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Boston climate activists stage vigil for months on weekdays outside State House

Updated: Nov 3, 2023


Image courtesy XR Boston

The imposing golden-domed New Massachusetts Statehouse in Boston, shown here as a backdrop to the climate protest message, is the site of an innovative climate vigil.


Coalition led by XR Boston demands no new fossil fuel projects in Bay State


By Alfred Robert Hogan/Green TV (US) Correspondent


More than 100 days—and counting.

Eight hours per day, Monday through Friday, week upon week, month after month, typically two or three climate activists have stood vigil in front of the iconic golden-domed New Massachusetts State House, every non-holiday weekday, demanding that top state officials, at well-overdue long last, end all new fossil fuels projects in the Commonwealth. Led by Extinction Rebellion (XR) Boston, the innovative ongoing activist effort, underway since June 2023, represents a new sustained tactic that might soon be replicated in other US state capitals.


Photo courtesy of Julia C. Hansen

In July 2023, XR Boston’s Julia C. Hansen stands vigil with a handheld-sized climate banner,

in Boston, at the unique-to-date State House Stand-Out.


“This is a different way to raise climate awareness in the civic space, avoiding the [also-needed] loud tactics and actions that can grab attention, to get people to take the climate crisis seriously,” says Julia C. Hansen, the 35-year-old "co-organizer" of the indefinite protest, who was also instrumental in coming up with the concept and arranging plans. “We must push the politicians to be brave. Now, their commitments are far too insufficient to address the climate crisis fast enough,” she added. She lamented that the 2015 Paris Climate Accord’s semi-promised maximum of “1.5 degrees Celsius of global warming is probably not even possible now….The [limited positive] steps being taken are just completely insufficient to address the climate crisis fast enough.”

The energetic and effervescent Ms. Hansen commutes to the no-arrest-risk protest scene via her forest-green Step-Thru bicycle—on non-physically segregated bike lanes, just painted on the streets—for about 35 minutes riding time each way. She travels from her home in the Dorchester section of Boston—where sits a huge longstanding LNG “tank farm”—to the vigil site at the Massachusetts State House, where she parks in a nearby bike rack. She acts as a sort of morale-boosting “mother hen” for her fellow vigil-keepers, most of whom volunteer in two-hour shifts, typically two at a time. (The protest materials are stored and secured nearby at the Episcopal 1819 Cathedral Church of St. Paul, in a closet, for ready retrieval.) Ms. Hansen comes to XR Boston from the US Northeast, but is a relative newcomer to Boston, bringing a college background in urban planning and development and international development.

There is protests-can-work precedent of sorts to draw from recent Massachusetts history. In December 1972, Republican Gov. Francis W. Sargent (1915-1998)—after extensive community environmental protests—bucked the powerful auto and gasoline lobbies to halt construction, already in progress, on a 13-kilometer-long extension of Interstate 95 from Canton into the Jamaica Plain section of Boston, a project also known as the Southwest Expressway. The federal 1970 National Environmental Policy had just been enacted, and the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) freshly created in December 1970. MA Gov. Sargent, who fancied himself a conservationist and environmentalist despite being a fisher, also wisely stopped all but one other proposed highway project within the Route 128 Boston Beltway, a northward-to-New Hampshire route. To this day, the parks and forests on the lands that had been targeted for yet more highways remain a key part of his legacy. As James Aloisi wrote in Common Wealth Magazine in February 2020, “He convened his staff, spoke to experts, and came to what at the time was viewed by many as a radical conclusion: the highway era had outlived its usefulness. It was time to stop and change course…It’s worth remembering for the lesson it teaches, and for its historical importance as a rare but critical pattern break.”

Now, in 2023, Stand-Out organizer Ms. Hansen seeks another “pattern break” in Massachusetts. Yet she knows, from both her XR contacts and from elsewhere, that no similar actions have been replicated yet in any of the other 49 US state capitals, not even in the five other New England US state capitals (Bangor ME, Concord NH, Montpelier VT, Hartford CT, and Providence RI). But she would like to see this pilot project concept spread, and fast. “XR is a grassroots movement that understands the high level of urgency with the climate crisis, yet we see governments acting with incremental approaches, with the cover of most media not providing [news of] the dire threat that we and nature face,” she said, during close to three hours of telephone interviews with Green TV. She said she strongly suspects, with some evidence, that Gov. Healey—“who has worked very hard to ignore us”—has pushed some journalists “to not cover us because it will make the governor look bad.”

And indeed, other than a few cursory radio reports, such as on WBUR-FM and WBZ-FM, the “State House Stand-Out” protest has itself—surprise, surprise—garnered zero substantive corporate news coverage so far. That means not in the Boston Globe. Not in the Boston Herald. Not on WGBH-TV-2 Boston (PBS). Not on WBZ-TV-4 Boston (CBS). Not on WCVB-TV-5 Boston (ABC). Not on WHDH-TV 7 Boston (an independent station). Not on WBTS-CD-15 Nashua NH (NBC). Not on WFXT-TV-25 Boston (Fox), Not even on the 24-7 New England Cable News TV channel. And not on other media in the Boston area, which ranks #9 in TV viewers in the USA, according to Nielsen Media Research. (Independent journalist and photographer Mary Bosch did cover the protest in a July 2023 online article headlined, “It’s Not Just Greta,” referring to the ace young eco champion and ethical vegan from Sweden. Ms. Bosch even posted a 2-minute video of youthful high-school age-protesters Jo Almond, 16, singing in a dark-blue T-shirt emblazoned with the slogan TRASH THE SYSTEM NOT THE ECOSYSTEM, and Ronan Almond, playing the accordion. The duo performed the XR version of the Italian song “Bella Ciao.”)

Photo courtesy XR Boston Volunteers

Standing by the New Massachusetts State House’s General Hooker Entrance, named after the Massachusetts-born US Civil War Union Gen. Joseph “Fighting Joe” Hooker (1814-1879), climate vigil activists log a shift and hold a banner on the protest’s first day,

Monday 5 June 2023.


The continuing "Perpetual State House Stand-Out for No New Fossil Fuel Infrastructure" vigil began symbolically on Monday 5 June—the 51st annual UN World Environment Day—and runs from 0900 to 1700 ET each non-holiday weekday, rain or shine, hot or cold. The first week or so was devoted to “figuring out logistics,” Ms. Hansen said. “Initially, we got lots of interesting looks. Now. we are a permanent fixture…The guards were on high alert that first day. But they have calmed down a lot since then,” she added. Also co-supporting the XR Boston-led Stand-Out: Scientist Rebellion, Our Revolution Massachusetts, Mothers Out Front, 350 Mass, 350 Newton, XR Youth, Elders Climate Action Mass, and Sustainable Wellesley.

Vigil-keepers usually stand near the General Hooker entrance to the Capitol, atop Beacon Hill on Beacon Street, toward the corner of the 1634 Boston Common, which became the first US public park. (The late Joseph “Fighting Joe” Hooker [1814-1879] was a Massachusetts-born US Civil War Union general, most remembered for his defeat by Confederate forces led by Gen. Robert E. Lee, in the Spring 1863 Battle of Chancellorsville in Virginia.) The vigil will end only when “centrist” MA Gov. Maura T. Healey (1971- ), a 52-year-old Democrat who took office in January 2023, and/or the 197th Massachusetts General Court, the sitting state legislature, led by Senate President Karen E. Spilka (D) and House Speaker Ronald Mariano (D), agrees with, and commits to, ending all new fossil fuel projects and infrastructure, including new or expanded airports, in Massachusetts. So far, Gov. Healey has essentially stonewalled those reasonable demands, not even so much as meeting with the climate activists.

As Ms. Hansen frankly observes. “I think she has become like a typical politician, who make public campaign promises to get into office, and secret promises to donors. And then [those politicians] work hard to make it look like you’re changing things—but you’re not, actually.” She found it “especially heartening” that a sustained activist CD (non-violent civil disobedience) and protest campaign in The Netherlands had at last worked. “That’s a huge step, dropping the subsidies,” Ms. Hansen said. Dutch cops had emulated and channeled the US Deep South's avidly racist police; who had faced peaceful civil rights protesters in the early 1960s. Their summer 2023 Dutch incarnations, as mindlessly oblivious to the accelerating No. 1 climate crisis as their segregationist US predecessors had been to degrading segregationist laws six decades earlier, had ruthlessly aimed painful water cannons at thousands of peaceful protesters from XR, Greenpeace, and other eco groups. The protesters were blockading the A12 major motorway, near The Hague. More than 3,000 arrests were made on one September 2023 weekend alone. However, those acts helped bring the Dutch Parliament around to agreeing to end its huge fossil fuel subsidies. A new report in September 2023 had estimated those overall subsidies running at a staggering € 37 billion Euros (or US $39.6 billion) per year.

But in Massachusetts, will Gov. Healey eventually listen and act? “It will depend on if enough people keep showing up to demonstrate for No New Fossil Fuel Infrastructure…If enough people show up, the governor will have no choice. Right now, the Commonwealth just doesn’t seem to be any closer to stopping its addiction to fossil fuels. She promised us climate action, but she has allowed fossil fuels projects to go through” so far, Ms. Hansen said, with clear frustration in her voice.

In Boston, the federalist-style, red-brick “New” State House, with its Stand-Out protest site outside, is situated on 2.7 hectares of land once owned by wealthy merchant and US Declaration of Independence high-profile signer John Hancock (1737-1793), who also served as the state’s first and third governor. The building is where the state governor’s offices have been located and the Commonwealth’s bicameral legislature has met, ever since the building officially opened in 1798. Gov. Healey’s third-floor corner offices, one of three stops where protesters deliver climate action protest cards late each nonholiday weekday afternoon, is a walk of mere minutes from the protest site. Currently, in both legislative chambers, Democrats overwhelmingly predominate: 36 to 3 over Republicans in the Senate, with no Rainbow Green Party members nor any Independents, and with one vacancy, and 134 to 25 in the House, with one unenrolled, and no Rainbow-Green Party members nor Independents there either. Even so, the state often ranks either at or near the top of the most liberal US states. In lockstep fashion with Gov. Healey, Ms. Spilka and Mr. Mariano—despite each also receiving hundreds of colorful XR Boston post cards, imploring them to act—have not yet as yet even formally met with the climate advocates, let alone signaled even lukewarm enthusiasm for the “No New Fossil Fuels Infrastructure” (NNFFI) commitment.

Gov. Healey’s deputy communications director Danielle Burney did not return two daytime telephone messages from Green TV requesting comments for this story. Senate President Spilka’s press secretary Sarah Blodgett did not return a telephone inquiry from Green TV. House Speaker Mariano’s press secretary Ana Vivas did not get back to Green TV with any reaction after a brief telephone inquiry.

The unusual “State House Stand-Out” concept emerged from serious brainstorming that took place at an XR Boston one-day retreat by about 40 members, held on Saturday 11 March 2023, at the Democracy Center—dubbed a "21st century meeting house," debuting in 2001 and located on Harvard Square, in Cambridge MA. “We were looking for types of creative, remarkable, newsworthy, and fun protests,” recalled Ms. Hansen, who only became a serious climate activist about one year ago. “That was the genesis of the Stand-Out idea. Then I talked with our [XR Boston] media and messaging group, and our art group,” among others. As she noted, “XR puts lots of care into actions that are meant to be thought-provoking, both for the general public and for the media. More media coverage can get politicians to finally take the climate crisis seriously…The Stand-Out ongoing protest is low-key and low-risk, but we hope over time it will have high-impact…This daily action needed to happen, it was our next logical step.” XR Boston has reached out to recruit volunteers from the memberships of such allied “climate-focused” groups as Fridays For Future, 350.org. Mothers Out Front, and the Sierra Club.

As Ms. Hansen continued, “We are helping shift the Overton Window, to make it more OK to talk about fossil fuels.” She was referring to the concept created by Michigan libertarian political scientist Joseph Paul Overton (1960-2003) in the 1990s and later named for him. The concept brochure he created “illustrated the range of policies politically acceptable to the mainstream at a given time,” according to Wikipedia.

After months of dodges and delays, Gov. Healey’s “climate chief,” environmental lawyer Melissa Hoffer—touted as holding the first such state-Cabinet-level position in the USA, yet who maintains a “small herd” of Nigerian Dwarf dairy goats on her Barre MA farm (despite the well-documented environmental destructiveness of the dairy industry)—sat down for a short meeting with XR Boston representatives. “We expected she would probably try to feed us excuses or get off-topic,” the wily Ms. Hansen spot-on reflected. That 45-minute meeting with Ms. Hansen and two of her more policy-savvy XR Boston compatriots at last took place on Wednesday 9 August. In the meeting, as Ms. Hanses recalled, she was startled that the “climate chief” (and the US Biden-Harris administration's former deputy general counsel at the US EPA), with Gov. Healey’s communications director also present, bluntly stated that the Healey administration has no expectation of meeting the climate goals made mandatory by the state’s 2021 Climate Act. Those all-too-modest “legally binding” goals were: a 50-percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions in the Bay State by semi-distant 2030, and an 80 percent reduction by far-off 2050, compared to 1990 levels. Looking back at the meeting, Ms. Hansen said, “To hear the person in charge saying it’s not going to happen—wow…The first climate chief in the country’s mindset was mind-blowing to me.” (In fact, to date, Gov. Healey’s positive climate moves have been mostly milquetoast ones, such as banning state officials and staffers—not even all Massachusetts residents—from using single-use-plastic bottles, and increasing the proportion of the state budget devoted to all environmental and climate endeavors to a whopping 1 percent, including such items as a miniscule US $6 million allocated for certain conservation projects.)

As Ms. Hansen expands, “It’s obviously evident we can’t do the switch overnight. We understand there will be a transition….We don’t mean, ‘Do not fix leaks.’ But rather, we mean, “Don’t build new fossil fuels infrastructure’…Can we, say, start building more new Electric Vehicle charging stations now, instead of building new gas stations? We can invest in renewables, not fossil fuels, for any needed new energy.”

Image courtesy of XR Boston

This photo illustration from XR Boston mocks mostly eco- tone-deaf MA Gov. Maura T. Healey.


As explained by XR Boston, banning new fossil fuel infrastructure specifically means:

  • No new fossil fueled power plants, not by coal, oil, or “natural gas”—as of 2022, 74.4 percent of Massachusetts electricity comes from "natural gas" and 3.5 percent from petroleum, with 4.6 percent from biomass and 4.4 percent from other, which includes wood, with only 9.5 percent from clean-energy solar and 1 percent from clean-energy wind

  • No new "natural gas" pipelines or compressor stations

  • No new Liquified Natural Gas (LNG) production facilities, storage facilities, or terminals

  • No new petrol stations (MA already has close to 300 ExxonMobil-brand gas stations alone, and the US Energy Information Administration reports about 1,382 in all in the state, out of more than 150,000 retail fueling locations nationwide in the USA)

  • No new airports or airfield expansions, such as of Boston’s Gen. Edward Lawrence Logan International Airport (MA, as of 2009, had 37 public-use airports, 184 private landing areas, 2 seaplane bases, and 1 US military airport).

But also, NNFFI means halting in-progress fossil fuel infrastructure already being developed, including these examples adapted from a list used by XR Boston:

  • Massachusetts Municipal Wholesale Electric Company (MMWEC) Peaker Plant in Peabody MA

  • Northeast Energy Center (NEC) Liquified Natural Gas (LNG) Terminal Facility in Charlton MA

  • Liquified Natural Gas expansion to Douglas MA

  • Laurence G. Hanscom Field's North Airfield Development in Bedford MA (this is MA’s busiest airport for general aviation and corporate business aircraft, situated about 32 kilometers northwest of Boston)

  • Eversource’s “modernization" expansion projects for gas pipelines in Lowell MA and Worcester MA

  • "Reliability" projects in Western Massachusetts and Sharon-to-Brockton MA

  • Eversource’s Hopkinton-Ashland Transfer Line (pipeline for hydrocarbon gas, aka “natural gas”)

  • Meter stations in Longmeadow MA and Charlton MA

Ms. Hansen matter-of-factly stated, “If we don’t do this, we’ll blow past our climate goals. Massachusetts is simply not in a place to meet our 2030 climate goals. So, we’re not going to be able to get below 1.5 degrees [Celsius global average temperature],” the desired maximum cap set by the 2015 UN Paris Climate Accord. “The Commonwealth is already giving up on its 2030 goals...And Massachusetts wouldn't be doing its part to stay under 1.5 Celsius.”

Photo courtesy XR Boston

Anti-airport-expansion protesters from XR Boston and allied groups brought a reality-check to Logan International Airport’s 100th anniversary event in 2023.


In support of the NNFFI goal, XR Boston and other eco groups have made abundantly clear their absolute opposition to new jet fuel-centric and CO2 pollution-intensive airports and airport expansions. For example, on Friday 13 October, XR Boston members joined with members of other groups in disrupting the city’s lopsidedly positive Logan International Airport 100th Anniversary Celebration. That event featured Gov. Healey and nonpartisan but modestly progressive Boston Mayor Michelle Wu, 38. (Mayor Wu, a 2007 Harvard University graduate and former Boston city council member, has for example written and spoken in favor of fare-free local buses and subways.) The score or so protesters, four of them wearing faux colorful dunce caps, gathered inside Logan, with three holding aloft and standing beneath an inflatable white jetliner model labelled TERMINAL ILLNESS. Allied groups joining XR Boston were Airport Impact Relief Inc., Green Roots, and Mothers Out Front.

The regularly expanding and super-busy Logan has for decades devoured adjacent neighborhoods, caused noise pollution, and now generates 810,000 metric tons of greenhouse gases each year. (Logan, now New England’s busiest airport, began as the Boston Air Port at Jeffries Point in September 1923, adding the name of Spanish-American War US Gen. Edward Lawrence Logan [1875-1939] in 1943, and making it fully official in 1954. As air traffic steadily increased, Logan metastasized in East Boston and Winthrop MA, swallowing up three islands, lots off back filled land, and, after fierce litigation and protests, even 19-hectare Wood Island Park, designed by noted 19th century landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted [1822-1903].)


Report cover courtesy Institute for Policy Studies and Patriotic Millionaires


In another example, XR Boston has also expressed solidarity with those opposing expansion of New England’s largest general-aviation airport, Lawrence Gerald Hanscom Field. Hanscom is the second-busiest airport in Massachusetts, after only Logan, and the busiest general-aviation airport in New England. Built and opened in 1941, it is ensconced 23 kilometers out from the city, in the Boston inner-suburb of Bedford MA. (The Boston Red Sox baseball team and other Boston sports teams take some of their charter flights to and from away games from there.) In addition to some residents of Bedford, other residents from three nearby towns—Concord, Lexington, and Lincoln—lead the core of fierce opponents, whose nonprofit coalition organization is called Stop Private Jet Expansion at Hanscom or Anywhere. Proponents of the massive expansion, such as the business-aviation lobby group Alliance for Aviation Across America (AAAA), want to add 37 hangars on 20 hectares of land for private aircraft, with more than 46,000 square meters of new hangar space, tripling current capacity by adding as many as 81 private jets. Multiple hectares of mature trees would also be felled. (Worsening matters, the US military’s still unclosed adjacent electronics-focused Hanscom Air Force Base is nearby too, costing much money to operate and producing copious amounts of pollution, including noise.) In a statement, AAAA called the civilian Hanscom Field, opened in 1941, “vital to the region’s economic and transportation systems," annually generating US $6.7 billion in “economic activity,” and supporting about 20,000 jobs, plus occasionally originating “disaster-relief flights and medical transport.” By the way, no one has seriously questioned the latter two categories. (Hanscom Field was named for the late MA newspaper journalist and pioneering aviator, Laurence G. Hanscom [1906–1941], a State House reporter killed in a plane crash in Saugus MA. Hanscom, who had lobbied for the Bedford airport, had reported for the Boston Globe, Worcester Telegram & Gazette, and Wilmington (MA) News.)

“Hanscom High Flyers: Private Jet Excess Doesn’t Justify Airport Expansion,” a more than 25-page study released in October 2023 and conducted by the progressive DC-based Institute for Policy Studies think tank and by Patriotic Millionaires, found that Hanscom private flights contributed 106,676 tons of carbon emissions during the 18-month period examined (January 2022-July 2023). Of the total of 31,599 private flights taken in those 18 months by 2,915 jets, 49 percent of flights were to recreational destinations. Aan estimated 41 percent of the flights lasted less than one hour, meaning their extra emissions at takeoffs carry proportionally extra waste per flight. Also, just 20 specific “frequent-flier” private jets accounted for an astounding 3,240 flights, spewing out 14,930 metric tons of carbon pollution, 10 percent of that from all Hanscom flights. Such emissions can degrade public health, via adult respiratory illnesses and cancers and childhood asthma cases. Private jets also pollute at 10 to 20 times the per passenger rate of commercial airlines, the report noted. By comparison, the typical Bay Stater creates 8 tons of greenhouse gases emissions per year.

At a rally on the State House steps, held on Monday 2 October, some 100 anti-Hanscom-expansion protesters gathered, later delivering to Gov. Healey’s office inside a petition containing more than 10,000 signatures. State Sen. Michael Barrett, a Lexington Democrat who chairs the committee that reviews proposed climate legislation--and himself lives just 3 kilometers from Hanscom Field--was among the expansion opponents who spoke there, Also, IPS report co-author Chuck Collins addressed the crowd, asking, “Should we triple the private jet capacity at Hanscom so that a bunch of people in the top .001 percent can jet to Nantucket and Aruba?" (Other frequent and popular “luxury recreational” destinations for Hanscom’s jet setters included Martha's Vineyard MA, Aspen CO, the Hamptons on Long Island NY, Teterboro NJ, Palm Beach FL, Jackson Hole WY, Truckee CA, the Bahamas, and the Turks and Caicos.)

As Mr. Collins told State House News Service, “You've got some of the most wealthy fliers in their private jets going in and out of Hanscom ... going to places like Nantucket, where there are other options to drive and take the ferry, or to New York, where they could take the train. There are other transportation alternatives that are miniscule in their emissions comparatively.” (As per the IPS report, the Hanscom jet-setting demographic is comprised of multi-millionaires and even wealthier individuals: The median net worth of a full and fractional private jet owner is US $190 million and US $140 million respectively.”)

The expansion proposal is now being reviewed under the late 1970s Massachusetts Environmental Policy Act, which mandates a Massport environmental impact report, including projections of public health effects and fossil fuel greenhouse gas emissions. (Interestingly, in 2022, Massport committed to achieving net-zero by 2031, but the convenient and crafty, fine-print, large loopholes included omitting any airplane emissions from its calculations. (The venerable adage, “Figures don’t lie, but liars can figure,” somehow springs to mind.) Hanscom's governing board, and ultimately Gov. Healey, will have the final say.

Meanwhile, statewide, as of 2022, of MA’s 187 utility-scale power plants, some 49 still run on fossil fuels, 11 on biomass, and one on wood. Close to three-fourths of MA electricity still derives from the dirty and dangerous fossil fuel hydrocarbon gas, often called “natural gas,” though the state has de-addicted from also-dirty and also-dangerous power sources of coal and nuclear fission. However, the main component of hydrocarbon gas—70 percent to 90 percent— is methane. Across two decades, methane is a potent greenhouse gas, with a greenhouse gas potential 72 times worse than even carbon dioxide. That stat does not incorporate the risks in extracting, transporting, refining, and using “natural gas.” It is not a valid “bridge fuel.” Here is a chart showing where Massachusetts gets its electricity:


Where Does Massachusetts Get Its Utility-Scale Electricity From? (2022)

Source

Percentage

Dirty*


“Natural gas” (hydrocarbon gas)

74.1

Biomass

4.6

Petroleum

3.5

Other (this includes burning wood)

4.4

Clean


Solar

9.5

Hydropower

2.9

Wind

1.0

*Brayton Point Power Station, the last coal-fired power plant in Massachusetts—

there were 12 as recently as 2005—ceased operations in May 2017. The last of three nuclear fission power stations in the state, the Pilgrim Nuclear Station 1 in Plymouth, closed in May 2019. But some 4 million liters of radioactive water there were left in limbo.


2023 photo courtesy of XR Boston Volunteers

Sophie Pinto Thomas, BU student and XR climate activist


One of the Stand-Out's early and stalwart regular vigil-keepers, since this summer, has been Boston University student Sophie Pinto Thomas, 20, She is an anthropology junior with a focus on public health, a community muralist, and a proud Boston native, born in the Jamaica Plain section of her “vibrant city” and “beloved hometown.” To find out about the XR Boston State House Stand-Out, she recalled, “I researched lots of what [activism] was going on in Boston, on Web sites and on social media…The Stand-Out was one of the many actions they [XR Boston and others] have going on. It looked fun, empowering, and reassuring…It’s low-key and accessible...It’s exciting to know you’re helping out…Young people, college students, yes, we’re busy, but we should be involved more in activism, especially climate activism...It’s not always easy, but we’ve got to stick with it.” For her vigil shifts, she herself takes a “not very difficult” 20-minute or so ride on the MBTA’s Green Line B mass transit (some tunnels of which date to 1897, the start of the USA’s first subway system), riding from BU stop to the Park Street stop, near the State House,

Quite surprisingly, Ms. Thomas is among only about five of the 99 XR Boston's recruited volunteers so far who are students at any of the Hub’s myriad and much-renowned colleges and universities. About half of the 99 are “regulars,” the other half “occasionals.” Ms. Thomas remarked with regret, “Not many undergraduates are involved in climate activism. There’s some talk, but not much action,” As Ms. Hansen ruefully echoed Ms. Thomas, “Only a handful of college students have turned out. Reaching them with what you can do is so important. But that is a big nut to crack, and not just with college students….And for us, it’s always a struggle: Will we get media attention with this or that action? Because of the way the media has dealt with us, we resort to stunts at times. When we do serious things, those don’t get covered. Why is that?”

In a telephone interview with Green TV, Ms. Thomas said her family had “really supported” then-MA two-term Attorney General Healey’s 2022 campaign for election as MA’s 73rd governor, but since Ms. Healey’s win and failure to act, they felt let down. “I’m disappointed and surprised,” Ms. Thomas said. (In the November 2022 election, which had only a poor 51.4 percent voter turnout, Democrat Ms. Healey won 63.74 percent of the vote, while Republican Geoff Diehl garnered 34.57 percent, and Libertarian Kevin Reed 1.58 percent. No Green-Rainbow candidate ran for that office in 2022. On Thursday 5 January 2023, when inaugurated, Ms. Healey became MA’s first elected woman governor and the USA’s first openly gay/lesbian governor.)

However, even as MA Attorney General, Ms. Healey’s environmental record was decidedly mixed, at best. She proved a decided ally of the “natural gas” industry, for example, in July 2020, by blocking efforts by Brookline MA to ban most new “natural gas” hookups. (Arlington, Cambridge, and Newton had evinced ambitions to follow suit.) In January 2019, the Berkeley CA city council had initiated the first-in-the-nation such ban, with San Francisco, San Jose, and more than 40 other progressive cites in California following similar suit within 18 months. NYC did too in 2020, though that ban, with loopholes, was not set to take effect till 2027. In 2021, CA federal district court Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers upheld the Berkeley ban, which was being appealed by the pro-gas California Restaurant Association. But in April 2023, in a further appeal, a three-judge panel of the 9th Circuit federal appeals court based in San Francisco alas threw the Berkeley ban out. Meanwhile, in GOP-dominated US states, politicians in open service to the gas industry lobby have enacted “preemptive legislation” to preserve “energy choice,” i.e., the “right” to pick dirty energy, in at least 20 states: Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, New Hampshire, Ohio, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, West Virginia, and Wyoming. And only the veto of a Democrat governor prevented North Carolina from being added to that list.)

Back in Boston, regarding her Stand-Out shifts, Ms. Thomas observed, “We see lots of tourists, some from other countries…Sometimes there are lulls, quiet times, with us holding signs. Then someone will walk by, and you say, ‘Can I interest you in a flyer?’ Sometimes people will then strike up a conversation…And all the staff at the State House are used to us by now.” Vigil-keepers are asked to really focus, exude enthusiasm, and take their roles seriously, and not be distracted with eating, talking on cell telephones, and suchlike.

(A review of protest photos shows that the regrettable lack of a formal XR Boston dress code alas leads some protesters to underdress in a blatantly inappropriate, uber-casual, and disrespectful manner, especially given that this is Boston and the State House, undermining their serious urgent message with some.)

While acknowledging that what goes on in politics can often be “complicated” and “tricky,” Ms. Thomas said, “”No New Fossil Fuels Infrastructure is such low-hanging fruit. I’m surprised, based on her past, she would not meet with us and not agree with us on that.”

As the young spitfire of a climate activist Ms. Thomas remarked, about her own eco commitment, “I was born the month after Greta Thunberg was, and Greta Thunberg has inspired me over the years.” Greta Thunberg has kept up her weekly climate strikes, usually outside the Riksdag in Stockholm, for more than 270 weeks now—and counting—since 2018.


Screen shot from video courtesy XR Boston

XR Boston volunteer Peter Watson


Toward the older end of the demographic spectrum of Stand-Out regular volunteers, Peter Watson, born in Bristol UK and about to turn 80 in January 2024, is a retired theater tech teacher at the Dana Hall School for girls in grades 5 thru 12 in Wellesley MA, and at what became the all-female Lasell University in Newton/Auburndale MA. (He earlier had taught for some years in England, till far-right Tory UK PM Margaret Thatcher decided to “sack” many arts teachers, albeit with “golden handshakes,” he recalled, as part of her infamous draconian “austerity measures.” After an extended “hippie days” visit to India, he eventually found his way to the USA, in the mid-1980s.)

For XR Boston, Mr. Watson has volunteered for months now for a weekly Stand-Out shift, and also each weekday evening has edited and posted the vigil’s daily pix and blog entries. He said, with a sandpapered British accent, that while major actions are urgently needed on the national and global levels, “I have to focus on the more local things I can do…If I can’t contribute, I feel depressed and powerless.” He praises Stand-Out leader Ms. Hansen’s leadership, saying she “works incredibly hard.”

During his weekly two-hour Stand-Out shift, Mr. Watson said in a telephone interview with Green TV, “I see just about every possible reaction. Some people studiously ignore us by looking at their cell phones or the ground or staring ahead. Some are curious and look at us, and we are ready with a bright smile and hand them one of our fliers. Others actively approach us and ask what we are doing.” And some are hostile or dismissive, he added.

Sometimes vigil-keepers engage with people in the “security lines” people are forced to endure before entering the Capitol building. And as he noted on the XR Boston blog, some out-of-town visitors from elsewhere in the USA just blithely say, “We’re not from here,” as though they were somehow exempt from the climate crisis, while visitors from outside the USA—such as from Canada, Germany, and Israel—tend be uniformly receptive or even supportive. (The New State House is the second of 17 stops on Boston’s 4-kilometer-long red-brick-path Freedom Trail, which brings out-of-town visitors daily to learn about the city’s storied history.)

Mr. Watson reflected, “In the political realm, it’s often more difficult to get things done…We’re up against it, but I haven’t given up hope,” Mr. Watson said in a telephone interview with Green TV. “We need to get things moving. They’re not moving fast enough…We need to stay there, and pressure Maura Healey, Karen Spilka, and Ron Mariano.” He noted that he had voted for Ms. Healey, and “in general, I agree with her politics,” adding, “I still hold hope” she will come to enact the sought-after ban. But meantime, “I like to think we’ve sort of put a stone in her shoe. We can be kind of irritating.”

As for young eco champion Greta Thunberg of Sweden, he too recalls following her online since when she was only 15 years old in 2018, sitting outside the Swedish Riksdag (the country’s 349-seat, unicameral national parliament) in Stockholm, demanding serious climate action, day after day. She has now protested 271 consecutive weeks, “She’s been a tremendous inspiration,” he said.

From recent history in Mr. Watson’s own adopted hometown of Wellesley MA, he noted an alarming example of insidious fossil fuel influence and pressure. “Fossil fuel corporations are so outrageous in what they do,” Mr. Watson remarked. The town of Wellesley MA had been planning to renovate two elementary schools, Hardy and Wentworth, and its town hall, to make them much greener, including being fossil-fuel-free. The National Grid, a public-private admixture that basically acts as a sort of front group for fossil fuel corporations, offered via Mass Save, also a public-private partnership program, to provide some US $1.5 million for the $105 million projects—but as saloon keeper Rick Blaine cynically observed in the classic 1942 film “Casablanca,” “For a price, Ugarte, for a price.” Yet, some tax misers in town were tempted by the “free money,” with strings, offer. The National Grid’s catch? The three renovated projects would need to be hooked up to hydrocarbon gas, often called “natural gas,” perpetuating their addiction to fossil fuels for multiple more decades. The Boston Globe’s exceptionally sharp environmental beat reporter Sabrina Shankwell learned of the situation, reporting and writing the late October 2022 story headlined, “Wellesley teed up a bold move on climate action. Then came an offer it couldn’t refuse./How [US] $1.5 million in incentives from National Grid nearly derailed the town’s net-zero plans.” With the press spotlight shining brightly, the National Grid dropped its linkage demand. However, as Ms. Shankman wrote, “Even with Wellesley’s situation seemingly resolved, climate advocates said this offer and its terms underscore how the business interests of gas utilities put climate efforts at risk.”

Mr. Watson said that all-female Wellesley College’s current student eco group EnAct (Environmental Action at Wellesley College) has been actively striving for the college to divest from fossil fuel investments, which it finally pledged to do in spring 2021, though with only a vague timeframe. Among other steps. the college also planned to “limit red meat” in its dining halls and to charge a fee for mini-refrigerators in dorms. (EnAct built on the previous efforts, including most recently dating back to 2013 with Fossil Free Wellesley and the later group Renew Wellesley.) Sometimes, one or more EnAct members (most often a Wellesley College student named Susannah) join the 20 or so people at the weekly, hour-long, FFF-led Friday afternoon protests outside Wellesley Town Hall. Mr. Watson also helped arrange for XR’s eye-catching performance troupe, the Red Rebels, to appear in Wellesley.

Photo courtesy of Ken Batts (left)

Ken Batts stands vigil in Boston on the State House Stand-Out unique-to-date vigil.


Photo by and courtesy of Ken Batts (right

Ms. Auli Batts, his Finnish wife, stands vigil in Boston on the State House Stand-Out, a unique-to-date vigil.


Mr. Watson’s climate activism colleague Ken Batts, 70, a retired psychotherapist and three-decade Wellesley resident who not long ago moved to nearby Brookline, has volunteered for the Stand-Out on two occasions, in July and September, so far. Mr. Batts also works with Fridays For Future co-founder Janine O’Keefe, an Australian engineer and activist based in Stockholm, on a global eco activism mapping project.

“The reactions from people were varied, but mostly from really positive to neutral, in my experience. I did not see anyone scoffing,” the even-tempered Mr. Batts said. “”A big population of staff goes in and out that way, the business entrance. We’re two or three people there holding banners and signs. We can’t block people coming and going. We’re a presence there for any people involved in state business. I’m impressed with the smartness of the choice of the site. It’s so low-key, it’s pretty easy to ignore, that’s the downside, if you want to ignore it.”

Lamenting the “stupidity level,” the former psychotherapist speculated on why so few people even now seem to care. “ It goes back to the nature of the frog sitting in water, as it keeps getting a little warmer. If you could see CO2, if it was orange, say, maybe it would be different…But then, [former POTUS Donald J.] Trump yells, ‘They’re going to take away your hamburgers and planes!’…Politicians [often] get a big response to [such] anti-intellectual appeals. ‘You can’t take my guns away!,’ ‘Get off my lawn!,’ and that sort of thing...But I still believe we have a chance. That’s why I’m involved in this climate movement.”

Image courtesy Extinction Rebellion

This is the main logo for Extinction Rebellion.


XR Boston is part of XR, founded by organic farmer Roger Hallam and 10 other activists in London UK, in Spring 2018, and which put on its first major public protest on Halloween Wednesday 31 October 2018. At that rally in London, Fridays For Future co-founder and ethical vegan Greta Thunberg, then just 15, was amongst the featured speakers. XR has now expanded to at least 56 countries, including the USA, with at least 645 local groups, such as XR Boston. (Affiliated spinoff groups include Scientist Rebellion and Animal Rebellion.) Early on, XR stated these core demands on its Web site:

· And, added upon XR’s expansion to the USA: "We demand a just transition that prioritizes the most vulnerable people and indigenous sovereignty; establishes reparations and remediation led by and for Black people, Indigenous people, people of color and poor communities for years of environmental injustice, establishes legal rights for ecosystems to thrive and regenerate in perpetuity, and repairs the effects of ongoing ecocide to prevent extinction of human and all species, in order to maintain a livable, just planet for all.”

One key component of the Stand-Out is asking people to write out individualized pro-NNFFI post cards. Toward the end of each protest day, in the late afternoon, the latest batches of post cards are hand-delivered through the maze of offices inside the Capitol to the secretaries of or assistants in the Healey, Spilka, and Mariano offices. Here below is a spot-on blunt one from Thursday 17 August 2023, written by XR Boston’s Brian Okum:


Image courtesy XR Boston

Typical NNFFI climate protest post card, in this case from XR Boston’s Brian Okum, delivered to Gov. Healey.


Image courtesy XR Boston

Four climate action post cards from XR Boston on Monday 11 September surround a hand-holdable mini-banner.


In addition to the Stand-Out, Ms. Hansen said, XR Boston has also imagined and conducted various one-time “more spicy actions,” about 10 times per year, such as occupying via sit-in Gov. Healey’s office (12 people were arrested there), dribbling basketballs in the halls of the State House, blocking traffic on Boston’s often-chaotic downtown streets and outside the South Station train terminal (in the latter case, cops aggressively moved in for arrests after just 15 minutes or so), and trying to post climate art in the city’s Isabella Gardner Art Gallery, which closed to the public to thwart that protest. Yet, as Ms. Hansen noted, “We spend so much time planning flashy events, but even then, news coverage doesn’t always happen.”

XR Boston also offers Climate Grief Sessions, a climate book club, and an affiliated Rainbow Rebellion subgroup for “queers and allies.” Ms. Hansen has also gone to the famous Boston Public Library, where Gov. Healey now and then does audience and call-in Q and A programs on WGBH-FM Radio, and the activist has questioned the governor there, live on the air. “I asked her, What are you doing to lower Massachusetts emissions in accordance with our [state’s] 2021 climate act, to cut emissions 50 percent by 2030? She gave the worst answer, really weak. She mentioned her [token and advisory-only] Youth Climate Council. Such an awful cop-out.”

By the way, Ms. Hansen is not related to famed climate scientist James E, Hansen (1941- ), who headed NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York City from 1981 till 2013 (after working there since 1967). On Thursday 23 June 1988 (a mightily scorching day in DC), he testified to the US Senate’s Committee on Energy and Natural Resources (including to then-US Sen. Al Gore Jr. [D-TN]), citing NASA’s "99 percent" confidence that greenhouse gases were causing that global warming. Dr. Hansen testified, in part: “Global warming has reached a level such that we can ascribe with a high degree of confidence a cause-and-effect relationship between the greenhouse effect and observed warming...It is already happening now…The greenhouse effect has been detected and it is changing our climate now...We already reached the point where the greenhouse effect is important.” He was not heeded. Dr. Hansen’s granddaughter Sophie Kivlehan is one of 21 young plaintiffs in the crucial Juliana et al vs. United States et al climate-inaction legal case, filed in Eugene OR in August 2015 and at long last set to go to trial in federal district court there, now possibly in Spring 2024. (The Obama-Biden, Trump-Pence and Biden-Harris administrations had successively all strongly opposed the lawsuit, repeatedly and aggressively seeking to have it delayed and dismissed.)


Image courtesy XR Boston

The above image has been used to publicize the Stand-Out’s Day 101 commemoration event in Boston.


On Wednesday 20 September, XR Boston marked Day 75 of the Stand-Out—which they dubbed Critical Mass Day, cleverly conveying double meaning—with brass band and XR Boston Choir music and engaging speeches from four activists, assembled outside the Capitol. All the Stand-Out protesters to date united for the occasion, joined for a time by young students from Jamaica Plain’s Neighborhood School. A midday potluck was offered—but no word on if any or all the dishes were vegan. Incidentally, most unfortunately, Ms. Hansen calls herself a “former vegetarian." “We try to be vegetarian,” she offers. She estimates that only some 10 percent of even XR Boston members are vegan, a startlingly low figure. However, XR Boston’s in-person chapter meeting at Boston’s storefront Community Church, set for Wednesday evening 1 November 2023—next door to a Chic-Fil-A chicken-centric fast-food restaurant—will provide all “vegetarian and vegan food” and is asking members to bring “vegetarian and vegan” dishes. Somewhat ironically, that event takes place on World Vegan Day.

Back on Day 75, all there wrote protest post cards, then en masse walked in and hand-delivered them inside to the offices of Gov. Healey, Senate President Spilka, and House Speaker Mariano. XR Boston plans to mark Day 101 on Friday 27 October with a similar midday celebratory event at the Stand-Out site, presuming no improbable enlightenment breakthrough has occurred from Gov. Healey.



Image courtesy Virtual Globetrotting

This is an aerial photo of the wealthy Boston lawyer’s way-upscale “getaway place,” where a ritzy fundraiser for Gov. Healey took place on Monday afternoon 21 August 2023.


However, XR Boston is not the only environmental group trying out creative nonviolent tactics in Massachusetts. As Mr. Watson pit it, “the more, the merrier.” On Monday 21 August 2023, 10 plucky young Climate Defiance activists directly confronted the stonewalling governor. The locale was at her swanky, big-bucks fundraiser on upscale, isolated Nantucket Island, some 48 kilometers south of the “upper arm” of the Cape Cod peninsula, during her first visit as governor to the formerly whaling-centric island. The wine-soaked campaign fundraiser took place just eight months into her four-year term—on the sprawling private Nantucket “getaway” estate (seen in aerial photo, above) of wealthy Boston lawyer Kenneth M. “Ken” Jarin and Robin Weissmann. (Mr. Jarin is a partner in Boston’s powerful 550-lawyer Ballard Spahr law firm.)


Images courtesy Climate Defiance

As Gov. Healey begins speaking (top image), Climate Defiance’s Matt Lyon (above image, in gray short-sleeved shirt) politely interrupts.


Images courtesy Climate Defiance

At Gov. Healey’s Nantucket fundraiser, Climate Defiance protester Martin Knapp’s colleagues hold an END FOSSIL FUELS banner while chanting, as protester Martin Knapp himself reads from a cell telephone (top photo), while shortly afterward Bruce A. Percelay interacts with an earnest 20-year-old woman (above photo), as the peaceful protesters depart the property.


On that summer-sunshiny afternoon, after Gov. Healey had mingled with the millionaires at the upscale garden party, she stood on the porch and started her standard spiel. Then, the short-sleeved Matt Lyon of the DC-based nonprofit group Climate Defiance politely piped up to ask, "Excuse me, Gov. Healey, I'm sorry to interrupt. We are in the midst of a climate emergency…My name is Matt. I'm 20 years old, and you're throwing away my future. The state of Massachusetts is building 10 new fossil fuel infrastructure projects right now. We need you to ban new fossil fuel infrastructure right now. Will you commit to doing that?" She slickly dodged the direct yes-or-no question, saying, “Let’s talk about that. There’s a huge transition that we’re undergoing, and there’s a lot of work to do. But let me tell you—" Mr. Lyon then insisted she answer his posed question, yes or no. She did not. The 10 Climate Defiance protesters present, holding an END FOSSIL FUELS banner, then began chanting in unison, “ End Fossil Fuels, Maura! End Fossil Fuels.” At once, some of the governor’s acolytes began raging at the protesters, including one florid-faced and furious middle-aged blonde pudgy woman, captured on video, repeatedly and loudly screaming, “Get out! Get out!” But the banner-holding protesters kept chanting in unison, “End Fossil Fuels, Maura! End Fossil Fuels!”

As a bespectacled and banner-holding protester, Martin Knapp, then noted, reading from his cell telephone, “The fossil fuel industry bought you out! The fossil fuel industry gave you [Healey US] $50,000!,” in campaign cash. (Questions have also been raised about the eye-popping US $1.8 million-plus raised and spent on Gov Healey’s lavish inauguration party at Boston’s TD Center in January 2023. As the Boston Globe reported, that total included $1.3 million raised from 53 high-end donors, including some from the “energy sector…and developers,” who gave a Healey-set maximum of US $25,000 apiece. At least three of those donors to the extravaganza later were identified as being from three different gas supply firms.)

At the estate, veteran fracking, oil, and gas lobbyist Michael “Mike” Stratton, with the DC-based law and lobbying firm Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck LLP, who lobbied for LNG expansion in Freeport, Texas, earlier this year, shared his thoughts, such as they were. Drink in hand and sporting a dark plaid coat and darkish glasses, he lividly chimed in with this unhelpful “advice,” “You’re hurting your cause. You’re hurting your cause!”

Then, Boston-area real estate tycoon Bruce A. Percelay, “chairman” and founder of The Mount Vernon Company, a firm that operates “luxury” apartments and “boutique” hotels in Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and South Florida, opined. Wearing a whitish summertime suit, somewhat reminiscent of those worn by the late Bonfire of the Vanities author Tom Wolfe, Mr. Percelay conversed with a pleading 20-year-old woman protester, modestly attired in a long-sleeved whitish sweater, a demure, knee-length, sky-blue skirt, and sensible black closed shoes, and speaking in a quaking and desperate voice, as she was leaving the estate.

The intrepid young woman said of the governor, “We’ve spoken to her. She’s ignored us.” The young woman asked Mr. Percelay what he had done in the climate fight, and he noted that he had “solared everything,” including his home’s roof. The young woman then asserted, alas quite incorrectly, as some climate activists falsely and regularly do, that individual actions do not matter. Mr. Percelay imperiously told her, “You have no idea how things get done. If you had half a brain, you would understand…Your rudeness prevents you from talking to her.” The young woman retorted. “We’re going to die! Who cares how rude we are!” She added, holding a cell telephone camera to record the encounter, “We have no money. Maura has power, And she can help save us. But she’s not.” Eventually, Mr. Percelay, the former chairman of the nonprofit Make-A-Wish Foundation sneered dismissively, with this parting sobriquet, “I don’t mind if you die.”

Shortly thereafter, the protesters departed peacefully, having memorably made their point, just as Nantucket police were arriving. No one was arrested.

In its initial half-year, after non-violently blockading the annual White House Correspondents Dinner in DC on Saturday evening 29 April 2023, Climate Defiance has also peacefully protested at events featuring, among others:

  • · POTUS Joe Biden

  • · VPOTUS Kamala Harris

  • · US Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY)

  • · US Senator and 2020 presidential nomination candidate Amy Klobuchar (D-MN)

  • · US Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV)

  • · US Energy Secretary and former MI governor Jennifer Granholm (D)

  • · US Transportation Secretary Paul M. “Pete” Buttigieg (D)

  • · US Commerce Secretary and former RI governor Gina Raimundo (D)

  • · US Council of Economic Advisors and Biden advisor Heather Boushey

  • · US Assistant Secretary of Interior Tommy Budreau (fossil fuels-friendly lawyer who signed off on Biden-Harris administration’s approval of the infamous Willow Project in Alaska in March 2023)

  • · White House climate adviser Ali Zaidi

  • · Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell

  • · National Petroleum Council member Dr. Helima Croft

  • · Annual Congressional Women’s Softball Game (politicians vs. reporters) sponsored by major fast-food chain whose food causes cancer and pollution

Yet, rather oddly, Climate Defiance only seeks to make the No. 1 climate crisis a "top-3 issue.' And it focuses intensely on Democrats, not on the progressive Greens and Socialists who are much closer in alignment to the group's values and goals.


Photo courtesy Boston Area Brigade of Activist Musicians (BABAM)

Boston musicians support the XR Boston-led Statehouse Stand-Out protest,

as it marks 75 days, on Wednesday 20 September 2023.


As the dynamic and indefatigable climate organizer Ms. Hansen of XR Boston observed, “Government officials need to step up and be the adults in the room. The governor has a huge role she could play in history. Why are they and she still punting?” In the meantime. “It’s important for us to be there, front and center, outside the State House, where the action is, keeping up the pressure—a pebble in her shoe, so she can’t walk comfortably.”

----------------

Tyson Bolles, reference librarian at Wellesley Free Library, kindly provided some research for this article.


Additional resources:


State House Stand-Out and Other Eco Activism in Massachusetts


Massachusetts Governor Maura T. Healey


Fossil Fuels/Dirty Energy and Clean Energy in Massachusetts

Climate Crisis Impacts Especially in New England

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