As the sun glowed through the columns of the Jefferson Memorial around 7:15 AM Wednesday, a man in a racing wetsuit began to churn the murky waters of the Tidal Basin with his kicks as he pushed a model of a sunken row house further into the basin. Constructed out of wood and floating on pontoons, the hollow house was a warning from climate activists with Extinction Rebellion DC of what the city might face should unchecked climate change continue to contribute to rising sea levels.
Though around a dozen activists were gathered for the demonstration, the row house swimmer was doing the brunt of the grunt work, treading water and guiding the structure around the basin for almost an hour. According to the group’s spokesperson, they had a motor on hand they could have used to propel the craft, but chose to go with manpower to minimize fossil fuel emissions.
The basin once served as a swimming hole for Washingtonians 100 years ago, but natation is now prohibited due to high levels of bacteria after rainstorms. The Extinction Rebellion spokesperson wasn’t too concerned about the group’s waterlogged point person, saying as long as he wasn’t swallowing the water he would be fine. Washingtonian’s team was a bit more concerned, as the individual in question was spitting out water and failed to keep his protein bar out of the murk during a mid-demonstration aquatic snack break.
After an hour of paddling, the swimmer abandoned the structure in the middle of the basin and emerged, victorious, in a flooded area of the basin. The group turned to leave without retrieving the house, as they knew US Park Police would remove the structure. Leaving the remains of their activism behind them seems to have become Extinction Rebellion’s calling card. This is the same group that dumped a pile of manure near the White House this spring that was cleaned up by city workers (members of the group say they intended to come back to clean up that mess, but that the city got to it first).
The celebration was short-lived, though, as no sooner did the swimmer exit the water than two Park Police officers approached and slapped him with cuffs. The swimmer went peacefully; police did not share what the individual was being charged with at the scene, and have yet to respond with comment on the matter.