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Throwing Soup At The Problem?; A brief history of the Just Stop Oil Protests

Unzeela Manzoor- BA Politics and International Relations

Amid momentous climate change calamities, environmental activists under the banner of ‘Just Stop Oil’ have been seeking to amplify their call for climate justice through a plethora of protests. 

The organisation conducts a couple of dozen meetings per week throughout the country and is largely funded by the Climate Emergency Fund which is financed by petroleum mogul J. Paul Getty’s granddaughter, Aileen.

Living up to their name, the group demands in their own words that the government, ‘immediately halt all future licensing and consents for the exploration, development and production of fossil fuels in the UK.’

Launched in February earlier this year the group mobilised the following month to interrupt the BAFTAs Red-Carpet event. The aim was to draw celebrities with bigger platforms to the cause. A week later demonstrators began to storm onto football pitches at London Stadiums with one protestor bounding himself to the goalpost. These early activities were effective in drawing attention to the group and a pattern of turbulent protests soon followed. 

In April, the group began to target oil suppliers in southeast England by disrupting distribution routes and vehicles. These protests were significantly more focused and in line with the organisation’s principles and were still disruptive enough to garner notice. There was a week of suspended activity to allow the government to respond before the group returned to action. 

By July, multiple headlines were secured with polarising demonstrations taking place. A small group took over the F1 race track while the race was on a break after a crash, and won over the support of celebrities like Lewis Hamilton. The movement did not halt there and soon developed a more effective tactic.

Activists began glueing themselves to paintings by John Constable and Leonardo da Vinci, stirring up controversies and subsequently a lot of attention. The stride of using art to send a message continued into October when protestors threw tomato soup onto Vincent van Gogh’s ‘The Arles Sunflower’. The paintings themselves remained unharmed but the demonstrators faced arrests which led to mixed reactions of public backlash as well as support for their cause. The motive behind these measures was in the group’s own words to question – ‘What is worth more? Art or life?’. The following weeks remained busy as several protests engulfed the City of London. Whether it was throwing themselves onto roads or throwing cake at King Charles’ wax figure in Madame Tussauds,  the theme of throwing things at notable works of art to draw attention remained consistent. 

November saw the organisations persevere, as they did not intend on slowing down. Several supporters of the cause have taken to causing severe blockades and traffic on the M25 and other UK motorways. On the 14th, a Barclays building in Aberdeen was splashed with the signature orange paint once again keeping the group relevant in popular media, as the event went viral on apps like TikTok. 

The collective views the Governments plan to license several new fossil fuels by 2025 as, ‘an obscene and genocidal policy,’ that, ‘just has to stop.’ They argue that the fate of our planet’s future can not be left alone and we owe an active duty to its survival because ‘if you are not in resistance you are appeasing evil.’

 “To continue that fight and win that …[climate]… justice, without generating more collateral damage, is unlikely…”

There then remains the question of whether news-grabbing protests are actually influencing government policy or making the day-to-day lives of people, who have little to nothing to do with the policy, much harder. Climate justice will not be easy to gain and has to be constructed through resistance, yet many wonder how we might reach those who sit in power and seem untouchable. To continue the fight and win that justice, without generating more collateral damage, is unlikely, hence the country may still need organisations like Just Stop Oil to stop the climate crisis from getting worse.

Photo Caption: Just Stop Oil Protestors doing a sitting Protest (Credit: PA News Agency).

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