On 18 October climate activists from Just Stop Oil (JSO) halted the coach driving 23 asylum seekers to the Bibby Stockholm.
Activists sporting bright orange tabards emblazoned with the JSO logo blocked the sole road into Portland, where the government have docked the floating monstrosity. An extremely irresponsible coach driver appeared to push through the protesters that lined the coach’s path:
🚍 INTENT TO KILL
🦺 We are saddened to report that we were unable to halt transportation of refugees to the prison — the driver rammed through the block, risking killing those in front.
— Just Stop Oil (@JustStop_Oil) October 19, 2023
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Ultimately, the activists failed to prevent the Home Office returning the migrants to the barge. However, this was still the singular most powerful and important action in the group’s history – and here’s why.
Just Stop Oil’s Pride problems
For one, the action was a laudable example of solidarity in practice. Historically, JSO hasn’t always been good at this.
For instance, JSO’s action against Pride in June laid bare some of the group’s failings on this front. It sent a letter to the organisers of Pride, calling out its corporate sponsorship. However, the letter also issued an ‘ultimatum’. It demanded that Pride must set a public meeting to galvanise its volunteers to take direct action against new oil and gas projects. The group threatened to take action at Pride if organisers failed to respond.
As the Canary’s Alex/Rose Cocker expressed, this ultimatum had the effect of, unintentionally of otherwise, acting in a way to:
co-opt what should be a queer protest space.
Moreover, Cocker highlighted the ignorance in demanding that a marginalised community take direct action:
‘Help us make your activists into our activists… or else’ is not a way to foster community – which isn’t even to mention the greater threat to queer people that accompanies being arrested as part of a climate protest or elsewhere.
Bibby Stockholm action was on the right track
This time however, the group seems to have somewhat hit the mark. JSO said that they were taking action in response to a call for support by the asylum seekers facing imprisonment on the barge. Essentially then, it listened to an oppressed community and responded to its asks.
This distinction was important. In its Pride ultimatum, JSO forced its fears about the climate crisis onto a minoritised group already facing arguably more pressing and targeted existential threats.
Rather than acknowledging climate as a threat multiplier, which exacerbates underlying inequality and injustice, JSO set out a hierarchy of crises and put climate at the very top – disregarding peoples very real experiences of discrimination and injustice. Instead, for its Bibby action JSO stood alongside a community in its fight for justice.
In addition, it appears the group is beginning to build this solidarity into its broader work. The Bibby Stockholm action in Portland wasn’t the first time JSO had turned up to fight the barge. At a recent protest in Liverpool, JSO activists stood shoulder to shoulder with migrant rights groups calling out the profiteering company leasing the vessel.
No prison ships! Taking the campaign against the Bibby Stockholm to Bibby Marine in Liverpool pic.twitter.com/b9Ug7XFxgk
— Amy Hall (@amyrhall) October 9, 2023
Direct action against the UK’s violent border regime
Next up, for this action JSO actually had a tangible goal in mind. Specifically, it aimed to stop the Home Office from forcing 23 migrants onto the shoddy prison on floats. That’s a goal I can unreservedly get behind.
Ordinarily, JSO’s protests centre round engendering public “awareness”. From slinging soup at famous works of art, to disrupting sports events and West End shows, the group’s ostensible aim veers towards maximising media attention and reaction. It’s indisputable that their tactics hit the headlines – if only because they boil the blood of the vitriolic right-wing rags.
In so doing, the climate crisis has been all the rage in the corporate media, in more ways than one. So, even the readers of the most vile tabloid tirades have heard that we’re in a climate emergency.
Yet, as the Canary’s John Shafthauer has pointed out: “a lack of awareness isn’t the problem.” Shafthauer argued that (and I agree):
people are actually very informed about climate change, and the issue is they simply feel powerless to enact change.
By contrast, in the Bibby Stockholm’s case activists took a direct stand against a violent instrument of the UK Home Office. They married JSO’s classic traffic tactics with a specific step for migrant justice.
To some extent, I saw parallels with communities disrupting immigration raids – in a similar way, JSO were trying to halt a callous gear in the UK ‘hostile environment’. Specifically here, this is a vehicle of violence which forces people seeking safety and a new life in this country into a dilapidated and unsafe de facto floating prison, while they wait despicably long months and sometimes years for the shithole Home Office to process their asylum claims.
Climate crisis and displacement
For once however, I’m also prepared to eat my earlier words. Building “awareness” was actually a solid strategy in this instance. Specifically, the action drew vital attention to the significant intersections between the climate crisis and displacement.
In particular, the climate crisis itself is a major cause of displacement. JSO noted this in its press release on the action:
We know that our government’s plan for new oil and gas is going to lead to more people being displaced from their homes. Forced from where they have lived for generations due to the actions of our failing politicians.
In other words, the UK government greenlighting new oil and gas will generate more planet-heating greenhouse gas emissions. In turn, this will intensify the climate crisis and its extreme weather impacts, particularly on those in the Global South. According to the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR), more than 80% of refugees and internally displaced people in 2022 came from:
countries vulnerable to climate change and live in dangerous conflict situations exacerbated by droughts, monsoon rains and floods.
In this way then, the Tories’ energy nationalism – which is invariably centred round more fossil fuels – is yet another example of where it couldn’t give a shit about racialised communities, here or otherwise. JSO were therefore right to draw the connections.
More than stopping oil and gas
Evidently, JSO has taken a step in the right direction. In spite of this, I still feel it’s missing a crucial point. Its press release ended on the notion that:
The first step is stopping new oil and gas
Clearly, ending new oil and gas is an important goal. The newly licensed Rosebank is testament to the stark hypocrisy of the UK continuing its business-as-usual extraction in the midst of a global climate emergency.
Ultimately however, it isn’t only about oil and gas. JSO’s protest should have illustrated to the group exactly why that is.
The fossil fuel economy is intrinsically wrapped up in racial capitalism. Therefore, to end one you inevitably have to dismantle the other. As assistant professors Julius Alexander McGee at Portland State University and Patrick Trent Greiner of Vanderbilt University have articulated:
Fossil fuels are the loom that weaves the tapestry of oppression into a functioning whole, systematically influencing the lives of the enslaved, imperialized, colonized, and exploited. Fossil fuels have become the bedrock of economic growth and the basis of most social reproduction.
Moreover, the racialised border system and racial capitalism intersect to deny the movement of people. Simultaneously, both buttress the process of colonial resource extraction and accumulation by the Global North. In turn, this process destroys the lands and livelihoods of people in the Global South. All the while of course, this continues to fuel the climate crisis.
Given this, the deadly cycle of dehumanisation – where bordered nations render Black and Brown lives expendable – is part and parcel of this very capitalist architecture. The Bibby Stockholm is one such example of this violent apparatus in action. Naturally, this system is underpinned by, and underpins, fossil fuels at every turn.
In short: it was never enough to just stop oil, we need to do away with the whole damn system. JSO’s action against the Bibby Stockholm should be just the start. There can be no climate justice without dismantling racial capitalism in all its callous forms.
Feature image via the Telegraph/YouTube
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