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“No more coal! No more oil! Keep that carbon in the soil!” chanted the crowd of culturally diverse environmental activist as they marched from City Hall through the streets of Los Angeles on Saturday. 

Break Free LA demonstrators marching through downtown Los Angeles on May 14, 2016. (Photo Credit: Jed Wolf)

Break Free LA demonstrators marching through downtown Los Angeles on May 14, 2016. (Photo Credit: Jed Wolf)

This May, Bill McKibben – author, climate warrior and founder of 350.org – is inspiring people around the world to join Break Free 2016, a campaign focused on getting political leaders to denounce fossil fuels.

“My only job here today is to tell you that you have brothers and sisters who right now are standing with you everywhere,” cried McKibben from the steps of City Hall.  “There are 3,000 people occupying a huge coal mine in Germany; thousands of people up in the refineries in the Pacific North West; they’re sitting on the railroad tracks in Albany, New York, to stop oil trains; in the Philippines 10,000 people [are] marching against coal; in South Africa they’re demanding renewable energy; in Nigeria they’re calling for an end to the oil state…

“Absolutely everywhere,” he yelled to the applauding crowd, “time to break free!”

Poorest Communities Are Hit the Hardest

Climate change affects us no matter where we come from, what religion we believe in or how wealthy we are. However, time and time again impoverished communities are marginalized into bearing the consequences of environmental degradation.

“By the 1980s, Richmond became one of the first communities to articulate the issue of environmental justice,” said Andres Soto, an organizer for Communities For a Better Environment, from Richmond, California (Chevron’s environmental wasteland). “Our community has suffered disproportionately for generations from the negative health and social affects of Chevron and other industrial polluters,” he said. “I’ve had one sibling die as a child from brain cancer; I’ve had two siblings survive cancer; both my parents, myself and all of my siblings have suffered from adult onset psoriasis. This is not just business this is personal,” he told the crowd.

Demonstrators at Break Free LA. (Photo Credit: Jed Wolf)

Demonstrators at Break Free LA. (Photo Credit: Jed Wolf)

“Many people are not aware of the effects of fossil fuels and the environmental racism behind it,” said Anthony Fernandez, a high school senior from Wilmington, California.

Anthony spoke about the health and environmental problems that he has witnessed firsthand by living in a community adjacent to oil extraction facilities and refineries. “In my schools, parks and community spaces we have refinery banners and logos hanging, reminding us that because our community is reliant on fossil fuels as a source of work and income, there is no way that we should even try to make a change.

Photo Credit: Jed Wolf

Photo Credit: Jed Wolf

“We live in a community greatly impacted by oil drilling… And we don’t want stand for it anymore,” cheered the young leader.

Last November, Anthony and a group of his peers from Youth for Environmental Justice filed a lawsuit against the city of Los Angeles. “The city is illegally allowing oil drilling in our neighborhoods and is discriminating against communities of color in doing so,” he explained.

Break Free LA activist. (Photo Credit: Jed Wolf)

Break Free LA activist. (Photo Credit: Jed Wolf)

Although they are still fighting for environmental social justice, Anthony and his supporters are hopeful. “A world without fossil fuels isn’t a fantasy or an end but a beginning to our justice for our homes and families,” he said while standing on the very steps of those he is prosecuting.

Demanding Cleaner Earth, Air and Water

Hailing from the town of Shafter in Kern County, Annabel Marquez, co-director of a local community garden, came to protest the atrocities of fracking that are devastating her community. “Our vegetables, our water and our earth is polluted,” cried the farmer. “We are considered a food basket for this nation in the central valley, but we are exporting poisonous food.”

Break Free LA in front of the Walt Disney Concert Hall in downtown Los Angeles. (Photo Credit: Jed Wolf)

Break Free LA in front of the Walt Disney Concert Hall in downtown Los Angeles. (Photo Credit: Jed Wolf)

Annabel spoke of the sicknesses that people are facing because of the chemicals they are exposed to. “Have you ever heard of a nine-year-old boy with prostate cancer?” she asked. “Well, there was a nine-year-old from Shafter who died of prostate cancer.” Her frustration was palpable, and reflected in the faces of her fellow protesters.

“I am here to tell the people inside of this office behind me that no matter what position you have, no matter how much money you have, you are going to eat one of those poisonous vegetables that are grown in my community,” Angela said. “I am here to put an end to the fracking and the oil industry.”

Break Free LA, May 14, 2016. (Photo Credit: Jed Wolf)

Break Free LA, May 14, 2016. (Photo Credit: Jed Wolf)

Standing Up to “The Trumps of the World”

“California has the richest people in the world and the highest poverty rate in the country,” said Tom Steyer, founder of NextGen Climate. The environmentally-conscious entrepreneur spoke on the widespread environmental inequality that is present even in the “progressive” state of California.

Tom Steyer, founder of NextGen Climate, addresses demonstrators on the steps of LA City Hall. (Photo Credit: Jed Wolf)

Tom Steyer, founder of NextGen Climate, addresses demonstrators on the steps of LA City Hall. (Photo Credit: Jed Wolf)

“If we are going to stand up to the corporate interests that care more about their bottom lines than the people of California, and if we’re going to stand up to the Trumps of the world, then we are going to have to find our voice together!” rallied Steyer. “And our voice is our vote.”

The climate activists called out both Mayor Garcetti and Governor Brown, demanding aggressive climate justice and an end to fossil fuels.

Break Free LA march through downtown. (Photo Credit: Jed Wolf)

Break Free LA march through downtown. (Photo Credit: Jed Wolf)

“We need real leaders now…we need them really out in front treating this like the crisis that it is,” McKibben told the Los Angeles crowd.

Speaking to Planet Experts, McKibben later said that one of the most important pieces of legislation to get behind is the Keep it in the Ground Act of 2015 introduced last year by U.S. Senators Jeff Merkley and Bernie Sanders. “Its name says it all,” said McKibben, “when you’re in a hole, stop digging.”

Bill McKibben marching with demonstrators. (Photo Credit: Jed Wolf)

Bill McKibben marching with demonstrators. (Photo Credit: Jed Wolf)

Before marching through downtown Los Angeles, McKibben added, “If we have learned one thing from Keystone and all these other fights, its when we fight we win. I am so glad that you are here to fight like people all over the world.”

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2 Responses

  1. steve says:

    Great article. Simple,informative,written with depth and compassion

  2. Dennis Hicks says:

    Jed,
    Excellent coverage of an important event. I know you captured it well because I was there. It’s ridiculous that it wasn’t covered by the LA Times although 2,000 of us were practically on their doorstep. It’s even more frustrating that thousands more didn’t show up to “Keep it in the ground” and give humans a chance to preserve a livable planet.
    Dennis

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