We are talking about how love is recognizing our value is greater than the resources, the people, and the stories that have been extracted from us. Love is demanding that we deserve clean water, affordable and reliable internet access, and livelihoods that do not break our bodies or our spirits. We are talking about love being hard work sometimes, and about how love comes with both joys and heartache. We are talking about how love is building a network of young people in Appalachia who uplift and support each other through both the joys and the heartache.
So we are asking y'all to tell us: How do you love Appalachia? Tell us how it is hard to love Appalachia. Tell us how you choose to stay. Still, even with student loans, an additional loan from an aunt, and income from three part-time jobs, she could barely afford room and board on top of tuition. Instead, she hunted deer for protein. Veronica Coptis with her daughter and her father. Having grown up among coal miners, she is an unlikely activist.
In school, Coptis became fascinated by Indiana bats—tiny, playful creatures that, she noted, are more closely related to humans than to mice. After graduating, in , she wanted to work as a field biologist, so she trawled list boards and applied to field jobs. She heard nothing.
Her personal life was stalled, too. Without any other job prospects, Coptis began waiting tables at the Creekside Kitchen, where her mother also worked. Greene County seemed diminished. As family farms and coal mines failed, the population was shrinking, on its way from a high of 45,, in , to about 37, At the restaurant, Coptis listened as laid-off miners and homeowners spoke about the loss of jobs and of drinking water. Some were distraught when undermining forced them out of their family homes. Many customers had no Internet access, so Coptis brought her laptop to work for them to use.
One morning, one of her regulars, a fisherman and conservationist, asked to look something up. Dunkard Creek, a stream that follows the Mason-Dixon Line, had recently suffered one of the worst fish die-offs in state history, and he wanted to know what had happened.
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As they were searching online, Coptis came upon the Web site for the Center for Coalfield Justice, founded in by activists from West Virginia, Ohio, and southwestern Pennsylvania to address the problems of long-wall mining. The site had a listing for a job: a yearlong position, funded by AmeriCorps. She applied and was hired. Later, she discovered that she was the only person to have inquired.
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The C. When Coptis first arrived at the office, she was elated.
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Coptis, assigned to inform people about the case, organized an event called the Dryerson Festival. When she visited neighbors, trying to raise support, she learned not to lead with an argument. Most people have never had the chance to tell their stories. In , C. A few months later, the fight over Duke Lake came to an equivocal end: Consol paid the state a thirty-six-million-dollar settlement, without admitting responsibility for the lost lake. In exchange, the company was granted rights to the coal and gas under the park. In , Coptis and Donald Fike were married in the park, on the ruins of an old church.
One afternoon, Coptis was in the kitchen, feeding applesauce to their three-month-old daughter, Rory—a name that Coptis selected, as her mother had, because it was gender-neutral. Like most men his age, he hoped to land a job in the mines. Most of the time, he sat in a shop at the surface, waiting for the phone to ring with orders for new shuttle-car tires, or for cutter shafts, which kept blades spinning to cut coal twenty-four hours a day. Over dinner at T.
He was a miner, and Coptis was the enemy. She said yes; the next day, she headed to an anti-fracking demonstration in Washington, D. Not long afterward, as they drove to IKEA to buy a dresser, she risked a gentle lecture on the economic prospects of the white working class. At first, Fike shrugged off her ideas. He felt proud of working at Emerald, where the camaraderie among miners helped him readjust to rural life.
During the two world wars, coal miners were often exempt from service, because their jobs were essential to the war effort, and miners retain the sense that they are risking danger to benefit their country. Still, her activism often riled her neighbors.
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When her father went out on surveying jobs, he would tell employers not to disclose his last name, for fear of being associated with his daughter. Coptis avoided situations in which talk of her work might lead to fights. Drinking in local bars, she told people that she handled bats at the zoo.
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In , as the E. The closings were the result of corporate strategy as much as of regulations the parent company had recently shut down a string of plants , but people in Greene County blamed C. Soon after the announcement, a woman came into the office and said that her husband was losing his job at the plant. That summer, rumors spread that Emerald Mine was running out of coal and was going to close. Fike quit his job and enrolled in a nearby college, where he studied geology.
The same day, the company that owned the Emerald and the Cumberland Mines declared bankruptcy. Joseph Cornelius Culp, a third-generation African-American miner who lives a few miles from Coptis, had worked at Cumberland before it went bankrupt.
Culp had voted twice for Obama. Now, as he saw it, Obama had taken away his livelihood.
No job making solar panels was going to pay someone without a college education a six-figure salary. As tensions grew between miners and environmental regulators, Coptis became a more visible advocate. In , Consol stopped providing health care for twelve hundred retirees, and the miners came to C. Coptis helped lead a protest outside the Consol Energy Center, an arena in Pittsburgh, where the Stanley Cup playoffs were then being held. In the following months, C. Last year, the Obama Administration announced the Stream Protection Rule, which would make it more difficult for companies to dump waste.
At a public meeting in a Pittsburgh suburb, a hundred miners in hard hats gathered to protest the law. Coptis was the first to dispute him. Undermined streams can vanish entirely, and companies are legally permitted to repair them by pumping water through a hose set in the dry stream bed. Coptis had been building relationships with other advocates for clean water.
In Pittsburgh, as she walked back to her seat, three Greene County miners nodded and gave her a thumbs-up. Other than occasional visits from recovering addicts trying to find the clinic next door, the C. In the window is a sign that Coptis made, notifying citizens that the Pennsylvania Constitution guarantees their right to clean air and water. Last December, Coptis was at the office, preparing for a rally, when she heard a rumor that the state Department of Environmental Protection was going to allow Consol to mine under the streams in Ryerson park. The D. Seated in front of two D.
Furious, Coptis ducked into the stairwell to regroup. The next day, she learned that the D. Coptis doubted their prospects; no environmental group had ever won such a measure in Pennsylvania. Coptis high-fived her colleagues and then braced for the response. Consol laid off two hundred employees, and suggested that the layoffs would be permanent unless the decision was reversed.
We are. On a frigid afternoon in January, two hundred coal workers—burly young men with beards—gathered with their wives outside the office. Among the marchers were Christina and Frank Zaccone, a married couple in their early thirties.