EASTHAMPTON — Anyone who regularly drives through the intersection of Union and Main streets has probably seen Jose Mediavilla. He’s hard to miss.
Mediavilla almost always wears the hoodie on his sweater over his head, and frequently dons a gas mask as he stands barefoot on the pedestrian island at the intersection. And the cardboard sign he holds over his head lets anyone passing by know exactly why he is there.
“Let’s end the war against nature,” one side read on a recent afternoon. “Permaculture is the solution.”
“Corporations are destroying our planet like psychopaths!” Mediavilla said loudly as cars drove past.
Mediavilla, 37, has become a fixture in Easthampton. A former photographer and videographer in the Marine Corps, he can be found on the same corner several times a week, protesting against society’s fossil fuel consumption, microplastic pollution and other environmental abuses. In an era of climate crisis and mass pollution, he said his one-man demonstration is meant to wake up his community to the perils facing the planet.
“Sometimes I’ll cry because it’s so emotional. It’s so serious and people are driving by flicking me off … cursing at me,” Mediavilla said. “They’re not seeing what I’m seeing, and I wish that I could just have psychic powers and put the visions of the truth in their mind.”
What he may lack in psychic powers, Mediavilla makes up for with his determination. When he’s not holding his sign downtown, he can be seen picking up trash around the city.
Mediavilla said that he ended up in Easthampton after living homeless in Northampton, camping and grappling with depression. But then he got help through the Veterans Affairs Medical Center, and the nonprofit Soldier On helped him get his current apartment in Easthampton.
Some of Mediavilla’s individual efforts to lessen his own harm on the environment can be ascetic. He doesn’t wear shoes in part because of the plastics in today’s footwear, and in his apartment he said he even feels guilty plugging in his cell phone because of the fossil fuels required for generating electricity.
“I felt kind of obligated to do something,” he said. “People really need to be aware of this … If people were aware of it, maybe they would act to ban disposable plastics.”
And so, when he’s free and feeling bad about the state of affairs in the world, he goes out and protests. Or he picks up trash. And despite his bleak signs and the ominous appearance of his gas mask, Mediavilla isn’t all doom and gloom.
Mediavilla has researched permaculture — the term for a group of design principles meant to create sustainable systems, from agriculture to construction — and has attended a local meeting of the activist group Extinction Rebellion, which uses civil disobedience to protest against the destruction of the environment.
“I’m definitely frustrated about the way things are, and I really want to find solutions,” he said.
The problems are big, no doubt. In just one phone interview with the Gazette, Mediavilla mentioned climate breakdown, the accelerating depletion of Earth’s fertile soil, corporate control of the economy and the ongoing mass die-off of wildlife referred to as the planet’s sixth mass extinction.
Mediavilla does have his detractors, which he said frustrates him. He said people have called the police on him many times, whether he’s out picking up trash or raising his voice on the street corner.
But there are supporters, too. And he hopes to convince a lot more people of his message.
“There are a lot of thumbs up, there are people that told me, ‘Hey, because of you I went out and picked up trash today,’” Mediavilla recalled. “That stuff … it really touches my heart, and I really do appreciate those people. I’m doing it for those people.”
Dusty Christensen can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.