Some 75 protesters in Northampton demand Obama reject Keystone project; also hold silent vigil in honor of Michael Brown

Last modified: Monday, December 15, 2014

NORTHAMPTON — Drawing attention to what they see as a key battle in the fight against climate change, some 75 demonstrators Saturday rallied in front of the courthouse to protest the proposed Keystone XL pipeline, calling on President Obama to oppose the project and veto any congressional effort to approve it.

Rally organizer Marty Nathan of Massasoit Street said putting pressure on Obama is more important than ever, given the change to a Republican Senate in January.

Nathan, a Climate Action Now! volunteer, said she was pleased with the turnout on the sunny but cold afternoon.

The protesters gathered with signs and a 30-foot makeshift pipeline made of black plastic sheeting that read, “Say no to tar sands oil,” and eventually marched loudly up and down Main Street — but not before going silent in solidarity with protesters across the country who staged demonstrations against the killings of unarmed black men at the hands of police. The Keystone protest in Northampton included 4½ minutes of silence, representing the number of hours the body of Ferguson, Missouri, teen Michael Brown is said to have remained in the street after being shot by police officer Darren Wilson.

Nathan said the main purpose of the rally was to educate people in Northampton on the situation.

“There are huge issues at stake in Congress that will, if we let them, change (local people’s) lives and those of their children,” Nathan said. “They can and must have a voice in this.”

She said she believes the construction of the pipeline would be a step in the wrong the direction, and that the United States should be switching to more renewable sources of energy, giving windmills and solar power as examples.

One element of the protest involved some street theater that passers-by seemed to take in stride. Nobody seemed shocked to see a polar bear and a banker having a heated argument on Main Street Saturday afternoon, though some motorists honked their horns in support.

While the banker argued that the Keystone XL pipeline — TransCanada’s proposed 1,100-mile section of pipeline that would bring oil from the tar sands of Alberta, Canada, to southern Nebraska, crossing environmentally sensitive areas along the way — would create jobs and make the country energy-independent, the polar bear decried the environmental effects of oil spills and added carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

“I certainly think I made more sense,” the polar bear, portrayed by Northampton resident John Cohen, said afterward.

He wore a locally made 7-foot polar bear costume while his wife, Linda Putnam, sported a top hat and suit, with fake cash tucked into her shirt and sleeves to portray the banker. She carried a stovepipe with stuffed bunnies, bears and raccoons and a child’s doll dangling from strings. She said these represented the creatures that would be negatively impacted or destroyed if the pipeline is built.

Like Nathan, Cohen and Putnam, of Island Road, are volunteers with the regional chapter of Climate Action Now!, a grassroots organization working to slow global warming.

After Cohen and Putnam staged their mock debate and protesters sang environmentally themed songs, the demonstration took to the streets.

Marching down to City Hall and back to the courthouse, protesters chanted “Barack Obama/Just say no/Keystone Pipeline’s got to go,” and “White Christmas gone forever/If Keystone’s built/It’s now or never.”

Bill Jastromb of Barrett Street in Northampton, was among the small number of ralliers who carried the makeshift pipeline on wooden posts, carefully maneuvering it around poles and street signs.

“I see climate change as one of the biggest problems that we face at the moment,” he said.

He said he thinks about how the world will be for future generations, and also about how pollution in the United States could affect poorer countries.

“It punishes those who can’t afford to fix the problem,” Jastromb said.

Also carrying the pipeline was Brian Johnson of Amherst, who said he believes local protests are important for raising awareness.

“It’s ultimately an issue of political will, and that’s not something you see a lot of these days,” he said. “Policy is made more by the big money rather than in the public interest.”

Johnson’s wife, Karen Lennon, passed out fliers detailing the believed detrimental effects the pipeline would have on the environment. These included the destruction of land and water through oil drilling, possible oil spills, and carbon dioxide emissions.

Johnson smiled as he noted that Northampton is a common site for political demonstrations.

“This is Northampton. You see this stuff all the time,” he said. “Doesn’t mean it’s not important.”

Gena Mangiaratti can be reached at


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