In coal country, a show of solidarity takes root

Associated Press Modified: October 6, 2012 at 12:02 pm •  Published: October 6, 2012
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"It's to help them and show them we're proud of them and we care about them and we support them," he says. "And we'll continue to do so."

Unlike many coal demonstrations, this one isn't orchestrated by companies or trade associations. United for Coal is a grass-roots initiative, promoted largely on Facebook by people who are directly affected.

"In Washington, that gets lost in translation sometimes. These layoffs affect families — wives, mothers, grandmothers, kids, grandkids," says Jesse Salyer, the 52-year-old president of a Pikeville energy company that leases land and mineral rights to coal operators. "It's just a real miserable time here in the coalfields.

"Ninety-five percent of the people doing this have not met each other, don't know each other and are just doing this to — for at least one day — give some attention to the miners."

The idea started with Allen Gibson, a 60-year-old disabled surface miner from Elkhorn City, Ky.

An elderly woman who lives on $205 a month in Social Security income told him she'd always gotten by, thanks to support from five sons who were coal miners. Now, four are unemployed.

"She wasn't complaining that she couldn't get the medicines she needed," Gibson says. "She was worried about her sons. She said, 'If the coal jobs run out, they won't have jobs, and they won't be able to support their children.'

"This is not a Democrat or a Republican thing," he says. "It's a moral thing."

But there is little doubt that United for Coal is also a political event. Posts on every state's page are heavy with anti-Obama sentiment.

Gibson says state and federal governments have failed the coalfields, and he blames politicians at every level for the failure to bring economic diversity to the region.

"They have ignored us," he says. "And we are going to be a voice. Even if we have to take everyone in this lineup to Washington, we are going to be a voice."

United for Coal, he says, has the potential to become a national movement.

"If the politicians want us to stay off their backs, then they better get off their hind ends and do something," Gibson says. "It's not going to end with a bunch of people standing on the side of the road."

___

Online:

United for Coal: http://www.unitedforcoal.com/



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