(Geek moment: the word "apocalypse" comes from the Greek meaning to unveil, uncover or reveal, which is why the last book of the New Testament in English is called Revelations. So we could actually call this an Appalachian apocalypse even if the moon doesn't turn to blood.)
That open secret WV workers are revealing is that behind the squalor of our public institutions and poverty is the fact that for over 100 years the wealth of our state has been drained away by outside extractive industries which left a lot of wreckage in their way. And it's still happening.
This is an old secret but it's still new. As far back as 1884, the Tax Commission appointed by the WV state legislature warned of the dangers ahead if state leaders didn't act to protect the interests of the people who actually live here.
The Commission argued that economic activity alone was not a measure of prosperity or progress unless the wealth generated remained in the state and benefited its residents. It warned that extractive industries owned by outside interests would, in the end, leave West Virginia “despoiled of her wealth and her resident population poor, helpless, and despondent.”
The report’s conclusion is worth quoting in full:
“The wealth of this State is immense; the development of this wealth will earn vast private fortunes far beyond the dreams even of a modem Croesus; the question is, whether this vast wealth shall belong to persons who live here and who are permanently identified with the future of West Virginia, or whether it shall pass into the hands of persons who do not live here and who care nothing for our State except to pocket the treasures which lie buried in our hills?
If the people of West Virginia can be roused to an appreciation of the situation we ourselves will gather this harvest now ripe on the lands inherited from our ancestors; on the other hand, if the people are not roused to an understanding of the situation in less than ten years this vast wealth will have passed from our present population into the hands of non-residents, and West Virginia will be almost like Ireland and her history will be like that of Poland.”
Alas, this warning went unheeded. But this struggle has once again awakened thousands of West Virginians to the need to ensure that our natural wealth contributes to the lasting well being of all West Virginians.
For starters, this means increasing severance taxes and eventually creating a functioning Future Fund to create a lasting source of wealth. That could help prop up PEIA and deal with many of our other problems. That struggle won't be won right away, but at least many more people are aware of what needs to happen.
Speaking of apocalypse, if we actually did that it really would be the end of the world as we know it.