Climate protesters block FDR Drive and West Side Highway in rush hour demonstrations, 33 arrests made

Climate change activists snarled the Monday morning commute on the FDR Drive and West Side Highway, sending a message that the drivers they blocked could not ignore.

Extinction Rebellion organized the action, which occurred at about 8:45 a.m. on Oct. 25 along both major arteries on the east and west sides of the island, along with advocacy groups Sunrise NYC, Extinction Rebellion NYC, Jews for Economic and Racial Justice, and Fridays for Future NYC. The organizations reported that at least 33 of their members were arrested in the two-hour protest, though the NYPD did not provide an official number.

“We are interrupting traffic this morning not to annoy you, but to force the public to confront the true dangers of unchecked climate change,” Extinction Rebellion tweeted in a post directed at the drivers they impacted Monday morning. “If we do not act today, if @potus does not act today, NYC will be underwater by 2100. It’s a matter of life and death.”

Protesters spread out across the northbound lanes of the FDR Drive, about a half-mile south of Exit 5 (East Houston Street) in the East Village. Some of the demonstrators shackled themselves together as they laid on the roadbed, using complex metal devices to make it more difficult for police to break them apart.

Police move to arrest protesters on the FDR Drive on Oct. 25, 2021.Photo by Adrian Childress
Drivers survey the protest on the FDR Drive.Photo by Adrian Childress
Demonstrators hold a “Climate Action Now” banner near the FDR Drive.Photo by Adrian Childress

Nevertheless, a number of police officers arrived on the scene to take the protesters away. Officers resorted to using saws to cut the shackled protesters free, and take them into custody.

Other activists simultaneously blocked off traffic on the northbound lanes of the West Side Highway near West 34th Street, with a line of demonstrators holding up a banner reading “Biden Keep Your Promise,” and chanting “Shut it down!” while stuck drivers blared their horns. 

The protesters on both roadways want President Joe Biden to hold to campaign promises to invest in green infrastructure, cut emissions in half by 2030, and turn back the tide against climate change — lest rising sea levels eventually put parts of New York and other coastal cities under water by the end of this century.

“We regret that we had to delay commuters’ workdays this morning,” said Veekas Ashoka, a spokesperson from Sunrise NYC. “Unfortunately, Joe Biden has left us no choice but to sacrifice our own personal safety in order to protect our collective future. Our disruption of traffic on two major highways is only temporary, unlike the destruction climate-related disasters will wreak upon our city without bold and urgent climate action. If Biden continues to compromise with fossil fuel interests, heat waves and hurricanes will make no compromise with the people of New York. But if he chooses the principled position and delivers on his campaign promises, he can help prevent the next deadly heat wave or Hurricane Sandy.”

Biden and Congress are in the midst of negotiating a new spending package that drew heavy opposition from two moderate Senators: Krysten Sinema of Arizona and Joe Manchin of West Virginia. Both saw the initial price tag of $3.5 trillion as being too high. 

Not all drivers saw the protest in the same light.