Thursday, August 9, 2012


It's a question I ask myself so often. As an activist, it's not just asking yourself why things happen but why you fight to change them. It's not just why didn't anyone stop it, it's why didn't I stop it? And why don't I next time...
It's overwhelming. Depressive realism takes hold frequently, reminding me that there is so much wrong in the world, the attempt to right it can drown good intentions before they move to swim.

This morning, I flipped through a pile of articles and settled on one entitled, "The Casualty of Coal."

Gary Wayne Quarles was 33 when he died in the Massey Upper Big Branch mine disaster on April 5, 2010. He lived next door to his parents, and was their only child.

They read their son's autopsy report, indicating carbon monoxide poisoning and a cause of death of smoke and soot inhalation. There were also prior symptoms suggesting he had black lung disease.
Gary Wayne's father, Gary, recited the creed he and other miners felt was the true Massey motto: "Production first, safety last, haul that coal or haul your ass."
Throughout the company's history, it received numerous safety violations, and contested most of them.

On a day that began with 3 anti-depressants, Gary headed to Washington to speak to lawmakers about mine safety and regulation.
"This was my son, Gary Wayne," he said, holding a poster-size picture of his son. "I called him my son, but he was a man, a real man." He paused to compose himself, with difficulty. "We are here for safety."

Two years after the tragedy, no Massey executives have been criminally charged, no new Federal mine safety legislation has been passed and the families of those killed that night have only memories and money to console themselves with.

Gary Wayne's mother, Patty, says she agreed to the final settlement, not because she thought it was a good one, but because she couldn't bear to argue over cash for her sons life anymore.
"I wanted it over. I wanted it over so bad. At the same time, this is your mom saying this is what your life's worth. Like your mom sold you out. He was our whole world. He'd come to the door and say, 'Hey Mom.' I can almost still hear him. It's unbearable to think about what's actually gone."

They now have the freedom to do whatever they want to. Neither one ever has to work again. But they don't want to do anything. Patty sleeps a lot and sits on the porch, staring out towards her son's home. Gary drives to the cemetery where Massey paid for their sons plot and burial. He used to look forward to hunting season, particularly when he wouldn't have to work anymore.
"I always wondered what it'd be like not having to work. I love to hunt. But see, me and Gary Wayne hunted. Now when I make the trip, I cry going in, I cry in the tree stand, I cry coming home. I never know when I might start crying. I don't really understand it."
Patty says she never saw him cry before this. Now he cried remembering...the night of the explosion, when families gathered in a building and a woman from Massey held a clipboard, announcing, '"If I call your name, you are to report to the fire department to identify bodies."'
"What kind of person says that?" he asks.

What kind of person says that?
Why did it happen?
Why did they let it happen?
Why didn't someone stop it?
Why weren't they punished?
Why didn't they make sure it won't happen again?
Why didn't anyone respond to Gary's cries for safety, for his son?
Why didn't anyone do anything?
Why didn't anyone do anything?
Why didn't anyone do anything?

That's why I try to do something.
For stories like this, for realities like this. I can't imagine losing a child, and I can't imagine pleading with someone, who with the flick of a wrist, could ensure that it wouldn't happen again, and them turning away. I can't imagine how that feels. I can't imagine the rage, the sorrow, the soul wrenching, mind blowing, heart stopping depth of loss.

But I can imagine the country that allows it.
And that's why I do something.

I can imagine a country where stories like these are far too regular, where parents bury teenagers, and receive condolences and a grave stone.

I can imagine a country that puts profit before people, always, without question.
I can imagine that country because it is our country, it is our nation, it is US.

We are this country and we are the guilty parties, that allow this to happen, time and time again.

Our silence and inaction is a seal of approval.

That's why I try to make noise, why I try, to make a difference.
It's not just for me or for you and yet it is entirely for me and for you.
You do not live outside these tragedies. They are not beneath you or perpendicular. They are your reality, your country and your future.
This is why.