Above Photo: From PopularResistance.org.
DEERFIELD — A crowd of peaceful protesters are trekking part of the route of the proposed natural-gas pipeline from Northfield to Plainfield, to both commemorate the life of Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and to put a stop to the fossil fuel industry’s plan to construct the Tennessee Gas Pipeline that would run through western Massachusetts.
“People are so worried about what is happening locally and globally,” said Sister Clare Carter, a Buddhist nun who has lived at the New England Peace Pagoda in Leverett for nearly 30 years. This is one of many walks she has participated in to promote environmental justice.
“This walk is part of stopping this war on the earth,” she said. “It is so moving. People are coming together.”
Through the bitter January cold, Carter was one of nearly 80 residents who walked to the beat of a drum down the sidewalk in Historic Deerfield on Sunday. They were headed, on foot, towards Conway, the next stop on their three-day journey over Martin Luther King Day weekend. They walked through the rolling, barren Deerfield farm lands with their dogs and children, holding signs condemning the proposed Tennessee Gas Pipeline. They walked on frozen-over sidewalks, with woolen hats on their heads. Cars followed behind, honking in support, with drivers waving from inside.
The walk is to dispute Kinder Morgan’s NED pipeline project, which is currently under review by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. The 30-inch diameter pipeline would carry 1.2 billion cubic feet of gas from Pennsylvania’s Marcellus shale fields to Dracut each day, passing through Plainfield in Hampshire County and eight Franklin County towns.
Snow didn’t stop the pipeline protesters on Saturday morning and by Sunday afternoon, despite many of the protesters sleeping overnight in the All Souls Unitarian Universalist Church in Greenfield, the protesters carried on in good spirits through the nearly 30 degree temperatures.
The walk serves not only as a statement about the proposed pipeline project, but also as a meditation on racial justice, the protesters said. “I think Martin Luther King Jr. was also very connected to the struggle for peace and encouraging people for who they are and to speak out and to act for justice,” said protester and Connecticut resident Lyn Shaw.
The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’ s struggle, dedication and perseverance also inspired Athol resident Hattie Nestel, who organized the three-day Martin Luther King Jr. Day weekend walk to stop the energy giant, Kinder Morgan, from installing the 400-mile Northeast Energy Direct natural gas pipeline near protected land.
“I’ve had a lot of help from a lot of people,” Nestel said. “Everything has really been amazing. It’s been magical. When I started organizing this, people would say to me, ‘You’re crazy. Who is going to want to walk in the middle of January?’”
Nestel says she is fighting not just for equality, but for the freedom to live without fear of how the proposed natural gas pipeline would impact the Pioneer Valley and the rest of New England. She began organizing the Franklin County walk after participating in a five-mile “silent solidarity march” from Cummington to Plainfield in December.
About 150 people registered online to participate in the Martin Luther King Day weekend event and, despite the early morning snowfall on Saturday, about 50 people came out for the first day of the walk. Initially, the walk was scheduled to begin at the site of the proposed 41,000-horsepower compressor station on Gulf Road, but instead, it started three hours later at Four Mile Brook Road.
“Be mindful of what you’re walking for, why you’re here and what’s at stake,” Nestel reminded the hikers early Saturday morning, where residents marched in a single-file line, with anti-pipeline signs in their hands that read “Conserve,” and “Love Eminent Domain = build pipeline.” The activists made their way up the hilly road to a spot where the pipeline is planned to run parallel to the high-tension wires. The group formed a circle in a clearing off the side of the road and chanted a prayer led by the Leverett-based New England Peace Pagoda monks and sang songs about peace and justice.
Wendell resident Jenny Caron’s lips trembled and her eyes welled up with tears as she requested to sing a Native American tribal song called “Unci Maka Olowan,” which is translated to “The Grandmother Earth Song.” “I have grandchildren and I want something left for them,” she said. “The expansion of the fossil-fuel industry is completely asinine. People in western Massachusetts have wholeheartedly come out against fossil-fuel infrastructure expansion and I’ve come here today to bear witness to that and pray for the walkers.”
While many locals from Franklin County participated in the walk, the event also attracted five members from the national environmental activist group Beyond Extreme Energy, who traveled from as far away as North Carolina and New Jersey.
Shaw is a member of Beyond Extreme Energy who traveled from Middletown, Conn., to participate in the walk. Instead of carrying a protest sign, she wore an international peace belt around her hips that she acquired two days before the event.
Marchers spent most of the day on Saturday walking over Northfield roads including Pine Meadow Road and Lower Farms Road, continued onto East Mineral Road in Erving and Montague City Road in Montague before ending at Old Northfield Road and being shuttled to All Souls Unitarian Universalist Church in Greenfield for their first overnight stay, which included dinner and speeches from concerned citizens and community leaders such as Mount Grace Land Conservation Trust Executive Director Leigh Youngblood and Jewish environmentalist and story teller David Arfa.
The protesters will continue their walk on Martin Luther King Day, Monday, Jan. 18. The day is planned to start at Hill Road, and protesters will walk through the center of Ashfield and on to a proposed pipeline construction site in Plainfield. A closing ceremony and reception is planned at The Village Congregational Church in Cummington.