Note to Democrats: Remember Where You Come From:
"This is the only place in American history where we used our Air Force to bomb our own people," the old woman said, gesturing at a ridge on Blair Mountain, West Virginia, puffing on a cigarette. "To protect the property of the coal barons." We ran into a group of elderly people who wanted to see the mountain before it was blown up. It's why we were there, too.
Where we were standing, more than 10,000 coal miners fought a battle with the hired thugs of the coal companies. The miners were marching to Logan in order to free union organizers and end martial law in Mingo County. The Sheriff of Logan County, in cahoots with the mine owners, decided that the miners would not make it to Mingo and would not succeed in unionizing. Sheriff Chafin was able to raise a force of around 3000 men because volunteers came from outside West Virginia to shoot the supposed communists. So volatile was the situation that Mother Jones herself urged the miners not to march. But for five days, the two sides fought on Blair Mountain, ending only when federal troops arrived to take the side of the coal companies. It was the largest battle on American soil other than the Civil War.
The woman wasn't entirely right. While the fairly new Army Air Corps had planes go out on reconnaissance missions, the bombs that were dropped on the miners from the air were homemade and came from private planes that the coal barons had hired. The miners turned back and the United Mine Workers Association lost its chance to unionize the southern coalfields of West Virginia for another 15 years. In fact, the union went from 50,000 members to 10,000 members, part of an ongoing effort to crush unions during the 1920s, under Republican presidents. Union membership did not climb until FDR came into office and the National Labor Relations Act was passed.
These days, the very real war against unions, where federal and state troops were often used to break up strikes against railroads, factories, and mines, is more or less forgotten, even though it occurred less than a century ago. Hell, we can't remember five years ago anymore. Why should that history matter?
It matters because there was a time, yes, distant, but not so distant, when to be a Democrat meant you fought for the cause of making the lives of the poor and disenfranchised better. And that "fighting" meant fighting; it meant being willing to take a bullet or a bomb if that's what was needed. Now we're not at that point by any stretch of the imagination. But when's the last time Democrats went on a crusade to help the poor? When is the last time the poor or the workers decided to fight for their rights (other than the right not to buy health insurance)? Now, it's all about the mythical middle class or about how much money rich people need in order to, maybe, perhaps, if we're nice and grovel, create a job or two.
If you wanted to measure how degraded the Democratic Party has become, simply compare what they once fought for, the poverty programs and civil rights, to what is being fought over now: whether or not to give a three-year tax cut to people making more than a quarter of a million bucks a year, something that the majority of the nation doesn't support. Meanwhile, most Democrats are going along with extending tax cuts to the middle class, even if the end result is gutting programs for the poor.
What the miners at Blair Mountain fought for were the rights to speak and to assemble. They wanted better work conditions and wages. Now, the descendants of those workers are brainwashed into thinking that tax breaks for millionaires will somehow make their lives better. If there is a soul left to be found in the Democratic Party, as our leaders compromise away every principle that once energized us, it is by returning to directly improving the lives of the poor in the nation.
A single marker is all that exists to show where thousands of Americans fought each other. After years of work, Blair Mountain was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in March 2009, protecting it from the moutaintop removal that has torn up the gorgeous landscape of West Virginia. However, lawyers from the coal companies, including Massey Energy, made a case that landowners weren't properly notified and that some objected (including, surprisingly, dead ones). And Blair Mountain was delisted in December 2009.
Yes, the battle goes on to preserve the site, but chances are that Massey is going to dynamite the mountain to get to the coal there. It will erase for good a part of our American history, a part of our people's history, that was already forgotten, a history that ought to energize Democrats time and again, but instead it's just easier to desecrate the dead.