WHITING — Police in riot gear arrested about 40 people Sunday afternoon after hundreds marched more than a mile to BP Whiting Refinery’s Gate 15 to call for action on climate change.
The group of those arrested sat in a circle in front of the gate, holding hands while chanting and singing. A crowd of onlookers cheered for each person as police got the protesters up one by one and led them to prisoner transport vans.
Those arrested were taken to the East Chicago Public Safety Facility to be booked on a misdemeanor charge of criminal trespass and were expected to be released Sunday on their own recognizance, attorney Roy Dominguez said.
The protest, part of a global campaign over the past 12 days calling for a “just transition to renewable energy,” went well, said Kevin Whelan, executive director of MN350 and one of those involved in negotiations with local police.
The protesters got what they wanted: a successful nonviolent civil action, he said.
The protest began in the chilly air Sunday afternoon at Whiting Lakefront Park, where people gathered to listen to speakers from national, regional and local organizations.
The Whiting Refinery has been a target for critics, in part, because of a recent $3.8 billion expansion project that enabled the facility to process heavier crude oil, including oil from the Canadian tar sands. Activists also took aim at Enbrige pipelines, some of which run through the Region.
Bill McKibben, a nationally known environmentalist and founder and senior adviser to 350.org, said recently released data showed last month crushed the record for the hottest April on record globally. New data from the Arctic show sea ice has been reduced to the absolute minimum.
McKibben said he has visited with people on islands that will be lost to rising oceans and in Vietnam and Thailand, which are experiencing a record heat wave.
“It’s very, very real now,” McKibben said of climate change.
“Our biggest job on this Earth — if you care about justice, if you care about the future, if you care about almost anything — our biggest job is to try and keep it from getting anymore out of control,” he said.
McKibben, whose 350.org led the resistance to the Keystone XL Pipeline, said it wasn’t initially clear to him that activists would be able to stand up to “the power and the money of the fossil fuel industry.”
President Barack Obama in November 2015 said he was rejecting the Keystone pipeline proposal, which would have carried Canadian crude oil through the U.S. to ports in the Gulf of Mexico.
“I didn’t think there was any way that we’d actually win,” McKibben said. “But you know it turns out that when we fight, we pretty often do win.”
McKibben pointed to other victories environmenatlists have won in Canada and the United States.
“When we fight, we win. So we should probably fight more often,” he said.
Still, he cautioned the future remained uncertain.
“I wish that I could guarantee that we’re all going to win in the end, but I can’t. We don’t know. The physics of climate change is pretty daunting. The momentum of it is pretty big. We’re not going to win everything. We’re not going to stop global warming. It’s too late for that, but the work that you’re doing is important," he told the protesters.
Tara Houska, Native American adviser to Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders and director of Honor the Earth, and others led a large group of protesters from the park to the refinery’s Gate 15. One of the many chants they led was “This is what democracy looks like.”
Sylvia Corpus Stewart stood on her porch on Front Street with her daughters, holding signs supporting BP.
Corpus Stewart said many of her family members work for the Refinery, and she faulted the protesters because many came from outside Northwest Indiana.
One of the protesters attempted to engage Corpus Stewart in a conversation about her support for the company. After a brief exchange, Corpus Stewart told the woman to get off her property.