Remembering Judy Bonds

Judy was so many thing to so many people. This is part of my version of her.

“I want you to notice nature, how geese are in flight and they form a V in a leadership role…The lead goose, when he gets tired of flapping his wings, he drops to the back and the next goose comes up front. Without stopping, without fussing, without whining. He becomes that next leader, he or she, that’s what we have to do.” -Judy Bonds, PowerShift 2007

Judy Bonds passed away last night. She was a key leader in the fight against mountaintop removal coal mining, in the global fight against climate change and in the fight for environmental justice for communities across the US and the world.

She was a good friend and a hero; I love her funny jokes, her generosity, her bullheaded stubbornness, and how considerate she was. I miss Judy explaining the best way to walk down a steep mountain without stumbling, the best way to make pintos, and the best way to make a major corporate bank stop funding mountaintop removal, and Judy making us watch and re-watch a spoof version of the “All the Single Ladies” music video. She was a strategic genius, a fierce warrior, a truly brilliant thinker, and a nice, funny, loving person.

Another thing Judy was, was gorgeous, with her movie star brown eyes, and everyone declared that when the movie was made about her life, of course Sally Fields would play Judy.

Judy was dedicated to a just society; she saw the struggles for justice as interconnected. She saw straight through appearances and took people for who they were, and what they could contribute. She welcomed you, and everyone.

This summer when Judy and her family learned how sick she was, everything was full of life and green and long sunny days, and now, suddenly, cancer. Musicians came and played for Judy in the hospital, and the riot and laughter and foot stomping delighted her roommate and got everyone kicked out, except Judy of course.

I spent the rest of that day staring through tears at percentages and third stage lung cancer on the internet, the porch swing creaking back and forth, and it felt like everything in the city and the mountains all around us was hoping and hoping.

We got the call late at night, already in bed, and the news kept us pinned down to the mattress, laying lungs to lungs.  I thought about our breathing, the swelling of air in our chests, and all the other people who held a piece of Judy, laying in bed with eyes wide open, thinking of her, hearing her voice.

Oxygen is something that is denied to so many people because of coal; particulates ruin lungs.  The whole cycle, the coal fired power plants, the thick air where mountains are blown up for coal, the dusty hollers where coal is processed, and, of course, the lungs of those digging it out.  And coal is taking our lungs and now our whole atmosphere, through climate change.  I feel outrageously privileged for the ability to pull air into my lungs. And I feel outraged.

When coal takes your lungs, it begins to take your ability to yell and holler, to sigh and laugh and make jokes, but it doesn’t take your voice. When asked if she had any words to share with the thousands gathered to stand against mountaintop removal in DC this past September, Judy asked everyone to “Fight Harder.”

Sometimes people accuse activists of being against everything, instead of standing for something positive. To me, Judy was always an example what we are fighting for, what we want, what we deserve. Dignity, health, heritage and an earth to live on, the simple and sacred bonds of family.

“Your heart is a muscle the size of your fist – keep loving, keep fighting” is a quote I have seen attributed to Dalia Sapon-Shevin. In my memories of Judy, she is always doing everything with her whole heart, and she is fighting hard, yes, Judy was incredibly tough and fierce, but what made her so tough was her blazing love, and the diamond hard vision she shared with all of us, of what was worth fighting for.

Learn more about Judy and her incredible life at Coal River Mountain Watch’s website.

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