Updated: Climate Activists Arrested Tuesday in Protest at County Building

Updated: Climate Activists Arrested Tuesday in Protest at County Building

Group planned ‘civil disobedience,’ alleging government inaction

| Published:

Four climate activists were arrested Tuesday as part of a civil protest against what they described as Montgomery County government inaction on global warming.

Photo by Kate Masters

Four activists were arrested Tuesday morning in Rockville as part of a civil protest against what they described as Montgomery County government inaction on climate change.

The four were part of a larger group of 10 activists who gathered in front of the Montgomery County Executive Office in Rockville around 8:30 a.m.

Organizer Jim Driscoll, a Bethesda resident, said the group was targeting County Executive Marc Elrich, alleging that he has failed to follow through on campaign promises to take strong action against global warming.

“Neither he or the county has done anything on the scale of what’s required,” said Driscoll, a self-described “angry veteran” who was a Marine Corps platoon commander in the Vietnam War. “They declared a climate emergency and no one’s doing anything about it.”

Driscoll and several of his colleagues planned to be arrested as part of the protest, an act of “civil disobedience,” he said, to raise awareness for the severity of the problem. By 9 a.m., the group had moved from the sidewalk to the entrance of the building’s garage, which they blocked with a large red sign reading “Climate Emergency.”

protesters 2
Local protesters blocked the entrance to the garage for the County Executive Office Building in Rockville.

Blocking the entrance and preventing people from getting to work was an act of disorderly conduct, said Lt. Robert Ravida with the Montgomery County Police Department. Around 14 officers with the department’s Special Events Response Team supervised the protest after the group posted about their plans on social media.

“We don’t want to arrest them, but unfortunately, we don’t have a choice,” Ravida said. Shortly before the group blocked the entrance, he approached Driscoll with an offer to meet with the county executive.

Driscoll declined, saying the group had spoken with him before. He and several other activists attended a Sept. 14 climate change forum, where they again criticized the county executive for a lack of action.

Ravida said the offer to meet with the county executive came from his security team, but in a separate phone interview on Tuesday morning, Elrich said he hadn’t arrived at the building by the time the protest concluded. No one else from the office appeared to respond to the activists.

“The irony is that I expected they would be there and I was going to invite them in for a chat,” Elrich said. “I do want to know what they think we should do and ways that we could make improvements.”

Officers gave a total of three warnings to the protesters before making the arrests. After the second warning, six activists moved back to the sidewalk from the garage entrance.

Driscoll was among the protesters who declined to move.

“When people see there are others willing to go to jail for their beliefs, it inspires them,” Driscoll said, speaking on the importance of the arrests. “You’ll notice that right now, climate change is getting more attention in this building than most other times.”

None of the activists resisted arrest, and Ravida said they would be issued misdemeanor citations for disorderly conduct and released.

The activists were part of the International Extinction Rebellion, a global group with climate protests scheduled in around 60 cities over the next few weeks.

Climate change has been a growing focus of public demonstrations all over the world, inspired by high-profile environmental advocates such as Greta Thunberg, a Swedish teen who has become a leader in student protests. Hundreds of activists recently staged protests in Washington, D.C., as the United Nations held its Climate Action Summit in New York.

Local protesters on Tuesday said they were frustrated by a lack of follow-through despite the county’s strong statements on climate change.

In 2017, the County Council passed a climate emergency resolution with goals of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 80 percent by 2027 and 100 percent by 2035. At the Sept. 14 forum, Elrich said he was considering a bill that would require all new homes to have solar panels on their roofs by 2022.

The administration is also considering large-scale arrays, energy performance standards for larger buildings, and a pilot composting program, which the Department of Environmental Protection plans to unveil in 2020, said Adriana Hochberg, the county’s climate change coordinator.

But for some activists, those changes aren’t being implemented strongly or quickly enough to meet the county’s emission goals.

“The county wants to do things, but they’re not working fast enough,” protester Rosemary Hodges said. “We have a serious climate emergency on our hands and we have such a short time to do anything about it.”

The group distributed a list of 50 possible actions to Elrich six months before he took office, Driscoll added. Some of the suggestions included banning the use of natural gas in all new construction and publicizing the need to phase out gas-powered vehicles by 2027.

The administration has already assembled five citizen committees to draft reports on possible climate change solutions in all sectors of the county, Elrich responded in a phone interview after the protest.

Local government is committed to climate action, he added, but some of the group’s requests weren’t feasible even over the next few years. Other suggestions included phasing in all-electric school buses, a decision that would have to be made by the Montgomery County Board of Education.

The group also wanted the county to switch to electric vehicles and even issue a ban on personal gas-powered cars.

“The problem is, we don’t have the money in one year to get rid of our cars and buy all electric,” Elrich said, referring to the county fleet. “And on a personal level, there’s not even the variety of electric cars on the market that would make that doable. Things like that just aren’t going to change overnight, and there’s no overnight prescription to reduce our emissions.”

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