Throwing soup at Van Gogh’s Sunflowers, smearing cake on King Charles III’s waxwork, spray painting an array of luxury car dealerships — the Just Stop Oil demonstrations don’t look to be ending any time soon.
If you’re unfamiliar with the group of protesters making headlines for throwing soup, glueing themselves to art and spray painting police stations, allow me to introduce you to Just Stop Oil.
Describing themselves on their website as “a coalition of groups working together to ensure that the government commits to ending all new licences and consents for the exploration, development and production of fossil fuels in the UK”, Just Stop Oil have been making headlines across the globe for their recent demonstrations taking place across Britain and beyond.
The main aim of the group is to spur the UK government into action. Adamant that the British public can end their reliance on fossil fuels completely by “powering ahead with renewables and cutting energy demand, insulating Britain and rethinking how we travel, and ensuring that no-one is left behind and everyone’s voice is heard,” their aims are noble — so why are they receiving so much backlash?
Soup on Sunflowers
On the Just Stop Oil website, they have said that they would occupy Westminster every day throughout the month of October with marches, strikes and demonstrations — and that’s exactly what they’ve done.
The act of civil resistance that garnered the group many (many, many) headlines and even more disgruntled feedback came earlier this month, when two young protesters threw cans of soup over Van Gogh’s Sunflowers in room 43 of London’s National Gallery.
Phoebe Plummer and Anna Holland (ages 21 and 20, respectively) arrived at the gallery in jackets under which their Just Stop Oil t-shirts were hidden until crunch time, or splat time if you will. They opened up their cans of soup, splashed them across the 1887 still-life painting and glued their palms to the wall.
It is important to note here that the precious oil painting is kept behind glass and was left unscathed. It was an act intended to cause a stir, not destruction.
Plummer then asked the question: “What is worth more, art or life? Is it worth more than food? More than justice? Are you more concerned about the protection of a painting or the protection of our planet and people?” The protester went on to explain that “the cost-of-living crisis is part of the cost-of-oil crisis; fuel is unaffordable to millions of cold, hungry families. They can’t even afford to heat a tin of soup.”
Following up later on the Just Stop Oil social media platforms, Plummer said that though these actions might seem mad, “nothing is madder than the government pushing ahead with these fossil fuel licences, knowing the destruction that it’s going to bring us.”
There’s more where that came from
— Steven Bakker (@Kolpen) October 27, 2022
Earlier this week, Dutch police arrested three people at The Hague’s Mauritshuis when one protester attempted to glue his own head to Johannes Vermeer’s golden age masterpiece Girl with a Pearl Earring. Another protester poured a can of soup over the other’s head as they revealed their Just Stop Oil t-shirts. As the subsequent video uploaded to social media illustrates, onlookers were less than impressed with the display.
“How do you feel when you see something beautiful and priceless apparently being destroyed before your eyes?” the protester asked “Do you feel outraged? Good. Where is that feeling when you see the planet being destroyed?”
“This painting is protected by glass, it’s just fine … the future of our children is not protected. People in fuel poverty, who need to choose between heating or eating, are not protected.”
Paint on police HQ
? BREAKING: LORA JOHNSON THROWS PAINT ON MET POLICE HQ ?
?? New oil and gas will lead to crop failure, food shortages and the collapse of law and order. Human civilisation as we know it is on the verge of collapse.#FreeLouis #FreeJosh #CivilResistance pic.twitter.com/EjeBaI8UcD
— Just Stop Oil ???? (@JustStop_Oil) October 14, 2022
The art world isn’t the only target of Just Stop Oil’s civil resistance. Earlier this month, a Just Stop Oil protester was filmed throwing paint on MET police HQ at Scotland Yard. When asked why she was doing this, she responded that she was protesting against the imprisonment of innocent, peaceful protestors for “standing up to the corrupt government and corporations.”
On the group’s 24th day of civil unrest, they caked the King, or more accurately, they threw a chocolate cake at the waxwork of King Charles III at Madame Tussauds. Two protesters in their 20s stepped over the barrier before reading their statement, which concluded with the line, “The science is clear. The demand is simple: just stop new oil and gas. It’s a piece of cake.” The pair were later arrested on criminal charges.
Throughout the month, Just Stop Oil also blocked Piccadilly in London, spray painted the Rolex store in Knightsbridge orange, and staged numerous demonstrations outside luxury car dealerships throughout the city of London. Though these protests are entirely peaceful and are intended to serve as a wake up call for society, many are more concerned with the disruption to day-to-day scheduling than the message they’re trying to convey.
According to The Guardian, spokesperson for Just Stop Oil Alex De Koning said that alienating people from their cause was a concern. “This is not The X Factor,” he said. “We are not trying to make friends here, we are trying to make a change, and unfortunately this is the way that change happens.”
If nothing else, these demonstrations hold a mirror up to a society that cannot bare to be met with the reality of their own actions. Are we, as individuals, solely to blame with the state the world has ended up in? No, but in staging civil acts of resistance in settings where we would otherwise we disengaged from the uncertainty of our future, we’re forced to feel uncomfortable. It’s in that discomfort that a hunger for change can be felt, nurtured, and acted upon further to enact real change if we join forces in the pursuit of a common goal.
So, have they got your attention?