On an unseasonably warm Thursday night at Arthur Ashe Stadium in Queens, most U.S. Open attendees were sitting back in their seats watching 19-year-old phenom Coco Gauff take on Karolína Muchová. But while everyone was focused on the court, one man was busy gluing his bare feet to the concrete floor in the stands.
The semifinal match, which Gauff won, was interrupted in the second set for around 50 minutes by a group of environmental protesters. Three activists with the organization Extinction Rebellion NYC stood in the upper levels of the stadium, yelling “End fossil fuels!” while wearing T-shirts with the same message. Four protesters in total were involved, and while three were escorted out of the arena without issue, “police officers and medical personnel were brought in to safely remove the fourth protester” whose feet were affixed to the ground, per The New York Times.
Times reporter Kurt Streeter quotes one attendee who said that while she agrees with the activists that climate change is “certainly a problem,” disrupting the U.S. Open is in her mind “not the most effective way to protest for change.”
Of course, anyone whose serene evening of sipping Honey Deuces is interrupted by protesters screaming about the horrors of human-caused climate change and the need to act might say the same thing. But she’s dead wrong. The U.S. Open is actually the perfect place for a climate protest.
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Even Gauff, whose momentum was hobbled by the activists, seemed to think so. “I wasn’t pissed at the protesters,” she said after the match, per CNN. “I know the stadium was because it just interrupted entertainment. I always speak about preaching what you feel and what you believe in. It was done in a peaceful way, so I can’t get too mad at it.”
She hit the nail on the head: Environmental protesters have rolled out new tactics in recent years to raise awareness around their desire to halt fossil fuel production (a desire echoed by Secretary-General of the United Nations António Guterres who recently said continued fossil fuel production is “incompatible with human survival”), including vandalizing art and blocking traffic, but this specific instance of disrupting a tennis match doesn’t hurt anyone. It’s entertainment. The pros and cons of stopping a minimum-wage worker from driving to their job where they’re trying to provide for their family can be debated, but pausing a tennis match being watched around the world? That’s a smart move, evidenced by the global press coverage and social media responses.
It’s even smarter considering that two of the official partners of the 2023 U.S. Open are J.P. Morgan and that financial firm’s banking arm Chase, with the court Gauff and Muchová played on plastered with the names of both companies. According to the 14th annual Banking on Climate Chaos report, which looks at the banks funding fossil fuel projects, J.P. Morgan Chase has spent more money on expanding oil, gas and coal than any other bank in the world since the signing of the Paris Agreement in 2016, with a total of $434.1 billion going to these projects.
If spectators knew that context, maybe they’d turn their “Kick them out!” chants on the sponsors, rather than the protesters who paused one tennis match for under an hour while the rest of the fans simply drank their melon ball-adorned cocktails.