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Holly Bradley

Holly Bradley

I don’t know what a typical West Virginia family is, but mine might be close.

We’ve been here for nine generations, with Scottish roots and hard luck in our blood. At 18, my twin brothers joined the Marines. The American flag has always meant something to them. But when they returned home, even with college degrees, the only jobs they could find were working on oil rigs and welding at a local coal-fired power plant.

My husband and I are farmers, and I’m a part-time activist. We have two young sons. Most years, we barely get by, working seven days a week. We qualified for Medicaid last year.

Here’s what’s also typical about us: We love this Mountain State and can’t imagine living elsewhere. We know that things have to change, though, for us to stay. Which is why we strongly support every major facet of President Joe Biden’s Build Back Better Act, as do many other West Virginians.

So, you can almost hear the frantic head scratching in this state, from the Eastern Panhandle to the Kentucky border: Why is our Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., pulling out his budgetary Bowie knife and cutting everything in half? A human infrastructure bill of $3.5 trillion at the federal level — for children, for elders, for the climate — gives families like mine a shot at staying and surviving in West Virginia. Manchin’s insistence on a $1.5 trillion figure — against his own party’s wishes — is like dumping half a krill of trout back in the stream.

When Manchin talks about fighting against an “entitlement culture,” is he talking about my family? My dad, a fair fiddler and expert guitarist, worked a day job for 40 years at the old Union Carbide plant in Institute. Intense exposure to toxic chemicals is what caused, we believe, his debilitating joint inflammation and early retirement. As a kid, I remember him crawling through the house whenever his medicine arrived late.

My mom took care of us kids for years while nursing my elderly grandfather. At age 67, she now works for the West Virginia Lottery, because it’s the only way to get decent health insurance for my dad.

But through all the trials and tribulations of nine generations, one constant for us has been the “wild and wonderful” beauty of our mountains, the elegance of our rivers and the peace of our valleys.

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Until now.

Everyone in West Virginia will tell you our winters are disappearing. When I was a kid — and I’m only 32 — the snow was regularly as deep as I was tall. Now, summers seem to last till October or November. Heavy snow is so rare, it’s triggered mass layoffs at ski resorts, like Snowshoe, where my husband worked until five years ago. So we took up farming, only to watch a record hail storm destroy most of our crops last year while unprecedented flash floods plague farmers statewide. How will my boys — ages 2 and 5 — survive if this keeps up?

And we’re not ignorant. My brothers know that the oil and coal they help burn is causing climate change. With half a chance to manufacture wind turbines or build solar farms, they would. They want Manchin to support a national power grid that is 100% carbon free.

Hardworking, tired, sick and battling against lengthening odds — that’s my state. We’ve served this country and powered its economy forever. We’ve sacrificed our health and our communities in the process. We deserve better. But right now, in 2021, I live in a health care desert, a broadband desert, a child care desert and a food desert (the closest grocery store is one hour away).

Manchin knows everything I’m writing here is true. He knows that- in this most “pro-Trump state in America,” Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., was hugely popular when he ran for president. Too busy surviving, we can’t always process every factual argument contradicting Trump’s cruel and angry tirades. But his rage sure channels many folks’ justified anger at a system that does not work for them.

I get in my pickup and regularly drive to my county library for internet. I’ve read up on the Build Back Better Act. Fully funded, I know it matches the reality of my life. It matches the reality of West Virginia.

What we want is to finally stop struggling. We want affordable health care for our parents and kids. We want sustainable jobs for our families. We want a stable climate for our farms and our future.

God knows we’ve earned it.

Holly Bradley is a farmer in Pocahontas County and an organizer for the Chesapeake Climate Action Network.

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