Fighting King Coal Is a Dirty Job

| 11/24/2009 4:23:21 PM

Judy Bonds

We chose Julia “Judy” Bonds as an Utne visionary because we saw in her a rare sort of courage and conviction. As the codirector of Coal River Mountain Watch in Whitesville, West Virginia, Bonds has for more than a decade been at the fore of the battle against what she calls “King Coal.” After she began witnessing firsthand how mountaintop removal coal mining was irreparably damaging her region’s land, wildlife, and people, she fought back by speaking out forcefully against the practice and working to end it—persuasively, legislatively, and, if necessary, bodily. (She has been arrested twice at protests.) Now a matriarch to the anti-mountaintop removal movement, she spends part of her time traveling to share advice and tactics with college students and other green groups. I interviewed Bonds about the state of the movement, her inspirations, and her resolve in the face of daily danger.

How did you get started in the fight against mountaintop removal?

“Basically, I’m a coal miner’s daughter and granddaughter, and I’m an eighth generation resident here in the Coal River Valley. I lived in a little holler in Marfork, and Massey [Energy] moved into my holler and began to mine coal so irresponsibly that it just really smacked me in the face. I realized somebody’s got to do something, because nobody’s paying attention to what’s going on.”

“What started it was black water spills along the creek where generations of my family had recreated and survived there. But what really did it was the fish kill that my grandson found in 1997 when he was 6 years old when we were walking. He was standing in a stream full of dead fish. When you see a child standing in a stream full of dead fish, asking, ‘What’s wrong with these fish?’ I don’t see how anyone cannot react to that. I watched Massey Energy poison the whole town of Whitesville several times, because I lived three miles directly upstream of their drinking water intake. And I realized, my god, they’re poisoning the whole town of Whitesville—my friends, my relatives. It just dawned on me in a couple of years there that somebody has to do something, and it’s time to speak out.”

Sometimes things get personal at protests. I saw that you were slapped in the face by a woman at a rally earlier this year. Is it tough to maintain your resolve and your dignity in the face of opposition like this?

4/15/2010 1:17:26 AM

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