To our youth, we extol the virtues of fighting for our rights and having our voices heard. Many embark on their activist journey by brandishing placards at protests, sometimes on issues they may not fully grasp, or by staging colorful stunts like dyeing an Ashes wicket or a snooker table baize with orange paint. Yet, as we mature, we often find ourselves resorting to writing strongly-worded emails to express our disagreements.
It’s easy to criticize soft targets like Jonny Bairstow or Joe Perry, but the real culprits who deserve our attention – China, the US, Russia, and Japan – often escape unscathed.
To be truly effective, perhaps the “Just Stop Oil” campaigners should venture (by land if possible) to mainland China, which produces a staggering 30 percent of global emissions, and splatter orange paint on Xi Jinping right outside his presidential palace. While media coverage might be minimal, this kind of bold action would at least draw attention before they’re inevitably carted off to some remote gulag for a 25-year sentence.
Their attacks on soft targets, however, lack any real bravery. The term “attacks” here is used loosely, as it’s more akin to being playfully mauled by a children’s entertainer or accidentally spilling turmeric while cooking prawn biryani.
True courage in protesting lies in one’s unwavering commitment and the personal risks they’re willing to undertake for their cause. Remember Swampy, the eco-protester who, instead of waving placards, burrowed underground in 1996 at a protest against the A30 extension in Devon? He spent seven days and nights in a series of tunnels, facing off against 400 security guards who tried to evict him. Dr. Adrian Rogers, the prospective Tory party candidate at the time, even suggested they be “gassed out” – though he later clarified he didn’t mean lethal gas, just a “safe irritant gas.”
As a curious side note, Swampy later appeared before the local magistrate, none other than David Cameron’s mother, who would go on to become the UK’s Prime Minister.
From the “great unwashed” to the genuine lone crusaders who challenge oppressors on their own turf, there’s a stark contrast. Peter Tatchell, now 70, stands tall in the bravery department. He recently flew to Qatar to protest against their anti-LGBT stance, attempted a citizen’s arrest on Robert Mugabe (unsuccessfully, unsurprisingly), and confronted Mike Tyson in 2002 over homophobic comments outside Tyson’s gym in Memphis. Peter, whom I’ve had the pleasure of meeting, is a placid, amiable, and likable individual one-on-one, but he’s faced beatings and firebombs while speaking out against countries like Iran and Russia and criticizing religions for perceived injustices.
Today, we hesitate to give the “Just Stop Oil” movement any media attention. While many may support their cause, it often appears to be fueled by fanciful thinking with little substance or attention to detail. Being lectured by millennials who drive to protests in gas-guzzling cars while wearing t-shirts produced in environmentally unfriendly factories doesn’t win over the masses. Nor does vandalizing a Van Gogh painting with tomato soup, splattering orange paint on an iconic government building, or blocking ambulances from reaching those in need by showcasing the power of adhesive glue. These are not acts of bravery; they are acts of sheer idiocy that do little more than signal virtue and provide fodder for their scrapbooks.
So, if you truly seek our support and respect, here’s a suggestion: take the Eurostar or a ferry to Calais, then drive (in an electric vehicle) the 6,435 miles to Beijing before raising your voices against the world’s largest polluters. Only then will you truly earn public support, and I, for one, promise to send you a monthly food parcel as you endure unappetizing breakfast porridge in Qincheng prison…