Break Free 2016 brought together a network of organizations demanding a just transition from fossil fuels to a 100% renewable energy economy. Whiting Indiana—home to the world’s largest BP oil refinery—was chosen as the site of Break Free Midwest, which was held on May 15, 2016.

The Break Free Midwest organizers explained the purpose of the event:

We are the People of the Great Lakes and Upper Mississippi Region and we reflect the many colors of the People of the Earth. Our ancestors came from many lands and together with the indigenous First Nations we all live on this land, drink this water and breathe this air.

We are marching because we the people have a Right to clean water, air and land that is greater than any corporate need to make money!

Our diverse group from throughout the Midwest drafted this formal resolution outlining the devastation the fossil fuel infrastructure has caused to the Great Lakes region and our solutions to allow us as a society to Break Free from fossil fuels. You can view a summary version of our resolution, the full version, or sign the resolution.

The event was one of a series of actions that took place around the world to demand that fossil fuels remain in the ground. 350 Madison was there and gave us this inspiring photographic and narrative account.

Water ceremony


The sacred water ceremony took place in view of the BP refinery. Break Free participants were invited to bring water from their homes—lakes, rivers, streams—to bless and pour into Lake Michigan, and then to retrieve some water from the lake to take home.  Several speakers told of the sacredness of water and expressed concern for current practices that violate its vitality. Participants were implored to appreciate its spiritual strength, to honor its life-giving nature, to respect and care for it. Sacred waters from both North and South America were brought to mingle with Lake Michigan waters.


Naui Ollin Quetzayolotl, a performing group from the area with roots in Mexico, led participants in honoring the Four Directions.














Naomi Davis, Blacks in Green President and Co-Founder, was one of the emcees and opened the speaking portion of the day’s program.





Bryant Williams, with the Rebuilding Exchange and Southeast Environmental Task Force, was another emcee.




Other stirring speakers…


Malik Yusef, Director of Arts and Culture for the Hip Hop Caucus and People’s Climate Music, spoke eloquently about the need to take care of Mother Earth.





Olga Bautista, Southeast Side Coalition to Ban Petcoke, took the stage with her family, saying that the struggle for environmental justice is to honor generations past and future.




Mark Burrows, Railroad Workers United former co-chair, spoke for a carbon-free future that considers worker rights and addresses their economic needs.




Speaking from under the Water—Keep it Pure flower, Lorrell Kilpatrick represented Black Lives Matter. Pure water was one of the many themes of the day.




Tara Houska, National Campaigns Director for Honor the Earth and Native American Advisor to Bernie Sanders, spoke next.




Jean Ross spoke on behalf of National Nurses United, offering that climate change is a health issue.




Valerie Jean spoke forcefully on behalf of the Michigan Coalition Against Tar Sands (MI CATS), which is working to stop all transportation and refining of tar sands oil in the Great Lakes Basin. One of MI CATS central efforts is to shut down Enbridge Energy’s Line 5.


13217540_979312165516542_7503811080436584426_o (1)_CroppedBill McKibben, co-founder of 350.org, reported on developments within the global Break Free movement, with recent successes in Australia and the Philippines in particular. As McKibben spoke, helicopters flew over the rally. In fact, helicopters were present for the entire event. McKibben has been informed that the fossil fuel industry is mounting a campaign against him.



13254344_979313522183073_6557414480900400872_nClaire McClinton from Flint, Michigan, was the final powerful speaker to take the stage. Speaking on behalf of the Flint Democracy Defense League, she informed the crowd that her group, working alongside other organizations, attempted to call attention to the toxic water situation in Flint two full years before the media finally picked it up this year. Is that justice?, she asked the crowd.


13174077_979300602184365_5850174605830025311_nChico Mendes, Berta Caceres, and many other environmental activists have been assassinated for their work on human rights and environmental justice. Participants were asked by rally speakers to keep their spirits in mind and alive throughout the day. Berta was the world’s most recent loss having been murdered in Honduras on March 3, 2016.



Scenes from the event


The 350 Madison Enbridge Octopus presided over Break Free Midwest, looming especially large during the march to the entrance of the BP refinery.




Walking into the mouth of the dragon.







Everyone so passionate about a fossil free future, especially for grandchildren.




Creative protest:

13247758_979859435461815_793596167598530804_o Collage

Peaceful civil disobedience… and arrests




Forty-one individuals felt the pull to call attention to the critical need to halt fossil fuel extraction by risking arrest by trespassing refinery property.






They walked two long blocks to the entrance in confidence and unison.







A blockade of state law enforcement prepared.







Lest anyone forget, there were signs to remind.







The group broke out into song, which continued until the last arrest.





Eventually the arrests began, and one by one protesters were taken to wagons that delivered them to the East Chicago police station. Each protestor was sent off with applause.



A day of both resistance and celebration!




The full collection of Break Free Midwest photos can be found in these Facebook albums:

Water Ceremony

Climate Activists on the March

Rally Speakers

Civil Disobedience


Tar Sands Campaign

The Tar Sands Campaign is fighting Enbridge tar sands pipelines in Wisconsin. Our aims are to block expansion of Line 61 and to halt plans for an adjacent Line 66. We support efforts led by those most impacted, including tribes, landowners, and affected community members.

Divestment Campaign

2016 was the hottest year on record. The Divestment Team focuses on convincing institutions that investments in fossil fuel are not only ethically and fiscally irresponsible, but are literally wrecking the planet we call home—all for profit. Banks are our current focus since without their support, dirty pipeline projects can't get funded.

Community Energy Campaign

The Community Energy Team is focused on taking action on and responsibility for our own fossil fuel use. We work to create and change policies that impact our energy use and nurture a culture of reducing energy use and using clean, renewable energy to reduce our carbon footprint.