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Local residents aim to join DC climate rally

Farmers, high school and college students and others from around western Massachusetts are preparing to board buses bound for Washington, D.C., this weekend to join people from around the nation for the Forward on Climate rally at the National Mall Sunday.

Area residents who signed up for the buses say they hope the rally will put pressure on President Barack Obama to halt the development of the Keystone XL Canadian tar sands pipeline, encourage him to aggressively address climate change in his second term, and increase visibility of people worried about climate change. The rally is sponsored by the Sierra Club, 350.org and Hip Hop Caucus.

“We were starting to feel like it was not enough to just be concerned about us, it was time to start being political,” said Meredith Wecker.

Wecker runs Benson Place, a farm in Heath that grows low-bush blueberries, with her husband, Andrew Kurowski. She said she and her husband had been trying to live sustainable lifestyles for some time before deciding to go to Sunday’s rally. They were the first locals to charter a bus to get a group going to the rally.

Wecker said she hopes the rally is a success because she believes climate change is a long-term, urgent matter. “It is not just about our grandchildren, it is us, our children, it is really serious now,” she said. She said that rally sponsors believe there needs to be about 20,000 people at the rally to gain the attention of political leaders.

Northampton resident Isaac Lello-Smith, 16, said he’s excited to travel to the nation’s capital to be part of a group of like-minded people. He recruited eight of his peers at Northampton High School to attend the rally.

“This issue is falling on my generation, it is our turn to clean it up. We are responsible, so it should be our responsibility to clean up the mess,” he said.

His mother, Denise Lello-Smith, said she was motivated to take action because of her love of nature.

University of Massachusetts Amherst senior Sarai Zelada said she sees an important role for young people in the rally. She coordinated UMass students going to the rally, and expects more than 20 students to attend. She recently attended a rally in Portland, Maine, and described how the bus was largely filled with people over 60. She believes it is time for her generation to join their effort.

Zelada said she became involved in climate change activism after studying natural resource conservation at UMass.

“I study humans’ interactions with the earth, and seeing our habits is disappointing. It made me want to change,” she said.

As for Sunday, she said, “I would like show President Obama that a lot of people, including students, care.”

Northampton farmer Oona Coy signed up to attend the rally with her 6-year-old son, Silas James. She said she believes being a farmer gives her a distinct perspective, and noted her concern over the increased number of bigger storms.

Community organizer Lilly Lombard said she is concerned about food security. “This is not happening somewhere else, it is happening in our community, to our farmers,” she said.

Molly Hale, a conservation biologist from Florence who also bought bus tickets to go to the rally with her family, said she fears for the future. Last summer Hale made the decision to take a more active role in facing this fear, inspired in part after viewing the National Geographic documentary “Six Degrees Could Change the World.”

At this point there are as many as five buses or vans leaving for the rally at various times Saturday from several different locations in Hampshire County, including Sheldon Field, Peter Pan Bus terminal, the Grandstands Bowling Alley and Smith College in Northampton, as well as Hampshire College in Amherst and Haydenville.

The website climatewma.org has information about the buses heading to the rally. The site also provides resources for carpooling and links about the issues.

To learn more about the rally, visit forwardonclimate.org.

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