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Climate activists snarl Washington, D.C. rush-hour traffic in push for action

Michelle Montoya, of Arlington, Va., marched down 13th St NW in Washington with protesters from the group Extinction Rebellion. Jacquelyn Martin/Associated Press/Associated Press

WASHINGTON — Activists snarled morning rush-hour traffic in the nation’s capital Monday to pressure lawmakers to combat climate change in a continuation of the outcry heard around the world in demonstrations last week.

Hundreds of protesters gathered in the early morning hours for what they called the D.C. Climate Strike and descended on key downtown intersections, blocking traffic and rerouting many commuters on their way to work.

They waved signs that read “Systemic Change Not Climate Change” and “There is No Planet B” while chanting rallying cries like “hey hey, ho ho, fossil fuels have got to go,” and “put the fire out, our house is on fire.” In one intersection, protestors brought in a large pink and yellow boat and deflated the wheels to make it immobile. They then used Super Glue and chains to attach themselves to the boat before the police brought in tools to remove them.

A D.C. police spokesperson said that 26 people were arrested for blocking traffic.


Irina Clark, 11, a sixth grader from Washington, said she skipped school to attend the rally because “if there’s no environment, there’s no school to go to.” She said people older than her have told her to calm down, but Clark thinks climate change is terrifying and that Generation Z deserves the right to grow up on a planet that isn’t failing.

“Older generations, like the Baby Boomers, they’re saying that it’s not that big of a deal,” Clark said. “This is infinitely more important than school. It’s the future of their kids. It’s the future of the kids who are born today and tomorrow, and it’s our futures too. We deserve to know that we have a life beyond the next twelve years.”

Police rerouted traffic because of a group of protesters blocking the intersection of K and 16th Streets. Pablo Martinez Monsivais/Associated Press

The protest was timed to coincide with Monday’s United Nations Climate Action Summit in New York on Monday. The summit also was the focus of Friday’s demonstrations, which drew hundreds of thousands of students and other climate change activists in Washington, Boston and 800 other locations globally.


Callie Justice, 69, of Durham, N.C., is working to establish a local chapter of the Extinction Rebellion climate change activism group and said she came to the Washington demonstration to learn how to organize large, non-violent actions. She hopes that the group will gain enough momentum to put pressure on the government and the wealthy to make a change.

Still, Justice fears these demonstrations are too late, and that the best that can be done now is to mitigate damage from climate change and prepare for the effects.

“I’m not hopeful at all,” Justice said. “There’s a talk that I just love by a climate scientist, and she says, ‘I can’t give you any hope. I don’t have hope.’ This is not the time for hope. This is a time for courage. You have the choice of what kind of person you want to be and what you want to live for.”

Jose Gabriel Lebron Zapata, a co-founder of the group Diaspora En Accion, which works to help Puerto Rican and immigrant communities in the Washington area through community work and political activism, said he came to the rally because Puerto Rico is getting pummeled by climate change and rising sea levels.

Zapata wore a Puerto Rican flag like a cape on his back because he said his fellow Puerto Ricans need representation in the fight to combat climate change.


“I just don’t have time,” Zapata said. “My planet is dying. My people are dying because of climate change, and I cannot stand for it. And I will fight for them”

Police carried signs used by protesters and police tape as activists closed an intersection. Win McNamee/Getty Images