OPINION: Destructive activism attracts the wrong kind of attention


Photo courtesy of Luke B (CC BY-NC 2.0)

Just Stop Oil, a British climate change organization, has led much attenion-seeking activism.

It can be easy for your voice to get lost in the sea of issues in today’s world. Thousands of people take to the streets daily to protest and call attention to causes they believe in. Activism comes in all forms, but some activists have taken their call to action too far, diluting the point they are advocating for in the first place with nonsensical publicity stunts.

On Oct. 14, two protesters threw tomato soup at Vincent Van Gogh’s “Sunflower” painting at London’s National Gallery in order to draw attention to the organization Just Stop Oil. They are committed to stopping the British government from developing and exploring the production of fossil fuels. This rather disturbing and unconventional way of drawing attention to Just Stop Oil, made the protestors seem immature and brought attention to their foolishness rather than the message at hand. 

After throwing the soup, the protestors glued their hands to the museum wall and shouted a speech to all those who would listen. 

“What is worth more, art or life?” they said. “Fuel is unaffordable for millions of cold, hungry families. They can’t even afford to heat a tin of soup….We cannot afford new oil and gas. It is going to take everything we know and love.”  

All of these points are undeniably true. There is no doubt that the climate is in danger, and something needs to be done. However, throwing soup onto a beloved art piece does not help work toward change. It draws attention to these protestors, and brings their actions into the forefront of our conversations, but does not bring awareness to the issue at hand. In fact, the absurdity of the protest delegitimizes the issue of climate change as a whole. Most people will not use this as an opportunity to learn about the work that Just Stop Oil is doing to support their mission, but rather will dismiss the organization all together on the account of seemingly foolish actions. 

This is not the first attention-seeking, shock-value activism that Just Stop Oil has done. On Oct. 17, the organization glued themselves to the tarmac outside the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy in London, blocking traffic and warning London officials that they will block every street in Westminster until the government agrees to stop newfound oil and gas projects. 

While Just Stop Oil fights for a good and much needed cause, they have yet again caused public havoc that is doing more damage than good. Many people, understandably, struggle to find the connection between gluing themselves to the street – or throwing soup at a painting – and raising awareness to reverse climate change. 

 Just Stop Oil is not the only group that participates in this kind of activism; many more organizations across the globe break statues, burn items, scream at innocent civilians and destroy historical artifacts as means of protesting and bringing awareness to the issues at hand. 

The shock value of these actions decrease as they are repeated over and over again by several different organizations, and the destructive and chaotic scenes only delegitimize the causes and belittle the true meaning of the issues. We should always fight for what is right. But find a reasonable and relevant way to do it – not “soup for climate change.”

Photo Credit: “P1010125” by Luke B is licensed under (CC BY-NC 2.0)