January 4, 2011

A Sad Day For Appalachia

In October of 2009 I spent a Saturday afternoon with Judy Bonds at her house along the Coal River in Boone County, West Virginia. Collecting her story for the Radical Roots Project, she described her experience growing up in the Marfork holler, the struggles she's faced being an activist in the coalfields, and the many victories and personal accomplishments she has achieved fighting against mountaintop removal. She was passionate and articulate, with a deep sense of hope often missing in the environmental movement.

Most interviewers, including myself, sit with Judy amazed at her strength and courage, wondering how, in the midst of such danger, she maintains the energy in her work. Her answer was honest, even prophetic:

"I know I'm rocking the boat, but what else am I supposed to do? I can’t unrock it. I can’t not fight after what I've seen and experienced. If I were to just stop doing this work one day, I think I’d put myself in an even more vulnerable position. When you’re standing face-to-face with the enemy and you take one step back, that gives them a one step advantage. Sometimes all it takes is that one step for them to run right over you. I say this to you and I say this to anybody out there reading this, we will not back down, not a single inch.
          Before this fight is over with, I fully expect one of the local activists—Maria Gunoe, Larry Gibson, Bo Webb, myself—one of us if not more will have a serious accident or one of us will be killed. I don't know how it's gonna happen but I fully expect it. This is a difficult fight, and I have the highest praise for anyone has the integrity and courage to stand up, even knowing the risks."

Vernon Halton, Co-Director of Coal River Mountain Watch, sent an email yesterday with the sad news of Judy's passing:

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 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.”

Check out Jeff Biggers tribute to Judy in the Huffington Post HERE. I'll keep you posted on anything else I hear.

Here's a tribute to Judy by Coal Country filmmakers Jordan Freeman and Mari-Lynn Evans.

No comments:

Post a Comment