So, Tennessee, we’ve discussed how “Fuck that crazy Yankee shit,” is not going to work as official state policy, that we’re going to have to make some compromises to our fundamentally contrary nature if we want to turn the state around.
I now want to talk frankly about that thing you do when you’re done with “Fuck that crazy Yankee shit.” I think you know what I mean. Tennessee, you’re the state that, though at the bottom of the scholastic heap makes moonshine for fun. You might be barely literate and have never left your county, but you’re not going to let a little thing like the law or complex chemistry stop you.
And yet, you and I both know that when you come into Nashville, to, say, go to the doctor, there’s a 90% chance you’re going to get frustrated trying to find the doctor and demand you be allowed to wait in the car while your wife goes to your appointment. And a 95% chance that, if she does get you to your appointment, you’re going to sit there like a bump on a log while your wife tries to explain to your doctor what’s going on.
Because, once you’re done being a mean old cuss, you kind of just roll over and shrug your shoulders–whatever happens, happens. If it ends up killing you, fine.
I mention this because I’m trying to argue that, as a state, in order to get what we want, we have to go against our nature. That means not only toning down the contrarian refusal to do what’s necessary to get good jobs in the state, it means not getting so discouraged and feeling so powerless in the face of these outside forces that we just roll over and let them kill us.
Tennessee, I see you outside all the time. You know that we live in an achingly beautiful state, full of stunning rivers and breathtaking mountains. It is not too much to expect that we can drink out of our own wells, that we can swim in our own rivers, that we can live in our own mountains, that we can breathe our own air.
And we, we as a state, have to fight for those things and protect ourselves from people who would take it away from us. We have to be vigilant about that.
I’m talking to you, people of Dickson. I see you fishing out of a reservoir that your city knows has, in the past, been polluted by the dump. Maybe you don’t know it. But I’ve got to tell you, when I talk to you, my feeling is that you do know it, but you’ve accepted defeat. Oh well. The dump is a mess and probably gave your kids birth defects and poisoned those folks on Eno Road but what can we do?
But I’m talking to you, people of Tennessee. The people of Dickson are us. That dump is our problem.
And we’re going to have to carefully consider the opportunities we will be faced with. I mean, of course, coal. We have it and the country is going to want more of it, since we’re all interested in and see the importance of ending our dependence on oil.
But we know coal. We know there’s no such thing as “clean” coal, that there’s no such thing as “safe” coal, that the extraction methods they use now–blowing off the tops of mountains, for instance–have real and ugly consequences for the people and the land.
And we all know it does something funky to the souls of people to never see daylight.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that there’s not a place for coal as a part of getting Tennessee back on track. I’m just saying that we have to have some hard conversations that involve the Tennesseans who will be doing the mining about how it should be done to be the safest for all of us.
Because you’re not wrong to be suspicious of outsiders. We have, as a state, been treated like backwoods racist yokels who deserve whatever bad stuff comes our way. And we know it normally comes our way courtesy of folks who have a lot more power and influence and money than we do.
That is why, Tennessee, I joked about seeing ourselves as a street gang. Because I’m not joking about the underlying issues: We need to be loyal to each other. We need to watch out for each other. And we need to have each others’ backs.
One person, hell, even one community does not have enough power to lure businesses here and then to keep those businesses from harming us once they’re here. But six million people do. There is not an entity on this planet that is so large that it can ignore six million voices.
It is not too much to want to want to work and it is not too much to ask for to ask that your job not harm you or your community.