Climate activists took to land, sea and train tracks from Friday, May 13, to Sunday, May 15, in mass protests targeting the oil refineries at March Point in Anacortes.
Activists set up an encampment Friday to block rail lines leading to the refineries, which constitute nearly half of Washington’s oil refining capacity. The refineries at March Point are owned by Tesoro and Shell, and rely on the train tracks for the delivery of crude oil.
“I think it’s really important recognizing not only this is bad for the environment, this is taking it away from the people who were here before we were and have a right to this land.”
Sophomore Lydia Lee
Police raided the encampment at 5:15 a.m. on Sunday, arresting 52 people. Over 150 people had camped out on the rail lines Friday and Saturday night, according to organizers.
Freshman Ryan Schluter was sleeping on the tracks when police arrived and left when they evacuated the area.
“Policeman came charging down both sides of the railroad with guns and tasers and told us to put our hands up and evacuate as soon as we could,” Schluter said.”We had 15 minutes until they started arresting people.”
Skagit County Sheriff Will Reichardt said while he respected people’s right to protest, those camping on the train tracks had gone too far.
“In that case, I think they’ve crossed the line,” Reichardt said. “I don’t think you should break the law.”
The actions in Anacortes were part of an international “Break Free” weekend, organized by 350.org. During the event, activists engaged in direct action across six continents to disrupt the fossil fuel industry. Organizers called it the largest global civil disobedience in the history of the climate movement.
According to 350.org’s website, its mission statement is, “We believe in a safe climate and a better future — a just, prosperous, and equitable world built with the power of ordinary people.”
On Saturday, May 14, Anacortes saw a march led by indigenous peoples and a rally outside the refineries that drew close to 1,000 attendees. Present were members of tribes from across the U.S. and Canada, including the Lakota Nation in South Dakota and the Tsleil Waututh Nation in Vancouver, British Columbia.
“Neither fighting nor running away is going to help this community, or those workers, find their voice and be a part of a solution.”
Steve Gary, retired worker
Anticipating the protests, the refineries locked employees in for the weekend.
Amanda Mendum works at the Moka Joe coffee shop across from the refineries. She said while they had seen plenty of business on Saturday, many people in Anacortes were worried about the protests and protesters.
“Our town is supported by the refineries,” Mendum said. “The refineries donate a lot to this town and this community and have done so many great things for the schools.”
Sun Dance Chief Rueben George of Tsleil-Waututh Nation in Vancouver said the extraction of fossil fuel impacts the health of tribe members in Canada.
“One of these refineries here carries the same oil that’s killing people,” George said. “I saw people when we went to the Alberta Tar Sands with blisters from head to toe. The lady that told me said that her kids were five, six years old getting treated for cancer.”
Sophomore Lydia Lee said hearing and understanding the impact of the refineries on indigenous communities is necessary.
“I think it’s really important recognizing not only this is bad for the environment, this is taking it away from the people who were here before we were and have a right to this land,” Lee said.
Many of the other speakers referenced the refineries impact on air quality. March Point is the largest point source of carbon pollution in the Northwest, according to Seattle Weekly.
Some protesters arrived at the rally via kayak, along with members of the Lummi nation who arrived in a traditional canoe.
Despite strong winds, a number of “kayaktivists” took to the water to demonstrate their support and block access by water to the refinery.
Those at the rally included Native American speakers, Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein and a representative of Seattle Councilmember Kshama Sawant. Grammy Award winning Native American musician Star Nayea led the crowd in a song.
Police officers from Washington State Patrol, the Skagit County Sheriff and the Seattle Police Department watched the demonstration, but interactions remained cordial. Reichardt said he worked with protest organizers to ensure things went smoothly.
On Sunday, protesters called off a planned sit-in after being informed that police would not arrest them for “a very long time,” according to organizers. Instead, around 60 activists sang and at times danced as they marched around the edge of the refineries. Many wore jumpsuits with a green “X” painted on them.
The green X’s symbolized the “Green Line of Resistance,” explained Barbara Ford, art director for 350PDX, the Portland chapter of 350.org.
“They talk about the Pacific Northwest, or the West Coast, as being the Green Line of Resistance because of all the infrastructure projects that are being projected or at least tried [here],” Ford said. “Our resistance is to all of that infrastructure, to keep [fossil fuels] in the ground so it can never make it out to the markets that they’re trying to get it to.”
In an open letter to the Skagit community, Break Free organizers emphasized the need for a “Just Transition” away from fossil fuels and laid out plans to do so by offering economic alternatives to fossil fuel jobs, as well as increased local control over energy systems.
Steve Garey is a retired officer of the local United Steelworkers union. He worked at the refineries for 25 years, and doesn’t object to Break Free’s mobilization, but is worried about the rhetoric.
“Threats evoke a pretty well known response; it’s either fight or flight,” Garey said. “Neither fighting nor running away is going to help this community, or those workers, find their voice and be a part of a solution.”