Last November, Kinder Morgan, Tennessee's parent company, also filed information with FERC – the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which must approve the project – indicating it may want to use a substantial percentage of the gas to feed a massive gas-powered electric power plant that could be built somewhere along its route. More than 1,700 intervenors have filed their opposition with FERC, which may be a record for any pipeline project.
I’d met Hattie in late 2014 when she and I were among the dozens of activists from Beyond Extreme Energy (BXE) who held a week-long protest at FERC in D.C. She said she was struck with the idea of organizing a three-day walk over the Martin Luther King, Jr. weekend from the site of a (proposed) gas compressor station in the town of Northfield to the site of a (proposed) pipe storage facility 34 miles away, in Plainfield. She told me, “If you really read and study Martin Luther King’s life and his thinking and his commitments, he didn’t always do what was popular, he didn’t always do what people thought he should do, he did what some inner light guided him to do. He followed his inner light, and I just put this out to people, because my inner light said we should take this three-day walk to commemorate him and to fight the pipeline, and put the word out there about the pipeline.”
In less than a month -- with no formal meetings and no budget, and despite hearing from doubters that nobody would march for three days in mid-January in the frigid temperatures typical of this region -- more than a hundred people marched at least part of each day, from babies in strollers to octogenarians. Hattie also noted proudly that all the organizers were women, mostly of a certain age.
Six of us from BXE participated in the whole 34-mile walk. Most of the rest were local folks who don’t want their beautiful rural landscape scarred by a major industrial project that carries risks the company doesn’t discuss – note the huge and ongoing escape of methane from the Aliso Canyon storage facility in southern California.
While the biggest of the towns we passed through was Greenfield (population 17,000), with a downtown that included churches, businesses and a movie theater, most of the towns had nothing but a church or two in the center. But rather than seeming desolate or abandoned, seeing them through the eyes of the people who love where they live, they just seemed like quiet refuges. Some folks work at various jobs from home, while others commute to Northampton, MA or Brattleboro, VT.
Several people said they’re drawing on the region’s history of opposition to other outside impositions. See Shays’ Rebellion and Sam Lovejoy’s toppling of a weather tower that was the first construction related to a planned nuclear power plant in Montague, MA, that was never built.
The support was phenomenal. Dozens of people cooked an incredible amount of food for our meals; a church put us up one night and we had home hospitality the other nights; and there were drivers to shuttle us back and forth and provide safety on the road at the head and tail of the march.
The support folks kept thanking us for walking, and the first two days I replied, “We couldn’t do this without you, and we [walkers] are having all the fun.” We walked up and down hills, passing many gorgeous flowing streams (my favorite landscape feature), woods and farms – including two where the cows ran to see us. We had a mix of sun and clouds.
While the first two days were mild and calm, the final day tested our mettle and sometimes made me wish I was doing support instead of walking. By the time we reached the end, I was walking backwards up the final hill into 20-mile-an-hour winds. When we all loaded into the cars for the drive to our final dinner and farewell, our driver checked the weather and said it was -3 degrees with the wind chill. That’ll put hair on your chest!
Some old friends of mine (from the 1970s) joined the walk, and I made several new friends whom I’m sure I’ll see again. The love, commitment and generosity of spirit were almost overwhelming. As Hattie said at the end of our conversation,
“People are really upset about this, so there’s a lot of activism in Massachusetts to stop this pipeline, and we might do it, we just might do it.”