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Dozens arrested as climate activists block traffic throughout Washington, D.C.

Climate activists protest in D.C.

Dozens of climate activists were arrested after they blocked major intersections in Washington, D.C. early Monday in a show of protest ahead of this week's United Nation's climate summit in New York City. More than 60 countries will attend the summit, which begins this week, and activists are seeking to pressure U.S. lawmakers and other world leaders to create legislation that will address climate change.

The protest, called Shut Down D.C., is loosely associated with the Metro D.C. chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America and Black Lives Matter D.C. According to Reuters, nearly 1,150 people had signed up for the protests on a dedicated website by Sunday night.

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Environmental activists gather to protest to shut down the city during global climate action week on September 23, 2019, in Washington, D.C.  Getty

"We hope with by our actions on Monday, we can raise public awareness of this issue and understand it's just not going to be taken as business as usual, that we need some drastic action on climate change issues in the relatively near future," said a spokesman for Shut Down D.C., Mike Golash, according to CBS affiliate WUSA-TV.

The protests in Washington, D.C. were scheduled to take place on Monday in Farragut Square, Columbus Circle, Folger Park, and Hancock Park.  Protesters blocked several major thoroughfares in the nation's capital and some chained themselves to a sailboat at the intersection of 16th and K Streets, CBS News' Julia Boccagno reported. The boat was later towed away.

"We put up a boat to roadblock to disrupt business as usual," said Pete Zappardi, who briefly served as a DJ on the boat. "I got to play one song and then I was politely asked to come down."

Boccagno reported protests remained peaceful even though the pink and yellow sailboat brought a busy intersection — just two blocks away from the White House — to a standstill for at least three hours. Dozens of D.C. metropolitan police officers swarmed the sailboat as a way to shield the crowd from flying sparks created by the electric saws used to untether the activists chained to the boat.

The police didn't arrest the four protesters chained to the sailboat, but that couldn't be said for the hundreds of other demonstrators fanned throughout the city. At least 26 people were arrested as a result of blocked traffic, D.C. Metropolitan Police Department confirmed to CBS News.

"[It was] pretty fun, honestly," said Sara, who declined to provide her last name, and was one of the four protesters chained the boat.  "The police were pretty nice."

Metro D.C. police said in a statement that they were prepared for Monday's event: "MPD is aware of the assembly. In regards to public safety planning, MPD does not discuss operational tactics; however, our Special Operations Division is equipped to handle First Amendment assemblies of any stature. MPD would also like to advise the public to remain vigilant, and if you see something, say something."

Climate Protest
Protesters block the intersection of K and 16th Street NW, near the White House in Washington, on Monday, Sept. 23, 2019. A broad coalition of climate and social justice organizations are disrupting the morning rush hour commute. AP

CBS News' Kris Van Cleave reported there was a noticeably increased police presence by 6 a.m. in downtown D.C. He said the police department has increased staffing to respond to the protests and encourages people to take the Metro train.

Linda Whiley said she participated in "Shut Down DC" to advocate for future generations.

At a preview event, Whiley said she was struck by the number of young people who said they have no future because the Earth won't be able to support them.

"That just cut through my soul," Whiley added while holding back tears.

The protests came as activists take an increasingly prominent role in the climate change debate. Earlier this month, Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg arrived in New York City on Wednesday after traveling across the Atlantic Ocean in a zero-emission yacht. Thunberg, 16, used the boat to raise awareness to the greenhouse gases emitted by the use of commercial airplanes.

Last week, millions of people around the world walked out of their schools and workplaces to demand urgent action on climate change. The global climate strikes, which are taking place in more than 150 countries, were scheduled ahead of the opening of the United Nations General Assembly and the Climate Action Summit this week. In 2017, President Trump announced he would pull the Unites States out of the Paris climate agreement, claiming it was its conditions were unfair to U.S. businesses, workers and taxpayers.

"I was elected to represent the citizens of Pittsburgh, not Paris," Mr. Trump said at the time.

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