The D.C. protests coincide with climate change rallies around the world in recent days pegged to the United Nations climate summit in New York. Last Friday, millions of people in 150 countries protested, asking policymakers to do something to slow the planet’s warming.
Holding a sign that said “Planet Before Profit,” 34-year-old Will Flagle, who said he works at a nonprofit focused on economic democracy, said protesters were gathered Friday to combat “what is now a global crisis.”
“We feel we have no choice but to take nonviolent action,” he said as he marched near McPherson Square. “We’re out here to provide an on-ramp for people to join us.”
During Monday’s protest, 32 people were arrested after a coalition of groups calling itself Shut Down DC urged “climate rebels” to bring “the whole city to a gridlocked standstill.” Police said 15 locations were blocked at different times, including 16th and K streets NW, where protesters chained themselves to a boat three blocks from the White House.
But on Friday, protesters mainly followed a predetermined route that roughly included streets in an area between 15th and 12th streets NW, and K Street and Constitution Avenue NW. A D.C. police spokesman said in an email there were “no arrests, issues or disruptions.”
Randy Katz was in the passenger seat of a Lyft ride-share car near 14th and I streets NW that made a U-turn to avoid the march. He said he was late for a meeting with his congressman, but seeing little alternative, appeared ready to let the legislator wait — and to wait himself.
“I like what they’re saying,” he said of protesters. “Sidewalks are better.”
Kaela Bamberger, a spokeswoman for the coalition, said Friday’s protest targeted four sites in downtown Washington: the Trump International Hotel, the Environmental Protection Agency, investment firm BlackRock and Wells Fargo Bank.
She said the hotel and the EPA were chosen because of the Trump administration’s “rampant climate skepticism,” and the financial institutions because of their investments in fossil fuels.
Protesters chanted “Shut it down!” outside a Wells Fargo branch at 14th Street and New York Avenue NW about 90 minutes before it opened. The bank’s windows were darkened, its front door locked shut. Inside, a man plugged his ears as he extracted cash from an ATM.
The roving protest wasn’t “about occupying space” as Monday’s had been, said climate activist Stacey Reimann, 24, who participated in both days of protest.
“Today is more of a way to call attention to the parts of our system that are hurting the Earth — banks that invest in fossil fuels, how the EPA has moved too far away from its moral values,” Reimann said, holding a green banner emblazoned with the words “extinction rebellion.”
Nearby, 59-year-old Lynn Parsons of Bethesda held a sign covered in balloons “filled with carbon dioxide” surrounding a hand-drawn planet Earth.
She said Monday’s protest, at which she helped block cars and buses in the middle of streets, was “one of the most powerful experiences of my life.”
“I don’t want to ruin anybody’s morning,” she said. “But if we block a little traffic, that could actually be a good thing. It could teach people that we have the technology now to telecommute, that could be a better way to work — for the planet.”
Outside another closed Wells Fargo location at 13th and I streets NW, protesters rushed the front door, knocking on windows and jeering. Police on bicycles moved in, pushing demonstrators out of the way, but the standoff was brief.
Outside the EPA headquarters on Constitution Avenue NW, Elijah Nichols, a 19-year-old George Mason University student from Muskegon, Mich., led the crowd in a chant of “Shut down Trump — not the EPA!”
Nearby, protester Travis Fried passed out fruit and bagels to passersby. A Metro worker in a yellow vest took a banana. A pair of office workers opted for bagels.
Fried said he’s part of a vegan subgroup of the D.C. chapter of Extinction Rebellion, also known as XRDC. Its mission, Fried said, is to focus on food and the food industry’s impact on climate change.
Commuters and pedestrians whipped out their phones to take photos and video as protesters roved through downtown.
Jazz Bailey, 24, was a block from her job when the protest shut down 13th and G streets NW. As she idled in her Prius, a protester handed her a pamphlet.
“Honestly, I think what they’re doing is great,” Bailey said, shrugging off the delay. “If we can get some real change to happen, I’m all for it.”
Stuck in traffic on K Street, Uber driver Marc Eijgelsheim smoked a hand-rolled cigarette, flicking ash out the window of his hybrid vehicle with Texas plates. He had just moved from the Lone Star State to the D.C. region, following his spouse for her job.
He normally doesn’t drive in the District, he said, but he had the bad luck of having a drop-off in the city Friday morning. His GPS said his trip back to the suburbs would take 20 minutes, but he estimated it would take much longer.
Eijgelsheim said he found the protests “ironic.” He doesn’t doubt the existence of climate change and didn’t want to contribute to it — he was driving a car that, after all, used electricity. But he said he wondered whether humans were driving the rise in Earth’s temperatures, since climate goes on “cycles.”
“They’re causing more pollution from us sitting here,” he said about the delays. “I get it, though. Everybody needs an issue.”
In a statement, AAA Mid-Atlantic criticized protesters’ tactics, saying D.C.-area commuters already face traffic hurdles during a normal morning rush. The statement said additional gridlock has the effect of increasing greenhouse gas emissions, and it urged protesters to target the White House or the Capitol.
While many demonstrators were opposed to the Trump administration’s climate policies, one donned a red “Make America Great Again” hat.
Michael Pion, 29, wore the cap as he danced on the asphalt in a crowd of protesters from LGBTQ group Werk for Peace. He wore the hat, he said, to make a point.
“We have to get along in spite of our differences and find some way to make things better,” Pion said, adding that he’s supporting Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) in the 2020 presidential race. “Climate change is a huge problem.”