Our world at large has not been short of protest-worthy causes and many movements for societal change over the past several years. We’ve seen powerful traction for important groups such as Black Lives Matter and #MeToo, as well as pushes for fairer socio-economic measures in the wake of the pandemic’s impact. But a lesser-known group has been brought to the public eye through a rather bizarre correlative protest choice. Enter: Just Stop Oil.
This past week, members of the activist group Just Stop Oil glued their hands to paintings at Glasgow’s Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum and London’s Courtauld Institute. With their hands adhered respectfully to the frames of the likes of Van Gogh’s Peach Trees In Blossom, the protestors called out to passersby at the gallery to demand action from their government in relation to global environmental degradation. They specifically call out the UK’s plans to green light forty new oil and gas fields and ignore the proposed Climate and Ecological Emergency Bill.
Just Stop Oil, as they state on their website, “is a coalition of groups working together to ensure the Government commits to halting new fossil fuel licensing and production.” Seemingly having started early this year, Just Stop Oil has been employing various non-violent protests in the UK area and beyond. They point to Extinction Rebellion—another environmental movement that made headlines in the late 10s thanks to publicity from the likes of activist Greta Thunberg—as an example of civil disobedience to bring about necessary change.
While there is no arguing that the planet is in serious turmoil due to the effects of human industrialization and environmental destruction, the means of expressing these aims seem misguided at best. The group’s cry that society cannot go back to normal so long as these crises are not dealt with puts blame in the wrong places and perpetuates the toxic belief that all global woes must be at the forefront of citizens’ lives until solved. Stating the existence of open galleries as immoral so long as there are maladies not only is oddly reductive, but it suggests consequences that those Just Stop Oil rallies against would more than likely applaud—the removal of arts institutions and infrastructure in favour of the practical or profitable. This is not to belittle the driving ideal behind these statements and actions, but a fairly simple noting of missing the mark.
Just Stop Oil is not by any means a distasteful group, and the beliefs that they are fighting for are ones that we all must keep in mind as we choose how we want our governments and nations to shape this world. And their actions of protest aren’t even negatively impactful or necessarily unwise. But there are much more direct means of action and disobedience in order to push for change in this world than touching a painting for a while. At the very least: we know their name now, and what they are fighting for.