WASHINGTON — Climate activists had pledged to bring the nation’s capital to a standstill Monday morning. That did not quite happen, but the blockades of major intersections, street dances and a smattering of arrests continued the effort by protesters to raise the profile of climate change as a political issue.
Monday’s protests followed Friday’s demonstrations by millions of young people around the world, who sought in marches and rallies to pressure policymakers to take action on climate change. The “Strike D.C.” protest is timed to coincide with the appearance at the United Nations of 16-year-old climate activist Greta Thunberg and other young people, who will urge world leaders to enact aggressive policies to curb the planet-warming greenhouse gas emissions. Such emissions, scientists say, are already raising sea levels, strengthening storms and increasing droughts and food shortages.
The coalition of 14 environmental and social justice activist groups that took to the streets of Washington want to go further than the students who marched last week, some of whom will speak on Monday at the United Nations. The activists, who are demonstrating without permits, are disrupting rush-hour traffic near the White House, the Capitol, the National Mall and other choke points with the intention of creating gridlock and mayhem. Many said they expected to be arrested.
By 8 a.m., a group of about 100 protesters had parked a bright yellow sailboat on a busy intersection on K Street, the capital of corporate lobbying. Police sirens blared as protesters played drums and danced in the streets. Commuter buses stopped and their passengers got off and started walking a block from the White House, and drivers stood in the shutdown street and calmly watched the protesters.
But they were up against a police force and Secret Service that are experienced at shutting down protests.
“It will be a different type of action than Friday’s protests,” said Kathleen Brophy, an event organizer with the environmental group 350.org. “We will not have permits. We will be engaging in civil disobedience. We are withholding our obedience from a system we do not agree with.”
On Capitol Hill, as about 30 protesters chanted, Capitol Police officers arrested six protesters who had linked arms and blocked westbound traffic outside of the Department of Health and Human Services.
The group was led by Black Lives Matter, and as the police moved in to make arrests and place zip-ties around protesters’ wrists, others held banners on the sidewalk and chanted, “Climate justice, it matters here. Black lives, they matter here.”
“There is definitely an expectation that we will need money for bail,” said Kaela Bamberger, a spokeswoman for Extinction Rebellion U.S., one of the groups organizing the protest. Extinction Rebellion is considered to be among the best-funded activist groups in the world, boasting numerous celebrity funders. Earlier this year, the band Radiohead released a cache of recordings made while working on their hit 1997 album OK Computer, and announced that all proceeds from the sales would go to Extinction Rebellion.
A spokeswoman for the Capitol Police said that after the six arrests, the protesters had cleared the area. As some protesters stood and chanted, others handed out fliers to the drivers willing to roll a window down. Nee Nee Taylor, with Black Lives Matter DMV (the widely used shorthand for the Washington region, the District of Columbia, Maryland and Virginia), addressed the crowd, where one sign said, “Monday can wait. The climate can’t.”
Azani Creeks, 22, who recently moved to Washington for work after graduating from the University of Southern California, said she appreciated that Monday’s protest featured members of so many different groups. Even so, she wasn’t sure their plans to shut down traffic would change many minds.
“I don’t think this action will convince people one way or another, but they’ll at least know that we care and are doing something about it,” Ms. Creeks said.
But it was unclear whether key policymakers would take note of the action. President Trump is in New York, attending the opening of the United Nations General Assembly. The House of Representatives will not be in session, and many senators are unlikely to arrive at the Capitol before 4:30 p.m., at the chamber’s only scheduled vote of the day.
On Capitol Hill, some onlookers cheered the protesters, others rubbed their temples. Many people walking to work took pictures of the protesters, as did construction workers on nearby scaffolding.
Closer to the White House, other onlookers said they didn’t mind the protests. “I am supportive of the disruption,” said Autumn Banner. “It disrupts the commuters, but I’m taking the Metro regardless.”