My grandfather was a coal miner. He was also an American immigrant from southern Italy. As a US citizen, he served in the US Army. He was very proud to be able to participate in democracy. My mother remembers her dad putting on his best suit and walking for miles to cast his vote.
Back in his mountain origin of Bocchigliero, he was a contadino; a peasant farmer. Like so many others, he came to America to pursue a dream– a better life for himself and 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 conditions for the men who worked alongside him in the coal mine. As you can imagine, in the absence of modern day laws, laboring in a coal mine in the early-to-mid 20th century wasn’t a pleasant or healthy experience.
During times when I was unhappy in my own job, my thoughts would inevitably go to my grandfather. Although he had died before I was born, his story was memorable. 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.
Believing in the American dream, my grandfather knew that the ticket to a better future was to work hard and focus his children on education. You might say he sacrificed himself-as an immigrant with no formal education but a strong work ethic-so that his children could get educated and have a better life. And they did.
Health related disease like black lung and the perils of mining accidents still loom large for coal miners worldwide. Negative externalities for the larger society are also pronounced; increased asthma rates, acid rain, and the perpetual elephant in the room–climate change.
But there is another human dimension that is often overlooked. Propping up a fossil industry in decline, creates a stale state where people are always looking down and under valuing their human potential. Someone looking down will never look up to advance their education and upgrade their employment skills to join a new renewable energy economy.
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 need to quit using these coal miners as pawns to bolster an industry in it’s last death spiral. The quicker we make efforts to move forward, the sooner the American dream can be realized by all.