“Stop the war!” “Save the climate!”
Chants erupted outside U.S. Sen. Chris Van Hollen’s Montgomery County office on Rockville Pike on Tuesday as veterans and youth called for the U.S. government to end military aid to Ukraine and to instead spend the money on alleviating climate change.
About two dozen protesters strategically placed themselves in the shade of a telephone pole shadow in the 90-degree heat as they held signs and spoke into a microphone. As cars drove by, some drivers honked their horns in support.
County police closed off the traffic lane closest to the office during the protest, which involved about 25 people. The group included members of Veterans for Peace and MOCO Green New Deal interns, part of a program that caters towards BIPOC youth — Black, indigenous and people of color — and advocates for climate action at the county level.
Two members of the group, including local climate change activist Jim Driscoll, were later arrested for impeding the flow of traffic.
The group said it targeted Van Hollen, a Democrat who lives in Kensington, because protesters believe he will vote to approve legislation that would provide 20 times more money for the military than the amount approved for the Inflation Reduction Act that the Senate passed Sunday, according to a press release.
One protester said the U.S. military is one of the largest polluters in the world, polluting more than countries such as Portugal and Morocco.
“We take the stand that we’ve got to reduce the military budget, we’ve got to cut back on military spending because of the pollution,” said Stosh Comisiak, another protester who is a Vietnam War veteran and Ukrainian-American clinician.
Comisiak carried a large white poster with the words “Senator Van Hollen Office,” recognizing that not all passersby knew the senator’s office was there.
Driscoll, coordinator of the MOCO Green New Deal internship program and a Vietnam War veteran, said Van Hollen had refused to meet with Veterans for Peace and the BIPOC MOCO Green New Deal interns prior to the protest. But he hoped the protesters would draw the senator’s attention.
Van Hollen’s office said in an email he was unable meet with protesters because he was meeting with constituents in Frederick, but a staff member spoke to the protesters and heard their concerns.
The office provided information on Van Hollen’s position on several issues, including his support for the Inflation Reduction Act, which includes major investments in climate change, and his sponsorship of the Green New Deal legislation. Also, the email noted that Van Hollen has consistently raised concerns regarding excess spending on defense and will be taking a close look at the national defense bill. He also supports Ukraine in its war with Russia and the U.S. efforts to provide assistance to Ukraine, the email said.
Driscoll, a former professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, said climate change most affects people of color. That’s why he wanted to work with students of color to advocate for climate solutions, he said.
“It made sense for us to work together,” Driscoll said.
Raki Krishnan, who recently graduated from Walt Whitman High School in Bethesda and will be attending the University of Michigan in the fall, said he plans to explore starting a Green New Deal internship program in the area when he gets there.
He said he has been involved with the MOCO Green New Deal group for about a year, although he was already involved in activism before joining.
“It’s mostly local goals like influencing” Montgomery County government leaders, Krishnan said.
After about half an hour, the protesters moved to obstruct traffic and block the driveway leading into Van Hollen’s office. They continued chanting as onlookers watched.
A county police officer gave the group three warnings. After the third, the students moved, but Comisiak and Driscoll stayed where they were. They were arrested for failing to move out of the traffic flow.
Capt. Elizabeth Hattenburg, commander of the county police department’s First District, said the group’s leaders had been in communication with police about the protest for a few weeks.
“They’re just getting citations, we are not physically taking them to jail today,” Hattenburg said.
Christine Zhu of Gaithersburg, a rising junior at the University of Maryland who is studying journalism and Spanish, is the Bethesda Beat summer intern.