FIGHTING THE POWER in Somerset, MA.
It’s 7:30 am on Sunday at the Coffee Depot on Main St. in Warren and Sherrie Anne André and Nick Katkevich are discussing how much money she’ll need. André is going to get arrested today and she needs to run to the bank to withdraw money to pay for her bail. For now, though, after the ATM, they’re off to a park and ride lot in nearby Somerset, Massachusetts. to climb onto school buses with more than a hundred other activists bound for the protest to shut down the Brayton Point power plant.
Katkevich tells André she’ll need about $250. He was arrested a month ago in Connecticut for protesting UBS’ support of mountaintop removal mining (MTR) operations. Rather than go to jail today and complicate the legal process in Connecticut, he will instead be live-tweeting the protest and supporting André and other participating Fossil Free RI members. In total, the protest will draw around 400 people from around New England, with around 30 from Rhode Island.
At the parking lot, all manner of people gather in groups carrying bright signs with dark premonitions: “COAL KILLS,” “EXPECT RESISTANCE,” “Suffocating for Profit?? Don’t Poison the PLANET.” The National Lawyers Guild has sent a large contingent of observers in day-glo green hats, and protesters who plan on getting arrested are wearing red shirts with turbines and solar panels screen-printed on them in white paint.
But why should Rhode Islanders — or people representing every Northeast state and states as far as California, for that matter — show up to raise a ruckus to close down a power plant in Somerset?
Katkevich, a native of Bristol, and André, a resident of Warren, have abundant reasons. Their communities live in the shadow of the plant, and the toxins that come out of Brayton Point have visible public health impacts on a daily basis. Burning coal produces mercury, arsenic, dioxins, and lead which increase the risks of cancers, strokes, heart attacks, and nervous system disorders.
Strangely though, it’s the less visible threat of global warming that motivates them. “We don’t even have time to worry about the future,” André says. “We’re already starting to see effects. We need to act now.”
The Brayton Point plant, which burns mainly coal, is the single largest emitter of carbon pollution in the Northeast. Most of the people gathered in the shade of the plant are here to raise awareness of the dire need to stop burning coal and to slow the burning of all fossil fuels. In particular they’re demanding that Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick immediately close the plant through executive action and provide support for the plant’s workforce to transition to sustainable jobs.
“I’m here for the health and safety of the people of the community here,” Chuck Nelson, a retired coal miner from West Virginia tells me. He cites Center for Disease Control stats that report, every year in the US, 23,000 people are killed and 640,000 are born with birth defects due to the mercury from coal. “Not ‘maybe.’ They will be,” he says.