Members of the group Extinction Rebellion, which advocates for civil disobedience to raise awareness of the “unprecedented global emergency” of climate change, blocked several intersections in downtown Denver during morning and afternoon rush hours. Demonstrators, who planned to stop traffic for one “light cycle” while handing out baked goods to drivers, said they were surprised by how aggressively police responded to the protests.
“This problem affects [drivers], it affects the police, it affects everybody on the planet,” says Dave Robinson, an Extinction Rebellion organizer. “It was actually kind of strange, because we were having positive interactions with people in their cars.”
As a group of about fifty demonstrators lingered in crosswalks at traffic lights along Speer Boulevard and Broadway during the afternoon protest, police first issued warnings and ushered protesters out of the roadway, then began to make arrests. Five people were arrested in the morning protest, and another three were arrested in the afternoon.
“Walking across the street and being too slow — how many times a day do we see that happen?” says Robinson. “It seems to me that they’re just trying to push us down, and they think that we will relent and that we won’t come back. It’s pretty heavy authoritarianism.”
The Denver protests were part of a series of Extinction Rebellion actions being held all around the world this week as climate activists ramp up their efforts to coincide with a U.N. Climate Action Summit in New York. At least 26 people were arrested in Washington, D.C., on Monday as Extinction Rebellion shut down traffic there, while no arrests were reported in Los Angeles, where protesters blocked Sunset Boulevard.
Extinction Rebellion Denver has asked city council to formally declare a “climate emergency,” and wants to see net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2025 — an extremely ambitious target — and an end to all new fossil-fuel extraction.
“We have a responsibility in Colorado, because we’re a fossil fuel-producing state, to do our part,” says Gabrielle Katz, an activist from Gunbarrel who joined the protest Monday afternoon. “Climate crisis sounds abstract and lofty, like something happening somewhere else that’s somebody else’s responsibility, but we have to do our part.”
Extinction Rebellion, which announced the time and location of Monday's protests well in advance and says it has made a "strategic decision to communicate with the police about what we are doing," is planning another worldwide series of demonstrations beginning October 7. Activists who have embraced the group's "positive" approach to climate protest are hopeful that the movement will continue to grow, despite — or maybe because of — the response by police.
"I wasn't even going to come here today, but my husband was here this morning and five people got arrested, and that infuriated me," says Katz. "People are getting arrested for expressing their compassion and their love for the Earth, so I came down. And it's just going to be like that, with more and more people."