At Break Free Protests Around the World, Climate Activists Put Bodies on the Line

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At Break Free Protests Around the World, Climate Activists Put Bodies on the Line

'Doing something like this, and possibly being arrested, is a lot less crazy than continuing on like nothing is wrong.'

Outside Anacortes, Washington in the Pacific Northwest of the United States, dozens of people greeted the sun on their second day of blocking oil by rail lines heading to the biggest source of carbon pollution in their region. (Photo: Emma Cassidy/Survival Media Agency) 

Update, 9:30pm EST:

Fossil fuel projects were blockaded simultaneously on three continents on Saturday—the "crest" of a wave of global actions responding to the growing threat of climate change. 

Through rallies, civil disobedience, and kayaktivism, people around the world stood up to oil and gas interests to say: enough. Additional actions are planned for Sunday. 

In New York, two activists reportedly "caught county officials off guard" when they suspended themselves from train tracks on a railroad bridge that crosses the Watervliet Reservoir. They successfully blockaded a train from North Dakota carrying fracked crude oil, also known as a “bomb train” because of its explosive nature. 

"Most of my family lives within a few miles of where the bomb trains travel," said one of the climbers, Maeve McBride, who grew up in Troy. "This is personal and global. Their lives are at risk and millions of lives are at risk with rising seas, forest fires, violent storms, and all the havoc that global warming brings. Today I felt called to directly obstruct the fossil fuel industry, joining thousands of others around the world." 

350.org, which is backing the Break Free movement, wrote at Medium:

In the same minute that people in Umuarama, Brazil were cheering their city council’s newly announced ban on fracking, activists in Germany were shutting down a massive power plant. As folks in the Pacific Northwest of the United States woke up to their second day occupying the tracks of oil by rail ‘bomb trains,’ hundreds of people in Albany marched onto bomb train tracks that run just feet from a public housing complex. Ecuadorian youth fighting to defend the Yasuni national forest from oil exploration confronted a refinery, just hours after Nigerians marched along the coast Exxon wants to drill to say that it’s time to put food and people ahead of fossil fuels and profits.

This kind of thing has never been tried before — in part because the world has never been this hot before, but also because there has never been an opportunity like this to initiate a rapid transition away from fossil fuels. With renewable energy on the rise, climate disasters escalating and people everywhere waking up to the threat of climate change — this is our moment to act.

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From Albany, New York, to Anacortes, Washington, climate justice advocates across the U.S. exuberantly added their voices on Saturday to the global call to Break Free from fossil fuels. 

Over 150 activists spent the night in a colorful tent village on the railroad tracks leading to the March Point refineries near Anacortes—blocking all oil train traffic and vowing to stay as long as possible, even if that means getting arrested.

"We're putting our bodies in the gears of the fossil fuel economy to demand a just transition to the post-fossil fuel economy," said Annette Klapstein, 63, of the Raging Grannies. "World leaders agreed to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees--we demand that they do so."

Indeed, added organizer Ahmed Gaya, "Break Free is about pressuring the system so we get the change we need, but it's also about imagining an alternative. By setting up a village here, we're embodying what we need to do as a community: to turn the systems that have devastated people and nature into places that can support us."

“We need to make a stand," Gaya said. "From the Philippines to Syria to Alberta, climate instability caused by business as usual is killing people. Doing something like this, and possibly being arrested, is a lot less crazy than continuing on like nothing is wrong."

In addition to the 500 people who have pledged to risk arrest over the three-day Northwest mobilization, thousands more were expected to converge by land and by sea on Saturday for an Indigenous Day of Action rally at the tip of March Point. Organizers say the Shell and Tesoro refineries located there are the "largest unaddressed source of carbon pollution in the Northwest," and they are calling for a just transition to clean energy—now.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the country, more than 1,000 people from across the Northeast are registered to physically blockade oil trains in Albany on Saturday—trains whose presence, they say, is an act of environmental racism and class prejudice.

"The New York State Capital has been a key center for fossil fuel distribution and bad decisions for our economy and our futures, against the wishes of the people of the City of Albany," organizers said in a call-to-action.

"Representing a coalition from across the northeast, we will gather with frontline communities, including Ezra Prentice Homes, and others living in the oil train blast zone," it read, adding that the act of mass civil disobedience against oil trains would also stand against fracked gas pipelines and other fossil fuel projects.

Saturday's rally and civil disobedience in New York comes on the heels of a kayak flotilla and banner drop in the Hudson River on Friday evening. Among those participating on Friday was 350.org executive director May Boeve, who noted that "kayaktivism has worked wonders to demonstrate people power against powerful interests."

Other Break Free 2016 actions were taking place Saturday in Denver and Los Angeles, as well as in Brazil, Canada, Ecuador, and Germany. Check back for updates.

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