Friday, April 08, 2005

Interview with Activist Judy Bonds

What is the biggest preconception about Coal River Mountain Watch?

The biggest preconception about Coal River Mountain Watch is also the biggest misconception: that we are Against ALL forms of coal mining and we want to take away mining jobs. This lie is something that the coal barons love to spread to the public to discredit our organization before we get a chance to open our mouths. MOST PEOPLE CHANGE THEIR MINDS ABOUT THE PRE AMD MIS CONCERPTIONS AFTER WE TALK TO THEM. In an interview with Grist Magazine you said, “If it blasts, oozes, or gushes, it's done near poor, oppressed, rural communities or minority communities. This is a dirty little secret that people are now speaking out about.

Why do you think this is? Is it still the corporate philosophy that the poor can’t fight back?

Yes, Exactly, It is hard for poor and minority communities to fight corporations. If the polluting corporations had to live within 1 mile, downstream/downwind of THEIR company's discharges, there wouldn't be 3/4 of the pollution in the air, land or water that we now have in our environment. It is hard for poor, rural people to get a lawyer and find the time and resources to fight corporate America. IT IS EVEN HARDER NOW THAT THE CORPORATIONS SEEM TO "BUY" THROUGH CAMPAIGN CONTRIBUTIONS, EVEN OUR JUDGES. I find this especially true if people are labeled as "second class citizens" as we Appalachian Mountaineers have been labeled as "ignorant hillbillies". In his address to the Virginia Assembly in the early part of Civil War, (1860-or so in Miners, Millhands and Mountaineers) Gen. John Imboden told of vast amounts of coal and timber reserves in western Virginia and the owners did not know the value of their own land and minerals so Imboden suggested that we obtain that land and beside that land is cheap labor to mine the coal. SO THAT IS EXACTLY WHAT THEY DID, THEY CONNED AND CHEATED AND MURDERED TO STEAL OUR LAND AND MINERAL RIGHTS AND THEN THEY STOLE OUR HUMANITY BY LABELING US AS "IGNORANT HILLBILLIES". THEY, THEN, HAD THEIR "CHEAP LABORERS" TO WORK FOR SCRIPT MONEY, NOT EVEN REAL AMERICAN MONEY. Lets face it, we--hillbillies are the only ethnic group left that can still be made fun of with NO repercussions.

What activists of the past have inspired you?

Well, when people call me a radical I thank them and tell them that my hero was the most famous radical of all---Jesus Christ, now this was an activist. Followed by Martin Luther King, Mother Jones in the labor fight in the early 20's and the Widow Combs from Kentucky in the first fight against strip mining in the late 60's and early 70's. I really admire lots of activists but I put them in order for you.

Is it difficult to get media outlets to listen to you or to attend a rally?

It used to be a lot easier to get local media out. Especially the TV stations. It seems that the coal industry has complained that we get free publicity and it has paid off for them (coal boys) in less coverage for us. ALSO WE HAVE HEARD AND BLEIEVE IT IS TRUE THAT MILLIONAIRE WEST VIRGINIA COAL BARON JAMES "BUCK" HARLESS HAS STOCK IN A MEDIA OUTLET, WE ALSO READ WHERE MASSEY SAYS IT IS BRANCHING OUT INTO "COMMUNICATIONS". WE THINK THE COAL MONGULS OWNS PART OF THE MAINSTREAM MEDIA. We can sometimes get the Gazette to do an article but it seems that they have backed off except for Ken Ward. Since Dan Radmacher has left the Gazette, it seems that the other editors have NO courage. It seems to be ALMOST as easy to get national reporters to do a story about the devastation here in the coal fields. For instance I just got a call 5 minutes ago, from a documentary group in Los Angeles, they want to interview people about strip mining and fossil fuels. I guess it comes and goes, but one thing here in West Virginia, the coal industry's complaining AND WHINING has paid off. I would think that the TV and newspapers would understand that the more stories they do with us OR JUST REPORTING THE TRUTH....makes it mandatory that the coal industry has to/NEEDS TO buy time/ads with the media.

Has there been any politician that has pledged help and actually came through on their word in the struggle with the coal companies?

There probably are more politicians than I will name here that has helped, so I apologize in advance. The majority of politicians lack the courage to stand up for what is right in mining, particularly, coal mining. But Ken Hechler has stood up for God's creation, the people and the Earth EVERY time. In the first battle against steep slope strip mining, Ken Hechler was Congressman for the state of West Virginia. A recently published book by Chad Montrie called, "To Save The Land and The People" tells the whole sordid story of the first battle. Ken Hechler is the person and politician that stands out most in my mind in that book and also in today's battle. I can't go back and look up the names of the few other politicians that stood up-(there was few) because I loaned the book to others to read. There is a VERY high interest in the renewed battle again. I remember Jennings Randolph was also mentioned as one of the good guy politicians.Today, Representatives Christopher Shay (Conn) and Frank Pallone(N.J.) has introduced a bill HR 738 into Congress that will greatly limit Mountaintop Removal. The bill has 65 co-sponsors.As for West Virginia politicians, here in this state, I cannot name one as far as I know that will stand up. I could be wrong, but I have yet to hear or read statements of support against mountaintop removal or the rape of the state and the people from them. Other than those that ran under the newly formed Mountain Party and of course, they do not have the clout or money to fight the big money coal whores to get elected. This of course goes all the way back to the birth of the state of West Virginia. This state was set up by extractive industry barons for extractive industry barons, they put themselves in power and made the laws for their other greedy baron friends and we, the people of this state, has suffered for it ever since. FOR THE INDUSTRY, BY THE INDUSTRY.
Our state motto is "Mountaineers Are Always Free" and that may have been true at one time. Now it is more like..." We're Flatlanders Now, But Once We Were Free". You see these mountains and forests did make us free. God gave us everything we needed in order in survive in these mountains and hollows, we didn't need anything from the outside world. As these mountains and the mountain culture goes, then so goes our freedom.

How important is it to stress how the devastation and widespread poisoning of the eco system has a lasting effect outside of West Virginia?

I can answer that in many different ways.

It is very important to stress the damage and pollution levels outside the state. Mountains are the birthplace of rivers, of the life giving waters. Only an idiot pollutes or covers up water.
Clean water and clean air are the ONLY 2 things needed in order to live. Pollution/crap rolls downstream. My little stream gets polluted and the pollution goes all the way to the ocean and then comes back down to the earth, in the form of rain again.

The coal that is burned turns to mercury, poisons the water system and damages unborn babies: and pollutes the air causing billions of dollars in health problems, makes our babies suffer with asthma, and causes global warming. I don't understand why more people aren't concerned with the poisoning of our unborn and born babies.
That is a few of the reasons.

The damage is spreading like a cancer to other states. Any place that has coal is at risk to the same destruction. The destruction is spreading into Tennessee and is becoming more aggressive in Virginia. I would say that West Virginia has the most destruction, but Kentucky isn't far behind and then Virginia.

The damage today, from mountaintop removal and steep slope strip mining, is unprecedented. It is irreversible. The ecosystems in the coalfields of central Appalachia are the worlds' most diverse temperate hardwood forest. There is NO PLACE on earth like this. Scientists marveled at the under story, plants and herbs here in the area slated for destruction. The worlds best wild ginseng comes from here, black cohosh, yellow root, blood root, ramps, morel mushrooms (we call them "molly moochers") are just a few of the valuable plants found here.
As the God's mountains are blown to pieces and His hollows are filled, the mountain culture is disappearing.

People need to understand that there is NO such thing as cheap energy and no such thing as "clean coal".

People need to understand that our homes are being blasted and that we are under attack. We are being terrorized by the flooding and the blasting and by the oversize trucks on our narrow mountain roads.

Some people call us "ignorant hillbillies" but I am smart enough to understand that our children cannot drink or breath money. I know that it is stupid to trade reliance upon one dirty fossil fuel for reliance upon another dirtier polluting fossil fuel.

What recommendations do you have for parents in aiding their children’s interest in activism?

First I would highly recommend that parents teach their children that activism is a DUTY and a responsibility.

They must teach their children that only through activism can America and the World be free and livable.

Talk and read to your children at an early age about the great activists and movements of the past. Make your children aware of the wrongs that have been righted by a few dedicated people that made positive changes. Talk about the atrocities of the past and present. Show them video's and documentaries as a visual aide. Expose them to "Music That Matters", protest and activists music, there was plenty in the 60's and now there is a new move toward music that means something.

IF you don't do this, your children will never hear or see the truth.
For instance, very few people know that there are only 2 instances in which the United States has bombed their own citizens. Most people think there was just the Civil War. In 1921, America dropped bombs on coal miners in Logan County, West Virginia at the Battle of Blair Mountain.

LISTEN to your child, relate that to problem solving in a way that an activist thinks.

EDUCATE AND MOTIVATE. But we must be careful not to pressure. Teenagers especially tend to rebel if pushed but it seems that sometimes children will stray off the straight and narrow path but most of the time they find their way back.

Teach to your best ability. Give you children YOUR BEST and that does not mean material things----It MEANS JUST THE OPPOSITE.

We think that by giving our children "comfortable" things, that we did without and wished for when we were children, is what we should do. But we are truly doing our children a disservice.
The best thing we can give our children is a LIVABLE earth and the tools to fight to keep the earth livable.
For the sake of the kids...STOP poisoning them!!!



Do you ever worry that with all the traveling you have to do if the cause will fall apart if something happens to you?

That is why I feel that my job is to empower others so that the movement goes forward without anyone or me that people feel that they can't do without.

A Lakota Chief once said, "You Are the One that You Have Been Waiting For"

Have you ever noticed how geese fly in a V formation? There is a leader, but it is NOT always the same leader. When the goose in the front (leader) gets tired, it falls to the back and another goose takes the lead for a while and this continues until they reach their destination.

Since winning the Goldman prize have you become more of a target of the coal companies?

Actually, no. The public, the consumer has become a BIGGER target, more now than ever.

I think the coal companies understand that a high profile person is the LAST person they want to have come up missing. The coal companies would rather discredit leaders. Character assassination, as in the case of Judi Barri.

Also the money that King Coal spends on TV propaganda/ads seems to be getting the job done for them, no need to "target" anyone but the gullible public.

The real problem is that the little workingman doesn't seem to understand. The coal industry feeds such lies and propaganda to the little man, the workingman and I am more wary of him. It is easy for King Coal to put fear into these men. The coal companies seem to keep pointing out lies, mainly that we want to take their jobs.
Why would anyone deliberately want to take peoples jobs???

The coal companies have also found out that we are not afraid of them. When we feel threatened, we talk to the press, we scream loud and clear!!!
During the coal truck campaign my friend, Patty Sebok, had a "hit" out on her. The plan was to trap her between two coal trucks and squeeze her.

During that time Patty and I were surrounded at our State Capitol in Charleston, by a group of coal truck drivers.
They harassed us and damaged our signs and tried intimidation. We wouldn't leave.

As we entered the "Well" and noticed the "coal hoes" there. Our group was late, but my goodness, we were at our own state Capitol and there was a state trooper there. Well, he looked me dead in the eyes and left. We stayed.

I felt a little comfort in the fact that a there was a local talk radio show host 5 feet from the incident. He saw what happened and when I screamed for security, Hoppy Kershevel (of the Charleston station, I think it is 580, Metro News) packed up his equipment, tucked in his tail and left.

Patty said that when I screamed " HELP Security" you could have heard a pin drop . One of us had to get security. That is when the security at the Capitol told us that the "well" area was the only place that didn't have security cameras and that the state trooper was NOT supposed to leave without informing security. Patty stayed and their boss came out and Patty told him about the incident, and he was NOT happy with his workers. A newspaper ran the story the next day.

Things like this happened ALL the time. We can't be intimidated by this, we just need to be aware and watch each others backs.
Really, this is a battle between good and evil and we need more people on our side ...the good side.

For those unfamiliar with the struggle of coal miners through the years what would be a recommended reading list to learn more?

First see the movie "Matewan" by John Sayles, this movie was based on the book by Lon Savage--Thunder In the Mountains.
A PBS documentary called "Even The Heavens Weep"
Also the new PBS documentary "The Appalachians" will start to be aired in Kentucky this weekend. This documentary tells the whole sorry story of the abuse the coal industry has put us through and there is a companion book published by Random House.

Now for the other Books

Thunder In The Valley, West Virginia Mine War by Lon Savage...... U. Of Pittsburgh Press

Bloodletting In Appalachia, by Howard Lee

The Battle of Blair Mountain by Richard Shogan this book is really new, Westview Press, I have an autographed copy

Some Books about the fight against coal companies, miners and strip mining
Night Comes To the Cumberlands by Harry Caudill..this book is old and is more about the fight against strip mining in the 60's.

To Save The Land and The People by Chad Montrie--new take on the old fight.

Absentee Landowning and Exploitation in West Virginia by Barbara Rasmussen

Miners, Millhands and Mountaineers, so long ago that I can't remember the author.

What do you believe are the psychological effects of the Coal Mining Companies on the next generation coming out of West Virginia?

My Answer with the help of Patty Sebok, wife of an underground coal miner and a picket line lady.

The coal company has already effected Appalachia's children and it keeps getting worse every generation and with the destruction of our mountains, which is our idenity. Kill the mountain and you kill the mountaineers and the culture. Mountaintop Removal is Mountaineer Removal.
This seems to effect West Virginia more than other Appalachian states. West Virginia is the ONLY state that lies entirely within the Appalachian Mountain range. Other states has bits and peices of the Appalachian Mountain range but West Virginia is enfolded entirely in the Appalachian Mountains.
The coal industry and other extractive industry helped create the myth of the hillbilly and this has severly effected our children for over 130 years and it has stuck with us until this day. This was done intentionaly, as the extractive industry learned form the slave masters of the south that all they had to do was to dehumanize these "mysterious" people that America knew little about. America still knows very little about Appalachia and our culture.
Some of our children and indeed adults are ashamed to admit they are from West Virginia, that is how severve the effects of the coal industry mind set has been.
The coal industry considered coal company mules as worth more that the men and children that they had slaving in the unsafe mines. Thus the statement, "Don't Kill the Company Mule". .That attitude stuck with the people. They still think they are second class citizens.
Now add the fact that the coal industry is destroying our mountains, our very indenity as mountaineers, that will probably be a near death blow to our children. With the mountains and valley's of their family homeplaces gone, they won't have a past and they defintiely won't have a future here in the coal fields of Appalachia. They will never know the meaning of living in a holler or the mountain culture.

The coal companies and their minions are committing cultural and ethnic geneocide. We are unique to the rest of the world and no one, with the exception of a few, understands how unique we are. Once our unique place (the mountains and hollors) are gone so will be our culture and heritage. How can we pass this heritage along to our children and grandchildren when the places that we do these unique things such as: rooting, green picking, and picking molly moochers, hunting and fishing will all be gone? These kinds of activities have been part of our lives as long as we have been West Virginians.

We are also not readily accepted into other places, so what do we do? We will be a people without a connection to the land.

One other thing is we are part of a global climate. Our trees and forests our the lungs of the east. Does man think we can cut down this many trees and forests and not make an impact on the global level? Just think you might be able to live and breathe with one lung but how much of the second lung could you live without? Just something to think about.

Appalachians, especially Southern West Virginians, are a people shaped by the land. A people that once relied ONLY upon themselves. God gave us everything we needed here in order to survive, we didn't need anything from the outside world until the coal, timber and railroad barons came with their slick words and told our ancestors that we did need those "things".
Our state motto is "Mountaineeers Are Always Free". Now that the indusrty is destroying the very mountains I gues our new motto is "We're Flatlanders Now But Once We Were Free".
I am afraid that our children will find their "Almost Heaven" only in Heaven.

- Chris Mansel

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