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When Does Activism Go Too Far?

As concerns grow regarding the future of our planet, activists are working harder than ever to ensure their messages are heard.

Climate change, loss of biodiversity, and the fear over what may happen next has reached the masses. With animal populations experiencing an average decline of almost 70% and temperatures reaching alarming highs, many are becoming aware of our irreversible anthropogenic behaviours.

Whilst individuals are concerned at a base level, there are many campaign groups that go a step further and act on their worries. Climate change has been a threat for decades and campaigners have been there every step of the way. There is no doubt that these demonstrators are necessary but have activists gone too far?

According to Wikipedia, activism is:

…efforts to promote, impede, direct or intervene in social, political, economic or environmental reform with the desire to make changes in society toward a perceived greater good.

In recent years, we have seen a rise in Black Lives Matter, human rights, and climate activism. As governing bodies continue to ignore pressing issues, it has become a duty of the people to attempt to re-direct their [government’s] attention on such matters. So why do people protest?

Protesting a cause in hopes of gaining attention is a way of making opinions heard. The main goal is to influence wider public opinion, as well as those in positions of power, in order to implement change. The more common forms of protest are demonstrations, posters & banners, and boycotts. Protesting enters a grey area when more violent types of movements are adopted. Previously, we have seen bombing protests, riots, looting, and the most recurrent, vandalism. Here I’ve looked at three recent events and why these may be examples of activism going too far.

Captain Sir Tom Moore statue defaced - UK

On September 30th 2022, an environmental protester poured human faeces over the statue of Captain Sir Tom Moore. Moore was an ex-British Army officer and fundraiser who rose to popularity in 2020 when he raised money for NHS Charities Together in the run up to his 100th birthday during the COVID-19 pandemic. Moore raised a total of almost £33 million; succeeding this, he was knighted by the late Queen Elizabeth II. Moore passed away in 2021 and has since been commemorated by sculptor Andrian Melka.

in an act of protest, the statue was vandalised. The protester, part of the pressure group End UK Private Jets, took a bucket of human faeces to the statue and poured it over it. She was wearing a white T-shirt stating the cause and had an audience to film it. The video spread like wildfire and received an influx of hate across multiple social media channels.

Many comments begged the question of what Moore’s relationship to private jets was and why his statue was chosen as a result of this act.

Van Gogh’s ‘Sunflowers’ fed tomato soup - UK

In a statement provided to Vice Media, Phoebe Plummer, one of the two activists who engaged in this act, said: “I recognise that it looks like a slightly ridiculous action. I agree, it is ridiculous. But we’re not asking the question, should everybody be throwing soup on paintings. What we’re doing is getting the conversation going, so we can ask the questions that matter.

Monet’s ‘Les Meules (Haystacks)’ covered in mashed potato - Germany

Just last week Monet’s $110 million painting was victim to the protests against fossil guel extraction in Germany.

“Does it take mashed potato on a painting to make you listen? This painting is not going to be worth anything if we have to fight over food,” one activist said.

Extinction Rebellion (ER) activists glue themselves to Picasso’s ‘Massacre in Korea’ – Australia

Starting the activists vs famous artists mini-war we’re currently witnessing, was two ER protestors in early October. The act was done in an attempt to draw attention to environmental issues ahead of Australia’s state elections this month.

Luckily none of the paintings involved thus far have been harmed thanks to Perspex glazing but are government’s actually taking note? These actions aim to urge governments, wider corporations, and institutions to take action ahead of the impending global environmental crisis, but are they being viewed as a joke?

Quite rightly, most governing bodies would regard these acts as childish, but when previous efforts are being ignored and no one is implanting change, these kinds of out-there actions are going to become more popular.


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