Thousands of climate activists marched Saturday through the streets of Richmond, California to the gates of the Chevron refinery, as part of a protest against the oil giant and other fossil fuel companies.
Chanting "arrest Chevron," protesters sat in front of the refinery gates before being handcuffed by police in riot gear. The event was scheduled to mark the anniversary of the August 6th explosion and fire at the refinery that generated a huge plume of black smoke and sent 15,000 people to hospitals complaining of breathing problems.
More than 200 people were arrested Saturday outside the oil giant's Richmond refinery during the protest, and many cited safety issues at the plant and the company's global environmental practices, among other complaints.
The arrests came hours into a protest that began with a rally Saturday morning outside the Richmond BART Station and a march west to Chevron's gates. By the time the demonstration reached the refinery, the crowd numbered into the thousands.
Protesters chanted outside the gate and drew a giant sunflower using biodegradable paint on the pavement. Police began making arrests when the demonstrators, many of them carrying sunflowers, walked onto company property and refused to leave.
"The showdown was about more than one local community's battle with its largest employer and biggest polluter, however. It represents the latest example of a fast-growing movement by environmentalists across the United States to organize rallies, marches and civil disobedience for more action to reduce greenhouse emissions
"The pace is picking up very dramatically," said Bill McKibben, one of the event organizers.
McKibben is a Vermont writer who cofounded the nonprofit group 350.org, which has organized thousands of similar events in the past five years. He was among the first people arrested Saturday. McKibben said protests are increasing because people are frustrated that Congress has not passed national laws to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from the coal, oil and other fossil fuel industries despite overwhelming scientific evidence that the planet is warming.
"Everybody thought at first that if you have a problem this big that scientists said is a problem, then our system would act," McKibben said. "That was my assumption. But at a certain point it became clear that wasn't happening. The science was no match for the money. They've purchased the U.S. Congress."
McKibben, a professor at Middlebury College who was awarded a 1993 Guggenheim Fellowship for nonfiction writing, said the movement's major goals include convincing President Obama to cancel the proposed Keystone XL pipeline, which would allow Canada to export tar sands oil to U.S. refineries in Houston and other cities. Boosting federal funding and tax credits for solar, wind and other renewable projects, is also among the goals, along with passing a federal carbon tax or cap-and-trade program, similar to California's, that would offer incentives for using fewer fossil fuels."
Eventually, 210 people were arrested, nearly all of them on suspicion of trespassing, police said. They were cited and released.
"Patrick Kennedy, 57, of Emeryville, who was among those arrested, said the fire was a local problem, but that climate change is a threat to the entire planet.
Police spent more than four hours arresting and processing the protesters. Gagan said officers had anticipated there would be some civil disobedience and made sure portable toilets and water were available for arrestees.
But he said police had underestimated the number of protesters willing to be cited and had run out of zip ties."
Police Capt. Mark Gagan said that the protest was peaceful and "very organized."
One protester, however, was booked on "suspicion of assault" after he allegedly punched another one of the protesters. "I was very grateful about how many people in the crowd condemned his behavior," Gagan said.