D Kevin McNeirNational

Climate Activists Shut Down D.C. Streets; Coincide with United Nations Summit in NYC

Protests Follow Worldwide School Walkouts as Youth Cite Urgency for Planet-Saving Initiatives

D.C. commuters faced even longer delays Monday morning as an estimated 2,000 protesters blocked key intersections throughout the District to draw attention to the urgency for climate change, the immediate elimination of the use of environmentally-destructive fossil fuels and a swift transition to renewable energy.

The protests on Sept. 23, timed to coincide with the United Nations (UN) Climate Action Summit in New York, came on the heels of a massive, youth-led school walk out last Friday spanning six continents followed by a conference at the UN on Saturday that attracted teens from Pittsburgh to Paris.

In the District, Metropolitan Police arrested more than 30 people Monday while facing a throng of determined climate activists. Some protestors, seeking to confound law enforcement, chained themselves to street signs, an 80-foot long oil pipeline, 30-foot ladders and parked vehicles – even to a bright yellow and pink yacht somehow hauled into the middle of a D.C. intersection.

Addition arrests included six people detained by U.S. Capitol Police at Washington and Independence Avenues in Southwest. Protesters also convened at Massachusetts Avenue and N. Capitol Street, New York Avenue and I-395, 12th and D Streets and 6th Street and Rhode Island Avenue.

City officials continue to evaluate the impact the shutdown had on traffic and the transportation system in the DMV.

Activists represented hundreds of passersby, local college and high school students and healthcare workers from area hospitals. Others demonstrated under one banner: “Shut Down D.C.” – a coalition of several dozen social justice and climate organizations including Rising Tide North America, Werk for Peace, Metro D.C. Socialists of America, All out DC, Extinction Rebellion Washington DC and Black Lives Matter [BLM] DMV.

Meanwhile, the Shut Down D.C. website and related social media forums continue to garner more supporters of and volunteers for their cause, 3,000 and rising as of Monday, with the next “shut down” scheduled for Friday, Sept. 27 – the final day of the weeklong Global Climate Strike.

Joviality masked the more serious nature of the protests with some activists dressed as dinosaurs and polar bears, dancing in the streets, blasting biodegradable confetti along business facades and chanting phrases that included, “We demand a green new deal,” and “Our house is on fire, put the fire out.”

And while climate change activism may currently reflect only a small percentage of participants from the African-American community, a spokesperson for BLM DMV says it’s important for more Blacks to speak up and become involved.

“We know that climate injustice and environmental racism are fueled by the same systems of white supremacy, capitalism, imperialism, patriarchy and colonialism from which we seek to liberate Black people,” said Nee Nee Taylor, BLM DMV direct action coordinator.

“We know that Black people in DC, Black people in this country and Black people across the diaspora will continue to be the most impacted by climate disaster,” she said.

One physician, who joined BLM DMV in a coordinated effort to provide a blood pressure monitoring station on Monday, agreed with Taylor.

“Climate change is a public health emergency and affects the health of all of us but most especially our disenfranchised communities. We must invest in the health of frontline communities now and in the future to protect against the worst of what climate change will bring,” said Dr. Katie Donnelly.

The coalition (#ShutDownDC) has called for climate justice for everyone, asking governments to protect at least 50 percent of the world’s lands and oceans and to end deforestation by 2030.

The Human Footprint on Greenhouse Gases

Among the hundreds of thousands of youth worldwide who skipped school and took to the streets last Friday, one young girl’s voice has gained international prominence – a Swedish high school student named Greta Thunberg.

Greta testified during Monday’s UN Climate Summit Action in New York.

“This is wrong; I should not be up here,” she said. “I should be up in school on the other side of the ocean yet you all come to us young people for hope. How dare you?”

Ironically, cameras would show the outspoken youth standing in a lobby where just a few yards away, President Donald Trump, who continues to aggressively demand his unprecedented recent decision to abolish California’s legal authority to set its own standards on climate-warming automobile emissions, stood before a barrage of cameras.

The Trump administration has also remained under fire, nationally and abroad, after Trump decided to withdraw the U.S. from the Paris Agreement earlier this year.

Trump has long maintained his cry of “fake news” in the face of the views of the world’s climate experts who assert that from shifting weather patterns threating food production, to rising sea levels that increase the risk of catastrophic flooding, the impact of climate change remains global in scope and unprecedented in scale. They further say that without immediate drastic action, adapting to these impacts in the future will be more difficult and costly.

Following more than a century and a half of industrialization, deforestation and large scale agriculture, quantities of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere have risen to record levels not seen in three million years. As populations, economies and standards of living grow, so does the cumulative level of greenhouse gas emissions, experts say.

During Monday’s Summit, the president of Chile, Sebastián Piñera, reported on the outcomes and achievements of a newly-formed group, the Mitigation Strategy Coalition, which he’s chaired since its founding in January. Fifty-nine nations have signaled their intention to submit an enhanced climate action plan with 11 having promised to boost programs that will be reflected in their national plans by 2020, as established in the Paris Agreement.

Readers may recall that the U.S., under then-President Barack Obama, entered into the Paris Climate Agreement December 2015 along with nearly 200 other countries in an ambitious global action plan to fight climate control.

“A world that is safer and more secure, more prosperous and more free,” Obama said as he sought to explain the kind of world he envisioned we should and would leave today’s children and rationale for entering into the accord.

Sidwell, Largo Among Area’s Youth Activists

Whether enrolled in DC Public Schools [DCPS] or DC Private Charter Schools [DCPCS], students who joined the Friday “walk out” did so without the sanctioning of their respective school board leaders.

DCPS officials did not share data pertaining to the total number of students who “walked out” last week. However, they did provide their attendance policy which says students missing class must bring a note from a parent within five days of the event, or risk unexcused absences for missed classes or school days. For further clarity, DCPS principals sent a letter last week to parents and activists explaining the protocol and collective stance related to youth civic engagement.

“As conversations about current events continue to play out both nationally and locally, it is important that our youth know that school is a safe place to feel whatever they need to feel. Education isn’t just about academics; it’s about helping our students develop as entire people,” the letter said.

Official permission notwithstanding, nearly 40 students from one of the District’s celebrated private schools, Sidwell Friends in Northwest, flexed their political muscles – leaving campus early to hop the Red Line and join others in protest.

Freshman Marley Sowah, a member of Sidwell’s Eco-club, expressed dismay for the lack of concern from adults about the global crisis and her future. She noted the activities in which she’s become committed since joining the club: researching, sending emails, speaking to groups and hosting events.

“The fact that children are leading this fight is quite disappointing; this is about the fight for humanity, the direction we’re going in and how our grandchildren will live their lives,” Marley said.

Before noon, she and her classmates had joined thousands on the National Mall, waving signs condemning carbon pollution and political inaction.

“This isn’t just for the youth or a group of hippies. This should be a problem for everyone,” she said. “There are a lot of solutions: carbon taxes, the Green New Deal and even technology. We should be putting more money into innovation around new and Green-related industries.”

Meanwhile, students in Prince George’s County expressed their activism while remaining in school. Green Club members at Largo High School, Zamaryh Marshall, Anthony Williams, Matthew Martin, Aysia Richardson, Lauryn Pierce and Awa Coulibaly, say they prefer making a difference on their own school’s campus.

Just a few weeks into the new school year, they’ve already conducted environmentally-based initiatives: collecting recyclables from each of the 100 classrooms; planting and caring for scores of vegetation; and offering gentle reminders to teachers and staff to “turn off the lights” before exiting classrooms.

“We plant things to make the school look better,” said Pierce, 15. “You should want to see a nice environment.”

Largo Principal Afie Mirshah-Nayar remembers that upon her arrival five years ago, the school lacked any visible signs of environmental awareness. Today, the campus numbers among those select public schools in the County earning a “Green School” designation.

Maryland lawmakers recently approved legislation aimed at increasing Green Schools, providing funding between fiscal years 2021 to 2026 for professional training, transportation assistance for students to participate in field trips and other environmentally-related activities. Their goal remains to increase Green School designation among public schools from today’s 31 percent to 50 percent by 2025.

Largo plans to hold a recycling assembly soon to remind students and adults the importance of keeping the planet healthy.

One Green Club member says everyone should be concerned about the climate.

“We eat fish and other meats, fruits and vegetables. If we don’t keep the environment clean, then what’s dumped on the ground and in the water can get into our food,” Matthew said.

Awa, who turned 16 on Sept. 24, said her peers must focus on their future.

“Think about the world 10 years from now. If you treat it badly today, it will only get worse. What about your children and their children? That’s what matters – they’re who matter.”

WI Staff Writer William J. Ford and Sam Collins, WI contributing writer, contributed to this article.

DCPCS did not return inquiries from The Informer for comment.

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D. Kevin McNeir – Senior Editor

Award-winning journalist and 21-year Black Press veteran, book editor, voice-over specialist and college instructor (Philosophy, Religion, Journalism). Before joining us, he led the Miami Times to recognition as NNPA Publication of the Year.

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