WILMINGTON — At least 40 climate activists assembled outside President Joe Biden’s Wilmington home on Saturday afternoon. The movement, called Occupy Biden, has been camped out round the clock at 909 Centre Road since Christmas Day and ended their week-long occupation with a rally and march.
Outside of Fairthorne and Barley Mill Court on Barley Mill Road, leaders Karen Igou from Extinction Rebellion Delaware and author Ted Glick conversed with Secret Service members and local police, asking for a phone call with the president. Officials told the protesters they did not have the ability to contact President Biden, but the crowd continued to chant “climate change is class war,” “Biden be bold,” “climate justice now,” and other messages, all demanding action in response to climate change.
Protesters did not block all lanes, allowing neighborhood traffic to pass through. They left their camp around 2 p.m., arrived at the checkpoint at approximately 2:23 p.m., and remained on the road until 3 p.m. when one by one, they laid down flowers by the barriers before returning to camp.
“We will be back again and again because we cannot go down this way, with this absurdity, this literal madness, that we are the only species that has ever destroyed their own environment,” Ms. Igou said before the march. “This is not natural, this is a manmade problem, and we can fix it if we can get everyone on board.”
Occupy Biden’s mission is to increase pressure on the president to declare a climate emergency and end new fossil fuel projects. The actions are being led by community leaders and supported by dozens of environmental and social justice groups from around the country, and have resulted in hundreds of people taking action.
“If [his administration] is saying that [Biden] is doing all he can, that is simply not true,” Ms. Igou said. “When he got back from COP26, he opened up the largest land lease in history for drilling. Our poor Mother Earth is already struggling and suffering, trying to take care of us … not one more carbon emission should happen if we have a chance of having a survivable future.”
President Biden campaigned on pledges to end drilling on federally owned lands and water, including the Gulf of Mexico. The AP reported on Nov. 17 that energy companies including Shell, BP, Chevron and ExxonMobil offered a combined $192 million for drilling rights on federal oil and gas reserves in the gulf at the first government lease auction under President Biden. The auction “laid bare the hurdles he faces to reach climate goals dependent on deep cuts in fossil fuel emissions.”
A handful of neighborhood residents walked from their homes down the street, curiously following the sound of the rally. One man, Ed White, who lives in Barley Mill Court, said he wasn’t upset by the disturbance, but wanted to understand what the protesters were trying to accomplish.
“Certainly (climate change) is an emergency,” he Mr. White said. “But I’m not so sure this is the right way to go about change. Maybe letter writing or calling congressmen is the right way to do it. I just think it’s a circus, and they’re missing some very good football today.”
Ruth Ann Purchase, cultural mapping program manager for the Lenape Tribe of Delaware, spoke before the march about indigenous freedoms.
“I’m asking all of us to stand together as one, dependents on one earth, and say to President Biden to make a land acknowledgment,” she said. “Acknowledge where you are and that it is sacred to the original people’s world view, which is now allowed… They did not have religious freedom until 1978.”
Ms. Purchase’s son, Simon Purchase, who is not a member of the tribe but is active in tribal events and advocacy, led the group in song before they set course for President Biden’s home. He also expressed severe disappointment in the president’s lack of involvement with local tribal leaders.
“He has yet to acknowledge the Lenape. Hhas yet to say he comes from Lenapehoking,” he said. “He has yet to meet with the chiefs and the elders of the land that he grew up on, made his name on, and acts as the most powerful man in the world on.”
Coby Owens, a civil rights organizer from Wilmington, helped bring the Occupy Biden movement together and coordinated between the several climate justice groups involved. He said he cares deeply about the climate movement, especially since he comes from a community that has been recently impacted by once-in-a-lifetime storms and floods.
“This is a peaceful protest, nonviolent civil disobedience, the very same way that Dr. (Martin Luther) King taught it and practiced it himself,” Mr Owens said. “So in his memory, in the memory of people we have lost in Hurricane Ida and Harvey and all these storms who we can’t bring back, we’re going to keep fighting. We’re going to keep pushing because that’s what we have to do to make sure that we start to change and address this.”
Anthony Chan, University of Delaware senior and co-founder of the Sunrise Movement Newark chapter, said Occupy Biden participants have persevered through cold, rain and snow, but developed a sense of camaraderie through it all, particularly during a New Year’s Eve candlelight vigil “for Mother Earth and for the millions of people who die every year from air pollution alone, for the lives lost and forever changed.”
“I say that inaction is action,” he said. “It is an action to continue to let millions of people die from air pollution and fire-fueled disasters, and let millions of species go extinct.”
Echo Alford, a member of the party for Socialism and Liberation, carried a banner with four others that read “Biden stop new fossil fuel projects now!” They said they were there to support the liberation of the entire working class, “fighting poverty, racism and war.”
“The Democrats control the Senate, the House and the White House,” Mx. Alford said. “They have power to enact sweeping changes that could protect our earth and our futures and they have failed to do so at every turn.”