Olympians arrested in Anacortes opposing climate change and fossil fuels
Twenty-one Olympia area climate activists with Olympia Confronts the Climate Crisis went to protest fossil fuel expansion at Tesoro Refinery at Anacortes and support the Break Free: PNW effort May 12-15. This was a call to break from fossil fuels. Six Olympia activists, motivated by the urgency of the situation and need caused by the climate crisis, and lack of effective effort at state or federal levels, planned to do civil disobedience in the form of trespass to block the oil trains and risk possible arrests. They had previously taken nonviolent direct action training. Because arrests were made at 5 AM Sunday morning only three Olympia activists were on the tracks at the time the arrests were made. Three others planned to be arrested but were at other locations in the action when the arrests were made. The Olympia area activists arrested were Todd Davidson, Scott Goddard and Scott Yoos. They face arraignment in Skagit County Superior Court on June 2. Forty-nine others who refused to vacate the tracks were also arrested.
The Northwest Regional Action took place at the Shell and Tesoro refineries near Anacortes, Washington, from Thursday May 12-Sunday May 15. This included some pedestrian and kayak trespass civil disobedience actions but refineries were not shut down nor was there interference with refinery workers. On Saturday, May 14, there was a family friendly protest and Native Water Blessing and rally with Indigenous Peoples at the facilities attended by more than 1,000 People. Sunday after the arrests there was another protest march down the refinery road. People from all around the west participated in this citizen effort to hasten the end of the fossil fuel era and bring about a just transition to 100% renewable energy. [See video on the event: Break Free PNW: Direct Action Gets The Goods]
This regional focus for the Break Free was selected for the action because of proposed oil train expansion projects and new xylene plant planned for the facility. Already the Shell and Tesoro refineries near Anacortes are the largest source of carbon pollution in the Northwest and refine 47% of all the gas and diesel consumed in the region. Our government and others have been unable or unwilling to stop expansion of fossil fuel energy projects in spite of scientific warnings that the lives of millions would be put at risk and life on our planet could end with the continued rate of use of fossil fuels. Pope Francis even pointed out that climate inaction puts the planet at the point of suicide. Canada just gave preliminary approval to a major oil pipeline and export expansion in British Columbia. Tesoro plans on expanding oil train shipments and exports from their site at March Point at Anacortes. Fossil fuel expansion and export facilities are also proposed along the Columbia River and in Grays Harbor.
Scientists, 195 national leaders at Paris UN Conference and world religious leaders have pointed out the need to end the fossil fuel era to reduce worst effects of climate change and have a livable planet. Our energy system must change within years not decades. We have a moral responsibility to direct an aggressive change to sustainable, renewable energy to preserve a livable climate for our children and grandchildren.
Everything proposed by governments has been insufficient to stop the fossil fuels era or give our children a livable planet. [See recent report: “Warming far outpacing climate action, as UN negotiators meet in Bonn”]
Citizen action is essential if we are going break free from our addiction to fossil fuels. Accountability to create a stable climate falls to civil society–you and me!
Bob Zeigler’s notes
We began the March to Water Blessing Site at the tip of March Point with a moving call from Swinomish, Tulalip, Lummi and Lakota Climate Leaders on the deep need to protect our Mother Earth. They sang songs and told us that violence against women and violence against the earth were part of the same dynamic. Approximately 1000 Native and non-Native activists marched toward the water blessing site to the beat of Native drums and songs led by Swinomish Ronald Day. A Native flute player also accompanied the journey with songs about the Sacredness of the Water and also a song about the birds in which you could hear the actual songs of various birds. The songs of all the Native peoples made the long journey very rich as we walked along the edge of the coastal estuary on one side and estuary and oil trains and pipeline and refinery on the other.
Jewell James, Lummi Elder, Master Carver and Native Climate Activist Leader, told how it was the Native women who first felt the pain experienced by Mother Earth and told the Native men they needed to “Warrior-Up” and join them in placing their bodies in a way to protect the earth and stop the destruction. He issued the call for more Native peoples to “Warrior-Up” and join the movement to protect the earth and its climate. He said, Pope Francis issued a great letter on climate (Laudato Si) and everyone should read it. He said Catholics need to follow the Pope and Stand Up to protect the earth as well as all people of all religions need to stand up now to protect the earth.
The Tulalip held a Water Blessing Ceremony at the estuary edge as eagles circled overhead at 2 PM. This was at the same time water blessing ceremonies were carried out by indigenous peoples around the world. A Lummi Canoe pulled by young Lummi men and women came to the shore and had a landing ceremony in which they asked the Swinomish for permission to come ashore. They asked for assistance in lifting the canoe to the stage and two young non-Native women deeply moved went racing over to assist. The young Native canoe team had attended the Paris Climate accords last December to give witness to the need for action. They spoke on why they did this and sang and danced.
I spoke to one young non-Native woman, a student at Fairhaven at Western Washington University, who told me that May 14 was her mother’s birthday and that is why she was there for her mother and knew her participation would make her mother proud.
Notes from Bourtai Hargrove
Day One: After numerous meetings in the hot sun at Finney Farm near the Skagit River, we left at 5:00 PM in a caravan to blockade the railroad track. The site was excellent, a raised track clearly visible to traffic traveling into Anacortes on Highway 20. We had to park and quickly scramble up to the track with all our gear—sleeping bags, pads, chairs, and provisions, to occupy the track before we were stopped. Bev Bassett, Don Coughlin and I sat next to the Seattle Raging Grannies at the head of the line; Rod Tharp was helping erect a large metal structure and our striking Break Free banners further down the track. It was exhilarating! Break Free had planned well; we had enough food and water to feed 150 people for three days.
Sixteen law enforcement vehicles with flashing red and blue lights arrived almost immediately. State Patrol Officers and Skagit County Sheriff’s Officers in full riot gear— ballistic helmets with tear gas visors, control batons and padded protective suits—stood conversing in groups, deciding what to do. As the sun set, we watched traffic on Highway 20 slow to get a glimpse of what was going on and Break Free organizers as they finished setting up camp.
We erected an information table, ten or twelve sleeping tents, and three small pit-stop tents in the tall grass with makeshift composting toilets inside. At 11:00 PM, all the law enforcement vehicles, except one, left simultaneously.
The sharp-edged gravel around the tracks did not look very inviting to sleep on, so Bev, Don and I decided to sleep in our folding chairs. As night fell, it became cold, so we pulled sleeping bags around our legs and up to our shoulders. Bev gave her sleeping bag to a young activist without one, so she was exposed all night to 40 degree temperature and colder winds. She tried to ignore the cold by conversing with the many people walking by our site.
It was impossible to sleep. The flashing street lights, laughter and voices, drum beats from someone’s boom box, and our cramped legs kept us from dozing. Since law enforcement had apparently decided to let us stay until the next train was due, barricading the tracks became an exercise in endurance. By morning, Bev was too cold to stay longer, so we decided to leave for our rented house in Anacortes to recuperate.
Special thanks to Sue Langhans, our support person at Finney Farm and for the invasion of the tracks. She tirelessly helped us with heavy bags and gear, drove my Prius to the invasion site, helped us up onto the tracks and then stayed parked within sight for several hours to be sure we were safe.
Day Two: Indigenous People’s Day. Break Free’s plans for family-friendly activities on Saturday were successful. KOMO News has great photographs of the four mile procession to the end of March point which show the colorful marchers against a backdrop of the formidable industrial structures of the refineries—smokestacks, cylindrical cooling towers and storage tanks, and the ubiquitous round waste water and sludge settling basins. [KOMO News: “Anti Oil Protests” and “Break Free: May 14Thanks also to our excellent photographers, Bob Zeigler and Bill Copeland. Kayakers had a difficult two mile trip across open water to the end of March Point and an even more difficult trip fighting the currents on the way back. Kudos to Donna Albert, who made it all the way and was exhausted when she arrived back at the rental house. All the kayakers arrived safely, thanks to our kayak master, Jeff Snyder. Jeff conducted many of the kayak training sessions and planned the kayak safety measures. After the salmon dinner and the speakers, we had a magical luminary procession through downtown Anacortes, with glowing salmon and globes held high to illuminate the night. Rod’s beautiful Orca was part of both processions—the Indigenous march in the afternoon and the luminary procession at night.
Day Three: At 6 AM Sunday morning, Sue Gunn received a call that the rail blockaders were being arrested. All ten of us in the rental house scrambled to get dressed and out to the blockade site, hoping to join a support group or get arrested ourselves. We arrived too late, everyone and everything had been removed and law enforcement officials prevented access to the site. As our jail support person, Sue Gunn, went to the jail to see that our three arrestees—Scott Yoos, Scott Goddard and Todd Davison—were cited and set free. A meeting was held later in the morning at the Deception Pass camp site to decide on further actions. Those of us who still wanted to risk arrest drove in a bus and cars to the March Point Park and Ride. We marched as the thin green line, five in a row with locked arms, dressed in transparent jump suits each with a big green X on the back. All entrances to the refinery side of March Point were guarded by a phalanx of armed police and security officers. We sat down at the first gate, singing and chanting. Break Free has some great songs, including Rising Tide’s theme song, “We must rise like the tide”. Here is one chant I remember:
We have a duty to fight,
We have a duty to win,
We must love one another and protect one another,
We have nothing to lose but our chains.
Later we traveled farther up March Point, stopping once on a bridge to wave at the kayakers coming to meet us, then sat down again at the second entrance gate. Members of the group rose to speak about the climate emergency, but it was the wrong audience—we were already committed to the cause. Maybe the rows of heavily-armed security guards and officers listened. Finally, we were told that the plan had been to sit-in at one the security gates until we were arrested, but the officers told us they would not arrest us that day and probably not for several days. We left, somewhat dispirited, to plan for greater demonstrations another day. But we can be proud—all of the members of our small affinity group participated and we did our best. There was a debriefing on Wednesday night, 4:30 at Rod’s house.
Notes from Becky Liebman on the final day
Sunday came. Cops cleared the tracks shortly after 5:00 am that morning. Arrests were made. So a new plan emerged under the big firs at Deception State Park: to exercise a civil disobedient protest at the tracks closer to the refineries. We got our instructions, signed our forms with emergency contact information, made arrangements for our gear and cars, and readied ourselves, in body and mind, for possible arrest.
About 150 or 200 of us met at the park and ride near the refineries, locked arms in groups of five, and set off, not exactly clear of what to expect.
As we approached, we discovered we were blockaded from our goal. So… there we sat. We sang, we shared, we listened, clueless about what would happen next.
I burst into tears when, in the shadow of hulking cops in full black riot gear, the organizers said, “Let’s declare victory and head back.”
Why the tears? In part, it was relief. Those police dressed in bullet proof vests and shields; we wore (over our clothes) papery white jump suits. They were burly middle-aged men, with a few women among them; we ranged in age from babies to octogenarians. They held batons, guns, cans of pepper spray; we held each other. They were there to protect the oil refineries; we came, as one protestor said to “put our bodies in the gears of the fossil fuel economy to demand a just transition to the post-fossil fuel economy.” Gears can be painful.
But I like to think the tears gushed gratitude for the young organizers who worked for months for this moment, who somehow, in the fast pace of the day, had, behind the scenes, invented a plan, agreed upon it, and asserted it.
They juggled so many variables that day, like the diversity among us, not only in age but also in experience and tolerance for the unknown. We ranged from anarchists to law-abiding rule followers. The organizers needed to plan on the spot. Their choice? To celebrate what had been accomplished and look to the future.
They deserved to celebrate! They had drawn participants from Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Montana, California, and Alaska, an estimated 2,000 of us during the course of the weekend. Tracks were held; people were educated and emboldened to act. All this during a weekend of volunteer food brigades, organized transportation, strategically placed composting toilets, solar panels for cell phone recharging, trained legal and medical at the ready. Throughout the weekend, participants were encouraged to “self-organize” for certain tasks as needed. Artwork and music lifted and unified.
We are not oblivious to the fact that we all used fossil fuels to get there. Life as we know it moves by gears powered by fossil fuels. Nor are we oblivious to the data on climate change: record breaking temperatures; swings of drought and floods; ocean acidification levels.
Was it effective? Well, that depends on your criteria.
But I can definitively report that it made this old, retired librarian well with gratitude for the hearts and minds that planned the Break Free actions, for those who held the tracks on Friday and Saturday and allowed themselves to be arrested, for the company I kept throughout the weekend, all of whom made me want to stand a little straighter, walk a little longer, speak a little louder, and be a little braver.
All of which I will use as I work to pass the initiative on this fall’s ballot, I-732, putting a truer price on industrial carbon emissions and reducing the state sales tax by one percent. (The campaign is already a success, for it is generating heart to heart conversations on doorsteps.)
Civil disobedience and shoe leather: both are needed to deal with this inconvenient truth of climate change.
Olympia Confront the Climate Crisis is the Direct Action Committee of the Olympia Fellowship of Reconciliation. Bob Zeigler, Bourtai Hargrove, and Becky Liebman are long-time Olympia activists and members of the Olympia F.O.R.
The Break Free from Fossil Fuels in the Pacific Northwest at the March Point refineries in Anacortes, Washington was part of a mid-May week of climate action across the globe initiated by 350.org in conjunction with a large number of groups.