Today, for Judy.

I am a lot of things, both appealing and offensive. Similarly, I do many things, mostly offensive and sometimes, hopefully, appealing. For instance, free writing on my blog might turn out to be splendidly appealing or horribly offensive (or just plain boring, but perish the thought, I could never be boring).

There are things I should be doing, like writing more articles, and things I am doing, like writing more fanfiction. There’s the person I should be, who is always confident and kind and composed, and the person I actually am, who takes everything to heart and loses her temper and, like an elephant, never forgets. In all honesty, it’s harder to try and change yourself, even when it seems like it’s for the better, and being yourself cannot be anything but positive in the long run. If you are yourself, you’ll reduce a large amount of secrets you have to keep from people.

As for doing things, people talk about how we have little time to do the things we should. Logically, I believe that, but to me it seems that life goes on and on and never lets me rest. Screw doing stuff, most of the time I just want to sleep.

I’ve been encouraged to write a book, possibly, about living in Appalachia and fighting the destruction here. It strikes me as funny that something I do everyday – i.e. “live here” – would be appealing enough in book form to actually sell. That being said, I’m sure I’ll do it eventually. Probably next year for NaNoWriMo. But what’s wrong with inspirational stories about boy robots who want to save the world and understand love? So the next book, which I’ll be writing for NaNo this year, is the third book in the Jonah series.

Actually, I haven’t even tried to get Jonah published. I haven’t sent it anywhere at all, so I don’t even know if it would be rejected or if I’m just paranoid. It seems like a crazy thought, that I could really publish a book. I used to tell people that my ultimate goal was to get at least one book published. If I got published now, at 22, it would be so strange. I would, however, consider myself highly successful for my age. That would sum up what I’ve been working for my whole life. Maybe it would be peaceful or maybe it wouldn’t be peaceful at all. I’d probably sleep more, and that really can’t be a good thing.

But today is a special day. Today is the birthday of activist Judy Bonds, who inspired me like no one else ever could in the fight against mountaintop removal. I miss Judy. For her, life was too short, just like everyone always says it will be. But if there was ever a person who spent every day being herself for everyone in the world to see, it was Judy. The world is full of people who hide behind all sorts of different masks but Judy didn’t hide. She was, and continues to be, a character that overwhelms every room full of stereotypes and cop-outs with her sheer individuality and persistence.

I prefaced that small paragraph about Judy with a lot of stuff about myself because I didn’t know what I wanted to write, I guess, to mark this important day. What can I say about Judy that hasn’t already been said a million times over by everyone who loved her? What right do I have to say anything at all? I was just some random girl who listened to her speak and loved the things she said and the way she held herself, not above the people, but above the lies and fear and hate.

Maybe she was nothing like I imagined her to be. I never got to sit and have coffee with her or share stories and get to know her. Still, I think that when someone is as real as Judy was, it makes them shine somehow. When I saw Judy speak or on the front lines at actions, I always knew that I liked her – loved her – in a world full of people who never quite measure up. And all she had to do was be herself. But that’s harder than you might think, when being yourself and speaking the truth puts you in harm’s way, when the safest path to take would be to duck your head down and pretend you can’t do anything. I’m sure that there were days when she was afraid but she kept going.

I don’t want to glorify her beyond what she really was – and I don’t think she would have wanted that either. She was a person, just like you and me. We all have an opportunity to be that real, that solid, and Judy took that opportunity. I guess the reason why I had to talk about myself before I could talk about Judy is that when I think about Judy, I think about myself too. I think about all of the things I’m capable of doing that I haven’t done yet, for whatever reason. I think about how it’s so hard to hide my real self from the world, but it’s even harder to be honest and take the criticism from others that comes with it. Maybe Judy was like me and she just couldn’t keep herself locked up and boxed away. Whatever the reason, I was honored to meet her. I would have been honored to know her. Most of all, I am grateful to her for fighting until the end. There’s a lesson there I still haven’t quite learned but I think Judy gave me the answer to a question I’ve always had.

When you’re a kid and you dream about going down in history books, you don’t think about what that means. To be remembered like that, you have to leave something behind in peoples’ hearts. You have to work hard, bust your ass, and never, ever take shit from anybody, but you also have to have compassion and love. When you get up in front of a crowd, you have to let them know that you’re not going to back down and that you still love the world, no matter how much pain it puts you through. The people who see that about you and are inspired by you will keep you alive in their thoughts. You will never be forgotten. It’s a brave thing to do with your life because you won’t be around to see the impact you have. You have to have blind faith in the world and give as much as you can while you have the chance. It’s not about personal glory, being remembered. I guess I don’t really know what it’s about, except that Judy didn’t fight so people would remember her. People remember her because she fought for something real.

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Dreary Day

This week I think I’m on sensory overload. Lots of stuff has happened in the last couple of weeks and I haven’t had a lot of time to process all of it. I wanted to write another article for the blog today but I just don’t have it in me to put together something professional right now. Hopefully I’ll get my mojo back in a few days. Until then, I think I’ll just write a regular diary type entry.

I bought a new cage for the rats, it’s second hand and needs some TLC, but it has different floors, which I’m sure they’ll love. I need to spray it down with the water hose and then repaint it, and build in some ramps. Also need to find a way to get Sher some daily exercise that doesn’t involve him chewing the paint off my bedroom walls. I mean, I was prepared for him chewing on stuff, but silly me thought the walls were safe. Nope. I did buy him a little vest and leash, which might still be too big on him, but I figure he’ll grow into it.

Merlin is still not very social. Not sure what to do about that – I haven’t had the time to spend with the rats that I thought I would have, and I think that has been detrimental to Merlin’s socialization. But I also think Mer was taken away from his mama too soon, so he’s not as affectionate as the bigger boys are.

Once again, I was the only person with rabbits at the county fair, which means I won the trophy again, but it’s really a hollow victory. I don’t like being the only person there. I like seeing other people bring their bunnies. However, Jubilee got her picture in the newspaper, as she was the grand champion of bunnies this year, and that’s kind of nifty.

I still need to sand those shelves for my room and repaint them. My room will continue to look like a disaster until I get the shelves in. I should probably work on that today. Tomorrow is veggie share day, so I won’t have any time, since I’ll be packing baskets for customers all day.

Sometimes I just feel like I don’t have the energy it takes to get out of bed and be productive. Dunno. It’s a dreary day.

July 28 Police Response to Mountain Mobilization

On Saturday, July 28, West Virginian law enforcement responded to peaceful protests against strip mining by harassing protesters, placing them in unsafe situations, and allowing pro-coal opposition to harass and threaten protesters further. 21 year-old Dustin Steele was beaten severely while in police custody and refused medical treatment.

This video illustrates some of the inappropriate actions taken by police, caught on tape by protesters with recording devices.

West Virginia: The Third World

West Virginia: The Third World
If they hurt you, should you back down?
By: Rachel Parsons

It’s Saturday, July 28, and there’s something big happening. I’ve known about it for months. People are going to get arrested today, lots of people, to make a statement. Everything has been planned meticulously, most people in the movement – the movement to end mountaintop removal and strip mining in Appalachia – don’t even know where it’s all going to go down, but we know it’s going to happen. A lot of people sign up to go. The action is called “Mountain Mobilization,” and it is organized by RAMPS, or Radical Action for Mountain Peoples’ Survival, one of many groups protesting coal in the mountains of Appalachia.

Some people, myself included, don’t go. For me, it’s because I don’t want to get arrested right now, although I believe strongly in the importance of it. There are many personal things I’m dealing with that make me stay home. My mother and I go to an antique auction to take our minds off the action, worried about our friends who are going with the intent of getting arrested. We are miserable and cranky the whole time. When we get home, we make a beeline for our computers, hoping for good news.

Instead we get bad news. 20 people were arrested on Hobet Mine in southern West Virginia. That’s not the bad part. We had planned on getting lots of people arrested to make a statement and draw attention to West Virginia’s plight, all the poisoned water and polluted air and mountains reduced to rubble. The bad news is that the other 30 people who were on the mine were sent on a 15 mile walk by police officers who refused to let the shuttle cars meant to pick them up drive down the small road to the mine. However, the police did let pro-coal supporters down the road and the anti-coal protesters were forced to walk almost four hours through a gauntlet of hate until they reached the rest of their party and were picked up. The cars carrying our protesters were then harassed on the way home, with coal supporters in big trucks trying to run them off the road.

Democracy Now: Protesters Shut Down West Virginia Mountaintop Removal Coal Mine

Mountain Mobilization shuts down largest mountaintop removal mine in U.S.

It’s Sunday, July 29, and we get news that at least one of the arrested protesters, Dustin Steele, has been severely beaten while in police custody and has been denied medical treatment. A cry of outrage goes out across the web. Dustin will be 21 on August 1, a year younger than myself. I know this guy. Someone I know has been beaten by the police and refused treatment. Any lingering delusions I might have had of living in the land of the free? Well, those are gone, if they were ever there. Home of the brave, on the other hand, well, maybe we can still claim that title. The next few days will show.

The bond for each of the 20 arrested protesters is set at $25,000 in West Virginia property. That adds up to $500,000 dollars with of property in exchange for the release of 20 people who were arrested on misdemeanor trespassing charges. Naturally, we all think this is outrageous.

A pro-coal group online has found several of our Facebook pages, including Ramps Campaign. The page where we have all been watching for news of our comrades is bombarded with comments from the other side. Our opposition tells us “dirty, tree-hugging hippies” to “go back where we came from.” A large number of protesters, including myself and Dustin Steele, the arrested protester who was beaten, are West Virginia natives. We say so. We regret engaging any of our assailants in conversation as we are swept away in a sea of hate. Someone says the arrested protesters should be hung from trees. Someone else tells the arrested protesters “not to drop the soap.” They think these comments are funny. Well, they’re not.

Monday, July 30, I drive to my grandparents’ house to spend a couple of days with them. My plan is to relax and distract myself by helping on their farm. Instead, the three of us compulsively check Facebook for news. We’re worried and outraged for Dustin. We have no idea how the movement could possibly post bond for Dustin and the others, and Dustin still has not seen a doctor. Fingers crossed, we share articles on Facebook, trying to spread the word if we can do nothing else. Donations for the legal defense fund for the arrested protesters are still asked for, in hopes that cash will eventually be accepted by police.

Mountain Mobilization organizer discusses police crackdown following historic action.

Mining protesters accuse police of mistreatment.

That night, I am stressed and have trouble going to sleep. My anxiety issues hit me full force. On Tuesday, July 31, I wake up tired. The news is dreary at best and so is the weather. It rains and all I can think about is Dustin and how I don’t even really know how hurt he is. It’s not like I’ve ever been close to Dustin, but I know this kid. He could have been me if I’d been a little bit braver. And he had a right to protest and to stand up for what he believes in. I’m so angry that the police, who are supposed to keep citizens safe, would do this to 21 year-old kid who had no way of defending himself.

Ramps Campaign reports that the other arrested protesters witnessed the brutality against Dustin. More bad news, the Environmental Protection Agency loses a court case about water pollution restrictions in regards to coal mining. It’s not looking like a good day for the movement.

Jeff Biggers: Besieged Coalfield Residents Denounce Court Decision Against EPA Rules on Mountaintop Removal

All the hate people are spewing everywhere is too much. It hurts to hear Governor Tomblin on the news say that the decision against the EPA is a “victory for West Virginia.” It’s not a victory. Coal is going to kill this state and I’m miserable and think that maybe I made a mistake by coming back here instead of staying in Tennessee after I graduated. More and more bad news. I have a negative confrontation with a supposed “friend” and it just blows everything sky high for me. I call my mom in tears and tell her I’m moving to Canada. She tells me I’m going to stay here and fight.

I call my Dad and explain everything that has happened over the last few days. I cry some more. He says, “Write about this. You are a great writer. Don’t be upset because the opposition has finally recognized that you are a force to be contended with. You should feel empowered by it. Congratulations.”

Wednesday, August 1, I wake up feeling better. It’s Dustin’s birthday, and it’s the birthday of Mother Jones, a historic figure in our movement. It’s also the anniversary of the death of Sid Hatfield. Such a day can’t be anything but powerful. News from Ramps says that they’ve finally convinced authorities to allow them to pay bond with cash, and I have high hopes that Dustin will soon be released.

There are two petitions circulating, one demanding justice for Dustin and the other demanding that the bail be reduced for the “Hobet 20” as the arrested protesters are called. I sign them both and watch with high hopes as more and more signatures are added.

Petition: Reduce the bail for the Hobet 20!

Petition: Senators Manchin & Rockefeller: Get Dustin Steele medical treatment and investigate his abuse.

Word from Ramps that Dustin’s bail has been paid and he is finally safe with friends. The fight’s not over. There are still 19 more of the Hobet 20 to get released. Dustin’s abuse cannot be allowed to go unpunished. But I am feeling more empowered now. So I write about it, because writing is what I do and I will never be afraid to write about what’s important, no matter who threatens to hang me from a tree or put me through a wood chipper.

I am home and I am here to stay.

“The earth is not dying, it is being killed. And the people who are killing it have names and addresses.” – Utah Phillips