This piece originally appeared at the Huffington Post.
She was a tireless, funny and inspiring orator, and a savvy and brilliant community organizer. She was fearless in the face of threats. As the godmother of the anti-mountaintop removal movement, she gave birth to a new generation of clean energy and human rights activists across the nation. In a year of mining disasters and climate change set backs, she challenged activists to redouble their efforts.
As one of the great visionaries to emerge out of the coalfields, Julia "Judy" Bonds reminded the nation that her beloved Appalachians had been to the mountaintop—and in her passing last night, thousands of anti-mountaintop removal mining and New Power activists from around the country are reminding the Obama administration and the country’s environmental justice movement of Bonds’ powerful legacy and parting words to "don’t let up, fight harder and finish off" the outlaw ranks of Big Coal and end the egregious crime of mountaintop removal.
In a special email message last night, Coal River Mountain Watch director Vernon Haltom announced the passing of Bonds, the Goldman Prize winner and Executive Director of Coal River Mountain Watch. Bonds, 58, had battled advanced stage cancer over the past several months. "One of Judy’s last acts was to go on a speaking trip, even though she was not feeling well, shortly before her diagnosis," Haltom wrote. "I believe, as others do, that Judy’s years in Marfork holler, where she remained in her ancestral home as long as she could, subjected her to Massey Energy’s airborne toxic dust and led to the cancer that wasted no time in taking its toll. Judy will be missed by all in this movement, as an icon, a leader, an inspiration, and a friend."
Here’s a clip from a special tribute to Judy by On Coal River filmmakers Adams Wood and Francine Cavanaugh:
A little more than a decade ago, sitting on the coal dust-swept front porch with her grandson—the ninth generation of their family to reside in Marfork Hollow in West Virginia—Bonds was outraged to hear her 7-year-old grandson describe an escape route should a nearby massive coal waste dam break and flood their valley. "I knew in my heart there was really no escape," Bonds told an interviewer in 2003. "How do you tell a child that his life is a sacrifice for corporate greed? You can’t tell him that, you don’t tell him that, but of course he understands that now."
Forced by an encroaching strip mine to move from her family’s ancestral land, Bonds spent the next decade as a full-time crusader (and coal miner’s daughter) to bring her grandson’s message of central Appalachia’s role as a national sacrifice zone from the devastating impact of mountaintop removal strip mining to millions of Americans across the country.