Years ago, when some of us who started 350.org were in college, we took a trip down to Marsh Fork, West Virginia, where a coal company had been blowing the tops off some of the more incredible mountains in Appalachia to get coal. The companies would then mine the coal, and dump the remaining toxic sludge into hollows and streams, polluting groundwater, making kids and adults sick.
Make no mistake: coal kills. It kills communities, whole ecosystems, miners and other people. Yesterday, it killed Judy Bonds, an Appalachian hero dedicated to organizing her neighbors and fighting against the rapacious coal companies to save the mountains and her community in Marsh Fork.
Judy was a fighter — and she didn't die in vain. She contributed everything she had to fight dirty energy at its dirtiest, most base, and we must continue the fight by stopping Mountaintop removal mining and shutting down the more than 600 dirty, polluting coal plants throughout the country.
Here's a beautiful elegy to Judy from her friend and colleague Vernon Haltom:
Judy Bonds, Hero.
It is with great sorry that we mourn the passing today of Julia “Judy” Bonds, Executive Director of Coal River Mountain Watch. Judy was more than a co-worker, friend, and mentor: she became family. She inspired thousands in the movement to end mountaintop removal and was a driving force in making it what it has become. I can’t count the number of times someone told me they got involved because they heard Judy speak, either at their university, at a rally, or in a documentary. Years ago she envisioned a “thousand hillbilly march” in Washington, DC. In 2010, that dream became a reality as thousands marched on the White House for Appalachia Rising.
Judy endured much personal suffering for her leadership. While people of lesser courage would candy-coat their words or simply shut up and sit down, Judy called it as she saw it. She endured physical assault, verbal abuse, and death threats because she stood up for justice for her community. I never met a more courageous person, one who faced her own death and spoke about it with the same voice as if it were a scheduled trip.
Ultimately, Judy did all any one person could conceivably do to stop mountaintop removal. One of Judy’s last acts was to go on a speaking trip, even though she was not feeling well, shortly before her diagnosis. I believe, as others do, that Judy’s years in Marfork holler, where she remained in her ancestral home as long as she could, subjected her to Massey Energy’s airborne toxic dust and led to the cancer that wasted no time in taking its toll.
Judy will be missed by all in this movement, as an icon, a leader, an inspiration, and a friend. No words can ever express what she has meant, and what she will always mean. We will tell stories about her, around fires, in meeting rooms, and any place where people are gathered in the name of justice and love for our fellow human beings. When we prevail, as we must, we will remember Judy as one of the great heroes of our movement. We will always remember her for her passion, conviction, tenacity, and courage, as well as her love of family and friends and her compassion for her fellow human beings. While we grieve, let’s remember what she said, “Fight harder.”