23 september 2019

Shut Down D.C.: ‘Climate rebels’ shut down intersections across the District

By Justin Wm. Moyer, Rebecca Tan and Dana Hedgpeth, Washington Post, September 23

Climate change protesters shut down some intersections from Capitol Hill to downtown Washington Monday morning in the latest of rallies around the world designed to force policymakers to respond to Earth’s rising temperatures.

Organizers of Shut Down DC urged “climate rebels” to flood the District’s streets Monday to bring “the whole city to a gridlocked standstill,” according to the group’s website. The website included a map of so-called “climate criminals” that includes “corporations, lobbyists, trade cartels, and government institutions that are most responsible for creating the climate crisis.”

Climate protesters shut down several busy streets in Washington, including parts of K Street, Dupont Circle and Connecticut Avenue, as well as 4th Street and New York Avenue NW — causing traffic at the 3rd Street Tunnel to be diverted by police. D.C. Police noted 14 locations that were blocked at various times Monday morning.

“I think that we were very successful in holding the majority of the blockades people had planned,” said Kaela Bamberger, a spokeswoman for the Coalition to Shut Down D.C. “We significantly impeded traffic in some of the main areas we were in for about three hours.”

Activists block traffic at 16th and K street NW to call attention to climate change. (Jim Lo Scalzo/EPA-EFE/REX/Shutterstock)

Transportation officials warned commuters to allow extra time and expect delays on their normal routes. Commuters were also advised to try to try other modes, including biking in or taking Metro — or the best bet, transportation experts suggested, might be telework.

On Metro’s bus system, officials warned on Twitter that riders should expect delays on some routes.

Activist groups sent out a list early Monday detailing their plans for major intersections. Around 9 a.m., Shut Down DC proclaimed on its Twitter feed it had blockades set up in 22 locations in the District. There also were reports of traffic jams in Dupont Circle and rolling closures along Connecticut Avenue in Northwest.

The protester groups had said over the weekend that they expect their demonstrations to last until 11:30 a.m. Some protesters were beginning to be arrested around 8:45 a.m. along part of Independence and Washington avenues SW.

D.C. Police said they arrested 26 people who were involved in protests because they were blocking traffic.

[‘I hope the politicians hear us’: Millions of youth around the world strike for action]

Protesters at one point chained themselves to a boat to block the intersection of 16th and K streets NW in downtown Washington, three blocks north of the White House grounds.

D.C. police used power tools to cut the chains off. They covered the protesters with riot shields and fire blankets as sparks flew, occasionally using bottled water to cool down the tools.

Waiting to be cut from the boat, a 22-year-old protester who identified himself only as George as he risked arrest shouted to a reporter outside the police cordon surrounding the boat.

He said he worked at a nonprofit that tried to defend the environment. He had chained himself to the boat around 7 a.m. and wasn’t sure when he would be cut from the boat or whether he would be arrested. He said the action was necessary to bring attention to the “climate crisis.”

“I’m doing something that’s right, moral and just,” he said. “I’m doing this so I can look my kids in the eye one day.”

Jeffrey Johnson watched as the chain of a protester was being cut from the boat at around 8:20 a.m. The protest hadn’t disrupted his commute — he’s an “early bird,” he said, and gets to work at a high-end downtown hotel around 6 a.m.

“I don’t even know what the message is,” he said. “They need to get some signs up.”

But Johnson appeared broadly supportive of any critique of the current occupant of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

“They’re protesting in the wrong place,” he said. “It should be two blocks up where that knucklehead is at.”

Other commuters seemed to take the delays in stride.

Sitting in a car at 16th and L streets NW, Jackie Hilliard tried to remain philosophical about her delayed commute.

She had been “detoured,” she said, from an attempt to make a right on Rhode Island Avenue on the way to her job at a law firm, and was circling through downtown. The net effect on her commute wouldn’t be that bad — just a 11-minute delay — but she didn’t like being late to work.

She also didn’t like getting that distraught about it.

“I don’t care,” she said. “It is what it is. There’s no use getting upset over something I have no control over.”

Climate protesters block the intersection of Massachusetts Avenue and 18th Street NW on Monday. (Olivier Laurent/The Washington Post)

At least one D.C. school opened later Monday because of the expected gridlock. Basis DC, a downtown charter middle and high school, informed families Friday that the school would open two hours late because of the protest.

By 8:30 a.m. Monday, health-care workers and other activists had gathered at Folger Park on Capitol Hill. Members of Black Lives Matter had asked health-care workers from around the area conduct high blood pressure and glucose screenings in the middle of Pennsylvania and Independence avenues SE. A few passersby stopped for the tests at tents, which were taken down by 9:30 a.m.

Another group planned to make a blockade at the intersection of 14th and C streets SW.

#BREAKING: Activists w Extinction Rebellion shut down intersection of 16th & K in Washington, DC by parking a sailboat in the street.

This is part of several disruptive #ClimateStrike actions working to #ShutDownDC this AM.
— Unicorn Riot (@UR_Ninja) September 23, 2019


“We will block key infrastructure to stop business-as-usual,” the group Shut Down DC said in a statement. “Parents, workers, college students, and everyone who is concerned about the climate crisis will skip work and school and put off their other responsibilities to take action on the climate crisis.”

On Twitter, there were complaints from commuters of the traffic jams created by the protesters. Chett Huevos wrote on Twitter, “Nothing better for the environment than being the cause of millions of cars idling because you need a selfie.”

Courtney Mattison also wrote on Twitter, “I don’t care what your cause is, come for my commute and we’re not on the same side.”

For the protesters, Bamberger said more than 1,100 people signed an online pledge to participate.

Protesters have part of Independence & 12th blocked off. This is part of the #ShutDownDC movement to bring attention to climate change. They want to disrupt the Monday morning commute @wusa9 #getupdc #dctraffic
— Marcella Robertson (@Marcella_Rob) September 23, 2019

“We’ve seen literally millions strike for climate led by youth,” she said Friday. “We are escalating in tactics. We are using what has historically been the most effective way to make change: nonviolence and civil disobedience.”

Bamberger said the group did not seek permits.

Climate change protesters block traffic on Massachusetts Avenue during a protest to shut down the District. (Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

One group of protesters said they were concerned about the disproportionate impact of environmental degradation on low-income and minority groups in D.C.

“This is directed toward Mayor [Muriel E.] Bowser,” said Nene Taylor, a Black Lives Matter core organizer, adding that issues faced by black communities in the city, from gentrification and poor living conditions to the lack of access to adequate health care in Ward 7, are exacerbated by the effects of climate change.

As the crowd marched down 2nd Street NE toward Independence Avenue, their voices rang loudly in the empty streets. Some bleary-eyed townhouse residents peered out from their windows; several passing joggers cheered them on.

“The house is on fire!” the group chanted. “Put the fire out!”

A D.C. police spokeswoman said no specific street closures were planned, but rolling closures were likely wherever protesters showed up.

The planned protest comes after young people from more than 150 countries, including the United States, skipped school Friday, gathering in cities (including the District) around the world ahead of a United Nations climate summit Monday to urge policymakers to work more aggressively to take up climate change.

Climate justice march has completely gridlocked Logan Circle. Cars angrily honking, some pedestrians and cyclists cheering. Woman walking her dog is yelling at protesters, telling them they are blocking people from getting to work.
— Perry Stein (@PerryStein) September 23, 2019


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