Dozens arrested as climate protesters disrupt DC traffic

Protesters with Extinction Rebellion stage a sit-in beneath their sailboat blockade at the intersection of K and 16th streets in Washington, D.C. on Sept. 23, 2019. Environmental activists pressured lawmakers to declare a climate change emergency by paralyzing morning traffic in the nation’s capital. (WTOP/Alejandro Alvarez)

D.C. police arrested at least 26 climate protesters who used a sailboat, vans, cars, ladders and sit-ins Monday morning to block key intersections for hours around the District. U.S. Capitol police arrested six at Washington and Independence avenues for “unlawful demonstration activities.”

Most road closures were cleared by police shortly after 11 a.m., when the protests began to wind down.

Earlier, at 12th and Independence Avenue, protesters used a large pink-and-yellow sailboat to close the road during the morning rush hour.

There was no official count of protesters, but organizers claimed in an email “as many as” 2,000 protesters took part and disrupted a total of 22 intersections across the city.

Authorities began cutting the metal the protesters had used to bind themselves to the sailboat around 8:30 a.m. They covered protesters in blankets and put headphones on them for protection. The protesters were freed by 10 a.m., and the boat was towed away after.

The protests sparked a significant police presence.

D.C. police Chief Peter Newsham said protesters who closed New York Avenue were given warnings before they were arrested.

“The arrests at 3rd and New York — as you know, that’s a major artery into the city. It was inconveniencing thousands of people,” Newsham said on WTOP.

shutdown dc
A protester holds a sign during the Shutdown D.C. rally on Monday, Sept. 23, 2019. (WTOP/Melissa Howell)
shutdown dc
A protester holds a sign on the facts and myths of climate change during the Shutdown D.C. protest on Monday, Sept. 23, 2019. (WTOP/Melissa Howell)
shutdown dc
Protesters demand action on climate change during Shutdown D.C. on Monday, Sept. 23, 2019. (WTOP/Melissa Howell)
shutdown dc
Protesters write on the pavement between 12th Street and Independence Avenue SW in D.C. on Monday, Sept. 23, 2019. (WTOP/Melissa Howell)
c
Protesters write on the pavement between 12th Street and Independence Avenue SW in D.C. on Monday, Sept. 23, 2019. (WTOP/Melissa Howell)
Climate activists participate in a 'Shut Down DC' protest to urge action on the climate crisis, on Independence Avenue near Capitol Hill in Washington, Monday, Sept. 23, 2019. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
Climate activists participate in a ‘Shut Down DC’ protest to urge action on the climate crisis, on Independence Avenue near Capitol Hill in Washington, Monday, Sept. 23, 2019. (AP/J. Scott Applewhite)
Protesters with Extinction Rebellion stage a sit-in beneath their sailboat blockade at the intersection of K and 16th streets in Washington, D.C. on Sept. 23, 2019. Environmental activists pressured lawmakers to declare a climate change emergency by paralyzing morning traffic in the nation's capital. (WTOP/Alejandro Alvarez)
Protesters with Extinction Rebellion stage a sit-in beneath their sailboat blockade at the intersection of K and 16th streets in Washington, D.C. on Sept. 23, 2019. Environmental activists pressured lawmakers to declare a climate change emergency by paralyzing morning traffic in the nation’s capital. (WTOP/Alejandro Alvarez)
A protester with Extinction Rebellion wears a snorkel near a sailboat blocking the intersection of K and 16th streets in Washington, D.C. on Sept. 23, 2019. Environmental activists pressured lawmakers to declare a climate change emergency by paralyzing morning traffic in the nation's capital. (WTOP/Alejandro Alvarez)
A protester with Extinction Rebellion wears a snorkel near a sailboat blocking the intersection of K and 16th streets in Washington, D.C. on Sept. 23, 2019. Environmental activists pressured lawmakers to declare a climate change emergency by paralyzing morning traffic in the nation’s capital. (WTOP/Alejandro Alvarez)
Protesters with Extinction Rebellion use a sailboat to block the intersection of K and 16th streets in downtown Washington, D.C. on Sept. 23, 2019. Environmental activists pressured lawmakers to declare a climate change emergency by paralyzing morning traffic in the nation's capital. (WTOP/Alejandro Alvarez)
Protesters with Extinction Rebellion use a sailboat to block the intersection of K and 16th streets in downtown Washington, D.C. on Sept. 23, 2019. Environmental activists pressured lawmakers to declare a climate change emergency by paralyzing morning traffic in the nation’s capital. (WTOP/Alejandro Alvarez)
Environmental activists pressure lawmakers to declare a climate change emergency by paralyzing morning traffic in the nation's capital on Sept. 23, 2019. (WTOP/Alejandro Alvarez)
Environmental activists pressure lawmakers to declare a climate change emergency by paralyzing morning traffic in the nation’s capital on Sept. 23, 2019. (WTOP/Alejandro Alvarez)
A member of Extinction rebellion hoists the group's hourglass emblem on a sailboat blocking the intersection of K and 16th streets in downtown D.C. on Sept. 23, 2019. Environmental activists pressured lawmakers to declare a climate change emergency by paralyzing morning traffic in the nation's capital. (WTOP/Alejandro Alvarez)
A member of Extinction rebellion hoists the group’s hourglass emblem on a sailboat blocking the intersection of K and 16th streets in downtown D.C. on Sept. 23, 2019. Environmental activists pressured lawmakers to declare a climate change emergency by paralyzing morning traffic in the nation’s capital. (WTOP/Alejandro Alvarez)
A protester explains justifies her blocking of traffic to commuters impacted by an Extinction Rebellion action in downtown D.C. on Sept. 23, 2019. Environmental activists pressured lawmakers to declare a climate change emergency by paralyzing morning traffic in the nation's capital. (WTOP/Alejandro Alvarez)
A protester explains her blocking of traffic to commuters impacted by an Extinction Rebellion action in downtown D.C. on Sept. 23, 2019. Environmental activists pressured lawmakers to declare a climate change emergency by paralyzing morning traffic in the nation’s capital. (WTOP/Alejandro Alvarez)
Environmental activists pressured lawmakers to declare a climate change emergency by paralyzing morning traffic in the nation's capital. (WTOP/Alejandro Alvarez)
Environmental activists pressured lawmakers to declare a climate change emergency by paralyzing morning traffic in the nation’s capital. (WTOP/Alejandro Alvarez)
Environmental activists pressured lawmakers to declare a climate change emergency by paralyzing morning traffic in the nation's capital. (WTOP/Alejandro Alvarez)
Environmental activists pressured lawmakers to declare a climate change emergency by paralyzing morning traffic in the nation’s capital. (WTOP/Alejandro Alvarez)
Using metal chain links and tubes, Extinction Rebellion protesters bound themselves to their sailboat to prolong their occupation of a K Street intersection. (WTOP/Alejandro Alvarez)
Using metal chain links and tubes, Extinction Rebellion protesters bound themselves to their sailboat to prolong their occupation of a K Street intersection. (WTOP/Alejandro Alvarez)
While D.C. police pushed onlookers back from the sailboat as they worked to extract bound protesters, about 100 people remained to cheer on their colleagues as police wheeled in a generator and electric saw. (WTOP/Alejandro Alvarez)
While D.C. police pushed onlookers back from the sailboat as they worked to extract bound protesters, about 100 people remained to cheer on their colleagues as police wheeled in a generator and electric saw. (WTOP/Alejandro Alvarez)
In order to protect Extinction Rebellion protesters from sparks during their removal, D.C. police provided them with flame-resistant blankets and ear protection. (WTOP/Alejandro Alvarez)
In order to protect Extinction Rebellion protesters from sparks during their removal, D.C. police provided them with flame-resistant blankets and ear protection. (WTOP/Alejandro Alvarez)
For the better part of an hour, sparks flew on K Street as D.C. police used a buzzsaw to extract protesters from the hull of the sailboat they'd attached themselves to. (WTOP/Alejandro Alvarez)
For the better part of an hour, sparks flew on K Street as D.C. police used a buzzsaw to extract protesters from the hull of the sailboat they’d attached themselves to. (WTOP/Alejandro Alvarez)
A group of Extinction Rebellion protesters hold the intersection of Massachusetts Avenue and 18th streets near Dupont Circle, chaining themselves to ladders. (WTOP/Alejandro Alvarez)
A group of Extinction Rebellion protesters hold the intersection of Massachusetts Avenue and 18th streets near Dupont Circle, chaining themselves to ladders. (WTOP/Alejandro Alvarez)
A group of Extinction Rebellion protesters hold the intersection of Massachusetts Avenue and 18th streets near Dupont Circle, chaining themselves to ladders. (WTOP/Alejandro Alvarez)
A group of Extinction Rebellion protesters hold the intersection of Massachusetts Avenue and 18th streets near Dupont Circle, chaining themselves to ladders. (WTOP/Alejandro Alvarez)
Climate activists participate in a 'Shut Down DC' protest to urge action on the climate crisis, on Independence Avenue near Capitol Hill in Washington, Monday, Sept. 23, 2019. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
Climate activists participate in a ‘Shut Down DC’ protest to urge action on the climate crisis, on Independence Avenue near Capitol Hill in Washington, Monday, Sept. 23, 2019. (AP/J. Scott Applewhite)
Climate activists participate in a 'Shut Down DC' protest to urge action on the climate crisis, on Independence Avenue near Capitol Hill in Washington, Monday, Sept. 23, 2019. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
Climate activists participate in a ‘Shut Down DC’ protest to urge action on the climate crisis, on Independence Avenue near Capitol Hill in Washington, Monday, Sept. 23, 2019. (AP/J. Scott Applewhite)
WASHINGTON, DC - SEPTEMBER 23: A climate change protester blocks traffic during a protest to shut down D.C. on September 23, 2019 in Washington, DC. The protesters are urging climate action and want the reallocation of the budget away from the military to fund a Green New Deal.  (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC – SEPTEMBER 23: A climate change protester blocks traffic during a protest to shut down D.C. on September 23, 2019 in Washington, DC. The protesters are urging climate action and want the reallocation of the budget away from the military to fund a Green New Deal. (Getty Images/Mark Wilson)
WASHINGTON, DC - SEPTEMBER 23: Climate change protesters block traffic during a protest to shut down D.C. on September 23, 2019 in Washington, DC. The protesters are for urging climate action and want the reallocation of the budget away from the military to fund a Green New Deal.  (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC – SEPTEMBER 23: Climate change protesters block traffic during a protest to shut down D.C. on September 23, 2019 in Washington, DC. The protesters are for urging climate action and want the reallocation of the budget away from the military to fund a Green New Deal. (Getty Images/Mark Wilson)
Protesters block traffic near the U.S. Capitol in Washington, Monday, Sept. 23, 2019. A broad coalition of climate and social justice organizations are disrupting the morning rush hour commute. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)
Protesters block traffic near the U.S. Capitol in Washington, Monday, Sept. 23, 2019. A broad coalition of climate and social justice organizations are disrupting the morning rush hour commute. (AP/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)
(1/27)
shutdown dc
shutdown dc
shutdown dc
shutdown dc
c
Climate activists participate in a 'Shut Down DC' protest to urge action on the climate crisis, on Independence Avenue near Capitol Hill in Washington, Monday, Sept. 23, 2019. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
Protesters with Extinction Rebellion stage a sit-in beneath their sailboat blockade at the intersection of K and 16th streets in Washington, D.C. on Sept. 23, 2019. Environmental activists pressured lawmakers to declare a climate change emergency by paralyzing morning traffic in the nation's capital. (WTOP/Alejandro Alvarez)
A protester with Extinction Rebellion wears a snorkel near a sailboat blocking the intersection of K and 16th streets in Washington, D.C. on Sept. 23, 2019. Environmental activists pressured lawmakers to declare a climate change emergency by paralyzing morning traffic in the nation's capital. (WTOP/Alejandro Alvarez)
Protesters with Extinction Rebellion use a sailboat to block the intersection of K and 16th streets in downtown Washington, D.C. on Sept. 23, 2019. Environmental activists pressured lawmakers to declare a climate change emergency by paralyzing morning traffic in the nation's capital. (WTOP/Alejandro Alvarez)
Environmental activists pressure lawmakers to declare a climate change emergency by paralyzing morning traffic in the nation's capital on Sept. 23, 2019. (WTOP/Alejandro Alvarez)
A member of Extinction rebellion hoists the group's hourglass emblem on a sailboat blocking the intersection of K and 16th streets in downtown D.C. on Sept. 23, 2019. Environmental activists pressured lawmakers to declare a climate change emergency by paralyzing morning traffic in the nation's capital. (WTOP/Alejandro Alvarez)
A protester explains justifies her blocking of traffic to commuters impacted by an Extinction Rebellion action in downtown D.C. on Sept. 23, 2019. Environmental activists pressured lawmakers to declare a climate change emergency by paralyzing morning traffic in the nation's capital. (WTOP/Alejandro Alvarez)
Environmental activists pressured lawmakers to declare a climate change emergency by paralyzing morning traffic in the nation's capital. (WTOP/Alejandro Alvarez)
Environmental activists pressured lawmakers to declare a climate change emergency by paralyzing morning traffic in the nation's capital. (WTOP/Alejandro Alvarez)
Using metal chain links and tubes, Extinction Rebellion protesters bound themselves to their sailboat to prolong their occupation of a K Street intersection. (WTOP/Alejandro Alvarez)
While D.C. police pushed onlookers back from the sailboat as they worked to extract bound protesters, about 100 people remained to cheer on their colleagues as police wheeled in a generator and electric saw. (WTOP/Alejandro Alvarez)
In order to protect Extinction Rebellion protesters from sparks during their removal, D.C. police provided them with flame-resistant blankets and ear protection. (WTOP/Alejandro Alvarez)
For the better part of an hour, sparks flew on K Street as D.C. police used a buzzsaw to extract protesters from the hull of the sailboat they'd attached themselves to. (WTOP/Alejandro Alvarez)
A group of Extinction Rebellion protesters hold the intersection of Massachusetts Avenue and 18th streets near Dupont Circle, chaining themselves to ladders. (WTOP/Alejandro Alvarez)
A group of Extinction Rebellion protesters hold the intersection of Massachusetts Avenue and 18th streets near Dupont Circle, chaining themselves to ladders. (WTOP/Alejandro Alvarez)
Climate activists participate in a 'Shut Down DC' protest to urge action on the climate crisis, on Independence Avenue near Capitol Hill in Washington, Monday, Sept. 23, 2019. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
Climate activists participate in a 'Shut Down DC' protest to urge action on the climate crisis, on Independence Avenue near Capitol Hill in Washington, Monday, Sept. 23, 2019. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
WASHINGTON, DC - SEPTEMBER 23: A climate change protester blocks traffic during a protest to shut down D.C. on September 23, 2019 in Washington, DC. The protesters are urging climate action and want the reallocation of the budget away from the military to fund a Green New Deal.  (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - SEPTEMBER 23: Climate change protesters block traffic during a protest to shut down D.C. on September 23, 2019 in Washington, DC. The protesters are for urging climate action and want the reallocation of the budget away from the military to fund a Green New Deal.  (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
Protesters block traffic near the U.S. Capitol in Washington, Monday, Sept. 23, 2019. A broad coalition of climate and social justice organizations are disrupting the morning rush hour commute. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

Newsham said those arrested by D.C. police will be charged with blocking an intersection and, so far, that’s as serious as the charges get.

Protesters arrested at the Black Lives Matter/Health care blockade and the students arrested with the college student block were released around 12:30 p.m.

There are no reports of injuries, and protesters didn’t cause any significant damage.

Most drivers in the area saw some kind of delay, however.

“If you’re coming in anywhere near the National Mall, you’re going to be impacted by this,” NBC Washington’s Adam Tuss told WTOP in the morning hours.

Drivers heading into D.C. from Virginia were hit the hardest.

Shut Down D.C. aimed to block “key infrastructure to stop business-as-usual, bringing the whole city to a gridlocked standstill,” organizers said on its website. That included over a dozen intersections in the District “where corporate and government power holders who are blocking serious action on climate are located,” they said.

A news release from the Coalition to Shut Down D.C. listed meeting spots for different groups organizing the protest in all four quadrants of D.C. Protesters started gathering just before 7 a.m. at four key locations: in Northwest at Farragut Square; at Columbus Circle in Southwest; at Hancock Park/L’Enfant Metro station; and at Folger Park.

Protesters on top of a van that police towed at 14th and C Street SW. (Courtesy Periscope/Unicorn Riot)

Community Advisory Commissioner Anthony Lorenzo Green told WTOP’s Melissa Howell that he felt it was important for someone east of the river to come to the protest.

“I live in far Northeast; that’s where I grew up … near the Pepco Plant, which was decommissioned in 2012,” he said. “We were always told by our grandparents that, ‘The reason you have asthma is because of where we live.'”

He added that one of the reasons communities like his have certain health conditions is due to the prevalence of lead in the housing there.

Black Lives Matter lead organizer Makia Green echoed those sentiments and emphasized action.

“The theme of today is, how would you act if your house was on fire?” she said. “Would you sit here and start talking and arguing about tactics, or would you start moving?”

“This is an actual emergency right now, and if we don’t start investing in health today, we are not going to be in any place to combat climate disaster in the future.”

A protester locks his arms around the window frames of a car at 14th and C streets SW. (Courtesy Periscope/Unicorn Riot)

“We’re here to disrupt business as usual,” Russell Gray, with the activist group Extinction Rebellion, told The Associated Press. “We feel that’s our only recourse.”

He said his group was OK with upsetting people “as long as they’re thinking about climate change.”

George Davidson was one of the protesters cut free from the boat used to block an intersection near the National Mall. He received a cheer and a series of high-fives from his fellow protesters.

“I’m glad to be doing this,” said Davidson, who just graduated from the University of Michigan with a degree in environmental policy. “If I have kids, I want to be able to look them in the eye and tell them I did everything I could.”

WTOP’s Teta Alim, Melissa Howell and Alejandro Alvarez contributed to this report. The Associated Press also contributed to this report. 

Like WTOP on Facebook and follow @WTOP on Twitter to engage in conversation about this article and others.

© 2019 WTOP. All Rights Reserved. This website is not intended for users located within the European Economic Area.

More from WTOP

Log in to your WTOP account for notifications and alerts customized for you.

Sign up