We are in big trouble. When I say “we” I mean all of us. This book should be mandatory reading for all Americans. The short of it is that we are a crumbling nation beset by a wide range of issues that have been festering for decades but have recently accumulated into a quiet rage of despair. I know, sounds pretty darn depressing but hear me out because inside this storm of uncertainty is a glimmer of hope.
Jennifer Silva’s “We’re Still Here,” is a sobering look at coal country and those who call this region home. This is not an easy place nor do the inhabitants live easy lives. Silva tracks working-class residents of a dying coal town. Black, Latino, White, female, male, etc. How do you feel about the American Dream? What is your family history? Do you encounter racism? Are there addiction issues? How do you feel about politics? Do you vote? If not and forced to who would you vote for?
The data that Silva catalogs is simply astounding. It would be very easy to “write these people off,” or just shrug and say “Well, it’s poor, coal country so what are we going to do about it?” That’s the point. If we don’t do something about this and address these same issues in other parts of the country, we are all going to suffer in a major way. (And the suffering has already begun.)
Many of the folks that Silva interviews are a long way down the road of suffering. Survival is a daily task. They feel disillusioned, left behind or cornered. And when it comes to voting most do not. Conspiracy theories abound, addiction issues, crime issues, family history issues, etc. It’s our job as fellow Americans to LISTEN. To not point fingers, make assessments based on our histories or socioeconomic standing or draw conclusions because we are distracted. A common theme is that Washington is rigged. All politicians are bad. Trump is racist and he cheats and he lies but he’s a businessman and that is how the country should be run.
This book is rough. Really rough. The political belief theme is tragic and explains so much of what we see in the chaos that is the Washington political establishment. Much of what transpires makes no sense unless you are one of those folks living these realities. And remember, many of these folks hang on the brink of giving up, but they don’t. They are waiting for the end, something many believe is right around the corner. Race wars, WWIII, the end of our society. They are armed and waiting.
But inside this challenging environment is hope. Silva interviews one person who allows the reader to get over the hump of gloom. This person sees the world in a surprising way. This person says this is about “self” and our ability to be more, see more and the path to salvation lies within. This person was the spark of fire carried across the plains in the heart of winter. This is the spark the rest of us must help feed. And you don’t need to go to coal country to help. Just start in your town and go talk to people. I found my spark, one specific person who lives south of me but who has lived through something astounding that the American public probably knows nothing about. So, I go and see myself. And I’ll report back.
Get it, read it and pass it along.
For more historical perspective I recommend “And Their Children After Them, The Legacy of Let Us Now Praise Famous Men: James Agee, Walker Evans And The Rise and Fall Of Cotton In The South,” by Maharidge and Williamson, published in the 80’s I believe.
Book recommendations are ALWAYS welcome. I’ve got three new books sitting here waiting to be consumed….