BOSTON (SHNS) – Nine climate activists demanding that top lawmakers move to halt the construction of new fossil fuel projects were arrested at the State House Wednesday after more than six hours of protesting in the largely empty House Chamber.
Members of Extinction Rebellion Boston and Scientist Rebellion began chanting from the House spectators’ gallery around 11 a.m., moments after lawmakers gaveled in and out of a sparsely-attended Constitutional Convention session. Activists threw papers down onto the House floor, as they also tried to attach a banner — which read “no new fossil fuel infrastructure” — to the gallery railing before a court officer managed to wrestle it away from them.
Activists said their act of “civil disobedience” was designed to urge House Speaker Ronald Mariano and Senate President Karen Spilka — neither of whom were present in the chamber — to file legislation to place a moratorium on new fossil fuel infrastructure and stop projects that are currently proposed or under construction. Those include the Peabody peaker plant, a liquefied natural gas facility in Charlton, and the Hopkinton-Ashland Transfer Line.
Climate activists claimed they saw Spilka in the chamber at the start of the demonstration. But the News Service confirmed with her office that the Ashland Democrat was not present and had a speaking engagement Wednesday morning.
The activists started chanting immediately after Sen. Will Brownsberger gaveled the Constitutional Convention into a months-long recess. Among the lawmakers who heard the beginning of their protest were Rep. Paul Donato, Sen. Lydia Edwards, Sen. John Keenan, Sen. Bruce Tarr, Rep. Christopher Worrell and Sen. Nick Collins.
One activist in the gallery unsuccessfully attempted to get the attention of Rep. Sean Garballey, yelling that the Arlington Democrat represented her, before he walked out of the chamber.
Eleven activists joined the demonstration, though two eventually left the gallery and a spokesperson for the group said they needed to use the restroom.
Six men and three women were arrested, with some singing as State Police escorted them out of the State House.
Rotating through chants and songs, at one point the protestors chanted “2050 is too late,” referring to the state’s commitment to achieving net-zero emissions by 2050. They said they demanded a “just transition” away from fossil fuel infrastructure.
“A just transition includes a massive investment in publicly-owned renewable power generation, transmission storage, household and community systems to best ensure resiliency,” a protestor shouted to a then-empty chamber, after all the lawmakers had left.
Court officers and State Police hovered outside the House gallery as the activists remained inside. The number of court officers in the gallery with protestors fluctuated, at times reaching up to seven with additional park rangers and State Police.
Court officers, State House-assigned State Police troopers, and State House park rangers were joined by a contingent from the State Police’s Special Emergency Response Team to arrest the nine individuals when the building closed at 5 p.m.
Extinction Rebellion members staged a sit-in protest at Gov. Maura Healey’s office in February, despite the Cambridge Democrat being away in Washington, D.C. Fourteen members were ultimately arrested that day after receiving multiple warnings.
Five of the protestors in the House Gallery Wednesday had participated in that lengthy demonstration in the corner office — four of whom were arrested, including Alex Chambers of Boylston.
Despite the lack of lawmakers on hand, Chambers said activists believe they “sufficiently disrupted their day.”
“We are occupying the space. So in a sense, we climate activists are holding this physical space hostage until we get our demand met,” Chambers told reporters by phone as he sat in the House Gallery around noon. “And we’re using the only real thing we have to be able to use, which is our bodies. We’re employing nonviolent direct action, and we’re going to continue holding that until we get our demand met or until we’re forcibly removed.”
Around 2:10 p.m., after sitting quietly for a few hours and then starting up some chants again, court officers asked the protestors how long they intended to stay in the chamber.
“We’re staying until Senate President Spilka or House Speaker Mariano file legislation placing a moratorium on new fossil fuel infrastructure,” Chambers replied.
“That doesn’t sound like something that might happen this afternoon,” the court officer said.
Chambers responded, “Well, one of the privileges of being the speaker is that you can file legislation at any time. So we’ll stay until he does.”
Protestors delivered their speeches to an empty chamber, joking with each other that it was “practice” for future acts of civil disobedience. They addressed their unheard remarks directly to Mariano and Spilka.
The activists dropped more pieces of paper off the balcony, causing one court officer to tell them they were “disrespecting the chamber” and “throwing trash around.”
At one point, as protestors sang (“They’re digging us a hole, six feet underground where our futures will go”), court officers turned on their radio, loudly playing songs by Dua Lipa and Shakira, among other music.