Supporters of environmental activist group Just Stop Oil held a ‘go slow’ march in Oxford yesterday afternoon, blocking traffic in the city centre.
The march consisted of a few dozen protesters, most wearing fluorescent orange vests with Just Stop Oil’s black skull logo on the back and several carrying Just Stop Oil banners. One protester at the front with a megaphone led the group through chants including “Rishi Sunak, shame on you, your children are in danger too!” and “No new oil! No new gas! No Cumbrian coal mine!”
The march started from Oxpens Meadow at around 12:30pm and threaded through the town centre, moving up Magdalen Street, St Giles’, and Banbury Road before ending at University Parks just before 14:30pm. A long queue of cars trailed behind the march, with car horns punctuating the chants. The protesters moved aside to let some buses pass and then later did the same for a firetruck.
Just Stop Oil refers to itself as a “coalition of groups working together to demand that the government immediately halt all future licensing and consents for the exploration, development and production of fossil fuels in the UK”. The group has garnered attention and some criticism from its protest methods, which have included throwing soup over Vincent van Gogh’s famous Sunflowers painting in the National Gallery, blocking busy roads in London, and targeting oil distribution networks.
Yesterday’s march was flanked by five police officers. The officer in charge told Cherwell that confrontation between the protesters and motorists was limited to honking. The police had not known about the march in advance, but were aware that the weekend was likely to see climate protests nationally. Cameras in the city centre had alerted them to a large group with banners, and the police then joined the protesters on Magdalen Street. The officer emphasised that the protesters were acting within their rights and compared the impact on motorists to that of a broken down vehicle or rush hour traffic.
Taking part in the march was a second year student from Lady Margaret Hall studying medicine, who told Cherwell: “Really I’m just scared and we need to do something. […] Students in Oxford have a certain amount of privilege by just being here, and we as a collective are not using this enough, are not engaging enough. Everyone says that the people around here are the future, but do we have one?”
Jessica Upton, who described herself as “Oxford resident, vet, and foster carer”, told Cherwell: “I have friends in Oxford whose homes have flooded, my child has been hospitalised […] with asthma linked to air pollution […]. Just Stop Oil’s message […] is doable and sensible and just needs political will, which needs public pressure, which needs public awareness. I’m marching today to raise that awareness and get the conversation going.”
Jessica said she was involved in Just Stop Oil action in Birmingham and London, and has been arrested several times but never charged. She thinks that people are becoming more sympathetic towards them, and “drivers less cross”. Motorists have told her to get a job or go to China, but “nothing too nasty”.
Also amongst the protestors was Oxford resident Thalia, who said she was marching because “we want people to pick a side, to pick life, they have to make a choice”. Asked about further Just Stop Oil action, she told Cherwell “sometimes we have to take a break, just like any runner does in a marathon, but we aren’t going to stop until the government agrees to stop [oil].”
Daniel Korr, another Oxford University student involved in the march, said that “I am marching today because I have no other choice. By continuing to invest in new fossil fuels the government engages in a project whose only result will be the death of millions and suffering of many more. I refuse to be complicit in this death project and therefore I must take meaningful disruptive action to try and stop this government and their plans.”
Asked how Just Stop Oil arranges action, Daniel told Cherwell there are a lot of group chats and it is “pretty decentralised, anyone can come up with something if they can get enough people to sign up”. He thought that most of Just Stop Oil’s engagement in Oxford had come from local residents rather than students, but that this might be shifting.
Daniel said that Just Stop Oil had recently hosted talks at Oxford Brookes and within the city centre, and that “a lot of people out today are from those”. They plan to host another talk in Oxford during Trinity Term.