Battle Cry of a Redneck Revolution

“Something’s happening here. What it is ain’t exactly clear.” I hum along to myself the words of Buffalo Springfield as I write.

“There’s going to be a revolt,” several teachers declared last week. They referred to West Virginia’s struggling economy. “Remember in November,” “Make ‘em pay in May,” and “Do your job,” rang out from the public employees Friday, Feb. 16, in front of the Upshur County Courthouse and again on Saturday, Feb. 17, at the W.Va. state capitol in Charleston.

A Rolling Stone headline proclaims, “A Progressive Revolt is Brewing in West Virginia,” and The Hill echoes with a subsequent headline, “Could this be the moment the labor movement has been waiting for?” The article celebrates the Mountain State’s proud rednecks with a rich mining history, remembering the Battle of Blair Mountain, and calling W.Va. a cradle of militant unionism. The articles pay tribute to the role of minorities in unionizing W.Va. and declare that the “modern day-rednecks are ready to fight” and lead the way to a national progressive labor movement.

Friday, I forgot my gloves. The cold and rain caused my hands to shiver so much that it became difficult to slide on the mismatched gloves that Julia Brady, retired Upshur County teacher and Upshur Indivisible member, offered me. I stood next to Teresa Knight, B-UHS counselor. Penny Haymond, retired elementary teacher, settled next to me on my right.

Behind me, Paula Jean Swearingen, daughter of a coal miner from Coal City, W.Va. and candidate for U.S. Senate, led chants with a bullhorn we borrowed from her boyfriend, Matt Kerner, director of Opportunity House in Buckhannon, combat veteran and candidate for W.Va. House of Delegates District 45, Upshur County, and W.Va. State Democratic Committees. Both participate in Upshur Indivisible.

We cheer along and hold signs as the cars go by, some honking in support, some silent.

The cold rain continued to pour steadily on Saturday. This time I stood next to my 76-year-old mom, a retired teacher of 30 years. Her Nike tennis shoes water drenched and muddy. She remained for two hours on the lawn of the W.Va. State Capitol holding a sign affirming, “Enough Is Enough.” She cheered loudly as union speakers roused the crowd with war cries of solidarity and support.

United Mine Workers of America secretary-treasurer, Levi Allen, celebrated our state’s proud fight to unionize, reminding us that miners were fired, evicted from their homes, beaten, shot and burned alive to gain our rights of collective bargaining. The rallying words of Mother Jones, “Are you fed up?” “Are you ready to fight?” elevated our enthusiasm. Allen metaphorically announced that W.Va. teachers refuse to be paid in Scrip, the company money that enslaved our W.Va. mining ancestors not so many years ago. The scrip comparison resonated and stirred simultaneous anger and triumph within me.

Union leaders next announced the statewide walkout Thursday and Friday. “The entire state of W.Va. will be shut down. We are standing united—all 55,” WV Education Association President Dale Lee thundered.

What’s the common thread among these snapshots? The fight. The fight for our state and our community. The fight to move W.Va. forward, to stand up for ourselves, our children, our families, our neighbors and our communities.

The fight for freedom and equality. The fight for a living wage, for health care.

Upshur Indivisible initiated a new column. What’s the purpose of this column? The function is to chronicle this historic revolution in W.Va. and Upshur County. The idea is to tell the story of a small but growing group of everyday Upshur County citizens who said “Enough is enough!” We will be the change we want to see to in the world, and we will fight for what we deserve, what we’ve earned.

Members of Upshur Indivisible arrived into this movement at different times and for different reasons, but we share the resolution of voluntarily dedicating ourselves to a movement to save and reclaim our state and our democracy. We are your friends, family, neighbors and community leaders. We are laborers, business owners, veterans, teachers, attorneys, doctors, nurses, candidates for office and students. Follow along with us.

You may find we have far more in common than you think, than you want to admit. Also watch as we make history in W.Va. Join us for our weekly meetings at the Upshur County Public Library.

We are the modern-day rednecks, and we are ready to fight. Can you hear it? “Stop Children. What’s that sound? Everyone looks what’s going down.”

(Edwina Howard-Jack is a B-UHS English teacher, founder and leader of Upshur Indivisible and Upshur County Indivisible-Votes. Photo is of Geraldine Howard in Charleston.)

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