Human rights activists and environmentalists in Appalachia will observe a moment of silence at noon, Eastern Daylight Time on Saturday, August 27, 2011 to commemorate the birth and brilliant life of Julia “Judy” Bonds. They are calling on all activists to join this remembrance. Judy, who died in January of this year, would have been 59 years old Saturday. Judy’s fierce activism and determination crystallized the movement to end mountaintop removal coal extraction in Appalachia. This moment of silence will be observed annually.
Born in Birch Hollow, West Virginia in 1952 to Oliver “Cobb” and Sarah Easton Hannah Thompson, Judy grew to adulthood in what was, as she described it, a mountain paradise before Massey Energy (now owned by Alpha Natural Resources) came to destroy it. It was Massey’s assault on the area she held so dear that drove Judy, who at the time was working as a waitress, into the struggle to save not just herself, but all the other Appalachian communities ravaged by mountaintop removal. Seeing her grandson playing in the same creek where she had played as a child, and realizing that creek had been poisoned, gave Judy all the impetus she needed to speak truth to power. Small of stature, she never hesitated to stand up to the mightiest politicians and coal company executives, and those people learned that in her they had met a mighty foe.
Judy realized she was in a struggle that might traverse generations, and whose end she might not see. Like all great leaders, however, it neither slowed nor discouraged her. In 2003, the Goldman Foundation recognized both the importance of her work and her determined courage with its Environmental Prize, considered by many to be the “Environmental Nobel.” In addition, Judy travelled tirelessly almost to the very end, encouraging and exhorting people nationwide to stand up and be counted among those no longer willing to see an entire region sacrificed for profit. She held especial regard for America’s youth, upon whom she placed a great trust that they would see the right and vigorously pursue it.
Bob Kincaid, Board President of Coal River Mountain Watch noted “Many of the great leaders who struggled for human rights, from Moses all the way to Dr. King, did not see the completion of their work. Judy Bonds joined their ranks this past January. Felled by the same coal-borne cancers that yet stalk our Appalachian hills and hollers, she knew what had been done to her and strove to her final day to see that it would STOP happening to others. She left it to us to carry on in her name, and carry on we will! Our heritage, our communities and our very lives are NOT fit sacrifices for a handful of people to have a job and distant, uncaring shareholders to have a profit.”
Purpose Prize winner Bo Webb of Naoma, W.Va., Judy’s longtime colleague and friend said, “Seven months have passed since Judy’s life was snuffed out by Massey Energy. Two alarming peer-reviewed scientific research papers have been released in that time indicating that mountaintop removal is killing our mountain community citizens and defecting our babies in the womb, and yet mountaintop removal continues. How many must die, how many body bags must be stacked up before Congress takes action and places a moratorium on all mountaintop removal? I call for that again today, and in the name of Judy Bonds I call upon every organization that receives funding to oppose mountaintop removal to immediately stop wasting that money on long-term organizing, and use 100% of their mountaintop removal funding to call immediate attention to the urgency to end this crime now, today!”
Award-winning film producer Mari-Lynn Evans offered these reflections on the Judy’s life and work: “I knew someone who was divined with greatness and her name was Judy Bonds. One of the honors of my life was to walk down this path with her guiding me. She was the proudest hillbilly I ever met. She loved her home and she loved this land and its people with all her heart and soul. She devoted her life to stopping the environmental atrocities and social injustices that the Appalachian people have suffered for so very long. Her commitment to stopping mountaintop removal was iconic and so was she. In June, when almost 1000 anti-MTR protestors reached the peak of Blair Mountain, Maria Gunnoe invoked Judy’s name. Like Martin Luther King Jr, Judy never made it to the mountain top with us. In July, two young women climbed 80′ up trees and sat there for weeks to prevent Alpha (Massey) from blasting Coal River WV. When they got to the top, they dropped banners that said “Stop MTR” and “For Judy Bonds”. What a legacy she has left for those of us she had to leave behind! I think of her kindness and the twinkle in her eyes when she laughed, and she laughed a lot. She was full of love. This morning I watched a tribute film we did for Judy. At the end, Judy cries to the viewers that she just wants to go home. She just wants them (Massey) to leave and let her go home. Judy is home now. In the name of Judy Bonds, STOP MTR NOW.”
Vernon Haltom, Director of Coal River Mountain Watch, who served as co-director with Judy said, “Judy is a national treasure, a freedom fighter, and the inspiration for thousands. Our congressional delegation would rather ignore her sacrifice, though, and pretend that she and all the people suffering from mountaintop removal never existed. They continue to promote the genocide of mountaintop removal, the culture of death that says it’s okay to sacrifice our people, born and unborn, for a bloody profit. Judy said, ‘How do you compromise with someone who’s blasting and poisoning us and our children?’ and ‘There’s blood on that light switch.’ She was never afraid of offending with her blunt truth. In her final days on Earth, she called on us to fight harder. The only other choice is to hand over untold thousands more to the coal cult’s deadly hand. We’re going to have a moment of silence, and then raise our voices for justice.”
Kincaid added, “As she lay dying, Judy called upon ALL persons of conscience to ‘Fight HARDER.’ Saturday’s commemoration of her birth is another step in that struggle. Eventually, when we realize her dream of ending mountaintop removal, it will be the day we mark Appalachia’s freedom from tyranny and the admission of all Appalachian people into full citizenship in the United States.”