Fossil fuel activists arrested after weekend protest

by: Deborah Horne, Associated Press Updated:

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ANACORTES, Wash. - Officials with the Skagit County Department of Emergency Management said Sunday 52 protesters had been arrested for trespassing on BNSF train tracks. 

The fossil fuel activists spent nearly three days camped out on the Burlington Northern Santa Fe train track.

They walked out of the Skagit County Sheriff's office to cheers and hugs.

Pictures from an environmental protest in Anacortes, Wash.
© 2017 Cox Media Group.

"We believe strongly that the only thing that historically and consistently brought about the kind of social change of the rapid pace that we need to confront the threat of climate change," said Ahmed Gaya, a BreakFreePNW organizer, "Is mass disobedient movements."

All 52 protesters arrested during the morning were cited for trespassing. One was also cited for resisting arrest. There were no injuries to protesters or officers during the arrests.

"We've been in communication throughout the weekend with protesters to let them know that they risked arrest for trespassing on the railroad tracks," said Skagit County Sheriff Will Reichardt in a release.

About 150 people spent the night Friday in tents pitched on the railroad tracks near Anacortes, about 70 miles north of Seattle. Many of them were feeling jubilant Saturday morning as they prepared for a second day of demonstrations targeting the nearby Shell and Tesoro oil refineries.

Deborah Parker, a member of the Tulalip Tribes and the protest's indigenous organizer, was asked how many tribes are represented. "Wow!" she exclaimed. "You know, I lost count."

[See collected photos from Saturday's protest in Anacortes here.]

Parker said there were tribes from Alaska natives to the Makah to the Navajo and so many in between are here.  All of them deeply concerned about the changes in the climate that are impacting the Earth.
 
"This whole refineries and everything that's happened around us, it's gone wrong," Parker said. "It's all wrong.  And so we're coming together to take a stand. It's not just for this generation. But we're doing it for our next generation."
 
This weekend in Anacortes is part of a nationwide protest in the fight against the use of fossil fuels. 

Similar demonstrations are taking place in Los Angeles and Albany, New York, on Saturday and in Washington, D.C., on Sunday.

In upstate New York, climate activists gathered at a crude oil shipment hub on the Hudson River to denounce fossil fuels and promote renewable energy sources. 

Saturday's events in Anacortes were peaceful, but the protesters say they are prepared to be arrested, including Parker's 17-year-old daughter.
 
"If I get arrested for my Mother Earth, then I will do it," said Kayah George, a member of the Tulalip Tribe. "It is a sacrifice I have to make."

She is not alone. The activists say more than 500 protesters are prepared to be arrested.
 
Many of them will likely be those who are sitting on train tracks about 5 miles east of Anacortes.

The railroad tracks, which connects BNSF's mainline to Anacortes, serves the two refineries as well as other customers.

"At this point, we're standing back, letting them protest and developing a plan and will take action as necessary," Melonas said Saturday morning.

Protesters began pitching tents, erecting colorful flags and signs and setting up the railroad blockade Friday evening. Some did yoga or mediated, others chanted and sang.

Organizers say they want to transition to renewable energy in a way that doesn't leave workers or communities behind, and they're willing to risk arrest to engage in civil disobedience.

Officials with both Shell and Tesoro said in earlier statements that they respect the right of people to demonstrate peacefully, and that safety is their highest priority.

Many of the nearly 40 groups involved in organizing the event were also involved in large on-water kayak protests against Shell's Arctic oil drilling rig when it parked at a Seattle port last year.

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