WASHINGTON, D.C. – In temperatures topping 91 degrees, a busload of Berkshire County residents marched in the nation’s capitol to advocate for preservation of the planet.
The bus, organized by Sarah Lee Guthrie and the Hoping Machine, departed from the Pittsfield Bus Terminal in the early hours of April 29 and carried residents from North Adams, Pittsfield, Lee, and other Berkshire towns.
The People’s Climate March reportedly drew 200,000 people to Washington, including actor Leonardo DiCaprio and former presidential candidate Al Gore.
The event came on the weekend of President Donald Trump’s 100th day in office. It was the organization’s first large-scale demonstration since marching in New York City in 2014.
“It’s in my blood,” Housatonic resident Heidi Berman-Rose said of her long history with protesting. In the 1970s, alongside her grandfather, she took a stand against the Vietnam War in Washington, D.C., and in 1963, her father was there to hear Martin Luther King give his “I Have a Dream” speech.
“I just needed to be here,” Berman-Rose said. “Keeping the tradition of my parents and grandparents and my family alive,” she added.
Following a performance at the March for Science in Pittsfield’s First Street Common earlier this month, Sarah Lee Guthrie and the Hoping Machine, Guthrie announced a number of bus tickets were still available.
Wells, Vermont, resident Paul Brotchie heard about the opportunity on the radio.
A farmer at Harmony Homestead Farm in Vermont, Brotchie credits the origins of his political identity to the 1970s, a time when he was a college student in Seabrook, New Hampshire. In 1969, the Public Service Company of New Hampshire – now Eversource – announced it would build a nuclear power plant in Seabrook. Decades of protests led to thousands of arrests and put Seabrook on the global map. In 1979, police used tear gas, riot sticks and attack dogs to deter nearly 2,000 demonstrators.
It was a turning point for Brotchie.
“As a farmer it’s hard to get away,” he said. “I heard about this and I told my wife, honey I have to go to this. These are my people.”
Armed with his guitar, Brotchie led bus goers through songs he wrote before stopping to join the march.
In January, just days before the Women’s March would occur, Sarah Lee Guthrie, daughter of Arlo Guthrie, granddaughter of Woody Guthrie, and Hoping Machine leader, decided she would attend the protest in Washington by herself. She performed at the Woman’s National Democratic Club.
“I’m such an optimist, especially after this president, which is like, if I’m still an optimist, maybe I should share this idea, and that’s what really got me started on the whole trip,” she said, calling citizen demonstrations “contagious.”
North Adams resident Sam Desautels, 24, followed a link on the People’s Climate March Facebook page and entered her zip code to find a bus going down to Washington.
That’s how she found herself on the 4 a.m. bus from Pittsfield to Washington, D.C.
“I just saw it as a great opportunity,” said Desautels, a graduate of Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts who was arrested during protests of the Keystone oil pipeline that extends through Canada and the United States.
Since then, she said, she hasn’t been as involved in opposition movements.
“Really I’m trying to get more involved in what’s going on,” she said. “I really oppose most of the Trump administration – the changes that they’re making – so I just wanted to come out and show some support and stand in solidarity of everyone.”
Shortly after President Trump took office Jan. 20, a number of climate change mentions were removed from the White House website. On Jan. 24, the president signed executive orders to advance the production of the widely protested Keystone and Dakota Access pipelines.
During a Fox News interview April 27, Scott Pruitt, head of the Environmental Protection Agency, said he viewed the Paris Agreement as a “bad business deal” for the U.S. The agreement states that governments will assemble in France’s capital every five years to halt the use of carbon emissions and work to maintain the global temperature below two degrees celsius.
As Oklahoma’s attorney general, Pruitt sued the EPA several times to challenge regulations put in place by the Obama administration.
According to a Bloomberg report, the EPA, originally targeted with a $247 million cut this year in funding, will only undergo a $81 million decrease, congressional leaders revealed May 1.
In the coming weeks, Congress will debate President Trump’s fiscal year 2018 budget proposal, expected to slash environmental funding more aggressively. It proposes a reduction of 30 percent for the EPA, and would erase 3,200 jobs out the 15,000-person workforce.
This article first appeared in The Berkshire Courier.