On Tuesday evening, members of the Washington, D.C., chapter of Extinction Rebellion superglued themselves to each other and to the passages connecting the Capitol to the Rayburn and Cannon office buildings, where House members have their offices. The protesters, who are part of an international group that uses nonviolent civil disobedience tactics to advocate for action on climate change, aimed to confront House members on their way to floor votes.
Many of the protesters, who did not expect the protest to last longer than 15 minutes, remained glued for more than two hours, alongside dozens of demonstrators who rallied as a distraction. They wore signs over their shirts that said “Declare Climate Emergency” and chanted: “What do we want? Green New Deal! When do we want it? Now!” Capitol police asked bystanders and reporters to move back and, after three warnings, kicked everyone out — except, of course, those who were glued. They arrested 13 activists, according to Extinction Rebellion, around 8:30 p.m.
Members of Congress, for the most part, ignored the protesters. Rep. Jim Banks, R-Ind., former vice chair of the House Subcommittee on Environment, mocked the group on Twitter, posting a video of himself appearing to duck under a protester’s arm to get through with the note, “…Supergluing yourself to a door is a very dumb way to protest.”
The climate activism group, which was formally launched in the United Kingdom last October and has iterations in 45 countries, uses disruptive acts of civil disobedience to call on lawmakers around the world to treat the climate crisis with the urgency it deserves. They’ve blocked traffic, stood on trains, staged “die-ins,” climbed buildings, and gotten half-naked. Because the group has no single leader, there’s no good estimate of how big the movement is in the United States, but the demonstrations it’s held in New York City have attracted hundreds.
Extinction Rebellion U.S. has four demands, which include the reduction of carbon emissions to net zero by 2025 and the creation of a citizens’ assembly to oversee the “bold, swift and long-term changes necessary” to tackle the crisis. On Tuesday, protesters were specifically calling for the immediate passage of the joint resolution for the U.S. to declare the climate crisis an official emergency.
“We are about to make history in this fucking building. I’m sick and tired of waiting around.”
Russell Grey, co-founder of the Extinction Rebellion U.S. chapter, gave the demonstrators a pep talk before marching over to the Cannon House Office Building. “We are about to make history in this fucking building,” he said. “I’m sick and tired of waiting around.”
Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., recently introduced the nonbinding resolution in the Senate, alongside Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., and Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore., who introduced a version in the House.
“The global warming caused by human activities,” the resolution reads, in part, “demands a national, social, industrial, and economic mobilization of the resources and labor of the United States at a massive scale to halt, reverse, mitigate, and prepare for the consequences of the climate emergency and to restore the climate for future generations.”
Dominic Serino, one of the protesters risking arrest, said that considering the “extreme urgency” of the climate crisis, passing a nonbinding resolution “just acknowledging it exists is the smallest possible demand we could be making to Congress.”
“If members of Congress are serious about listening to their constituents, then yes, they will change their messaging.”
If the resolution passes, the U.S. would join 16 countries and hundreds of local governments — including New York City — that have already declared a climate emergency. The New York City Council voted overwhelmingly to declare the emergency last month; though the vote was mostly symbolic, the gesture marked a victory for militant climate activists.
“I think this will show members of Congress who aren’t taking climate change seriously that the American people understand the risk and are taking it seriously,” Serino, who traveled from Baltimore, said. “And if members of Congress are serious about listening to their constituents, then yes, they will change their messaging.”
Given the Republican control of the Senate, Congress likely won’t pass ambitious climate legislation anytime soon. But there are groups in Congress working to push the issue. Earlier this year, 10 Democrats in the Senate formed a Special Committee on the Climate Crisis to investigate “how climate change is affecting the country and the planet.” The committee, chaired by Sen. Brian Schatz of Hawaii, held its first public hearing earlier this month and has a second one scheduled for this Thursday. The House has also been convening a Special Committee on a regular basis.
The Sunrise Movement, a youth-led environmental group, pushed the concept of a Green New Deal into the political mainstream in the wake of the midterm elections, when newly elected Ocasio-Cortez joined Sunrise protesters’ sit-in at the office of Nancy Pelosi, then presumed to be the incoming House speaker. In less than a year, the Green New Deal went from being an obscure policy proposal to having more than 90 co-sponsors in the House and 12 in the Senate as a nonbinding resolution.
The Sunrise Movement has also been instrumental in pressuring presidential candidates to address the issue. Last month, about 100 young activists held a sit-in outside the Democratic National Committee headquarters in Washington, D.C., to demand the party reverse its decision not to hold a debate focused on climate change among the 2020 presidential candidates. Dozens of protesters camped out overnight and hosted a debate watch party outside of the building for both nights of the Democratic debates.
Last month, Extinction Rebellion also organized an action calling for the New York Times to improve its coverage of the climate crisis and use the term “climate emergency” instead. Activists stopped traffic in midtown Manhattan, and some even scaled the New York Times building to hang up banners, resulting in at least 70 arrests. In April, protesters in the U.K. staged a die-in at the Natural History Museum in London and stopped traffic near Waterloo Bridge in what organizers described as the biggest act of civil disobedience in recent British history. There were at least 1,000 arrests.
Nick Brana, a member of Extinction Rebellion, founder of the Movement for a People’s Party, and former Sanders national outreach director, said that the U.S. chapter has never done anything so audacious, and Tuesday’s action was the first of its kind. He added that Extinction Rebellion hopes to build up to shutting down entire cities by blocking key intersections like it did in the U.K.