Paula Jean Swearengin - It's time to speak truth to power.

“Unite our fight” has become a rallying cry for the Paula Jean Swearengin campaign, but it’s important to be clear about what that means. 

It means that no matter what, we unite behind workers. No matter what, we unite behind families. No matter what we unite behind the principles that will strengthen our democracy, and protect the vulnerable.

We unite to make sure that a government of the people, by the people, and for the people shall not perish from the earth. 

It’s also important to be clear about what “unite our fight” doesn’t mean. 

It does NOT mean we unite behind powerful oligarchs to cement their influence. It does NOT mean we unite behind exploitative industries to make the wealthy wealthier. It does NOT mean we unite behind corrupt power structures fighting to protect the status quo.

In fact, those are the things we must unite against: a government of the moneyed, by the moneyed, and for the moneyed. 

In an ideal world, our parties represent core sets of principles that should inform the way our government-of-the-people goes about addressing the problems our country faces.

And make no mistake, we face big issues: the most immediately urgent is the pandemic, but we also face a climate crisis, a student debt crisis, a crisis of healthcare, an addiction crisis, a foster care crisis, an unemployment crisis, crumbling infrastructure, authoritarian overreach, and more. Nationwide, about 40% of people couldn’t come up with $400 for an emergency—and that was before the pandemic hit. 

Yet these pressing issues are not the problems our government-of-the-moneyed sets about solving. 

In our state last year, a special session was called by Governor Jim Justice  in order to give $12 million dollars to a coal-fired power plant, seemingly to appease a company he owed millions of dollars to. He was subsequently rewarded with campaign contributions. By contrast  this year he refuses to call a special session to distribute COVID relief money to people who need it. Instead of feeding hungry children or addressing the issues with distance learning, our kleptocrat-in-chief set $100 million aside for “COVID-19 related highway projects,” because raising the taxes of working people in order to pay for his ill-conceived road bond was not enough.

It will never be enough, because we’re paying for roads torn up by industry. It would take  many thousands of cars to do the same damage as one fully-loaded, large truck. Lobbyists and company execs are wealthy because working people are covering their costs. That is the way the system works—the way it’s designed to work—because the execs can afford to buy politicians to write the laws that way, placing their costs on our already overburdened backs. And the more laws they buy, the worse the disparity gets, and the more the rest of us struggle.

In no state government is this kleptocratic network more deeply embedded than in West Virginia. 

In 2016, the folks in power in the “blue team” united behind a candidate for governor that did not share our principles. It was a candidate who embodied ill-gotten wealth, exploitation—and who was widely known to avoid paying his taxes, fines, and even workers. His mines had terrible safety records. But he was a billionaire, and that was all that mattered to them.

Knowing all that, the blue team leaders and even the UMWA still endorsed him [cache]. Their recommendation went far in convincing rank-and-file voters who trusted their leadership that Jim Justice would be on their side.

But Justice is a part of the kleptocratic power structure that knows no party or loyalty. Predictably, he switched parties when it seemed politically convenient for him. Also predictably, the leadership of the “blue team” picked a new millionaire—using the same campaign personnel they’d used to run Justice—one that would attack the guy they had previously backed. And the leadership of the “red team,” which had rightly attacked Justice as a deadbeat coal baron in 2016, are now gathering around to support the red-jersey-wearer in the 2020 cycle. Leadership of the UMWA has likewise backtracked on Justice.

Yet Justice has had no epiphanic shift in beliefs or principles. He’s the exact same villain they endorsed in 2016. He just switched jersey colors for the sake of political convenience. And that’s enough for those who regard politics as a team sport and whose goal is power rather than good governance.

Sadly, without apology or acknowledgement of the hypocrisy, the power structures are united around money… not principle. Campaigns like Paula Jean’s, funded without corporate PAC money, threaten the corporate sell-outs and their ability to profit at our expense. That’s why they’re backing Capito, someone with a 28% lifetime rating from the AFL-CIO.

Meanwhile, the fortunes of our state—meaning the people living here in our state, not the people running the show—continues to decline. We’re one of only two states losing population

We can’t allow these corrupt kleptocrats to continue to barter away our democracy in exchange for money and power. We must not allow our lawmakers to sell themselves to the highest bidder, as has happened with First Energy in Ohio and West Virginia, or to just sell seats directly to millionaires and billionaires as has been happening here for far too long.

“Unite our fight” must not mean that our tent is so large that working people will not be safe sleeping inside it.

Paula Jean Swearengin stands in solidarity with workers wearing a red bandana

In West Virginia, we’re familiar with how the good honest work of miners is exploited by coal barons like Jim Justice. UMWA leadership knew what it was doing in 2016 when they endorsed Justice against the interest of miners–the stories were all public—yet they didn’t heed the outcry and were burned. The outcry is being raised again in 2020 with the endorsement of Capito, McKinley, and other purchased politicians: miners deserve more than just temporary jobs in an increasingly bankrupt industry. 

And the UMWA sees how these bankruptcies are scavenging coal communities. But they’re backing the Big Bankers’ Betty, a daughter of five-time felon convicted of political corruption.

Miners deserve a future where they know their work is valued and the benefits they fought for are not in jeopardy. They deserve communities with a bright future. They deserve our full support as our economy changes, not a punch in the face by “the invisible hand” of a market that itself is being sold to the highest bidder. 

“I am exactly who this ill-advised endorsement of a sold-out career politician ignores: I am a coal miners’ daughter. My family is a UMWA family. And I will not be silent and let my people be sacrificed.” —Paula Jean Swearengin

Capito, meanwhile, is doing her part taking money from coal barons to recite corporate talking points and legislating to protect execs in companies like Alpha Natural Resources, best known for paying their executives bonuses for stealing miner pensions.

Miners deserve communities of clean air and clean water. Capito has rolled back hard-fought protections and—reciting those corporate talking points—claims it will bring back coal jobs. She knows it won’t, and frankly that’s not the aim of the legislation she pushes—the aim is to keep executives wealthy enough to continue donating to her campaign.

Miners deserve their healthcare and pensions paid for by the millionaires and billionaires who wrongly pocketed that money in the first place, because those millionaires and billionaires deserve consequences, not rewards.

We should not be legislating to protect the thieves and exploiters.  And while Capito signed her name to a bill that would secure the pensions, her solution, of course, was shifting the costs of the pensions onto communities by scavenging reclamation funds. It was a solution that protected the wealth of those who stole the pensions in the first place, and placed the costs on taxpayers. Again.

No Moore Capito. The fight in 2020–and for a long time—is not red team versus blue team. It’s the creeping oligarchy of the millionaires and billionaires against the rest of us.

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