Friends of Coal
Coal Leader: Warren, you are the Chairman of Friends of Coal and I understand that you are the driving force behind it. Will you tell us how it all started please?
Hylton: Through Bill Raney and I having conversations on what we should do about our image, the problems that we are having in the industry and what the potential cure could be for that problem. Hence came the Friends of Coal beginning with a grass roots effort by starting at the bottom and working our way up with people and trying to inform the general public rather than informing ourselves and starting essentially from scratch. After the Coal Association elected to get into this, by unanimous vote by the way, to do more on the grass roots effort, a detailed plan was drawn up. We came to the conclusion very quickly that we needed a PR firm. We went through three or four firms’ synopses on what they could do for us and eventually we picked Charlie Ryan. His part in this is to handle organization, add more professionalism and time towards commercials, raise TV ratings, and also to add people who would work directly with the Friends of Coal on a day-to-day basis.
Coal Leader: Bill, tell us please some of the things that have been achieved since you started?
Bill Raney: It’s been an enormous ground swell of involvement from the people out in the industry and Warren has been very active and of course Coach Nehlen has come online with us as the spokesman for the Friends of Coal. The underlying motivation here was, as Warren has noted, a need for the industry and the people that make up the industry to have that sense of pride reinstilled and for them to be very proud of their achievements everyday. The idea is to go out and visit with the miners, the vendors, the people that sell equipment, fix equipment, that do the electrical work, everybody that has something to do with the mines, to have pride in the fact that we are bringing this country energy everyday, and the finest energy there is available any place. That is beginning to catch on and people
are finding out that they have a whole lot more to do with this industry than they ever thought about.
Coal Leader: Warren, how many Friends of Coal people have you got signed up and what are your targets in numbers in the future.
Hylton: Well we have just over 10,000 signed up currently at this point. Our aim is to get people with stickers and cards and yard signs out in yards on private property that show it is a personal event. We have given out over 50,000. We have done a tremendous number of events. We have called on these people that we have initiated into the Friends of Coal numerous times and they have 100% of the time backed us. We are now outnumbering the environmentalist extremists by a 30 to 1 margin right now. A year ago we were at 2 or 3 to 1 against us so that has gone real well. The other part of this is the kids. What we are interested in is not just the coal industry but the whole state in general. We think this is probably one of the few organizations that could jump in and influence some of this state’s problems. Right now kids in WV do not have opportunities. There are very few kids in our school system currently that think they’ll have a job in WV at any age, because the opportunities here do not exist. We think that the Friends of Coal in a very few short years can change that for our children. We’ve had a declining population in WV for quite some time now. We’ve lost 85,000 students since 1985, so our school population is down, that is kindergarten through 12th grade. On the other hand our college institutions are up in numbers but that is because of out-of-state people coming here to get cheap education. About 70% of the general revenue budget goes towards education and we are educating those kids for other states. The other states are sitting back and laughing at us for doing this but we think Friends of Coal will make a big change in things in a matter of two or three years.
Coal Leader: Bill, what things would you like to achieve with Friends of Coal in the next twelve months or so?
Bill Raney: Well we want to continue the enthusiasm that people have and we certainly have a number of events. We had a great turnout for the dedication of the Coal Miner’s Statue on the capital grounds. We’re sponsoring pre-season radio shows called Pigstock in WV. We have done that for a couple of years. There are Friends of Coal events and March 4, Friends of Coal Day at the legislature was another rally where people gathered, shared stories and began to find out there is a lot of commonality. The other significant thing is this is not restricted by state lines. We’ve got a lot of people in VA, in KY, and in PA that are interested in this. They’ve got the stickers and they are trying to do the same thing in their states, so we don’t want it to be restricted by state lines. We are going to continue the TV ads. We are getting ready to start the second series of them. We continue to try to get Coach Nehlen around to visit as many mines and operations as he can. He loves to do that and when he does he instills a real sense of pride in those people that are operating the equipment and mining the coal everyday so all of it is just growing and it is fun. People are beginning to find that they have a real sense of belonging in this country because they are providing electricity more than likely for whoever they happen to encounter.
Coal Leader: Warren, whom are you focusing on with Friends of Coal?
Hylton: We are focusing on citizens, whether they are coal miners, butchers, lawyers, doctors, it doesn’t make a difference. What we are trying to do is put everybody under one umbrella to become the squeaking wheel that gets the grease, as they say. If you do not create a large forum, you do not get heard in politics. What we are trying to do is put all these people into one group, provide them with some correct information and we know they’ll make the right decision come election time. It’s just the idea of educating them to the point of who in legislatures in Washington and Charleston is helping them and who is hindering them. Who would create more jobs with better benefits for them and who would be the best candidates for the Supreme Court in Washington to Charleston, and every position. Legislatures listen to votes. We need to create the organization that has the forgotten people. We are awakening the giant and that giant is the two-thirds majority that does not vote. We have identified the vast majority of those not voting are working people that work in chemicals, coal, and timber. They do not vote because they don’t think their vote counts. Our theory of how to do grass roots is not by mailing mass numbers, but going one on one and talking. From that chain of events, we are creating our number at a slower pace but we are getting very very good people as we go about doing that, and in a short time, we are up and over 10,000. We hope to be well over 100,000 in a year from now. The legislature has already listened to us this year with a very heavy year so we know that it is working.
Coal Leader: Bill, are the people in Friends of Coal making a difference?
Bill Raney: They are finding out that they have a lot of possibilities in participating in the public policy process. Many of them have felt like they have been excluded from that public policy process and we feel like that by introducing them to all of these different issues, what is going on in the industry, the preservation of their jobs and keeping of their family in WV, it has an enormous amount to do with public policy. They are beginning to feel a sense of belonging, a sense of responsibility to participate, to vote, to register to vote, to become active in the election process. That is enormously important when you look at the ridiculously low turnout that you have across the country for every kind of election and we are finding out that people, once they get this sense of pride again in what they are doing everyday are finding out public policy is something to do with it. Then they want to participate in it. We think that is enormously important because we have got a lot of smart people in our industry and they need to contribute to the public policy process.
Coal Leader: Thank you both very much. cl
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