Climate activists block downtown bridge during rush hour

People walk through Boston's streets at the Extinction Rebellion protest to raise awareness on climate emergency, Sept. 27. Photo by Anran Xie/BU News Service

By Jenni Todd
BU News Service

Hundreds of environmental protesters filled Boston’s Congress Street bridge Friday afternoon to sing about the rising tides within eyesight. 

“It feels like church, but better,” said Gabrielle Kay, an undergraduate at Massachusetts College of Art and Design, as a makeshift choir harmonized around her. 

“Flood the Seaport,” a protest organized by Extinction Rebellion Massachusetts, blocked the roadway during rush hour to raise awareness about the coastal neighborhood’s precarious future. The event was held as part of this week’s international Global Climate Strike.

“The Seaport is at early risk of flooding and being regularly underwater,” said Allen McGonagill, an organizer with Extinction Rebellion. “They’re building new buildings all of the time. The fact that the government allows permits to be issued in this area…I think fuels the kind of delusions that people who are not thinking about the climate crisis live in, that they can continue about their day to day lives.”

Around 4 p.m., a brass band led demonstrators from Dewey Square Park to the bridge. They came bearing hula hoops and flags, ready for a party despite the circumstances.

“The purpose of the vibrancy is to show what a different sort of culture could be possible,” said Kevin Li, a first-year graduate student at Massachusetts Institute of Technology. “If we didn’t have this exploitative system…we could have a different sort of culture, a regenerative one, one that celebrates the earth and one that also celebrates color and dance and music.” 

As the band played, one group constructed a geometric dome adorned with images of sea-life that would swim above the bridge if it were already underwater. Others climbed the bridge’s tall girders to hang a banner that read, “Tell the truth. Declare climate emergency.”

A brigade of “red rebels” — so named for their long red robes and veils — processed through the crowd solemnly, appearing to mourn the planet. 

City Councilor Michelle Wu made an appearance.

The clamor came to a temporary halt when the group observed 11 minutes of silence, one for each year left to stop irreversible damage from climate change. 

“It really should be 10 and a half,” McGonagill said. 

Among other things, attendees repeatedly voiced a demand for the government and the media to “tell the truth” about the environment. They also called on the City of Boston to declare a climate emergency and lower carbon emissions to net zero by 2025.

“All the adults all around need to step up. It’s not just for young people. This is a fight for everyone,”  said Emilia Morgan, 22, of Allston. “Most importantly, we need huge structural change. The environmental crisis will not be solved if every individual recycles paper or buys used clothing.”

Alan Wright, a 65-year-old retiree from Roslindale, rolled through the crowd on a tricked-out electric bicycle, complete with a high-heel wearing skeleton holding a flag emblazoned with the word “funeral.”

“I’m really disappointed in Extinction Rebellion Boston,” Wright said. “Around the world…there are millions of people marching, and we’ve got what — maybe 150 to 200 here?”

Siena Brolin, 18, of Boxborough was glad the turn out included folks from Wright’s generation. 

“I think it’s really inspiring that there are older people, too, who might not see the world that they’re fighting for but care about us enough to do something,” Brolin said. “It shouldn’t be as surprising as it is because I feel like people should have the decency to care about future generations, but a lot of people don’t, you know?”

Li hopes his peers will consider making their futures as disruptive as their protests.

“Students are thinking about what sorts of careers they want to pursue and for a lot of the people I know, those careers involve being in potentially exploitative industries,” Li said. “I want to challenge people, my friends included, to think about what sort of future we have if we’re going to invest our time in not doing anything and just contributing to business as usual.” 

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