Extinction Rebellion has had a hard run of it. Members in the Washington, D.C., chapter of the climate activism group have been trying all year to raise awareness through arrest, but with little luck.
When group members planned to glue themselves to the Capitol in early July, providence prevented them. Earlier in the day, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I., Vt.), along with Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D., N.Y.) and Earl Blumenauer (D., Ore.) introduced legislation to declare a national state of climate emergency. It was one of the group's primary demands, and nullified the need for drastic action.
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But these climatistas had to do something. So instead of glue, on July 9 they marched on the Capitol armed with chalk to commit offenses that were "only slightly against the law," according to spokeswoman Kaela Bamberger. Capitol Hill police prevented them from even approaching the building—much to their disappointment.
Two weeks passed, and Sanders's legislation went nowhere. Extinction Rebellion leaders decided Tuesday was their chance for arrest. It was time to cover themselves in glue.
A few days before the big event, the group sent out a mass email advertising dramatic "action." Journalists were contacted over encrypted messaging apps with vague instructions about when and where to arrive outside the Capitol.
Upon our arrival, Extinction Rebellion members shepherd us downstairs to the Cannon rotunda, where an underground passage leads into Capitol offices.
When several young people arrive and begin their work about half an hour later, it's a bit underwhelming. Gluing oneself to a building sounds dramatic—just short of self-immolation—but in practice, it's an unceremonious affair. The two climate warriors closest to me dump Gorilla Glue into their palms and plaster them to the open doors of the passageway. To make their roadblock complete, they glue their two free hands together, human chain style. If I had not seen the whole process, I would have thought they were overly romantic tourists.
"Does that hurt?" I ask one, as she flattens her hand onto the glass door.
"Um, no," she laughs. "But when we get pulled off it will."
She goes on to explain that her name is Sara Soko, she is 22 years old, and lives in D.C. She bought the Gorilla Glue at a corner store on 17th Street. Before gluing herself to these doors, she practiced by gluing her hands to glass picture frames (her compatriots tell me later they used a chemical solution to help remove her hands).
As we chat, Capitol Hill police and several straggling congressmen duck under the arch her arm has formed in the door. They don't seem to be greatly inconvenienced. Soko declares that she is prepared to be arrested.
"Are you sure this is illegal?" I ask her.
"Oh, yeah," she giggles.
She's right. A few minutes later, police form a line and ask the bystanders to stand back from the doors. Everyone moves back, and the people glued to the door take that as a cue to begin chanting.
"Climate emergency now! Climate emergency! We're out of time! This is not a drill!"
And so on.
Eventually, the activists give up on aspirational phrases and move onto directly addressing the police. Their warnings pour out in an echoing cacophony.
"D.C. was under water last week! D.C. was on fire this weekend! We can't live much longer like this. This is the hottest month on record. Ever. We're going to boil quickly, folks. Our grandchildren won't live to suffer like this. The climate will skyrocket upwards and we will all die if we don't act in the next 10 years."
One young man's voice rises above the others.
"I know you guys are listening, officers. I know you have children. Do you want them to live in a world that's burning? I know you care about them" he says. "I've always wanted to have children. Three weeks ago I broke down crying in my car because I realized I could never bring a child into this world as long as we do nothing. I always wanted a child, and now I don't think I can do that."
And it's true. He's not ever going to have children—not with an attitude like that.
After about 15 more minutes of shouting, singing, and a few tears from the climatistas, the police decide they've had enough. They clear the hallway and remove everyone from the doors, leading them out of the Capitol building. According to Extinction Rebellion spokespeople, 13 people were placed under arrest.
But there is no photo-op. Any arrests that occur happen away from the reach of cameras; the arrest-hungry climatistas get a pyrrhic victory.
"Well, that was anticlimactic," Bamberger sighs to me as we exit the scene.