May 22, 2006

WEST VIRGINIA MAKES THE NEW YORK TIMES



Caption: Ferdinand is rushing out to buy a copy.

The Monday posting is usually devoted to the "Goat Rope of the Week" feature, but El Cabrero wishes to draw readers' attention to a good article by Ian Urbina in the May 21 New York Times titled For Many West Virginians, Leaving is the First Step Home. Urbina has done an excellent job of covering recent mine disasters in the the state and their aftermath.

The article provides a good description of the conflicts faced by many, particularly younger, people from this state: "For West Virginians, the tension between the economic push to leave and the emotional pull to return plays a central role in the state's cultural identity."

West Virginia's economic woes have their roots in a colonial economy based on exploitation of natural resources by outside corporate interests, a process that began in the late 1800s, continued with rapid industrialization in the early 20th century and equally rapid deindustrialization which began later in the century and has continued into the 21st.

Unfortunately, West Virginia's political leaders were often the willing servants of the external interests for most of this history.

The Appalachian diaspora began with the mechanization of coal mines after World War II and continues with plant closures and cutbacks in the wake of globalization and so-called free trade agreements and with the systematic destruction of large sections of the Appalachians due to mountaintop removal mining, a destructive process which requires fewer and fewer workers even as it consumes more land.

As Urbina notes, the theme of exile and return is a recurring theme in the popular culture.

The jury is still out on whether West Virginians will be able to create a sustainable economy on their own terms, although some of us are determined not to go down quietly.

GOAT ROPE ADVISORY LEVEL: ELEVATED

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