Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I'm not concerned about that now. I just want to do God's will. And He's allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I've looked over. And I've seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land!
Dr. King said these words on April 3, 1968, the day before he was assassinated, speaking in support of sanitation workers’ rights in Memphis. They express such a profound optimism, a faith that goodness will ultimately prevail, and a determination that the struggle is bigger than one person, that I couldn’t help but think of this speech when I learned that Judy Bonds, perhaps the most well-known advocate for the abolition of mountaintop removal coal mining, passed away yesterday at the tragically early age of 58. Her colleague, Vernon Haltom, has posted a moving message on the Coal River Mountain Watch website about her life and work.
I first met Judy Bonds about five years ago, when she traveled to Washington from West Virginia to meet with folks at NRDC to talk about coal mining and other aspects of the country’s dependence on coal. Judy didn’t mince words—I remember her saying that even if marshmallows came out of coal-fired power plants’ smokestacks, coal would never be “clean,” because of the myriad injuries caused by the mining, transporting, and disposing of coal and its byproducts. We didn’t see eye-to-eye on everything, but even in disagreement, Judy was the kind of person you wanted to know — by the end of that first meeting, she had invited me to visit West Virginia and have some wild-picked “ramps.”
Judy was the very definition of tireless. She traveled extensively, seemingly willing to talk to anyone who might listen to her story of the destruction of Appalachian mountains and forests at the hands of coal companies. She marched, she got arrested, she weathered insults and threats, and she spoke with officials in Congress and the administration, all to spare her fellow citizens the problems inflicted by mountaintop removal, and to defend a region’s heritage. She inspired countless people to make this cause their own.
Judy did not live to see the end of mountaintop removal. But her life made its end a possibility. The people she fought with can best honor her memory by continuing to push to stop it. I have every confidence that we will win this fight together, and that Judy has already seen that future from the mountaintop. God bless you, Judy.
PS: I don't much care that this post is almost identical to that of my colleague, Rob Perks. Rather, I think that the fact that we wrote these independently of one another goes to show exactly how Judy affected the community of people with whom she worked.