Seven activists who D.C. police said are affiliated with Greenpeace climbed a construction crane in downtown Washington on Wednesday morning, snarling traffic and bringing work on a new office building to a halt.
At least two protesters attached themselves to the crane, police said, while others were on the outstretched arm, or jib. Two wearing safety harnesses descended down ropes, unfurling a 35-foot-by-75 foot banner emblazoned with the word “Resist.”
At times, two protesters were dangling from the jib, apparently using safety harnesses, as they unfurled the banner. Dozens of onlookers gathered at the scene, clutching coffee cups and peering upward over the site, the location of the former headquarters of The Washington Post. New offices for Fannie Mae are being constructed there.
D.C. Police Capt. Robert Glover, of the Special Operations Team, said investigators talked with at least one of the demonstrators. He would not describe how, nor would he say if anything had been discussed. Glover said police are in contact with Greenpeace.
“Safety is our primary concern,” Glover said, adding that police are in contact with the U.S. attorney’s office to determine possible criminal charges.
The protesters were first noticed about 6 a.m., and by 9 a.m. Glover said there was no immediate attempt to have police and firefighters climb the crane and remove the protesters.
“Time is on our side,” Glover said.
One of the protesters, Pearl Robinson, 26, of Oakland, Calif, identified herself as an expert climber and said, “We’re here to resist the normalization of this administration.” She was referring to the Trump presidency.
Robinson, a national organizer for the Rainforest Action Network, noted that live-streams of the protest were trending on social media, which she called a success. “We’ll come down soon enough,” she said about noon. She called some of Trump’s recent executive orders “a slap in the face” to residents.
Cassady Sharp, a spokeswoman for Greenpeace, an international environmental group known for activism that sometimes involves confronting authorities and corporations, said the site was chosen because it is about one-half mile from the White House. They want “to send a message to the people who are feeling discouraged after just a few days of [President] Trump’s administration.”
Pictures showed a yellow banner with black letters that could be seen from the White House.
Specifically, Sharp said the protest is targeting Trump’s signatures on executive orders Tuesday signaling support for the Keystone XL and Dakota Access oil pipelines. She said the demonstrators “are going to stay up there for as long as they can to make sure their message is heard.”
Sharp said the group hopes the banner can be seen from the White House, and that the protest location was “chosen for its visual value.” She said the demonstrators who climbed the crane are from all over the country, including San Francisco, Brooklyn and around Washington.
Lee DeLong, a senior vice president for Bethesda-based Clark Construction, the lead contractor, said workers discovered the protesters and called police. He said the group broke into the secured site by breaking a lock. He also said that getting into the crane and up onto the arm requires knowledge of how a crane works.
“These aren’t amateurs,” DeLong said.
DeLong said he supports the decision by police to not send officers and firefighters up the crane to pull the protesters off, calling that maneuver dangerous. “Our primary concern is safety,” DeLong said. “I think the police and EMS response has been appropriate.”
DeLong said the protest has brought much of Wednesday’s work to a halt, and would so for the remainder of the day. He said that even if the protesters come down by noon, the crane would be out of commission for a series of safety inspections.
He would not say how much money the company is losing but said, “It is a significant impact.”
D.C. firefighters with an elite rescue unit were wearing climbing equipment and standing nearby, along with construction workers. Some parts of 15th Street between K and M streets NW were closed, as were parts of L Street between 14th and 16th streets NW.
Erica White, 39, who lives around the block from crane, said she was out walking when she saw the banner. “It’s got to be crippling for people to not to be able to come down L street. It definitely sends a message for sure.” She backed the message: “People are going to hold his feet to the fire. they’re not going to back down.”
Dawn Reed, 35, who works in information technology in Arlington, said: “I wish Trump would take notice of it. But I don’t think he’s going to care.” She also said she supported Greenpeace. “I just had a baby and I want her to grow up in a world that’s not polluted.”
Steve VanAusdall, 50, works at a nearby construction site, was trying to get out of a parking garage to go home, but was blocked in by police vehicles. He said the garage is also hurting because it get let in any new vehicles.
“I’m all for freedom of speech and protesting peacefully and lawfully, but these guys could be here for two days,” VanAusdall said. “It’s going to be a long waiting game, I’m afraid.”
Like other construction workers, VanAusdall said he was trying to get to another job, and the delay is costing him money. He’s supposed to be at a site in North Carolina on Thursday. “This is hurting people financially,” he said.
Wednesday’s protest comes after last week’s inauguration of President Trump, when demonstrators were present in large numbers throughout the city, particularly near Franklin Square, where some windows of businesses were smashed and a limousine was set on fire.
More than 230 people were arrested on Friday. Many were charged with felony rioting.