Break Free from Fossil Fuels
For a livable climate and a just transition to renewable energy, fossil fuels must be kept in the ground. No crude oil "bomb trains". No fracked gas or oil infrastructure. No more pollution. On May 14 people from all over the northeast converged in Albany, NY, for a massive action to stop these dangerous trains in their tracks. Joining others all around the world, we put our bodies in the way of fossil fuels to show the collective power of our movement. See media coverage, photos, and more here: www.Albany2016.org
Our actions in Albany were joyful, poignant, beautiful. Nearly 2,000 people marched through the South End of Albany, where low-income communities’ health and safety are compromised by the bomb trains (carrying volatile fracked oil). Hundreds of us risked arrest by occupying the tracks for 12 hours, preventing bomb trains from entering the Port of Albany.
In spite of the distance, Mainers showed up in force to Break Free! 60-70 of us made the trip. Members of 350 Waldo County and 350 Maine worked tirelessly to plan the actions and get Mainers to Albany. Many thanks to everyone who participated or supported in any way.
Here are some reflections from Mainers who participated in Break Free.
Antonia, 5, and Francis, 11, began the day by frolicking in the green, sunny park, surrounded by beautiful banners and blooming trees. The scene was idyllic. Francis has been to many vigils, protests, and actions before. He has seen family and friends arrested and sat at countless organizing meetings and trial preparation meetings. However, he was unusually moved and inspired by the speakers at Saturday’s rally. The issue of the bomb trains lies at the intersection of climate and environmental issues, racism, and economic inequality. The chance to stand for climate justice and attack these triple evils appealed to Francis. As we began to march, he shared with me his desire to risk arrest when we reached the tracks. I initially said no, fearing that as a minor be would be separated from the others and perhaps held longer, but after talking to a lawyer and thinking more deeply about the risks involved in the proposed scenario, I decided to follow Francis’s lead. Profound change is so often the provenance of the very young. I heard in my mind the words of Fr. Daniel Berrigan, which speak as well to the struggle for climate justice:
"Of course, let us have peace, we cry, 'but at the same time let us have normalcy, let us lose nothing, let our lives stand intact, let us know neither prison nor ill repute nor disruption of ties ... ' There is no peace because there are no peacemakers. There are no makers of peace because the making of peace is at least as costly as the making of war - at least as exigent, at least as disruptive."
Youth feel this truth and know it instinctively. Young people, of Francis’s age, have been the ones in the streets and sit-ins, during nearly every major social justice movement. Adults have always been unnerved, I reminded myself, by the brashness and courage with which youth seek justice.
Although I felt nervous for Francis through the afternoon and evening, as he sat on the tracks in the rain, arms locked with his comrades, I was very proud of Francis for showing courage and integrity. Ultimately, neither Francis, nor any in his group were arrested. We left the tracks soggy and cold, but with a sense that for a brief time, we had participated in the creation of a new world.
As Francis sat on the tracks, Antonia had met a friend of the same age, also from Maine. The sight of the two five year olds joyfully jumping in puddles and collecting railroad spikes in the barren industrial wasteland was a potent reminder that a better world can be created here and now and in almost any conditions. The young shall lead us into the new world! We returned home to Southwest Harbor with new friends and a renewed commitment to fight for climate justice each and every day.
Mainers at Break Free in Albany.
I went to Albany because I am acutely aware of the changes to our climate and how that is disrupting the delicate systems of this planet. There are extreme droughts and floods happening all over the world, species are disappearing, humans are suffering. We need to get off fossil fuels now and occupying the train tracks was a way I could make my concerns known.
I am a somewhat timid, law abiding citizen and risking arrest is really frightening to me. There was a sense of comfort being part of a large action, knowing I would be taken care of by the group. At the end of the action I felt a sense of disappointment that we weren’t arrested. I’m not sure people heard us, we didn’t make a big enough noise. I returned from Albany with a new resolve. My fear of arrest is being matched by my sense of urgency and my own strength is growing. I will continue to work with 350 Maine to build our movement, to increase the volume until everyone stops and takes notice. This is really important work, our lives depend on it.
Standing on the Side of Love - Hilary
While heading to Albany, I really had no idea what to expect. Having never been to a direct action, my emotions were awhirl - I was excited, nervous, and admittedly a little scared. But beyond all of that, this action filled my heart with hope for the climate justice movement and the future. There is a distinct beauty that goes hand in hand with the solidarity of such an event. For the organizers to make a conscious effort to involve participants as artists or marshalls reflects upon the general well being of these people. In addition, I loved seeing others step up to willingly take on leadership roles. Every person that I interacted with treated me like a close friend rather than a stranger and that in itself was an empowering experience. I don't think I would have wanted to stand in the pouring rain with any other group of people.
(Alyssa is 17 years old. She was one of the most dedicated people occupying the tracks late into the night on Saturday!)
Anna Shapley-Quinn and Seth Yentes
As farmers, parents, and simply humans relying on this earth for our livelihood, we have a big stake in changing the course of our economy and society; deciding to pay attention to that and prioritize it in the course of our daily life is what nudged us to come out to Albany. We were there with our two children, Ada (5) and Elwyn (1)...some people are soccer moms. I get to be an activist mom.
It was hopeful and encouraging to be around lots of people willing to be visible and take action. We want to thank all the organizers, straight from our hearts and on behalf of everyone who might not have gotten a chance to thank you, for showing your deep caring, for using that caring as the fuel for putting on all the local trainings and the training camp, for leading, organizing, managing logistics, and for all the one-on-one connections which we know is the backbone of a successful community and powerful movement. We learned a lot from watching the unfolding of the action. Many leaders showed their commitment to integrity and honesty in a way that was inspiring to us.
A couple nights ago, Seth was struck by a Martin Luther King quote on Democracy Now!: "The only way to raise the consciousness of the nation is through creative civil disobedience." We have been mulling over many ideas in the wake of Break Free, and some that we'd like to focus on are:
- Reaching people not yet involved. As Klein points out in This Changes Everything, “During extraordinary historical moments…the usual categories dividing ‘activists’ and ‘regular people’ became meaningless because the project of changing society was so deeply woven into the project of life. Activists were, quite simply, everyone” (p. 459). I want to prime people for engagement, people who--like me a few months ago--care deeply but find it all too easy to look away from, or too difficult to look at, climate disruption.
- Joining the ranks of organizers here in Maine; having local actions.
- Building a database of people willing to do direct action and/or risk arrest and/or give money to the organizing. If building that database is part of the goal of every meeting, march, rally, and act of civil disobedience, then we can really see that each action is a step towards dismantling the oppressive fossil fuel economy.
Ultimately, we want to apply our efforts and skills to the project that, if we manage to address it well, has the chance of setting up a situation where the climate can restabilize, life on earth can actually thrive and flourish, and humans as a species can live better, fuller lives than we've ever lived before.
Break Free from Fossil Fuels in Albany was a powerful experience for me, especially the march through the gentrified and deteriorating neighborhoods where people sat and waved back to our band of marchers and chanters. We marched to Ezra Prentice Homes, a low-income community that sits next to the tracks where bomb train tank cars and chemical cars are parked, waiting to be unloaded onto barges in the Port of Albany. The rally at Ezra Prentice took over the road that usually carries 100 commercial trucks an hour through the community. We were led by local community leaders, who fired us up to stay in the struggle over the long haul to stop the bomb trains. As several remarked, if the bomb train corporations can stop running the trains for a day and move the cars so that there was no visual evidence of the dangerous cargo within just feet of the children's playground and homes, the Big Oil corporations can keep them away every day.
Count me in for the next steps to Keep it in the Ground...including the remembrance of the tragedy at Lac-Mégantic on July 6.
If you’d like to share your Break Free experience, please send your reflection to Michelle.
Thank you for your participation in and support for Break Free! We will be in touch about upcoming actions in Maine to Keep It In The Ground and create a new world.