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Climate Activists Arrested at State of the State

Photo: Benjamin Neufeld  · The Sentry

Protesters demand environmental action

Thursday, Jan. 9, just before governor Jared Polis delivered his State of the State Address, a group of activists from the Colorado Chapter of Extinction Rebellion (XR) shouted to announce a “mic check.” XR and the youth led Sunrise Movement seized the event as an opportunity to demonstrate their concerns with the state government’s lack of appropriate action toward solving the global climate crisis and local issues with air and water pollution. 

The protests resulted in local and state officers arresting a total of 38 activists, including five high schoolers, some as young as 15, from the Sunrise Movement. Of them, four were minors who were ticketed and released. The other spent the night in jail with the rest of the arrested activists. The suspects were originally cited with three charges: Disrupting a Lawful Assembly, Public Building Trespass, and Unlawful Conduct on Public Property.  

As of Jan. 23, DA Beth McCann dropped the charges. 

XR is a non-violent direct-action group whose members commonly engage in acts of civil disobedience. However, the Sunrise Movement members who led their protest outside the chamber expected to go home free. The activists had gathered in the lobby of the state Capitol, which is open to the public, to voice similar concerns as XR and were escorted outside where the arrests were made.  

XR and Sunrise each set up a GoFundMe to raise money for bail and legal fees. In the XR’s GoFundMe they explain, “this ‘mic check’ served to remind everyone in the chamber that ‘in 2019, Governor Polis said he would ‘make sure that all of our communities have clean air’ and said he would boldly address climate change’.” With ongoing fracking and pollution from the Suncor oil refinery the protesters say Polis hasn’t kept his word. 

The arrests began within the chamber of the assembly just before Governor Polis’ address. Protestors associated with XR began shouting and dropped banners from the second-floor balcony calling for a fracking ban and, “no wells at Bella Romero,” an elementary school in Greeley with a student body consisting of 89 percent Latino students and 93 percent of students from low-income families. The Extraction Oil and Gas company has a fracking site 1,000 feet from the school, and just 500 feet from the school’s playground. 

During the interruption protestors handed/threw flyers which contained their demands:

“1. Shut down the fracking operations at Bella Romero Academy.   

2. Develop a plan to end fracking and all fossil fuel extraction in Colorado by 2025.   

3. Declare a Climate Emergency and facilitate a just transition to a renewable energy economy.” 

Some of the individuals arrested and/or ejected from the chamber had not seemed to participate in the disruption but were recording the event or sitting nearby where the disruption occurred. In a live video on XR’s Facebook the alleged commanding police officer at the scene explained to the camera man, who had not participated in the disturbance other than to record, “this is a very big thing of each year that happens, the State of the State, so we want to make sure that it’s a safe and secure environment for everyone with no disruptions.” 

The arrested activists received support from numerous local and national politicians. Senate candidates Andrew Romanoff and Dianna Bray have both called for the authorities to drop the charges. Presidential candidate Bernie Sanders said of the arrests on Twitter, “Young people are showing the courage to lead the fight against a climate disaster when many of our leaders won’t lift a finger. They do not deserve to be arrested—they deserve to be applauded and heard.” 

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