Opinion

Londonist Talks To Just Stop Oil

Londonist Talks To Just Stop Oil

Wimbledon, the Royal Albert Hall, Tower Bridge, 10 Downing Street, the National Gallery — Just Stop Oil has targeted some of London's most iconic landmarks and events. We speak to Anna Holland, Just Stop Oil spokesperson and 'Van Gogh soup thrower'.

Two people sit by a glass building sprayed with orange paint
"This is not about any one specific event, this is about resistance. A horse race has nothing to do with women's votes but it was a pivotal moment in history."

You've done a number of high profile protests in London. How do you choose where to target?

Unless there is effective enough action from groups like Just Stop Oil, the discussions around the climate crisis and the oil and gas industry is seriously lacking in the mainstream media. So, to shift that conversation, Just Stop Oil try to target events and institutions that are the most iconic or historic to increase our chance of discussing climate collapse in publications such as this one. This is not about any one specific event, this is about resistance. A horse race has nothing to do with women's votes but it was a pivotal moment in history.

People in orange tabards marching on Tower Bridge
Tower Bridge is among the many London landmarks that've been targeted by Just Stop Oil.

Which has been the most effective London campaign so far?

The Soup on Sunflowers action that I was a part of created the largest international wave, allowing me to discuss the absolute necessity of ending new oil and gas licenses with the likes of New York Times, Forbes, Glamour magazine, Dazed, Euronews, and others. According to Meltwater Statistics, this generated more international online mentions involving the word 'climate' than when one-third of Pakistan went underwater just a few months earlier. This is why we do direct action in this way.

Throwing orange powder at the Chelsea Flower Show
Throwing orange powder at the Chelsea Flower Show in 2023 (moments after this, a woman started hosing the protestors down).

And what hasn't worked so well?

Interestingly, certain actions that are less "controversial" do not do as well in terms of media recognition. For example, when 80,000 people gathered outside Parliament Square for Extinction Rebellion's 'The Big One', it generated virtually no press attention about the climate or about the need for mass action. A few days earlier, one man climbed onto a snooker table and threw some children's orange powder paint, and it made it onto the front page of five newspapers. Another example is the extensive coverage Just Stop Oil got when they sprayed orange paint on the side of an Aston Martin showroom versus essentially zero coverage that they got when they sprayed orange paint on the Total Energies headquarters (the majority shareholder of the East African Crude Oil Pipeline (EACOP)). The truth is that the Murdoch media empire will only report on us if they can vilify us. No one will listen to you if they cannot hear you.

Two Suffragettes with a 'Votes for Women' placard
The Suffragettes are among many inspirations for Just Stop Oil, although they don't condone violence. Image: public domain

You sometimes mimic the Suffragettes, for example, targeting the Rokeby Venus. Are they one of your biggest influences?

We take inspiration from lots of movements including the Queer Rights movements, the Civil Rights Movement, and yes, absolutely, the Suffragettes — as they are one of the best known successes in the UK of civil resistance working. However, we do not condone violent action. History has shown that non-violent direct action is the most effective and safest form of resistance so that is a line that we will never cross.

Two young people glued to a wall of the National Gallery with a soup-spattered Sunflowers painting behind them
Anna Holland (right) after throwing soup on Van Gogh's Sunflowers in the National Gallery in 2022.

What do you say to Londoners who claim you're disrupting their daily lives?

Under normal circumstances, disrupting people's lives would be unacceptable, but this isn't normal circumstances. We are in the middle of an emergency that is being completely ignored. So, we disrupt like a fire alarm. We disrupt in ways that cannot be ignored so that everyone can hear the message that urgent action is necessary to avoid disaster and the first step is to stop all new oil and gas projects and focus on real solutions. While Just Stop Oil can be seen as irritating, would you rather have your life be disrupted by flooding? By wildfires melting train tracks and destroying houses?

Chris Packham being interviewed
TV presenter Chris Packham has shown his solidarity with Just Stop Oil.

You've been targeted by undercover journalists and police. Do you have anything in place to deal with this, or is it not really something that concerns you?

It's no surprise that we are being targeted by undercover police and journalists; we're trying to bring an end to the status quo. I'm not concerned about it though, if anything it just shows how powerful we are as a movement. All it has taken is one group of students, grandparents, priests, teachers, and other ordinary people to truly rattle the government. First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, and then you win.

ULEZ signs
"I cannot see why people have so many issues with ULEZ." Image: Matt Brown/Londonist

What do you say to Londoners who are convinced ULEZ is a bad thing?

The demand of Just Stop Oil is specifically focused on ending all new oil and gas licenses in the UK (oh, and coal now too because some idiot thought that was a good idea to bring back). We do not argue either side of ULEZ. In my own personal view, the aim of ULEZ in London seems to be focused on air pollution and considering that fossil fuelled air pollution kills millions every single year, I cannot see why people have so many issues with it.

A person playing dead with a police officer standing over them
A Just stop Oil protester 'playing dead' on the streets of London.

What plans do you have for action in London in 2024?

In 2024, we will be continuing our nonviolent disruptive civil resistance, as it is the most morally acceptable thing to do at this time in history. We'll be focusing more on politicians ahead of the upcoming General Election, because it is they who will have the most blood on their hands if they do not take swift and direct action to stop perpetuating the climate crisis. This has already started with giving Labour MPs letters asking that they agree to resign within six months if they do not revoke all the Tory oil and gas licenses. We have received no replies so actions will continue to escalate until we get one, from knocking on their doors for a conversation, disrupting political events, or occupying offices if necessary.

Protesters with Just Stop Oil banners in front of Westminster
"Climate crisis will lead to will lead to conflict within the city."

Without enough action, what will the London of 2050 look like?

Since London is a city that is centred around the Thames, Westminster Abbey, the Houses of Parliament, Buckingham Palace, and the homes of many millions of people will be below the annual flood level and will risk destruction from devastating floods on a near regular basis. Events like the heatwave of 2022 will become more and more common until the London ambulance service and the fire service will no longer be able to cope. Droughts and extreme weather events will make crops harder and harder to grow around the world. With panic buying now becoming mainstream as shown in previous crises and food becoming scarcer, this will lead to conflict within the city (and wider around the world). I know it sounds like a dystopia that I am describing, but this is already the reality for so many island nations in the Global South and countries like Sudan.

Someone holding a placard: 'honk if you support us'
" Taking the first step into action is a scary thing, but now more than ever it is the most important decision you can make."

By the way, why orange?

Orange is the combination of red and yellow. Red is the colour of anger. Yellow is the colour of hope. We combine both in Just Stop Oil.

Protesting outside Downing Street
Protesting outside Downing Street.

How can Londoners get involved?

They can sign up for action on our website and come to their nearest Welcome Talk. Taking the first step into action is a scary thing, but now more than ever it is the most important decision you can make. Even if your action looks like donating monthly, volunteering behind the scenes, or getting arrested, you will — unlike those currently in power — be standing on the right side of history. Things may be bleak around the world right now but hope comes through action.

All images © Just Stop Oil unless otherwise stated.

Last Updated 06 March 2024

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