This column was co-written by Beyond Coal Director Mary Anne Hitt and National Program Director Sarah Hodgdon.
Each week in our blogs, we celebrate the grassroots heroes of the fight for the planet. Today, we are joining forces to celebrate the life of an extraordinary hero and friend.
Neither of us will ever forget where we were the moment we got the call that Becky Tarbotton had died in a freak swimming accident in Mexico. At that moment, we were assuredly among dozens of others around the country who were receiving similar phone calls, and who were sinking into stunned disbelief on kitchen floors, in the passenger seats of cars, at dining room tables and on living room couches with loved ones, as they tried to absorb this seemingly impossible news that came on the days after the holidays.
The three of us had been friends and compatriots for many years, bonding over cocktails, commiserating and conspiring as women leaders in the environmental movement, and standing shoulder-to-shoulder in campaigns targeting all manner of powerful interests that had us outflanked by any rational measure — big banks, coal companies, multinational entertainment corporations, and the like.
We had one more thing in common. We all liked winning, and we’d been getting better and better at it in recent years.
As the executive director of the Rainforest Action Network, Becky had several impressive wins under her belt at the time of her death, including a groundbreaking commitment from the Disney Corporation to source its paper responsibly, accomplishments that have been well documented by the likes of Forbes, the New York Times, and in this wonderful tribute by Anna Lappe in the Guardian.
Together, RAN and the Sierra Club had worked with grassroots groups in Appalachia to secure commitments from several major banks to stop funding mountaintop removal coal mining and other destructive coal projects. In this much-circulated speech that Becky made at RAN’s 2012 gala event, REVEL, she celebrated the 124 (now 129!) coal plants retired by the climate and clean energy movement as one of the beacons of hope in the climate fight.
But here was the thing about Becky. She did all of this with panache. She was a vibrant, fun-loving, witty, stylish goddess who was also a stellar leader and a whip-smart activist. She led one of the most edgy and innovative organizations in the environmental movement with grace and tenacity. And in a movement that invariably includes people with big egos and axes to grind, she was unfailingly kind and humble.
Working with Becky was a pleasure. Being her friend was a blessing.
As women leaders in the environmental movement, here is our wish: that other women who are desperately concerned about the fate of our climate, our planet, and our fellow human beings will carry Becky’s work — and her beautiful, feisty, optimistic and courageous spirit — forward.
Like Becky, women are often known for promoting collaboration within our movement and showing compassion and patience during even our most contentious moments. While mourning her death, our community has shown a depth of caring and ability to treat each other with gentleness. Let’s bring that kindness into our work, our coalition meetings, joint actions and even tough-nosed negotiations.
One of the most powerful things about Becky was her authenticity. It shines through in her REVEL speech as a beacon, and it calls upon all of us to do the same. You don’t need to wait for an expert, for another college degree, for a United Nations report — you just need to step up and, as Becky did, bring every ounce of your joy and talent and fighting spirit to match this moment, when the fate of the planet and our families hangs in the balance.
Now is the time. Join us.