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This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at Leeds chapter.

‘Just Stop Oil’ Protests

‘Just Stop Oil’ – the three words which have infiltrated recent news through their climate rage and orange spray paint, sparking outrage among global warming deniers, members of the public who are ‘just trying to get to work’, and University board members alike. Now renowned for their fearless striking, this movement has faced recent repercussions on the University of Leeds campus after vandalising The Great Hall with their iconic orange splatter. As news spread across campus about the orange paint as well as the videos of the police and the arrests, I could not help but think about what is actually being achieved. Are these necessary means to an end? How do we approach such ‘extreme’ dissent?

Protests, as a form of expression, remain the cornerstone of democracy – and rightfully so. Having an avenue through which one can challenge power structures, stand for or against a variety of causes and exert their right to an opinion has proved integral to constructing a dialogue between those making the rules and those who are abiding by them. Throughout history, we have seen countless revolutions and uprisings. Whilst they may not all result in complete victory or success, they all undoubtedly share one common factor – the pursuit of justice, whether we agree with their plight or not. 

We have seen that alongside this, protesting often remains inseparable from some sort of disruption. This can vary from merely cutting off certain routes or transport access during marches, to the extreme measures of Emily Wilding Davison who lunged in front of a horse to propel women’s suffrage. Just over a century later, Davison (and the suffragettes at large) remain, for the most part, figures of glory and respect. The impact of their dissent underpins much of today’s society. In fact, I highly doubt I would be writing this article without the empowerment of the women who predated me. However, there is no misunderstanding here, as it is far from the truth that this sort of triumph or understanding of justice pertained to public view at the time. Contemporary society approached the subject with much disgust and overt criticism, fuelling the conceptualisation of the stigmatised angry feminists that still plague misogynists taunting today. It seems that this shift in perspective over generations and periods of time has proved crucial for the way we perceive protests as either right – worthy, justified, measured – or wrong – theatrical, extreme, and an abuse of democracy. If we then seem to romanticise protests over time, how can we decide how to approach them in the present? Are we too inclined to approach ‘Just Stop Oil’ in the same way the early 20th century public did the suffragettes? 

It seems to me that the current ‘Just Stop Oil’ protests have caused some irrevocable damage, both to the nature of protesting as well as to the many individuals punished for dissent. We must consider at what point protesting becomes counter-productive, as the chaos that ensues not only undermines the cause but also devalues the act at large. How can we limit civil unrest whilst also preserving a means of expression that is so integral to democracy on a wider scale? The solution remains unclear but is undoubtedly something that will continue to haunt and shape society, even on the most insular and intimate levels, as it shapes and progresses. Perhaps as the next century passes, it will be our descendants who question why this plight seemed so outlandish, why we didn’t support these causes and why it received such fierce criticism. Hindsight, after all, always provides new perspective.

Edited by:

Sonja Stojiljkovic 
I am an English Literature student in my final year of study. Reading and writing has dominated the large majority of my time for as long as I can remember. In particular, I am fond of Joan Didion and Nora Ephron’s work as well as the wider sphere of feminist influence.