March 31 Noon Rallies at Bank of America: 'Jobs Now!'

On March 31 at noon, union activists around the Valley will hold rallies asking people to boycott Bank of America. They say the bank has done little to reduce the state’s unemployment rate despite receiving billions of dollars in taxpayer money last year. The bank paid its CEO in 2008 some $9.9 million.

According to Jon Weissman, spokesman for Jobs with Justice www.jwj.org the activists will be at Bank of America branches in: Springfield at the corner of Main Street and Boland Way; Northampton at 144 Main Street; Amherst at 1 South Pleasant Street; and Greenfield at 208 Federal Street.

Photo: Hundreds in Northampton March for Peace

Hundreds of people in Northampton marched for peace on March 20. The march and a rally were organized by the western Massachusetts chapter of the women's group Code Pink, and other groups. More information is available at www.codepink4peace.org

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Local Peace Activists Prepare for April 15

Every year on tax day, April 15, activists around the Valley hand out fliers at post offices showing people how much of their taxes go to war. To join the local actions, contact the National War Tax Resistance Coordinating Committee www.nwtrcc.org and/or the War Resisters' League www.WarResisters.org

Out of a federal budget of about $2,900,000,000,000 about half goes to war. Details are at:

www.warresisters.org/files/FY2011piechart.pdf

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.

Vermont Yankee Leaking Nuclear Waste Into Connecticut River

The Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant is leaking cancer-causing tritium, a form of nuclear waste, into the Connecticut River, a spokesperson for the Vermont Department of Health said on February 9. The river, a popular swimming and fishing area in summer, flows south from Vermont through Greenfield, Northampton, Holyoke, and Springfield. Vermont Yankee is three miles from Massachusetts and a stone's throw from New Hampshire.

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.

Northampton Living Wage Vote Is Dec. 3

On December 3, the Northampton city council will vote on a living wage proposal. At its November 19 meeting, the council in a unanimous vote gave preliminary approval to the non-binding resolution. If it passes, the measure will set $11.90 an hour as the minimum wage necessary to support a full-time worker. The wage will be adjusted annually to keep pace with inflation.

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.

150 at Rally Against Lay-Offs at Northampton Hospital

About 150 people turned out for a rally against lay-offs at Cooley Dickinson Hospital in Northampton on November 9. Hospital officials recently said they will soon lay off an unspecified number of workers, including nurses. The officials said the number of lay-offs could be around 10.

"The lay-offs are unnecessary," said Charlie Rasmussen of the Massachusetts Nurses Association, the union that represents 270 nurses at the hospital. “Cooley Dickinson has an $8.9 million surplus this year.”