Group of Residents on Hand to Buoy Civil Disobedience at Airport

April 22, 2024

The television correspondents, local and national, said they were in Bedford. Major newspapers declared “Bedford” in their headlines or datelines.

For the record, Saturday morning’s civil disobedience at Hanscom Field, culminating with about 20 arrests for disorderly conduct and similar charges, was not in Bedford.

The activists from the Boston chapter of Extinction Rebellion, which calls itself a climate and ecological movement, targeted the airport’s three fix-based operators, two geographically in Lincoln and one in Concord.

But the focus of their ire is in Bedford: a proposed addition of almost 400,000 square feet of hangar space to an area Hanscom calls North Airfield, adjacent to Hartwell Road. 

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And among the supporters and sympathizers on the sidelines were about a half-dozen Bedford residents. One of them said, “We were activists from various groups showing up as citizens concerned about the climate and private jets and/or private jet expansion.”

The project, totaling more than 500,000 square feet of hangar and aviation support space, is undergoing a review process under the provisions of the Massachusetts Environmental Policy Act (MEPA). Opposition has coalesced around the impact of greenhouse gas emissions from additional aircraft operations.

A press release from Extinction Rebellion said they targeted “the lounges of the fixed base operators” to highlight “the injustice of a plan which prioritizes the convenience of a wealthy few over the survival of the planet,” and “to essentially turn the planet into a sacrifice zone for short-term convenience.”

The developers have submitted a draft environmental impact report, and after the public comment period, MEPA staff, on behalf of the secretary of energy and environmental affairs, will review comments from agencies and the public and make recommendations for the final impact report. It is not a permitting process.

Bedford Police Chief John Fisher confirmed over the weekend that the department responded to a mutual-aid request from the State Police and dispatched three officers for backup. The response was acknowledged in a townwide email communication that said in part, “Residents will notice an increased presence of emergency and police vehicles throughout the day.”

It was over by late morning.

Extinction Rebellion’s account, as presented on its website, said that “members of XR Boston disrupted flights in a peaceful, non-violent, non-destructive act of civil disobedience. Activists entered the boarding area of fixed base operators and stood in the way of the planes so that they could not taxi to the runway. Several activists encircled the wheels of private jets with their arms and refused to move. Meanwhile, others blocked the entrances, disrupting outgoing jet traffic until they were arrested.”

Corinne Doud of Bedford is on the steering committee of the Coalition to Stop Private Jet Expansion and heads the Mothers Our Front Bedford chapter’s campaign in support of those efforts. She emphasized that Saturday’s protest was neither a coalition nor a Mothers Out Front event, though she said the coalition has “partnered” with XR. 

Doud said she was with a group of activists sharing individual statements as “the police were walking people who they had arrested at different Hanscom airfield locations, in handcuffs, down the road and to the Signature building entrance. They were singing climate songs, so our group decided to support them by singing along with them. We yelled, ‘Thank you’ as they passed by.”

Brown Pulliam, 94, whose resume features decades of activism, said he learned of the protest from a Lincoln scientist “with whom I was arrested in West Roxbury back in 2016,” objecting to a natural gas line.

A protester sits in front of the wheel of a private jet at Hanscom Airfield. Photo by Lauren Feeney/Lexington Observer

He said that on Saturday he joined a group of about 20 women and 10 men, all over age 50 and active with Stop Private Jets Expansion. “We split into three contingents before heading in a light rain to visit the three private jet facilities. We could see the group of protesters grouped near the runway near a police car. The best we could do is to sing them a few protest songs and hope the sound would carry to them. Since volume was more sought than perfect pitch, I thought we sounded a little ragged.”

Next “we drove the one block to join others of our team at the entrance to Signature Aviation where there were about half a dozen police, one of whom was telling all civilians to disperse.”

Doud supplied the details: “A State Policeman addressed our group, saying Massport officials had a message to say to us, that we were not welcome and if we stayed, we would be trespassing. The state policeman told us to leave immediately or we would be arrested. Someone asked for clarification on how far out we had to go, so he told us by the stop sign.”

Pulliam said they gathered at the intersection of Hanscom Drive and Old Bedford Road, where he has participated in “weekly standouts,” waiting “to cheer those who had been arrested, we began to observe groups of more squad cars approaching from Route 2A, sirens on, lights flashing, about half of which were State Police, and half from neighboring municipalities.”

Resident Neil Dale observed that “even though they knew we were coming and locked the lobby doors, it still felt like a success today. I think this is because I felt like part of a whole community that is rising up to say: ‘No!’

“The most moving part of the day for me was standing outside a chain link fence, singing to the small group of protesters 100 yards away on the tarmac. We sang a song that said, in part: ‘We walk with you, you are not alone.’ They waved back as the police led them away. Later, as 30 or more of us stood by the gates holding signs, police SUVs drove out, with dark tinted windows in the back so you couldn’t see who was being taken away. We waved and cheered them, too.”

Doud said she reflected on the experience when speaking to the service at First Parish in Bedford on Sunday, saying, “We sang in the rain, spoke our truth, watched others get handcuffed and taken away, then Massport officials spoke out, and the State Police said leave or be arrested, we chose to leave. However, we left with a stronger conviction to fight private jet expansion for the sake of our kids’ future, and future generations.” 

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Brian B
April 24, 2024 8:38 am

This is not civil disobedience; it is an insurection!

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