Bolton School Girls’ Division Newspaper


Sunflowers, Soup, and Public Order Bills

Some call it a scandal. Some say it was unnecessary. Others say it was a clever political stunt and others aren’t sure what to think.

The events of October toyed with the minds of many, but, on a large scale, what do they show? What would lead someone to do what these two young women did? And how are current events and politics affecting protest?

On Friday 14th October of this year at London’s National Gallery two members of Just Stop Oil (an environmental activist group aiming to halt the UK government’s production of fossil fuels) entered the gallery and threw tomato soup over Van Gogh’s famous ‘Sunflowers’ painting. These women then glued themselves to wall behind them and the 21-year-old Phoebe Plummer delivered a speech with the opening line: ‘What’s more important, art or life?’

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The campaigners were arrested by the Met Police for ‘criminal damage and aggravated trespass’. They were released on bail as the painting itself hadn’t been harmed. According to a spokesperson from the gallery: ‘There is some minor damage to the frame, but the painting is unharmed’. According to a spokesperson from Just Stop Oil, ensuring that the painting wasn’t marred was considered when choosing which to target.

So, you could say that no harm was done. However, you could also say that this tactic was ineffectual. Pointless. Surely, it would just alienate supporters and a non-disruptive protest would mean people wouldn’t listen? But you could also argue that protesting isn’t to gain friends, it’s to spread a message and gain attention.

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And these people certainly had a message to spread. Earlier this year, our previous prime minister,Liz Truss, lifted the ban on fracking, which was seen by some as an ‘attack on nature’.

Since 2019, fracking – a process by which oils and gases are extracted from the ground causing greenhouse gas emissions and earth tremors – has been banned. 

Due the cost of living crisis, Liz Truss reinstated the process to try and tackle this problem, despite opposition from important political figures such as her own Chancellor of the Exchequer – Kwasi Kwarteng. He said that ‘even if we lifted the fracking moratorium tomorrow, it would take up to a decade to extract sufficient volumes – and it would come at a high cost for communiques and our precious countryside’. It’s therefore little wonder that her decision caused so much outrage.

In my opinion, this is not the only thing that caused people to lash out. Alongside this runs the political push to suppress protest. The Public Order Bill is currently being reviewed by Parliament,  which would make methods of invasive protest (e.g. the obstruction of transport, the attaching of one person to another or an object) illegal. The Serious Disruptive Prevent Orders also means that anyone involved in one of these protests could be electronically tagged by the government, limiting their movements and associations with people.  If you thought we lived in a democracy, this Bill may cause you to question the way this country values our freedom to express our views in a non-violent manner.

To me, it almost seems as if when you take away a person’s right to protest disruptively; not listening to those who do protest only persecuting them, the number of disruptive protests only seems to increase.

For example, following the events at the National Gallery, Italian protesters threw pea-soup at another Van Gogh painting and German protesters threw mashed potatoes at a Monet.

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So what do you think?

Do you think that the Just Stop Oil protestors were wrong?

Is the prevention of disruptive protest a choice that will actually have the impact it claims to setting out to have?

And to what extent do you think that the more people’s rights are diminished the more they’ll kick back? How should we stand up for what we believe in? The recent protests and the way they were handled by the state has opened up critical questions about who we are. Let us know what you think this means for our future in this country.

By Mia Maron

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