My Grandfather was a Coal Miner
My grandfather was a coal miner. He was also an American immigrant from southern Italy. He served in the US Army and proudly participated in our in democracy. My mother remembers him putting on his best suit and walking for miles to cast his vote on election day.
Back in his mountain origin of Bocchigliero, he was a peasant farmer. Like others, he came to America to pursue a dream– a better life for his family. Once he whispered to his young bride, my grandmother, “Filomena, in America the roads are paved with gold.”
My grandfather spoke out for better working conditions in the coal mine. As you can imagine, without modern day regulations, laboring in a mine in the early-to-mid 20th century wasn’t a fun or healthy way to earn a living.
Whenever I was unhappy in my own career, I would think about this grandfather. Although he died before I was born, his story was a part of me too. I’d say to myself, “if he could go down into a coal mine everyday, then you can do this.” That definitely put my white-collar employment woes into perspective.
Because he was an American dreamer, my grandfather knew that the ticket to a better life was to work hard and focus his children on education. He sacrificed himself so that his children could get educated and cash that ticket in.
Health related disease like black lung and the perils of mining accidents still loom large for coal miners worldwide. Negative externalities are also pronounced; like increased asthma rates, acid rain, and that elephant in the room–climate change.
But there is a human dimension that is often overlooked. Propping up a fossil industry in decline, creates a stale state where people are perpetually looking down; under-valuing their potential. Someone looking down will never look up to advance their education or upgrade their employment skills to join a new energy economy. We should aim to create a society that allows everyone to thrive.
Let’s give today’s coal miners access to the tools they need to enter the 21st century economy with good paying clean energy jobs. Politicians should stop using coal miners as pawns to bolster an industry in its last death spiral. The quicker we make efforts to move forward, the sooner all can realize their American dreams.