A day after over 100,000 people marched to warn that climate change is destroying the Earth, more than 1,000 activists blocked parts of Broadway in Manhattan’s financial district in a sit-in to protest what they see as corporate and economic institutions’ role in the climate crisis.
Monday’s demonstration was planned as a more confrontational sequel to Sunday’s march, with many participants Monday deliberately risking arrest by obstructing traffic in the heart of the U.S. financial capital. Over 100 people, including a person wearing a white polar bear suit, were arrested Monday night after they refused to leave Broadway near Wall Street, police said. Most of the arrests were for disorderly conduct.
Earlier, the protest took a tense turn as the demonstrators tried to push past police barricades at Wall Street, sparking a brief clash with officers.
But by and large, police, office workers and tourists watched alike as the activists chanted such messages as “we can’t take this climate heat; we’ve got to shut down Wall Street” and bounced huge balloons meant to represent carbon dioxide bubbles.
“I wanted to come specifically to disrupt Wall Street because it’s Wall Street that’s fueling this,” Youngstown, Ohio, urban farmer and bread-maker Ben Shapiro said as he sat on Broadway by the famed bull statue. He had skipped Sunday’s march, focusing instead on the financial system that he feels enables environmental destruction for the sake of energy and other industries.
“I’m going after the source of the problem,” Shapiro said. Organizers said the FloodWallStreet sit-in aimed to disrupt business in the financial district. Demonstrators didn’t obtain a permit for the rally, police said, and participants such as Jenna DeBoisblanc arrived anticipating arrests as a way to underscore their message.
“If you’re willing to risk arrest, it certainly demonstrates that it’s something very urgent,” said DeBoisblanc, a New Orleans environmental activist who sported a superhero outfit and green wig.
If Sunday’s march was about building consensus around a crisis, the sit-in sought to take on institutions protesters hold responsible for it, said demonstrator Nicholas Powers, who teaches black and feminist literature at the State University of New York at Old Westbury.
Peppered with elements of performance art – one person wore a polar-bear suit, another Grim Reaper-like robes and a gas mask – the protest encompassed Occupy Wall Street veterans, anti-war activists who see climate change as a still bigger cause and residents of areas battered by Superstorm Sandy.
“We’re really fighting for resiliency,” said Alexis Smallwood, whose home in the Far Rockaway section of the New York City borough of Queens was flooded by the October 2012 storm.
Participants encountered barricades and a heavy police presence as they tried to stream onto Wall Street, home to the New York Stock Exchange, after several hours of demonstrating by the bull statue nearby. Some tried to push through the barricades, and police and protesters tussled as officers held the barriers in place, using pepper spray. Police said no injuries were reported.
The barricades stayed. So did hundreds of demonstrators, who continued sitting and standing outside the barriers, on Broadway.
Some bystanders took the disruption in stride: “Every time I come here, there’s somebody here protesting,” said Matilde Soligno, visiting from Bologna, Italy.
But others were skeptical about what the protest stood to accomplish. “These people aren’t convincing me of anything,” said Christopher Keane, a lawyer who works in the area.
“How did they get here today?” he asked, if not through some use of the fossil fuels they deplore.
On Sept. 23, actors Mark Ruffalo and Evangeline Lilly were among the protesters at the New York demonstration, the largest of many around the world urging policymakers to take quick action.