Environmental groups, including Extinction Rebellion, said on Wednesday that they will shut down traffic in Washington, DC, on September 23 and bring daily life to a standstill to demand that political leaders tackle climate change. The announcement mirrors disruptive aspirations in London for later this week.
The roughly 15 United States groups planning the protest include traditional environmental groups like 350 DC and Friends of the Earth Action, as well as groups that focus on other issues, such as Black Lives Matter and Code Pink, a women-led group promoting peace and human rights.
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Kaela Bamberger, an activist aligned with Extinction Rebellion DC, said the coalition plans to ratchet up pressure on US policymakers by shutting down traffic at major intersections. She said rallies, marches and petitions have simply not worked.
“This is definitely a next-level action. The urgency of climate change warrants such an attempt to disrupt business as usual,” Bamberger said. The activists aim to “make it impossible for people with decision-making power to go about their daily lives as if we are not in the climate emergency”, she added.
Alaina Gertz, a spokeswoman for the DC Metropolitan Police Department, said it was aware of the planned environmental protests and that it is “equipped to handle any-sized First Amendment demonstration”.
The events are timed to draw attention to a global climate strike on September 20 and the United Nations climate summit in New York City on September 23.
Employees of large US companies are also participating in the strike. About 1,000 Amazon workers will walk out that day, Amazon Employees for Climate Justice have said.
Meanwhile, Heathrow Pause, a splinter group of Extinction Rebellion in the UK, plans to disrupt London’s Heathrow airport on Friday by flying drones within a restricted zone at no higher than head level and with one hour’s notice given to airport authorities.
The group plans to fly toy drones from 02:00 GMT on Friday within a five-kilometre area around the airport but outside flight paths.
The airport has said the plan is illegal and counterproductive but that it has plans to make sure it can continue to operate.
British police said they were confident an attempt by climate change activists to disrupt would not lead to a repeat of the chaos at Gatwick last December.
Drone sightings at Gatwick, Britain’s second-busiest airport, led to about 1,000 flight cancellations and disrupted the travel plans of 140,000 passengers in the run-up to Christmas.
“I’m very confident that we’ve taken the learning from Gatwick,” said London police Deputy Assistant Commissioner Laurence Taylor.
“The aviation industry and national policing have been working hard to look at measures to mitigate those issues we saw at Gatwick and I’m confident in the tactics that we’ve got in place that we won’t see a repeat of what happened,” he told reporters.
Taylor declined to discuss specific tactics but said the police had robust plans in place, which included the ability to detect and identify drones and also the use of counter-drones.
“If people come to the airport intent on committing criminal activity, they will be arrested,” he said.
“Endangering the life of passengers, flying drones without permission within the exclusion zone, attempting to disrupt the airport is very serious. We will enforce the law and we will use legislation available to us … to prevent that from happening.”
Thousands of supporters of the Extinction Rebellion climate activist group occupied four sites in London in April and stopped trains in one of the largest civil disobedience campaigns there in decades.
London police have said the group will not be allowed to repeat that kind of disruption when they hold demonstrations in October.