Hip Hop Caucus President Rev. Lennox Yearwood Jr. Is Ready to Shut Down DC

Photograph by Chelsea Bland via the AFGE Flickr page.

Speaking to a crowd of dozens at the Friends Meeting House in Dupont Circle Wednesday night, the Rev. Lennox Yearwood Jr. rallied Shut Down DC organizers to continue planning their attempt to block major DC intersections on September 23.

The president and CEO of the Hip Hop Caucus compared the movement’s dedication to climate action to the role American abolitionists played in the early 1800’s. “I am now looking…at those who are not just abolitionists, but climate abolitionists,” he said. “I am now looking around in a room…of folks who they may say are crazy, are risky, are too far to the left, are too extreme. I am looking at people who history will say were right for fighting every single day.” As his speech wound to a close, attendees joined Yearwoood in chanting “and fight!” while punching the air with their right fists.

Washingtonian caught up with Yearwood after his speech to get his thoughts on Shut Down DC’s organizing tactics, and whether he thinks the group will effectively shut down the city, as it plans to do this coming Monday.

Just from looking around, this is a majority white space. What are some things Shut Down DC can do to ensure that the concerns of people of color are heard?

Climate change is a climate crisis issue, so clearly black, red, brown, and indigenous people have to have their voices in the conversation. [Shut Down DC is], from what I understand, continuing to reach out to affinity groups who can come to this process at their [own] pace. [Some people] might not want to be involved in peaceful civil disobedience, but maybe just want to be out there [in support]. We just need to make sure that we are engaging those voices in the community.

You’ve done a lot of actions like this before. What are some of the potential logistical issues you think the group could run into on Monday; what are the hurdles they’re going to have to jump to pull this off?

I think that the biggest hurdle is people. They’re going to have people who are willing to put their bodies against the machine and cause a little bit of good trouble. I also believe the next step is going to be logistics. Monday is a weekday, and it’s a lot to shut the city down on a weekday, a lot is going on. So a lot of work is going to be done in that regard to make it happen. I’m praying they are successful because I feel it’s important to continue to highlight this crisis. To your point earlier about people of color, I have heard from a lot of communities of color who are hearing about the climate strikes, and I think they’re becoming more interested in this process.

Shut Down DC says it has 1,100 people who have signed a pledge of resistance and about 400 who have been actively planning with affinity groups. Do you think that’s enough to effectively close down ten major DC intersections during Monday morning rush hour?

I believe where there’s a will there’s a way. In the spirit of nonviolent civil disobedience, I believe that spirit of causing good trouble will definitely take place. So we shall see, but I think that over a thousand people doing anything anywhere in the world can cause that.

The group has stressed they want to target people in power and will leave public transit alone. But there are still lots of everyday people who drive to work. How will interfering with their morning commutes make them more likely to support your cause?

History shows us there will be many people who will be uncomfortable. It was not comfortable when Rosa Parks caused that bus to be halted and people had to boycott the bus system. It was not comfortable when people were at the lunch counter moments in Greensboro. There are many times from our history where there were people who were uncomfortable. But history shows that sometimes there’s a need to cause people to be a little uncomfortable so that we can get to a place of justice and fairness for all.

Jane Recker
Assistant Editor

Jane is a Chicago transplant who now calls Cleveland Park her home. Before joining Washingtonian, she wrote for Smithsonian Magazine and the Chicago Sun-Times. She is a graduate of Northwestern University, where she studied journalism and opera.

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