. We pay those costs—and we pay them unwillingly.

We can’t decline to breathe the dirty air or have our water contaminated. We can’t decline to endure the cacophony of a pump station next door, or to deal with the transformation of our beautiful mountain view to a view of a crater. If we could, then Force of Will could double as a magical shield: Expecto Patronum!


That would be lovely, but that’s not the way it works.

The big problem we have here is that there is ONE party—the Plutocrats—with two puppets. Resource Barons are wielding an economic weapon against us.

This year, our state party torpedoed progressive gubernatorial candidates in favor of a deadbeat coal baron climate science denier who shares few if any values with Democrats. They neglected to provide timely support to actual Democratic candidates this year. In fact, at the time of this writing—December—there is still a “2016 Candidates Page Coming Soon!” page on the state dem website. Did they ever get that page done? If so, I couldn’t find it.

The party couldn’t give me any phone number, email address or website info this year for the Democrat running for state delegate in my district. They also pressured four important state candidates—all lost, BTW—to adopt positions counter to our platform.

Manchin is not well liked here, not by rank-and-file Democrats. He doesn’t share our principals, not even the most basic. Yet national Democrats just named him to important committees in what is likely an attempt to keep him from defecting, as it’s often rumored he will (as lately as this election cycle). Remember, “Democratic” candidates like Justice and Manchin win here only because Republicans run folks like Raese and Cole—and because the state leadership helps DINOs like Justice and Manchin echo the lie that resource extraction at any cost to us… helps us. It’s nonsensical.

This is how accepting corporate money will destroy Democrats: because the self-interested Democrats can get paid by the Plutocrats, and be in nominal power so long as they continue allowing our exploitation, the transfer of more of our state’s wealth to the wealthy.

Getting the money out of politics isn’t one issue among many; it’s the controlling issue of our time. It’s the issue that, if addressed, would allow us to address all the other issues effectively.

[T]he idea that racism and sexism are non-economic forms of oppression is “rather incredible.” Marriage equality, for example, is not merely a social issue, or bad because it discriminates; rather, restricting individuals’ ability to marry denies them a legal union that protects, among other things, their earnings, labor, retirement, and ability to pass on wealth. Workplace sexual harassment literally leverages a woman’s economic vulnerability to coerce sexual favors. The Democratic Party long ago retreated from structural critiques of economic power in this country and as a result, their discussions of discrimination are often disconnected from people’s material condition. — Hartwell

The economic oppression we’re experiencing in West Virginia (and in places like North Dakota) can be called the new Highland Clearances. Our property might be converted to profit if it can be seized, so many politicians are helping Resource Barons do just that.

Now, your story. It read in part:

But the announcement, coming a month before power is handed over to a new presidential administration, is almost certain to anger coal companies and conservative Republicans. The rule likely will be an early target of President-elect Donald Trump, who pledged during his campaign to help turn around an industry beset by debt, job losses and declining profits — all of which make the cleanup requirements of a 1977 federal law more difficult.

I’m not really sure how to communicate this to you… but why should we care, at this time, about how you expect coal companies will “feel” about the change? By speculating in this way, you’re essentially priming us for industry lies. And you’re priming us to give credence to the same lies when they are spouted by our so-called public servants.

I would prefer to see an emphasis on how much of the formerly externalized costs citizens will be saving.  My third-grade self would be stunned if she knew she would one day grow up to ask… can we have more math, please? But it would be more productive of elevating the national discourse. How are your readers to remember, in this age of the 8-second attention span, that resource extraction redistributes to the wealthy?

You do mention the “fears that the nation’s largest coal companies might leave taxpayers with hundreds of millions of dollars in cleanup costs for closed mines.” Thank you for that. However the emphasis again is on the emotional context of the costs, without discussing the actual figures. There should be less focus on the reaction to the rule and more on the effect of the rule.

How many lives is this rule expected to spare over the next few years? How much will we be saving in healthcare costs? Will coal companies cut CEO pay (coal CEO pay has been growing, despite a decline in the industry), or will they try to divest themselves of worker pensions through bankruptcy again?

This new rule is good for West Virginia, and for all of us. Because Resource Extraction, unregulated, is weaponized Plutocracy. It’s a financial bomb that is dropped on impoverished areas that have  few to no defenses. Look at the maps showing increased incidences of cancers and cardiovascuar disease in mining and frack impacted areas. Those are essentially blast zones.

See them as such. Report on them as such. Don’t anticipate the rationalizations and the appeals of the Plutocrats. Don’t normalize those positions, that are unconnected to actual data showing us what the costs are. Let THEM try to explain how saving X lives over the next Y years—and Z in healthcare costs for taxpayers—is not worth their while. Don’t allow them to frame it as if their problems are our problems. That’s not true.

Don’t allow our politicians sacrifice us and monetize our suffering.

You could help, WaPo, by recognizing that there are plenty of progressives here in flyover country, and we’re fighting to make positive changes. You could help by recognizing that until we get money out of politics, what our politicians say about the “War on Coal” (and perhaps, about almost anything) is simply going to be an echo of industry messaging and very little else. You could help by qualifying statements by politicians with how much money they received from related special interests. You could help by declining to speculate on the emotional state of “coal companies.” You could help by communicating how many benefits our communities will see in long term cost savings and improved health. You could help by focusing on who is paying the costs and who is getting the benefits.

What I’m saying here: you could help. You could help, really HELP.

Please do.

With Love,

Lissa, a West Virginian



9 thoughts on “Dear Washington Post—With Love, from a West Virginian

  1. My favorite lines -“Manchin is not well liked here, not by rank-and-file Democrats. He doesn’t share our principals, not even the most basic.” Thank you. I’ve been saying it all along as it falls on deaf ears. We have a name for him in our family – “PrettyBoyManchin” He really IS a lot like Trump in many ways.
    Also, kudos to your final paragraph. As I see it, WV is a neighboring state to DC and our DC newspaper needs to pay better attention.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yeah… we’re essentially the “back forty” of the East Coast. And this country has the ability to make WV an amazing escape if they stop abusing it: hiking, biking, rafting, hunting, fishing, farming, gardening, scenic views, friendly people, gorgeous small towns. Stereotypes of our state have developed persist in part, I think, because they’re so lucrative to extraction industries. It would be harder to allow abuse by Gas and Oil Barons if they saw Appalachians as an oppressed people. “Dumb hillbillies,” as they like to think of us, deserve what they get. There’s an interesting piece in the NYT about “Appalachian Feudalism.” In it, Ron Rash wonders if “the popular view of Appalachia as an insular place with ignorant people makes it easier to ignore the plight of miners…” Essentially, the stereotypes help Resource Barons justify the exploitation. If we can break those stereotypes, it would help stem the flow of wealth out of here.


  2. Exactly how did you expect Sanders to help WV? He’s about as much a Democrat as Manchin is, which is to say, not at all. He bears almost as much blame for the orange ego’s success as Putin and Comey.


    1. I’m glad this commenter took the time to comment in this way, because it gives me the opportunity to point out how anger and blame assignment can be so self-defeating.

      I would urge folks wanting to engage in a productive discussion to consider what sort of communication is helpful in accomplishing what you want to accomplish. What result do you envision? What is best-case? What can you do or say to achieve that result? In most cases, your goal is not going to be accomplished by simply venting your feelings of frustration.

      Let’s break this comment down: 1. My expectations with regard to what a different election outcome may have been like have very little to do with the topic of this post. And I suspect there isn’t an answer I could give that would satisfy. In fact, my guess is that the question is meant to communicate disdain rather than seek information. So… consider the disdain communicated. Has that helped resolve the important problems facing this country? Probably not.

      2. There are ad hominem attacks, one referring to Trump as “the orange ego,” and one assigning blame for the outcome of the election.

      First, there are ample substantive reasons to dislike Trump, so many that we needn’t attack his appearance. I don’t think attacks like that are helpful, no matter whom they’re pointed at. It makes us seem small and petty, and unable to engage on issues, such as the fact that his cabinet currently has a net worth of something like 14 billion, is filled with people who essentially oppose the departments they’ll be heading. He’s more or less assembled a kakistocracy.

      As to my thoughts on why the election went the way it did, I have written about that, so a debate on that subject would be more productive on a post about that topic. I invite this commenter to (respectfully) comment there. I enjoy hearing different reasoned perspectives, and can often learn something, even from people—perhaps especially from people—with whom I may disagree.


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