Two arrested during protests in Rockville against US spending on Ukraine war

Demonstrators stand in front of US Senator Chris Van Hollen’s office in Rockville.

“Stop the war!” “Save the climate!”

Chants erupted Tuesday outside U.S. Senator Chris Van Hollen’s Montgomery County office in Rockville Pike as veterans and youth called on the U.S. government to halt military aid to Ukraine and instead spend the money on mitigating climate change.

About two dozen protesters strategically positioned themselves in the shade of a telephone pole in the 90-degree heat while holding signs and speaking into a microphone. As cars drove by, some drivers honked their horns in support.

County police closed the lane closest to the office during the protest, which involved about 25 people. The group included members of Veterans for Peace and MOCO Green New Deal interns, who are part of a program targeting BIPOC youth — Black, Indigenous and Colored — that advocates for district-level climate action.

Two members of the group, including local climate change activist Jim Driscoll, were later arrested for obstructing traffic.

The group said it has targeted Van Hollen, a Democrat living in Kensington, because he is expected to vote to approve legislation that would provide the military with 20 times more money than the amount approved for anti-inflation legislation that the Senate passed on Sunday issued a press release.

One protester noted the US military is one of the biggest polluters in the world, polluting more than countries like Portugal and Morocco.

“We think we need to cut the military budget, we need to cut military spending because of pollution,” said Stosh Comisiak, another protester, a Vietnam War veteran and Ukrainian-American clinician.

Comisiak carried a large white placard that read “Senator Van Hollen’s office,” which made it clear that not all passers-by knew that the senator’s office was there.

Driscoll, coordinator of the MOCO Green New Deal internship program and a Vietnam War veteran, said Van Hollen refused to meet with Veterans for Peace and the BIPOC MOCO Green New Deal interns before the protest. But he hoped the protesters would draw the senator’s attention.

Van Hollen’s office said in an email he couldn’t meet with protesters because he was meeting with constituents in Frederick, but an employee spoke to the protesters and heard their concerns.

The office provided information on Van Hollen’s position on several issues, including his support for the Inflation Reduction Act, which includes large investments in climate change, and his promotion of Green New Deal legislation. The email also noted that Van Hollen has consistently raised concerns about excessive defense spending and will be looking closely at national defense legislation. He also supports Ukraine in its war with Russia and US efforts to provide aid to Ukraine, the email said.

Driscoll, a former professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, said climate change is affecting people of color the hardest. That’s why he wants to work with students of color to advocate for climate solutions, he said.

“It made sense that we worked together,” said Driscoll.

Raki Krishnan, who recently graduated from Walt Whitman High School in Bethesda and will attend the University of Michigan in the fall, said he plans to explore launching a Green New Deal internship program in the area when he gets there .

He said he has been involved with the MOCO Green New Deal group for about a year, although he was involved in activism before joining.

“It’s mostly local goals like influencing Montgomery County government leaders,” Krishnan said.

After about half an hour, the protesters moved to obstruct traffic and block the driveway to Van Hollen’s office. They continued to sing while spectators watched.

A county police officer issued three warnings to the group. After the third, the students moved, but Comisiak and Driscoll stayed where they were. They were arrested for not getting out of the way of traffic.

Capt. Elizabeth Hattenburg, commander of the county police department’s first precinct, said the group’s leaders had been in contact with police about the protest for a number of weeks.

“They only get subpoenas, we’re not physically taking them to jail today,” said Hattenburg.

Christine Zhu from Gaithersburg, an aspiring junior at the University of Maryland majoring in journalism and Spanish, is a summer intern at Bethesda Beat.

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