Fighting for our Right to Breathe and Break Free in Philly

Fighting for our Right to Breathe and Break Free in Philly

It’s begun. A massive wave of actions to keep fossil fuels in the ground and Break Free from climate change and dirty energy is sweeping the globe. Already, there have been marches in the Philippines, Coal mines protested in the U.K., anti-fossil-fuel flotillas off the shore of Australia and last weekend in Philadelphia, a massive action outside an oil refinery.

I was there, in Philadelphia, with a lot of other friends to show solidarity, and deliver on our collective promise to shut down the engines of extreme energy extraction this month. Dozens of us chipped in to make this action possible, and here’s what it looked like:

Hundreds of us gathered, not without irony, next to a gas station on Philadelphia’s south side. About 20 yards away was an elevated rail road line that carries millions of barrels of volatile, Bakken oil on so-called “Bomb Trains” every month. The trains rumble through heavily populated neighborhoods in Pittsburgh, Chicago and other cities on their way to the refinery in Philly.

So we gathered in the shadow of that danger, just across the street from the PES refinery that is a leading cause of air pollution in the city. There we heard speeches and stories from local leaders — my personal favorite, was a young activists that said “This is environmental racism in the third degree. We didn’t come here to negotiate we’re here to Break Free”

After the opening, it was off to the refinery gates – locked and guarded by dozens of local officers in expectation of our arrival. We were lead on the way by an amazing drum and dance corps who showed that we’re the kind of revolution everybody wants to be in because we know how to dance.

There, we formed a huge circle in the middle of the street that seemed to stop traffic for more than a mile in each direction on the busy Passayunk Avenue – and certainly closed down the main truck entrance and exit to the refinery. We held our space in the intersection for a quarter of an hour, to represent the 1/4 of Philadelphia children that have asthma. We heard prayers from a Rabbi, and powerful words of resistance from the youngest activists – some under the age of 10.

Then we were off again, this time to the gates of the refinery itself, where a brave crew including several Beyond Extreme Energy regular participants risked arrest by locking arms to block the refinery gates.

There we stayed, all of us, for more than an hour. Police negotiators shuttled back and forth with the cops, while the rest of us sang, chanted, waved signs and waited just outside.

In the end though, the police decided it was more simple to close the refinery, than to close down our protest. They declined to arrest anyone, even when we used our many sunflower signs to plant a “garden of hope” on the refinery doorstep, in clear violation of their rules to stay off the private property and not touch the gates.

While we were willing to risk arrest, the peaceful, safe and powerful way this action played out was even better. We got coverage in local papers and on TV. Most importantly we sent a powerful message to the oil refinery owners, and to anyone who seeks to profit from the destruction of our climate and common home.

Over the next six days, there are several more major actions planned across the US, and you can learn more about them all by signing here, or by clicking here to find your nearest Break Free action.

Lots more photos and video below – and more reports from these amazing actions coming soon.