Climate justice requires everyday Mainers to begin taking nonviolent direct action

Climate justice requires everyday Mainers to begin taking nonviolent direct action

The week of May 7 through May 15 will see a wave of nonviolent direct action and civil disobedience on every continent and in six or more regions of the United States. This is a new chapter in the climate justice movement. 350.org and a host of other groups around the world have joined in a call to transition as rapidly as possible to 100% clean, renewable energy and break free from dependence on fossil fuels. The name of that call: Break Free 2016.

The need to break free has never been greater. Each new month brings new record heat. 2016 is on track to be the hottest year ever measured, breaking the record of 2015, which broke the record of 2014.

Yet the opportunity to break free is no less great. The fossil fuel industry is reeling. It is facing challenges from shareholders, investigations from attorneys general, a divestment movement that last December topped 3.4 trillion dollars in fleeing share value, a renewable energy sector that, in wind and sun, has begun to out-compete coal, oil, and even natural gas, and a 195-nation agreement to keep world temperatures from rising above 2 degrees (or even 1.5 degrees) centigrade—which, as a practical consequence, means that the majority of known fossil fuel reserves will have to stay in the ground and no new reserves can be hunted down or extracted.

On the foundation of both this unprecedented need and this great opportunity, the week of May 7 – 15 will witness mass direct actions in California (against Los Angeles extraction sites), Washington (Puget Sound oil refineries), Colorado (Denver-area fracking sites and public land auctions), Illinois/Indiana (tar sands refinery near Chicago), Washington, D.C. (offshore and arctic drilling programs), and New York (oil trains originating in the fracking fields of North Dakota)

Mainers to head to Albany

The New York action is Maine’s own. Activists from Maine will travel to Albany, joining  men and women from New York, New Jersey, and the other five New England states.  The capital city of New York is the hub of trains carrying volatile shale oil from the Bakken fields of North Dakota. This is the same oil that on July 6, 2013, vaporized French Canadian citizens in Lac Megantic, 22 miles from the Maine border. It has been involved in a half dozen or more fiery explosions since. Therefore, not only because of its dangers for the climate but also because of its risks for all those living near the tracks, the city of Albany is the destination of choice for the Break Free action of the Northeast.

There will be two actions actually. The first, which will take place on the afternoon of Friday, May 13, will see “kayaktivists” forming a “Hands Across the Hudson” flotilla. (This is intended to be a dramatic, but not an arrestible, event.) That evening, activists from New York, New Jersey, and the six New England states will undertake final preparation and training in nonviolent civil disobedience for the second action, which will take place the next morning, Saturday, May 14.  People will gather in Lincoln Park, then set off peacefully for the railroad tracks of the Port of Albany. It is from this Port that Bakken oil bound for refineries along the East Coast is loaded onto barges and transported down the Hudson River. And it is there (though it is neither expected nor anticipated that every participant in BreakFree Albany will choose to risk arrest) where arrests for nonviolent civil disobedience may ultimately take place.

Most, possibly all, of those who are joining BreakFree Albany will not fit the stereotype of radical or anarchist. They will be teachers, health care professionals, social workers, small business owners and employees, carpenters, artists, students—in short, Everyman (and Everywoman) from across a broad spectrum of our social-cultural landscape. Many will also be grandfathers, grandmothers, aunts, uncles, mothers and fathers. Few will ever have been arrested before.

If at first blush they would appear to be breaking the law– trespassing without invitation (albeit peacefully) upon corporate property and refusing (albeit respectfully) to leave when requested to do so—look again. There is a great commonwealth of air and water and livable climate out there that must be preserved—it’s a public trust—for all generations. And the highest purpose a government of laws, by the people and for the people, can serve, is to maintain that common wealth—that public trust—for it is the basis of our whole constitution, our life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness. Who, really, is the “outlaw” in this instance? Is it the grandmother and grandfather or student and teacher saying “no” in this fashion to the oil trains, or is it an industry mesmerized by short-term profits and caught up in an energy system that can no longer serve the future, continuing relentlessly to drive global warming forward?

Join us this Saturday

To learn more about how you can support BreakFree Albany, visit 350 Maine or contact Michelle Fournier or me.

An informational and planning meeting for people interested in supporting or participating in the April 13 and 14 BreakFree weekend will take place at the Friends School of Portland (11 U.S. Route One, Cumberland Foreside) from 10 a.m. to noon on Saturday, April 23 (tomorrow). Everyone is welcome to attend.

Photo via Flickr/Joe Brusky

About author

Lee Chisolm
Lee Chisolm 1 posts

Lee is an active member of 350 Maine and has been the convener of 350 Greater Portland since 2014. He has helped organize climate actions across the North East. Lee earned a BA from Harvard, a JD from the University of Maine School of Law and was a practicing attorney for 14 years. He now teaches math, science, and social studies in grades seven and eight at the Friends School of Portland.

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