Demand better, West Virginia: It’s time to end this abusive relationship

When abuse is the air we breathe, the water we drink, and the dirt in which we plant our potatoes, we cease to see it. I ask that you sit with me for a few and read a story about sharing.

About 25 years ago my mom may not have felt bold enough to walk away from living in a house with my dad if she did not have two people willing to take in her and her four children. The harmful behavior we were leaving was modeled to my dad as a child in the way his dad treated his mom, and then he entered into the cycle once married. This was the third time we left, but this time we really moved out.

Generational abuse is a difficult cycle to break. These helpful people we moved in with happened to be my maternal grandparents, but they could have been anyone. They shared a home with us as best they could figure. We shared in the cleaning. We shared in the cooking. We shared in the arguments and discussions. I watched “Star Trek: The Next Generation” with my Uncle Pat. My cousin Mary and I pushed our mattresses next to each other, we didn’t have bed frames; at one point 13 of us were living in the house and six of us shared the attic. We all shared one shower, but we had two toilets. The washing machine and dryer were in the creepy basement. Of course, we had to go down creaky stairs to get to them when we were helping with the laundry. My childhood was more stable and less abusive after this move.

Abuse is more difficult to spot if it is all you’ve ever known.

I went on a drive the other day with my friend April. There was a caravan of three cars stuffed with folks, four cars at one point, on this tour through hills and hollers. We drove for five hours with people from the heavily impacted communities of Lewis and Doddridge, and bore witness to dozens of small communities tucked in mountainsides off winding roads, out of sight unless you are looking for them, that have been destabilized for generations by corporate abuse.

I saw the air being distorted by who-knows-what being vented from stacks. My eyes welled up a couple times in the backseat of Tom’s car as he pointed out different sites. There were compressor stations, frack pads, too many wells to count, bunches of marked rights-of-way for future pipeline installation, pipelines currently being installed, and a frack water purification plant.

A water purification plant sounds like a great thing, but please remember that the reason this one is needed is because the water used to frack becomes radioactive. The trucks carrying “brine”, the toxic water created from fracking, are not equipped to protect the people driving them or people coming near them from the brine’s radioactivity. What happens to these individuals consistently spending time close to this toxic waste will be revealed in the years to come. And while wondering about this, I cannot help but think of the thousands of cases of black lung caused by the coal extraction industry.

“Did you notice most of the cars driving by us have out-of state-plates?” This came up twice within earshot of me. One of the tour guides also mentioned it later. It probably came up more amongst the group, but at times it was difficult to hear those that were further away due to loud noise coming from the compressor stations. This reveals that a lot of the jobs so many people are willing to sacrifice home (also known as the environment) for are not much help in lifting the corporate-made-poverty off the backs of extraction communities.

Instead, the land and water that is their home, and the bodies in which they reside, are becoming more impoverished, and more toxic. Now they need more health care that they have trouble accessing without enough money, or a job that has a health insurance plan. A few, temporary jobs for local community members does not outweigh the damage done. I am sick and tired of abusers causing obscene amounts of harm, then acting as a savior in some small way while saying, “See? What would you do without me? You need me.” My response is, “We’d flourish if you stopped exploiting us. And we do not have to be grateful when you stop abusing us because you should never have done it in the first place.” But the abusers do not want a thoughtful response to their question, because they are not here to help in any meaningful or healthy way. We must answer them anyway.   

Abuse is not only present in the destruction, but in the withholding of meaningful help. Perhaps I am more sensitive to it because of early exposure. Perhaps this has allowed me to see it where others may have grown accustomed to it. And not because our communities would choose it if healthier alternatives were more commonplace.

Destroying one’s home isn’t a natural first choice for employment when presented with better opportunities. We are surrounded by this exploitative activity all throughout our home state and a stable environment is nowhere in sight. To add more frustration, when boldness to change the situation is mustered, it is unlikely to be met by any meaningful help. None of us has come to anything without some meaningful help. Families have worked in similar jobs for generations here. More precisely, perhaps it was the experience of moving from a more abusive situation to a less abusive environment in my childhood that put things in perspective and allowed me to know that a home can be changed. The circumstances surrounding us, that will influence us, can be made different.

I knew nothing of fracking as a child. Now that I do, I know our shared home needs more stability than the abuse fracking and the extraction industries inflict upon it and, by extension, on us. I wonder what would happen if we all shared, repaired, and repurposed what we already have, what already exists, as best we can figure. Perhaps this would be a start, and from there we could come together, demand better, and help each other secure futures free from abuse.

We could stop relying on abusers that have a history of, and continue to, exploit and manipulate everything and everyone to make profit. I am speaking of the kind of profit that is secured mostly through the labor of people who are accustomed to not benefiting much from their own labor, people whose lives will be destroyed as a result of the extraction industries; I am writing of the kind of labor that requires bodies of people, bodies of land, and bodies of water be destroyed so that wealth can be hoarded by those at the top of corporate hierarchies. Sometimes your abusive relationship is with your employer. And I’ll tell you something you may already know - the more we freely share needed resources with one another, the less we will be stuck in abusive relationships. 

The people of Mountain Lakes Preservation Alliance plan to continue scheduling frack tours. Contact them at [email protected], or visit and go to the Volunteer tab to see how you can get involved. You can also find MLPA on Facebook.   

There is an important pipeline hearing tonight at 6 p.m. at Buckhannon-Upshur High School’s auditorium. Please attend and make comment. If you’d like help with the commenting process, local water protectors will be present to help guide you through the process of making your voice heard.