Over recent months, environmental protest group Just Stop Oil seem to have become public enemy no.1 in the UK. It’s a remarkable feat, really; amidst war in Europe, a cost of living crisis and months of domestic political turmoil, this group of hardline activists have united swathes of the kingdom in hatred.
Their acts of civil disruption have involved blocking public roads, throwing soup and glueing themselves to valuable artworks, and spray painting buildings across London. They want to piss people off. And they have. Social and conventional media alike have broadcast countless clips of orange-clad activists being manhandled off roads and out of galleries, consistently generating a level of indignation achievable only behind the wheel of a car or when watching television.
But who are Just Stop Oil, what have they done so far and, perhaps most importantly, what do they want?
Who are Just Stop Oil?
The group only launched in February, calling the extraction of new British fossil fuels “genocidal” and “obscene”, and a policy destined to “condemn humanity into oblivion.”
Their demand, in writing at least, is simple: “That the UK government makes a statement that it will immediately halt all future licensing and consents for the exploration, development and production of fossil fuels in the UK.”
The imposed deadline by which the government statement had to be made was March 14, and has therefore long since passed. “Nonviolent direct action” was promised as a result of not obeying, and that is the stage of the Just Stop Oil operation that we now find ourselves in.
Though predominantly based in the UK, Just Stop Oil ‘projects’ have set up homes across the world, with global branches found in Sweden, the USA, Germany, Canada, Switzerland, Norway, Italy, France and Australia.
Just Stop Oil is primarily funded by the Los Angeles based charity Climate Emergency Fund. CEF helps bankroll a series of other environmental activist organisations, including Extinction Rebellion and Insulate Britain.
What have Just Stop Oil done so far?
It seems like a lifetime ago, eight months, but it was a Just Stop Oil activist who, back in March, cable-tied himself to a goal post during Everton and Newcastle’s Premier League encounter. The man was 21-year old Louis McKechnie and he was given six weeks in prison for his protest, which specifically targeted Newcastle due to their Saudi Arabian owners.
In April, Just Stop Oil’s road blockades began, initially targeting routes leading to major oil facilities in England, including a blockade on the M4. On 28 April, activists sabotaged petrol pumps at two service stations on the M25.
By July, the group had taken ‘road blockade’ to new heights, piling onto the track at the 2022 F1 British Grand Prix at Silverstone. Thankfully, for their sake, a crash had led to the neutralisation of the race behind the safety car, meaning the protestors were cleared from the track without incident.
A day later, two people glued themselves to John Constable’s 1821 painting, The Hay Wain, at the National Gallery, as well as printing a dystopian illustration atop of the painting. Leonardo da Vinci’s The Last Supper at the Royal Academy of Arts was next to get the glue treatment.
Seven petrol stations in Central London were blocked in late August, with 43 people arrested on suspicion of vandalism.
Which brings us to October, and the already infamous incident where two protesters threw cans of tomato soup over Vincent Van Gogh’s ‘Sunflowers’, before glueing themselves to the National Gallery wall. The painting was protected by glass, a fact the protestors claimed to know, and there was only minimal damage to the frame.
The waxwork of King Charles at Madame Tussauds was the next target; he got a cake smeared in his face. The old glue tactic was again employed last week as well, with Vermeer’s The Girl With the Pearl Earring getting the trademark Just Stop Oil treatment.
Their group’s most recent concerted effort seems to be a mission titled ‘Occupy Westminster’. Rolex, Ferrari and Aston Martin are among the luxury brands to have had their shops spray painted in recent days, with the UK’s Home Office and MI5 also getting the Just Stop Oil makeover.
What do Just Stop Oil want?
According to their website, a UK government statement remains their lone demand. It’s unclear, however, if that now the initial March 14 deadline has passed a statement would be enough to appease Just Stop Oil. A new deadline was imposed for November 4.
The Telegraph reported that last month, during a demonstration outside Buckingham Palace, a police officer asked: “How long are you going to be here?” A protester replied: “Until we get a new government.” A police liaison officer then reportedly said: “Let me know if I can I do anything for you.” The protester replied: “Not unless you have a letter from Liz Truss.”
There is indeed a new government since that exchange, though I’m not sure one could credit Just Stop Oil for the demise of Truss and arrival of Rishi, and the group have continued protests since the start of Sunak’s premiership.
“This is not a one day event, this is an act of resistance against a criminal government and their genocidal death project,” a spokesperson said. “Our supporters will be returning – today, tomorrow and the next day – and the next day after that – and every day until our demand is met: no new oil and gas in the UK.
“We will not be intimidated by changes to the law, we will not be stopped by private injunctions sought to silence peaceful people.
“Our supporters understand that these are irrelevant when set against mass starvation, slaughter, the loss of our rights, freedoms and communities.”
Speaking to the Guardian, a Just Stop Oil campaigner, Miranda Whelehan, said: “To stand up and to be able to do this stuff is a serious privilege, and I just think we need to do it if we can.”
Whelehan noted that the central demand for the government to stop granting new fossil fuel licences had not changed.
“We do have to push for the action that’s necessary at this time, and if that does mean criminal records and whatever comes after, I do think that’s a step that is needed. We just have to keep going.”
Despite all the pledges for ceaseless action, earlier this week came an announcement that Just Stop Oil were pausing their disruption. With a new deadline for this Friday, 4 November, the group are “giving time to those in the Government who are in touch with reality to consider their responsibilities to this country at this time.
“If, as we sadly expect, we receive no response from ministers to our demand by the end of Fri 4 Nov, we will escalate our legal disruption against this treasonous Govt.
“Our action will be proportionate to the task of stopping the crime against humanity which is new oil and gas.”