[A few weeks ago, I had an opportunity to read snippets of the following address on Facebook. I am a West Virginian, so, quite naturally, it caught my attention. Although much of the speech is obviously dated, the speaker addressed much that continues to be true of West Virginia today. So, I wrote to the author and asked his permission to re-print his speech here. He graciously consented.]
I come here today not as a messenger of despair, despondency nor defeat. My message today is one of peace, prosperity and hope. Most of all, though, I come here to day to shout out four more years for Barack Obama! In the words of Robert F. Kennedy: “Some people see things as they are and ask why. I see things as they could be and ask, why not? Why not four more years for Barack Obama!
Those who know me see me as the proud son of West Virginia, born and reared in Appalachia and instructed in the lore of the southern coalfields. Mine is an all-American story of a lad born in poverty, enriched in a world-wide experience who comes back to rediscover his roots on Rabel Mountain. For those who do not know me, I introduce myself simply as a fellow Democrat, a member of the biggest disorganized political party man has ever known. (laughter)
John F. Kennedy said this: “The sun down not always shine in West Virginia, but the people always do.” Kennedy said those words standing in a pouring rain on the statehouse steps in Charleston, West Virginia in 1963.
JOHN F. KENNEDY
I was there, too, on the 100th birthday of our illustrious state. Kennedy became President in large part because West Virginia democrats voted for him in the primary to show the nation that a Catholic could win even among a population in which religious fundamentalism was rampant. That may have been West Virginia’s finest hour.
Since then many democrats in West Virginia have changed. No longer are they the honored captains of the party of Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Harry S Truman and John Fitzgerald Kennedy and Lyndon Baines Johnson and William Jefferson Clinton and, yes, Barack Hussein Obama. No longer do they represent the party of ferocity in war, compassion in peace and hope for the future. At the forefront of crusades to grant women the right to vote, on the front lines for civil rights and as the pioneers to reach for the stars by putting a man on the moon, democrats always led the way. Today we democrats are losing ground in the ageless struggle to do what is right.
SCENIC WEST VIRGINIA
If our history is any guide, we should be trumpeting the rights of the working man, promoting diversity both in human rights and in the economy and jumping on the band wagon for an environment free of pollution and the cancer it causes. If we would be true to ourselves, we should be forestalling the endless theft of our patrimony by those outside our state who bear us nothing but ill will. If we truly pay homage to our founding as “Mountaineers Always Free,” we would be about the business of freedom–freedom from a one dimensional economy, freedom from the tyranny of political corruption in state and local government and freedom to choose progressive leaders to spur us on in the 21st century.
Instead, we are falling victim, once again to antiquated shibboleths predicated on fear and hopelessness promoted mainly by fossil fuel lobbyists whose only interest is that of their corporate bosses. If they tell you they have your interest at heart, best you head for the hills. If their message is one of hatred and racism, best tell them to get lost. For you and I know that we are better than that.
Our state and our people are known not for intolerance. West Virginia is known not for laziness.
Its workers are some of the best and most productive in the world. When called to meet the challenges of the 21st century, we know how to do that. We can produce energy for the world better and faster than anyone else. We can produce talent that we can be proud of: Chuck Yeager, Robert Byrd, Pearl Buck, Don Knotts, Jerry West, Walter Reuther and Mary Lou Retton just to name a few. And we owe it to them and to ourselves not to dishonor them by allowing ourselves to become pedestrian, mere followers of the commonplace.
I come not today to try to change political minds. For, if I am not mistaken, many democrats in the state already have their minds made up. That, of course, is their right and their privilege. If the polls are correct, in three days most of them, as crypto-Republicans, will vote for Mitt Romney in the belief that he will champion their cause by turning back the tide of environmental protection if he becomes president. In their view, global warming is a myth to be discredited at least, destroyed completely at best. To have that view is their right and their privilege. Never mind that at least six-thousand scientists avow that the earth is heating up and the oceans are rising up. No one should dismiss their belief that it is not so. No one, after all, would want his child to grow up in a world covered by the oceans.
Nor in a world choking on carbon dioxide. The scientists tell us that for every pound of coal that is burned; two-and-a-half pounds of carbon dioxide are produced. That fact is indisputable. The answer, the scientists say, is to capture the CO2 and force it deep underground. The problem is, nobody can figure out how to do it. The devil is always in the details. If global warming is a myth, so is clean coal. Which myth are you to believe?
The truth is, we are living in a season of myths. Myth–I say–Myth Romney is one of them. (laughter/maybe) That the national budget can be balanced by giving tax breaks to the rich is a myth. That the female body has a way of shutting down conception in what the mythmakers call a “legitimate rape” is a myth. That Israel can avoid global war by attacking Iran is a myth. Because no rational person believes the mythmakers, why should anyone believe they are telling the truth about the future of fossil fuels and the jobs that might be produced if only the so-called war on coal can be ended? In the words of President Obama, “That’s the biggest whopper of them all.”
Here are the facts:
Employment in West Virginia coal mines is down from 126,000 in 1948 to fewer than 25,000 today.
The biggest private employer in West Virginia is Wal-Mart, not coal.
Natural gas production in West Virginia is competing with coal in the production of energy.
MOUNTAIN-TOP REMOVAL MINING
Mechanization and modernization in coal mining through mountain top removal, in part, means fewer miners are required to do the job. Hence layoffs occur because coal companies do not need as many miners as before to dig the coal out of the mountains.
Since 1950, West Virginia has lost 40% of its population.
Instead of five Congressional districts, we’re down to three.
The Kanawha Valley lost its chemical company dynamism long ago.
A modern, international airport to provide thousands of jobs was nixed by local politicians fearful of losing their fiefdoms.
I could go on, but why should I? You know the facts. You have the ability to separate fact from fiction. West Virginians, traditionally, have resisted being buffaloed. We are a proud people who do not like to have the wool pulled over our eyes. Too often, in the past, big shots and crooked politicians and religious fanatics have tried. But failed. We sent them to jail for their lies. We did not tolerate them then. And we, as good democrats, should not tolerate them now.
Now we have work to do. If we, as democrats, return to our revered foundation forged in the annals of Roosevelt, Truman and Kennedy we can make something of ourselves and of our state. If we put our shoulders to the task we can be magnificent. If we demand that our leaders get off their comfort zones and lure new, diverse industries to our state, we can be proud once again. If we can sweep aside those who get in the way of advancements like city-county metro governments and new businesses and an infrastructure second to none, we can be rich again. And if we can stop putting all our eggs in one, tired and frayed basket, we can be sure again. And the way to start is to give Barack Obama four more years!
Certain that we and our children can live in a state that ranks at the top instead of at the bottom, that offers opportunity to outlanders and insiders alike and is a beacon to those seeking truth, knowledge and freedom of expression. All these things we can achieve and more. This cannot be accomplished today or next week or next year or even in our lifetime. But let us begin by giving Barack Obama four more years!
[Ed Rabel is a now-retired, local and national broadcasting reporter. The speech reprinted here was delivered to a gathering of Kanawha County Democrats at the Teamsters Hall in South Charleston, West Virginia on November 4, 2012.]