The Common Good

Remembering Judy Bonds, Mountain Defender

This past Monday, January 3, anti-mountaintop removal activist Judy Bonds exhaled her last breath from the homeland she loved. May that breath's prayer bring renewed life to those of us who have loved her, admired her, and drawn so much strength from her. Judy's spirit lives on in the arms of God. Judy's vision, courage, and passion for justice will continue to empower those of us blessed to have known her. (Read Sojourners profile of Julia Bonds in the March, 2005 issue.)

Judy Bonds was a foremost leader in the fight against mountaintop removal. She lived in Marfork Hollow in the Coal River Valley, where her ancestors had lived for seven generations (many of them underground coal miners). The heavy foot of Massey Energy Coal Company blasted her surrounding mountains, bled out its waters, and suffocated its trees. Judy finally evacuated her ancestral home in the face of polluting dust, foul water, and incessant noise from the coal operations. She continued to fight mountaintop removal, organizing and leading Coal River Mountain Watch. In 2003, Judy Bonds received the Goldman Prize -- the world environmental equivalent of the Nobel Prize -- for her community organizing and unwavering battle against coal industry abuse.

Like other outspoken anti-mountaintop removal activists in the coalfields, Judy Bonds received innumerable threats, taunts, personal assaults, and faced bullying coal trucks. Judy refused to flinch, recognizing that to give in to the coal terrorists is to capitulate to their nefarious strategy. Truth must prevail, but truth requires courage and perseverance.

Two images of Judy Bonds flash through my mind as I try to pray.

The first is that of Judy, the fiery activist. Short in stature, Judy is like the shepherd-boy David armed with five smooth stones and a sling. Her face is fierce, jaw set, eyes glistening, keen to battle the coal company, Goliath, that dares to destroy her beloved mountains and abuse her community. Judy whirls and slings her stones as hammer-shot words of sorrows and angers and facts and truths. Like the biblical Deborah, Judy's stirring courage leads the charge. Deborah, a mother of Israel, Judy, a mother of the mountains and its inhabitants, a keeper of the covenant, a lover of God and God's people (Judges 5).

The other image is that of Judy, her dark eyes twinkling with joy and laughter, warm arms embracing and hugging, soft words consoling and inspiring. I never spent any time with Judy where I had not been freshly inspired, envisioned, emboldened, encouraged, and appreciated. To be with Judy was to feel valued. Judy Bonds was other-centered, non-egocentric, honest, and generous of heart.

Judy was a woman of deep faith in God. She was not a "churchy person" nor did she wrap herself up in pieties and heavenward chatter. Judy's earthy, robust faith placed her feet on the ground, her sleeves rolled up, her hands working the ground for God's truth and justice. She openly loved God by decrying the despoliation of creation, in God's name. She trusted God for strength, for truth to prevail, for "justice to roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream" (Amos 5:24). Judy Bonds was a prophet of our time. To use Walter Bruggemann's theme in his work The Prophetic Imagination, Judy called people out of their spiritual numbness and hopelessness in the face of coal industry abuse. And simultaneously, Judy envisioned and led hope-renewed people to fight injustice and to forge ahead to the promise of a healed land of peace and wholeness.

For more on Julia (Judy) Bonds, here are some links: Coal River Mountain Watch; Huffington Post; Utne Reader; Americans Who Tell The Truth; Video at PowerShift 2007; Democracy Now interview; Video of Capitol Climate Action.

Allen Johnson is co-founder of Christians for the Mountains.

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