Breaking Free from Oil: Northwest’s Attention-Hungry Activists

activismAcross the globe people are increasingly confronted with the direct impacts of industrial pollution and climate change. With increasing pressure from the fossil fuel industry to expand operations in the Pacific Northwest, an equal but opposite kickback from regional communities is beginning to take place. For these reasons, the Break Free from Fossil Fuels Campaign has sponsored “a two-week global wave of escalated action to keep coal, oil, and gas in the ground.” The Break Free PDX chapter will be holding a weekend of activities, workshops, speakers, trainings, and nonviolent direct action from Friday, May 13 to Sunday, May 15 in Anacortes, Washington.

Their overall goal? To ensure that governments uphold the commitments of the Paris World Climate Agreement, signed by 175 nations on Earth Day to limit emissions and stay below 1.5°C of warming to prevent catastrophic ecosystem failures. However, more than simply protesting further fossil fuel development, the Break Free Campaign is concerned with the representation of marginalized communities and those that would suffer as a result of a complete energy industry overhaul. Ultimately, they seek to begin a serious discussion among politicians and industry leaders as to what a “just transition” into a clean economy would look like.

Environmentally marginalized communities take many forms. Whether located near processing facilities, disposal facilities, along transportation routes, due to economic limitations, or the fact that the community’s survival depends on jobs created by the industry, we need a real plan for transitioning. According to the Break Free website, around six million Americans depend on the fossil fuel industry directly or indirectly for their livelihoods. If we are to actually break free, leaders here and abroad must mindfully deal with these issues.

Break Free has organized a number of events all over the world this month. Actions will be taking place in Germany, the UK, Canada, Turkey, Brazil, Nigeria, South Africa, Indonesia, Australia, the Philippines, and New Zealand. In fact, in the United States alone, actions are taking place in California, Washington, Colorado, New York, Illinois, and Washington, DC. With over 40 coalition member groups including 350 Corvallis and Corvallis Rising Tide, over 1,900 supporting individuals from the Pacific Northwest, and at least 500 of those willing to risk arrest, you can bet this will be one entertaining event.

Getting arrested not your thing? Me neither, but Saturday is the “It’s in Our Hands” Indigenous Day of Action. This part of the event will kick off with a “Procession for Future Generations” in which attendees will march along Fidalgo Bay in front of the Tesoro and Shell refineries demanding that we both seek new energy solutions and find solutions for those whose livelihoods depend on the fossil fuel industry. Once arriving at March Point, tribal speakers will take the stage followed by tribal musicians, singing and drumming, and finally a salmon dinner at the Transit Shed on the north end of town.

There will be a flotilla of canoes, kayaks, and boats that will paddle up the bay to witness an indigenous water ceremony before returning to land and joining the rest of the activities. Boats will be available for those in need.

Bottom line—these folks have big plans, and will not be ignored. Whether you are a blossoming direct action activist, environmental enthusiast, a member of an impacted community, or just looking for a good time, check out the Break Free three-day event this weekend. The brass tacks are this: like anything else, it’s not going to get done until we sit down and do it. By putting our minds together, we are already creating an alternative source of energy—transformative energy. And that’s no joke.

By Anthony Vitale