It was the latest demonstration led by a coalition of activists that have in recent weeks deployed increasingly confrontational tactics against government agencies, financial institutions and corporations.
Last month, the group held a hunger strike in the office of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.). In September, the coalition, known as Shut Down DC, set up blockades at 15 downtown intersections and chained themselves to the hull of a boat that was blocks from the White House, culminating in 32 arrests.
Despite hours of disruptions and tense moments between protesters and D.C. police, officials said no arrests were made Friday.
Demonstrators began their day about 7:30 a.m. at George Washington University before marching to the World Bank headquarters along Pennsylvania Avenue NW — blocking major roads on and off for several hours — and then joining actress Jane Fonda’s recurring Friday protest to draw attention to private investment firms that finance the fossil fuel industry.
Police tried to keep protesters and traffic moving, with activists stopping occasionally to pull banners across several lanes of traffic. Several drivers gave up and made U-turns to avoid the road closures. Others leaned on their horns or shouted out their windows at protesters.
“What do we want?” activists chanted.
“When do we want it?”
“If we don’t get it?”
“You make us late for work, that’s what you do,” shouted a passerby, who said the disruption caused her bus to stop and let people off several stops from her destination.
This group stopped again at 21st and K St, where are some demonstrators sat down to block all lanes of traffic. Police, trying to open a path for cars to pass, tried to pick them up and move them out of the intersection, physically. #ClimateStrike #DC #ClimateAction pic.twitter.com/Ba48k8ug0b— Marissa J. Lang (@Marissa_Jae) December 6, 2019
Commuters, who have sat through several rush-hour protests recently, seemed to have lost patience with the demonstrations.
A woman in a black SUV idling on the corner of L and 21st streets NW rolled down her window as activists, blocking the street,declared: “We are Extinction Rebellion. . . . We are ordinary people. We are scared. We care about you and your children.”
“Enough already,” Courtney Walter, 35, shouted from her car. “Move!”
Walter, a tech firm recruiter who said it typically takes 20 minutes to drive to work from Arlington, said the rally doubled her commute time.
“The thing is, I agree with them. We should do more about climate change,” Walter said. “But this is just not considerate. It’s making people more angry and frustrated than anything.”
As police attempted to move one group out of the center of K Street NW, a man walking past tapped an officer on the shoulder.
“Throw them in jail,” he said.
Protesters took the frustration in stride, chanting in response, “We’re doing this for you! It’s your planet, too.”
Nick Brana, a spokesman for the climate activists’ coalition, said protesters decided to target the World Bank to demand that it “fully divest from fossil fuels immediately.”
A World Bank spokesperson said the organization already has made strides toward a more eco-conscious future by funding renewable energy projects in low- and middle-income countries and committing $17.8 billion to climate-related investments.
The World Bank has not financed a new coal-fired power plant since 2010, the organization said.
The number of demonstrators ebbed and flowed throughout the day, with hundreds filling the street at the rally’s most boisterous point when it departed Franklin Square.
Police at 19th and K St. have ushered demonstrators out of the intersection. “Sidewalk!” the officers commanded. “Is this a warning,” protesters asked. No one was arrested. They begrudgingly have regathered on 19th and out of the middle of K St. #ClimateStrike #DC pic.twitter.com/NSHxlDKzLh— Marissa J. Lang (@Marissa_Jae) December 6, 2019
Participants carried signs adorned with fake fire department seals and flames. Some dressed as polar bears. They chanted about polluted rivers and smoggy air and fires in the Amazon rainforest.
One demonstrator, Michael Russell, 28, wore a green gas mask and a bright red Santa suit, with a gray bag marked “coal” slung over his left shoulder. He was joined by a handful of self-described elves, whose faces were painted like skeletons.
“See, Santa was able to secure a gas mask and survive the apocalypse,” explained Allison Guy, 34. “But we’re just elves. So we had to suffer.”
Natalie Boland, 25, said the group thought that, given the season, it would be particularly poignant to see Santa warning against the most dire consequences of pollution and a perceived lack of action on climate change.
“Around the holidays, we all get consumed with buying gifts and going to parties and eating a lot of food,” Boland said. “And we forget that humanity is driving itself off a cliff right now.”
Friday’s demonstration was timed to coincide with the international student-led Youth Climate Strike, during which students skip school to call for action on climate change.
Fonda, who wore her signature red coat to the weekly Fire Drill Friday event at which she has become a fixture, led the group to investment firm BlackRock’s Washington offices.
As she stood on the building’s doorstep, Fonda, 81, raised a fist into the air. Around her, the crowd began to chant: “Can you hear us?”
“I want to thank the young people,” Fonda said into a megaphone outside the building. “They have shown us that this has to become the new normal. . . . Don’t stop, and we won’t stop either.”
Friday marked Fonda’s ninth consecutive week protesting in the District.
Although in October she committed to being arrested at the rally every week for four months, Fonda stopped risking arrest in November after spending a night in the District’s jail.
BlackRock said in a statement that the firm “believes that climate risk is an important investment risk for our clients, which is why we have conducted groundbreaking research to help them navigate these issues.”
Commuters seem way less patient this time. At past rallies, some yelled, “thank you!” or shrugged off the traffic. Today, as police moved protesters out of K St., one man yelled, “throw them in jail!”— Marissa J. Lang (@Marissa_Jae) December 6, 2019
Demonstrators are chanting, “We’re doing this for you! It’s your planet, too.” pic.twitter.com/UWLggJLTbB
Actresses Kyra Sedgwick, Maura Tierney and Taylor Schilling joined Fonda and several faith leaders at the demonstration.
“As this movement is shouting so beautifully, our house is on fire and we are all being impacted,” Schilling said.
Faith leaders described climate change as a moral failing that would hit some of the Earth’s most vulnerable people and countries the hardest.
Climate change protesters take to the District's streets
The Rev. Noel Andersen of Church World Service said protests and arrests are necessary to get the attention of financial institutions who care about their reputation — and their bottom line.
The demonstration’s last stop Friday was a Wells Fargo branch at 13th and I streets NW, where seven protesters sat, their hands chained together, creating a human blockade.
D.C. police officers surrounded the group as demonstrators cheered. Fonda, who tipped a megaphone over yellow police tape, commended the demonstrators for their willingness to be arrested.
“I want to thank you for your bravery,” she said.
The remainder of the protesters who spilled into the street, carrying large inflatable globes and banners that stretched for yards, chanted, “Wells Fargo, hey you! We deserve a future, too!”
From the windows of the building above, workers pressed their phones to the glass, taking photos of the chaos in the streets below.