Photos: Climate Activists Camp on Amherst Town Common

Dozens of activists spent the night in the cold on the Amherst town common February 20 - 21 to call for action on global warming. More than 150 people attended a rally in support of the campers. The event was organized by The Leadership Campaign www.TheLeadershipCampaign.org The first photo was taken February 20 in Amherst. The second was taken at another recent "camp out" organized by the Campaign.

UMass to Northampton Buses Will Soon Beat Cars

Traffic congestion on the main route between UMass Amherst and downtown Northampton is often so bad that it’s faster to ride a bicycle than to drive the nine-mile trip. Soon, public transportation will also be faster than driving.

“Later this year, technology will be in place so that buses on Route 9 will be more likely to get green lights than cars -- similar to the technology that allows ambulances to always get green lights,” David Elvin told the Valley Post. He’s senior transit planner at the Pioneer Valley Planning Commission.

Patients and Doctors Discuss Free Health Clinics in Amherst

Benny Johnson has nagging injuries to his spinal cord and shoulder, products of a lifetime spent in the construction industry. Without daily medicine the pain is unbearable, something Johnson was reminded of several months ago after temporarily losing health insurance, and thus his medication.

Thanks to the Amherst Survival Center, Johnson, 63, was not in pain for long. The Center’s free health clinic recently received a $54,000 grant from the Attorney General’s office to provide medication for the uninsured and underinsured.

New Amherst Group Seeks to Aid Public Schools, Save Open Space

A group of Amherst residents is gathering signatures on a petition that would have the town spend more on public schools, open space protection, and other items. The petition supports a so-called "proposition 2½ override."

"When the roof is leaking you fix it to protect your home," Andrew Churchill told The Valley Post. Churchill is a supporter of the petition drive and assistant director of the UMass Amherst Center for Education Policy. He said recent cuts to the town budget have resulted in a situation like a leaky roof on a house.

Talking With Local Homeless People

I met Steve Cuoco last May as he sat on the sidewalk outside Thorne’s Marketplace, eating out of a Chef Boyardee can. His sign that read “homeless vet” leaned against a coffee cup full of coins, imploring people to part with any spare change floating around their pockets. He suspected many ignore him because “they think I’m just a derelict trying to get crack money.”

A Profile of a Local Street Musician

Benny Johnson approached about 20 people who were dancing to rap music at a house party late on a recent Thursday night on Lincoln Street in Amherst. Once people recognized him, the music was turned off and the requests poured in.

“Motown Man! Play a song!”

Benny quickly obliged, performing “Twist and Shout” with a bucket, a kazoo hanging from his neck and a worn shaker held together by masking tape.

The crowd’s dancing soon engulfed him as the whole room sang along to the classic Beatles song. After two encores Benny left with a Keystone Light as a parting gift.

A Variety of Ways to Help the Homeless, and to End Homelessness

If you or anyone you know is homeless or hungry, call Bennie Johnson. He will house, clothe and feed anyone who shows up at his modest apartment. “Thirty Gatehouse Road, Apartment 308, Amherst, Massachusetts. Come by anytime,” he told me during our first encounter.

Many nights, one or two people stay with him, other times more.

“I’ve had this place full,” he said.

Bennie also cooks huge dinners on a regular basis. On a recent Wednesday, he prepared Southern fried chicken, fish, omelets, and finger foods for about 30 people.

Climate Actions Around the Valley Oct. 24

Activists are planning a mass bicycle ride, marches, rallies with speakers and live music, and other actions around the Valley on Saturday, October 24 to protest the government’s lack of meaningful action on climate change. Climate change resulting in large part from burning fossil fuels in cars, electricity generation, and heating and cooling buildings, is causing glaciers to melt, which in turn causes flooding of places where people live and grow food. Droughts and severe rainfall are both becoming more common, which makes it harder for farmers to grow food.

UMass Says It May Raise Cost of College; Citizens Fight Back

A citizens’ group is fighting plans by UMass to increase the cost of college. Members of the Public Higher Education Network of Massachusetts (PHENOM) are lobbying the state legislature to increase funding for UMass. “Only two states spend a smaller percentage of their revenues on public higher education than Massachusetts,” said PHENOM spokesman Ferd Wulkan.

The chair of the UMass board of trustees, Robert Manning, said earlier this month that the university system may raise student fees. Manning spoke at a board meeting on Oct. 1 in Amherst.

Belchertown Board Accused of Aiding Developer at Taxpayer Expense

In Belchertown, near Amherst, leaders of the Belchertown Economic Development and Industrial Corporation (EDIC) admitted mistakes to making mistakes and defended other practices in the Corporation’s attempt to redevelop the former Belchertown State School, according to a draft of its response to a recent state audit.

The panel's response to Massachusetts state Auditor Joseph DeNucci's April 7 report on the EDIC was discussed and tabled at the July 27 selectboard meeting.