Protecting Her Family, Protecting the Commons in Coal Country

By Branden Ran

In 1991 Judy Bonds was a waitress. One day she was with her daughter and her grandson in front of the property where she was born – and where hollers are supposed to fe forever. While they talked her grandson was played in the stream that has run in front of their property for as long as they have been there.

Her family has fished in it, bathed in it, washed their clothes in it, gotten their drinking and cooking water from it, and played in it since long before she was born.

Today was the last day a member of her family would have anything to do with it.

“Hey!” Hollered her grandson. “What’s wrong with these fish?!”

He stood in water surrounded by dead fish, floating belly up, and holding two fat samples in his chubby little-boy hands.

“Get out of the water!” She and her daughter shouted in unison.

Something had been dumped in the water upstream where the mining was going on and it had poisoned the fish. And it wasn’t just the fish or her grandson that Judy was worried about, her whole town received water from that stream as part of the watershed that provided them with this most vital of life’s elements.

That was the first time Judy was outraged at the arrogance and tragic negligence of the coal company that Massey Energy CEO Don Blankenship runs at great personal profit. Blankenship has been quoted as viewing productivity being the most important indicator of a person’s or company’s worth, and has built an empire out of destroying Appalachia in an effort to be the most productive coal extraction operation in history.

Judy is concerned not just for the health of the communities, but as someone very connected to the mountains, the foundation of life in her region. To listen to her talk about the land and the relationship her people have always had to it one feels they are in the presence of a forest dweller, a mystical shaman – someone who understands, intrinsically, the relationship between the earth, the animals, the waters and people.

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Judy on the relationship that the Appalachian people have to the mountains

And the mountains here are so special. It’s a wonder that more people aren’t here fighting to protect them.  Not only would their beauty and terrain provide excellent tourism opportunities that would easily lift these communities up out of the growing poverty but the mountains themselves produce so many herbs and plants that are of great value.

Who is aware that these mountains provide over half of the world’s ginseng? I wasn’t.

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Video of Judy on the natural characteristics of the mountain hollers and their bounty

What about harnessing the winds here in this propoal that would turn these coalfields into wind fields?

And there’s more, much more.

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Judy discusses the impacts of MTR on the people and environment – and being a subject of King Coal

You can find out more about Judy here, as well as information on the mountains and the organization she founded to protect them against the destructive monster that is King Coal.

Not surprising, Judy also received the 2003 Goldman Environmental Prize for her work to save Appalachia’s mountains and communities.

With people like Judy and the folks at Coal River Mountain Watch working to stop the expansion of MTR, we have hope.

You can support their efforts here.