Museum climate protests spark debate on activism tactics

Over the past few weeks, activists across Europe have been working on popular works of art, from Van Gogh’s “Sunflowers” to Claude Monet’s “Haystacks” with tomato soup and fries in an effort to alleviate climate change. . “How do you feel when you see something beautiful and priceless, seemingly destroyed in front of you?” Asked a protester from Just Stop Oil after sticking to Vermeer protective glass in the Netherlands. “Do you feel angry? Well, where is that feeling when you see the planet being destroyed?”

In each case, the protesters were arrested for their actions, and the latest generation of activists who threw cassava at the Monet Museum in Potsdam, Germany, are reportedly being investigated for property damage and abuse. Arbitrary.

On the Last Generation website, the group says it accepts “criminal charges and deprivation of liberty without fear” for its protests.

While some historical frames were damaged, the paintings themselves were protected by glass. But the strategy of throwing food at art venues held to combat climate inactivity has drawn criticism. Internationally. Many people wonder if it affects support for a cause.

(Read also | Opinion: Why is it okay to throw cassava on a painting?)

Backlash: Disagreement with disruptive protests

In a non-DW survey, Twitter followers were asked how they felt about acts of civil disobedience, such as the Monet fries incident.

Of the 491 people who responded, 22% said they had raised awareness and helped. But 56% said such actions affect climate movement.

“This kind of weather action is nothing short of deceptive and public,” one follower wrote. “We should fight for a good cause in a responsible manner within the limits of respect.”

Oscar Berglund, a professor of social policy at the University of Bristol in the United Kingdom, said that although non-violent but disruptive forms of protest seemed unpopular, they could still be effective in part because they were Interest.

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“If you do not disturb anyone or anything, if you just try to express yourself, those sounds are often not heard and you do not get any change,” said Berglund, a climate change researcher. One through your protests. ” Activities and uses of civil disobedience.

Radical protests receive more media attention

The shock really got a lot of attention making headlines around the world and making waves on social media. For example, a video of a protester throwing soup at Van Gogh in London has been viewed nearly 50 million times on Twitter alone.

James Ozden, who runs the Social Change Lab, an organization that conducts social science research to better understand how movement can promote positive change, said: “This disruptive activity has really brought climate issues to the forefront of society. “Current again.”

“People from around the world are talking about it in ways that have not happened since the student climate attacks last year,” said Ozden, part of the Strategic Group for Extinction Rebellion UK (XR). 2019 “. Which uses a civil disobedience strategy.

Phoebe Plummer of Just Stop Oil said in a video posted on social media that the promotion of climate change is indeed the motivation behind the Van Gogh soup protests in London.

“What we are doing is keeping the conversation going so we can ask important questions. Questions like it ‘s okay that fossil fuels are 30 times more subsidized than renewable when the current coastal winds are. 9 times cheaper than fossil fuels? Conversation we need to have now because we do not have time to waste.

Of course, if all that is being discussed is a self-defeating strategy rather than the reason behind the protests and demands of the activists, then their goal is missed.

“Although about half of the whole discussion is about strategy, half of it is about the climate, which would still be more if radical protests did not take place,” Ozden said.

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For Berglund, the attention and dialogue resulting from such protests opens up enough space for some discussion on the issue.

“Unpopularity is not important in this sense, and I do not think it can affect such climatic causes, as it provides a place for a more appropriate and less pronounced accent to talk about these issues,” he said. .

Do protesters’ tricks affect public support for climate demands?

But Robb Willer, a professor of sociology and psychology at Stanford University in the United States, says his previous work, which focused on broader social movements, suggested that some violent protests could destroy popular support for a cause.

The general public has reacted negatively to protests involving the destruction of property, Willer said. And while they may be effective in getting attention, that attention may not be helpful if perception is negative.

He told DW: “These artistic contempt tactics are indeed the kind of protest behavior that leads observers to consider activists as extremist and irrational, obscure observers and possibly reducing support for their cause. “.

It is difficult to apply research on past protests to current events, but a survey by Ozden Social Change Laboratory found no negative impact on climate policy support during and after the protests. Disrupted by Just Stop Oil in 2020.

Similarly, experiments conducted by cognitive psychologists with the University of Bristol found that reducing support for protesters did not affect support for their demands.

And another small representative survey conducted by Cambridge and Oxford Brookes Universities showed a slight increase in people’s willingness to engage in non-disruptive activities such as marches after protests. Annoying XR 2019.

“It’s not the case that people are against climate action because some activists are bothering you,” said sociologist Berglund. “It does not mean you say, ‘Oh, okay, let’s burn the planet. Burn more oil, don’t use renewable oil.’ “We do not see such a change in perception at all.”

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Ozden says there is a strategy behind the so-called disruptive protests called radical influence. It suggests that the existence of radical sections in social movements can increase support for moderate factions, making them seem more rational.

“It’s the kind of good police, the bad police situation, but on the level of a large social movement. And this strategy has really worked well in the past,” he said.

So even though the XR, for example, has some of the lowest public support in the UK, their actions still fuel environmental and climate concerns, Ozden believes.

Do radical protests increase crime against protesters?

Ozden and Berglund are concerned that one of the negative effects of radical manipulation could be the general crime of climate action and other protest movements.

The United Kingdom has already approved bills restricting protests, including harsher sentences and volumes.

“It’s remarkably tense because the protests are meaningful and annoying. And now anyone who disagrees with you can say it is too annoying and make your protest illegal,” Ozden said. .

Following protests that saw activists stick to art pieces and block roads, the British government is looking to pass a public order law that creates a new crime called “locking” for protesters who attach themselves to objects or cause harm. Interference by interference. With transport work or critical infrastructure.

The bill will see some protesters banned from associating with some people, participating in protests, using the internet or wearing electronic targets that monitor their hideouts.

Support for such a law could only increase if public perceptions of the protesters’ tactics worsen, according to Berglund.

“The risk is that if these protesters are really unpopular and hateful, it may inspire support for these dictatorships, which are otherwise unpopular,” he said.

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