by Dianne Bady
In typical Laura fashion, when she left us so abruptly, she went out with a splash. She collapsed and died surrounded by TV cameras, surrounded by people who loved her, at a stop-mountaintop-removal protest that she had organized.
What can we learn from Lauras life, while we continue to mourn our loss of this beautiful woman who profoundly touched so many?
Her tragic passing was reported in detail by statewide newspapers, TV and radio. The day after her death, OVECs answering machine had messages from dozens of sobbing people. Lauras memorial service was packed with 400 mourners; it lasted over three hours because person after person got up to tell how she had influenced their lives. No one had ever seen anything like this before.
Im a much better person for having been close to Laura for nine years. Many, many others have talked about how she brought out the best in them. What was it about Laura, that she was such a strong influence on so many people?
Laura loved fiercely. She loved her family, her friends, and the friends she worked with who were fighting for their communities, their homes, their beloved landscapes, and their very lives. Laura loved the grandeur of the southern West Virginia mountains. It was that love that pushed her onto her feet and into the faces of those who promoted the annihilation of some of the most biodiverse temperate forests on the planet.
Laura understood that the key element in fighting for environmental justice is building relationships with other people who care. Its not just about having the best facts, about making the most articulate speeches, about keeping up with your accumulated piles of papers. Its all about connecting with other people, caring for those who fight side-by-side with you, and helping others to get up when they fall. Its being willing to put up with other peoples faults and seeing the gold that lies within their hearts. Eloquence alone wont win our battles, neither will irrefutable facts; what DOES make the most difference is masses of people who are willing to pry themselves off of their couches and get involved.
Here’s a few quotes from the news coverage of Laura’s passing:
“Laura will be best remembered as a staunch advocate for coalfield residents affected by mountaintop removal mining. Laura was doing what she did best and what she loved motivating people around an issue,” said Linda Mallet of WV Citizen Action Group.
“She taught me a lot about people, about organizing people and about how to reach people,” said Judy Bonds of Coal River Mountain Watch, located in the belly of the mountaintop removal beast.
OVEC board member Elinore Taylor said “She was tough when she dealt with coal operators and legislators. But at the same time, she was one of the most kind-hearted and gentle persons I know.”
Being close to Laura taught me to look for, and express, the humor in even the most deadly serious situations. Because of her, I laugh more in my work.
For all of us who painfully miss Laura, lets remember her by carrying on her work and her style. Do you want to save the mountains? Then reach out to other people who care. Get to know those who share in our fight learn more about their lives, support them when times are tough for them. Put up with their faults, but talk gently and openly to them about those faults if they cause problems. Invite someone new to the next action, then greet them warmly and introduce them to others when they show up.
Take the time to love. Slow down sometimes and just appreciate the love that IS there deep in your heart. And then act upon that love, with courage and humor.