And so, weak and dizzy for lack of food, they gathered in a circle in the hallway and came up with a plan.
With the little energy they had left, they would storm past two aides, barge into the wider room where the congresswoman’s chief of staff and others sat, get arrested by police and make a statement that they were there to protest the “lip service” House Democrats paid to an issue that would impact their future.
That’s how nine members of a global organization called Extinction Rebellion ended their protest, marched out of the second-floor office in the Longworth building with their hands bound by zip ties as the impeachment inquiry spectacle played out in a hearing room one floor below.
Eva Malecki, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Capitol Police, said the nine protesters were charged with unlawful entry. Pelosi’s office claimed that a protester also shoved an aide, who declined to press charges.
Before he was led away, Nick Brana, 30, said members of Extinction Rebellion sent Pelosi two letters, one last week on Tuesday and another Sunday, a day before they arrived at her door, listing their demands.
“We said we would go on hunger strike unless she met with us in her office,” Brana said. “We knew she would not want to meet with us. On Monday we told her what the start time would be. We would take over your office until you meet with us. We have yet to see her. She has yet to make any acknowledgment of us, let alone set up a meeting in the office.”
Extinction Rebellion believes climate change is “an unprecedented global emergency.” The group, comprised mostly of young people, stages demonstrations in cities across the world to call attention to its cause to make it a political priority.
On Monday, 25 of them gathered at Folger Park and vowed not to eat. Giovanni Tamacas, who was also arrested, opened the door to Pelosi’s office and in they walked.
The group protested peacefully until Thursday, when they realized that Congress would adjourn for the Thanksgiving holiday, and that Pelosi would fly to San Francisco that evening without agreeing to a video recorded meeting.
“It’s unfortunate that the Extinction Rebellion protestors resorted to non-peaceful measures today after they were kindly accommodated in the Speaker’s office for four days,” Taylor Griffin, a spokeswoman for Pelosi, said in a statement.
The speaker respected their right to free speech and demonstration, Griffin said. Another staff member said they were willing to allow staff members to meet with the protesters. They were provided with water with lemon that strikers took instead of food. They endured how members of the group unplugged their television monitor and hung signs when they were asked not to.
Pelosi was focused on the impeachment inquiry against President Trump, an issue that’s consuming Washington. The staff confirmed the speaker, who conducts up to 20 meetings per day, received Extinction Rebellion’s demands less than a week before the protest.
The staff member disagreed with Brana’s assertion that the House under Pelosi has only paid lip service to climate change. Pelosi has been a vocal proponent of curbing greenhouse gas emissions linked to climate change for years. She helped orchestrate the passage of legislation in 2009 that would have set the first-ever national cap on greenhouse gas emissions, only to see the bill die in the Senate.
Brana said local members of Extinction Rebellion believe that Pelosi has helped block the ambitious climate package crafted by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) and Sen. Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), which would direct billions of dollars to addressing the issue. Pelosi has questioned the political viability of enacting the Green New Deal into law, remarking earlier this year, “I can’t say we’re going to take that and pass it.”
There have been 110 hearings related to climate change in less than a year under Pelosi, far more than when Republicans controlled the House, Pelosi’s office said. Pelosi has established select committees on climate change twice after getting hold of the speaker’s gavel, in 2009 and again a decade later.
But a committee that can’t make policy or pass laws is exactly what angers Extinction Rebellion about Pelosi’s leadership, meetings that don’t lead to action.
“We’re looking at an existential threat to human society,” Stephen Leas said before he too was led away from Pelosi’s office, hands behind his back. “We won’t be able to stop the impacts in the next 10 years.” Leas, 28, spoke of a downward climate spiral of melting ice, rising seas, monster wildfires and land that can no longer support crops. In other words, a future of hunger, the way he felt Thursday, having not eaten since Sunday.
Leas’s mother made a pie that night, one of the last things he gobbled down. On Thursday morning, he awoke feeling lethargic, not wanting to get out of bed. Brana felt pain gnawing at his empty stomach three days after eating his last meal, pasta. Tamacas, 20, sat in a corner in the hallway outside Pelosi’s office, saying he felt dizzy each time he stood and pointed at his right rib cage to where he felt pain.
“I’ll be fine,” he said. “It’s nothing compared to people who will starve in the future. They won’t have a choice.”
Leas said young people are laying down a gauntlet to leaders like Pelosi. “We as a generation can determine whether humans will continue to exist.”
But Brana, Leas and Tamacas felt they had too much to lose and everything to gain.
Since Monday, Brana had lost nine pounds and so had Leas. Tamacas had lost four.
“I feel weak throughout my whole body. Every physical exertion feels taxing at this point,” Brana said. “The world needs action now and that’s not what we’re getting from [Pelosi].”
Juliet Eilperin and Clarence Williams contributed to this report.