Are the protests at the Just Stop Oil art museum harming their own cause?
Members of the protest group Just Stop Oil recently threw soup at Van Gogh’s ‘sunflowers’ at the National Gallery in London. The action again sparked a debate about what types of protest are most effective.
After a quick cleaning of the glass, the painting was once again on display. But critics argued that the real harm had been done, distracting the public from the cause itself (the demand that the British government reverse its support for the opening of new oil and gas fields in the North Sea ).
The activist’s dilemma
Just Stop Oil activists spray-painted the wall beneath a student’s copy of Leonardo’s ‘The Last Supper’ and glued themselves to the frame. Credit: Kristian Buus/In pictures/Getty Images
Protesters who took extreme actions were perceived to be more immoral, and participants reported lower levels of emotional connection and social identification with these “extreme” protesters. The effects of this type of action on support for the cause were somewhat mixed (and negative effects may be specific to actions that incorporate the threat of violence).
Taken together, these findings paint a picture of the so-called activist’s dilemma: activists must choose between moderate actions that are largely ignored and more extreme actions that are successful in attracting attention but may be counter-intuitive. productive for their purposes because they tend to make people think. Some protestors.
Hating protesters doesn’t affect support
Last Generation climate protesters after throwing mashed potatoes on Claude Monet’s painting ‘Les Meules’. Credit: Last generation/AP
Our experiments took advantage of this framing effect to test the relationship between attitudes toward the protesters themselves and toward their cause. If public support for a cause depends on what it thinks of protesters, then negative framing—which leads to less positive attitudes toward protesters—should result in lower levels of support for the demands.
We have replicated this finding in a range of different types of nonviolent protests, including protests against racial justice, abortion rights and climate change, and among UK, US and Polish participants (this work is in progress). preparatory course for publication). When members of the public say, “I agree with your cause, I just don’t like your methods,” we should take them at their word.
Protest can set the agenda
Another concern may be that most of the attention gained by radical actions is not on the issue, instead focusing on what the protesters have done. However, even when this is true, the public conversation opens the space for discussion of the issue itself.
Just Stop Oil activists stuck their hands on the frame of John Constable’s ‘The Hay Wain’ and superimposed an edited image on top of the artwork. Credit: Carlos Jasso/AFP/Getty Images
Some people don’t investigate the details of an issue, but the media attention can still promote the issue in their minds. A YouGov poll released in early June 2019 showed “the environment” ranked among the public’s top three most important issues for the first time.
The dramatic protest is not going away. The protagonists will continue to receive (mostly) negative media attention, leading to widespread public disapproval. But when we examine public support for the protesters’ demands, there is no compelling evidence that nonviolent protest is counterproductive. People may “shoot the messenger”, but they hear – at least sometimes – the message.
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