On May 14, thousands of people around the world joined together for marches, rallies and civil disobedience against dirty energy. While their specific causes may have ranged from stopping pipelines to preventing crude oil “bomb trains,” the unifying idea was to ‘break free’ from fossil fuels.
According to organizers, 2,000 people attended the Break Free Albany rally that featured speeches from different groups, such as Iris Marie Bloom of Protecting Our Waters.
As one of the final speakers at the rally she spoke about the Pilgrim Pipeline but in general the cause for the action, “We are all here to protect our climate, because the oil bomb trains are bad for climate, Bakken oil extraction is bad for climate… From the beginning — the cradle, the Bakken Shale, the tar sands — to the grave, Philadelphia refineries, other refineries, and the end use… we got to stop it all!”
Moving from Lincoln Park, the rally took to the streets in a planned march to the Port of Albany.
The first stop along the way was a low-income housing development which shared a back yard with a defacto “bomb train” parking lot. According to activists speaking at the protest the oil cars sit and idle for hours within yards of children’s bedrooms. The road that the marchers were standing on and blocking was also an oil transportation route used regularly by trucks to get to and from the port.
Carolyn McLaughlin, president of the Albany Common Council, demanded that people in Washington listen to the marchers:
“We have to make sure the black wall of environmental injustice does not return down here to Ezra Prentice… the people of Ezra Prentice and all along these tracks deserve better, we demand better, we will not take no for an answer.”
Moving parallel to the tracks, the march moved to its final destination, a road crossing that allowed the activists to set up a stage and prevent railroad cars from passing through. Music, dancing and speakers filled the small stage, along with an amplified audio set-up powered by a solar panel.
Finishing out the evening’s speakers was actor and activist James Cromwell who spoke to DeSmog:
“Even though we have a ban on fracking in New York, the governor and the legislators didn’t see fit to ban the use of fracked products. So now what we have is the build-out of hydrofracking infrastructure, pipelines, compressors, metering stations. This commits us for the next 30 to 40 years to fossil fuels. It cannot happen, we will not have a planet.”
Actor James Cromwell is a long-time activist, but it wasn’t until he move to Upstate New York that he got involved in the fight against fracking. In an interview with DeSmog, he called for the Governor of New York to end fracking infrastructure that still runs throughout the state. © 2016 Zach Roberts
To the march organizers’ surprise, the Albany police allowed the activists to stay long past their agreed upon permit — refusing to arrest anyone for occupying the tracks.
So the Break Free organizers decided to try to build an encampment. Immediately they set to work getting rope, tarps and other necessities like cinder blocks to make large tents for people to stay under as the weather forecast called for heavy rain.
The police allowed the now occupiers to build their tents with many warnings that any ‘structure’ would be taken down. 15-minute warnings expanded as organizers negotiated with police — but the police were standing firm.
Joking with one of the cops, I asked: “You’re just waiting until the rain starts to take the tents down… aren’t you?” The officer responded with a smirk, “Whatever God may bring.”
God brought torrential rain and wind.
And then the police swooped in. With activists singing and locking arms, the police aggressively, but with care not to harm anyone, ripped the tarps from their place and hauled them off in vehicles so that they couldn’t be used again.
Activists lock arms to protect the poles that hold up the tent from police. The Albany Police would go around this and just cut the ropes. © 2016 Zach Roberts
Thankfully for the protestors, the rain slowed soon after, and conversation turned to figuring out next steps. After a time debating specifics, it was decided that they would stay and try to make it through the night without tents, laying on the railroad tracks with only cardboard and tarps to cover them from the weather.
By the time I left at 11pm, they were still there, sending out parties to gather supplies of dry clothing, food and whatever else they might need to make it through the night.
Photos from the Albany #BreakFree protest
Within view of the Capitol, climate activists call for a clean energy future — ending fracking, stopping pipelines and much more. © 2016 Zach Roberts
Activists write phone numbers on their arms so they can call for legal support if they are arrested. © 2016 Zach Roberts
Local Albany activists and organizers joined in with the Break Free march, calling for cleaner air in their communities. © 2016 Zach Roberts
Clara Phillips, an Albany native, was marching for an end to the “bomb trains” that are causing air quality problems in her community. © 2016 Zach Roberts
A banner drop along one of the main highways that run through Albany reads “Health and Safety Matter.” This was just one of several that took place around Albany. © 2016 Zach Roberts
Founder and Director of AVillage, Willie White, speaks to the Break Free marchers in the Ezra Prentice neighborhood. © 2016 Zach Roberts
Co-Founder of Upstate New York Black Lives Matter, Taina Asili, sang a moving song “And We Walk” to the crowd blocking the road in the Ezra Prentice neighborhood. © 2016 Zach Roberts
Willie White leads the march along a road that runs parallel to the railroad tracks that oil train cars often run. © 2016 Zach Roberts
Canada Pacific put up temporary fences to block the protesters from going any further along the tracks, so the protesters decided to use it as a gallery for their posters and banners. © 2016 Zach Roberts
Break Free organizers and protesters begin planning for their night stay on the railroad tracks. © 2016 Zach Roberts
Volunteers risk injury setting up ropes that run across the tracks to lay tarps over to form a tent. © 2016 Zach Roberts
The tents are up – but not for long. High winds later caused the activists to double up some cinderblocks for weights. © 2016 Zach Roberts
Albany Police take the remnants of the tents back to their cars, so that they can’t be used again. © 2016 Zach Roberts
Break Free organizers and activists form a circle in the rain making plans for the rest of the night. © 2016 Zach Roberts
Albany Police give the activists space as they settle in for a cold wet night. © 2016 Zach Roberts
Blog image credit: Some of the estimated 2000 people from Albany and NYC that came for the #BreakFree rally and march on Saturday May 14th. © 2016 Zach Roberts