Activists affiliated with Greenpeace climbed atop a 270-foot construction crane in downtown Washington on Wednesday and unfurled a large orange and black banner with a message positioned for the newest occupant of the White House but meant for those opposed to its agenda: “Resist.”
D.C. police waited out the seven protesters, shutting down traffic at a major intersection through the morning commute and into the evening and suspending work on new offices for Fannie Mae at 15th and L streets NW.
The action is one of several protests in the District since just before the presidential inauguration, and more are planned in the coming weeks.
By Wednesday evening, the protesters, all expert climbers, according to Greenpeace, and dressed with helmets and safety harnesses, had rolled up the 35-foot-by-75-foot banner but had not begun to descend a steep stairway to the ground, where police were waiting to arrest them.
At about 10 p.m., the seven activists came off the crane — about 18 hours after they started their climb — and were taken into custody. They were charged with second-degree burglary, unlawful entry, and destruction of property.
Five protesters spent the day on the arm, or jib, of the crane, while two chained themselves to the tower, blocking potential arrest efforts by police and preventing the crane operator from reaching the controls. They started their ascent about 4 a.m. and by 9 a.m. had unfurled the banner, using safety ropes to descend from the arm.
Greenpeace, an international environmental group, said the organization was protesting the Trump administration and the president’s decision to push forward with the Keystone XL and Dakota Access oil pipelines.
On Wednesday, dozens of onlookers gathered, clutching coffee cups and peering upward at the site, the location of the former Washington Post headquarters. Greenpeace said it chose the location because the hanging banner could be seen a half-mile away at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.
Firefighters from Rescue 1, the department’s elite rescue team, were on standby if needed, but police preferred to let the protest proceed. Police Capt. Robert Glover of the special operations team said investigators had the ability to talk with at least one of the demonstrators and were in contact with Greenpeace.
“Safety is our primary concern,” Glover said early into the demonstration. “Time is on our side.”
D.C. police did not discuss possible charges, saying that would be left up to the U.S. attorney’s office.
One of the protesters, Pearl Robinson, 26, of Oakland, Calif., identified herself as an expert climber and said in a phone interview from atop the crane, “We’re here to resist the normalization of this [Trump] administration.”
Robinson, a national organizer for the Rainforest Action Network, noted that live-streams of the protest were trending on social media, which she called a success. She said some of President Trump’s recent executive orders were “a slap in the face” to U.S. residents.
Cassady Sharp, a spokeswoman for Greenpeace, a group known for activism that sometimes involves confronting authorities and corporations, said the organization wanted “to send a message to the people who are feeling discouraged after just a few days of Trump’s administration.” She said protesters were from around the country, including New York, San Francisco and the Washington area.
Lee DeLong, a senior vice president for Bethesda-based Clark Construction, the lead contractor for the Fannie Mae building project, said workers discovered the protesters about 6 a.m. and called police. He said the group broke into the secured site by breaking a lock, adding that getting into the crane and up onto the arm requires knowledge of how a crane works.
“These aren’t amateurs,” DeLong said.
He said he supports the decision by police to not send officers and firefighters up the crane to pull the protesters off, calling that a dangerous maneuver.
“Our primary concern is safety,” DeLong said. “I think the police and EMS response has been appropriate.”
DeLong said some workers were able to reach part of the construction site’s perimeter, but most work was halted for the day. He said the crane will need to be reinspected before it can be put back into use. He would not say how much money the company is losing but said, “It is a significant impact.”
Erica White, 39, who lives around the block from the site, said she was out walking when she saw the banner. “It’s got to be crippling for people to not be able to come down L Street. It definitely sends a message, for sure.” She backed the message: “People are going to hold his feet to the fire. They’re not going to back down.”
Dawn Reed, 35, who works in information technology in Arlington, said: “I wish Trump would take notice of it. But I don’t think he’s going to care.” She also said she supported Greenpeace. “I just had a baby, and I want her to grow up in a world that’s not polluted.”
Steve VanAusdall, 50, who works at a nearby construction site, was trying to exit a parking garage to go home but was blocked in by police vehicles. He said the garage was also hurt financially because it could not let in additional vehicles.
“I’m all for freedom of speech and protesting peacefully and lawfully, but these guys could be here for two days,” VanAusdall said Wednesday morning. “It’s going to be a long waiting game, I’m afraid.”
VanAusdall said that he was trying to get to another job in North Carolina on Thursday and that the delay was costing him. “This is hurting people financially,” he said.
Wednesday’s protest comes after Trump’s inauguration last week, when demonstrators were present in large numbers throughout the city, particularly near Franklin Square, where windows of businesses were smashed and a limousine was set on fire.
More than 230 people were arrested Friday. Many were charged with felony rioting.
Dana Hedgpeth contributed to this report.