West Virginia Senate
Paula Jean Swearengin
For U.S. Senate
I am a native of Mullens, West Virginia, and my coal mining roots run deep. I’m a coal miner’s daughter, granddaughter, niece and stepdaughter. As a child, I felt a deep sense of pride in our state’s coal industry. I felt pride that West Virginia’s coal powered our nation through the Industrial Revolution, that it ran our factories through World War II, and that it keeps us running today. America was built on our coal - it was built, in part, on the backs of Appalachians.
"I couldn’t sit by and watch the American dream become a fantasy."
Like so many other families in Appalachia, my family paid a steep price for coal. I lost my grandfather to black lung, and I’ve recently seen my uncles diagnosed with the disease. Our health and lives aren’t the only prices we’ve paid as a region. We’ve also seen our beautiful streams and rivers polluted with toxins and watched the tops be blown off our mountains. The price we’ve paid is a high one - perhaps too high.
When my stepfather lost his job at the mine, he moved our family to North Carolina as he tried to find a new line of work. A few years later I came back home to take care of my grandfather with black lung. What I saw when I came back disturbed me. I saw entire communities left in the dust when a mine shut down, small businesses drying up, miners and their children struggling with diseases brought on by the industry that we turned to for security. I saw a whole generation struggling to find reliable, safe jobs that would put enough food on the table.
I couldn’t sit by and watch the American dream become a fantasy. I had to act. I went to town halls and confronted legislators for protecting coal companies, instead of coal miners, and our families. But I’m not just an activist. I’m also a mother, and an Appalachian, and a fighter. I know we can provide a better life for West Virginian families. And we must.
We shouldn’t have to sacrifice our land, water, and people. These are our most valuable resources. We all want high-wage jobs and healthy families, and we don’t have to give up everything we own to get them. We can have a future with clean water, whole mountains, and good work. If we can get our government to invest in the people who live here.
“We can have a future with clean water, whole mountains, and good work. If we can get our government to invest in the people who live here.”
In West Virginia, we are seeing the world move past us. We are watching an energy revolution from the sidelines. What is the response from our leadership? They work to protect corporate profits and leave miners in the lurch fighting for basics like health care. It’s time we replace them. The natural hospitality and strength of our community bonds are being strained. We are watching pill mills take the place of steel mills. We are watching opioids and lack of opportunity destroy our communities.
The best resource in the Appalachian mountains is the people on them not the black rock in them. We are determined, hard working, and smart. When we band together, there’s nothing we can’t accomplish. I’m ready to fight for my family, my neighbors and my state to deliver the prosperous, healthy future West Virginia deserves. The legacy of this great state cannot be burying our own miles deep in coal mines, it must be building a sustainable future for generations to come.