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In conversation with Just Stop Oil's David Currey

David Currey is a 21-year-old studying Politics and Sociology at the University of Manchester and a Just Stop Oil organiser. In recent years, Currey has organised and taken action with the Just Stop Oil campaign alongside other climate activist groups. David Currey was arrested for Just Stop Oil in the autumn of 2023 during the large-scale action the organisation orchestrated across London in the run-up to winter.

In this conversation, Currey talks about his disappointment with the autumn actions, clarifies Just Stop Oil's purpose and discusses his issues with the organisation's internal structures.

So, what is Just Stop Oil (JSO), and what are the organisation's aims?

Just Stop Oil is an environmental pressure group. Its sole aim is to end all new oil and gas in the United Kingdom.


It's a simple demand that the International Energy Agency and the UN are recommending. Our government is letting us down by pursuing over a hundred new fossil fuel licenses.


For me, Just Stop Oil is filling a space in political activism where we require civil resistance and civil disobedience tactics to put pressure on our government to mitigate the worst impacts of the climate crisis.



Why is civil disobedience and civil resistance required?


Because we've tried politely lobbying politicians, signing petitions, standing in public squares, shouting, going to Parliament, and organising mass demonstrations. They don't want to listen.


The government is caught up in the vested interests of an elite capitalist class. Ordinary people standing up and stepping out of what power deems acceptable is the only way we will be able to shift the status quo and, therefore, mitigate the worst impacts of this crisis.


By staying within the law, we stick by their rules, and quite frankly, they won't allow us to do anything that will shake up fossil fuel capitalism. So, that means there's a need for civil resistance.



Is JSO then an anti-capitalist organisation, or is it just resisting a capitalist status quo?


JSO is a single-minded campaign with one demand: no new oil and gas. However, within the organisation, a majority of the activists are anti-capitalists.


It's clear to the majority that capitalism doesn't provide a liveable and sustainable future. Capitalism necessitates the kind of economic growth that is incompatible with a planet of finite resources. Capitalism cannot effectively tackle the climate crisis.


But as I say, it's a single policy campaign, and we - at least I - understand that revolution isn't around the corner. We have to get the wins we can before it's too late.



Are you saying JSO is an organisation that isn't ideologically restricted?


That's entirely right. We're not ideologically restricted.


Our conversations within the campaign aren't about a vision of a post-capitalist society. We talk about how we can create change now in the time we have because climate and environmental organisations are unique in that there is a deadline by which we must achieve change before tipping points are surpassed.


If we want to mitigate the worst of these impacts, we need to make changes right now. It truncates the time in which we have to make changes.


Therefore, we have to pursue different avenues. We cannot be restricted to traditional revolutionary ideas because that holds us back; revolutionary politics requires a long-term vision. There are wins to be made now.



JSO is a pragmatic organisation, then? Because it isn't ideologically linked, is it ultimately supposed to be solution-oriented?


Yes, but there is nuance to that. Renewable infrastructure needs to be built. We still rely on oil and gas and have oil and gas reserves for decades to come. So, there isn't economic pressure on the capitalist elite.


If we say, from now on, there will be no oil and gas, who's going to build this infrastructure? Then, we can get into discussions about state-led Green New Deal ideologies, which I see as a path out of this capitalist hole that we find ourselves in.


People might have different ideologies and imagine different outcomes for the end of new oil and gas in JSO. But as an organisation, we are pragmatic in that we have a single policy focus; we are trying to centre fossil fuels in the climate discourse and raise the climate crisis in the public consciousness.



Is it difficult for some people in the organisation to forego ideology - for instance, if they were more radical or revolutionary - to pursue something that, in terms of outcomes, might not align with their beliefs?


I would ask them, what are the first steps to achieving that ideology? It's clear to me that we're not in a position in society now where revolution is around the corner. We aren't primed for revolutionary politics.


Now, it's about people engaging in civil resistance, pushing what is acceptable in terms of protests, and trying to find cracks in an increasingly desperate system, a system trying to hold onto every last bit of power that it has.


People have to leave strict ideological perceptions of a post-capitalist society at the door because that's not what we're talking about. Yes, we're talking about pushing everything in that direction, although there might be disagreements about exactly what the end goal is.



Part of the JSO project involves having more delineated hierarchies, unlike, say, Extinction Rebellion. What would you say to someone who finds the idea of more linear rigid hierarchies difficult to contend with?


First, I completely understand that. But we're not trying to create a political future through our campaign. We're not trying to demonstrate how society should be organised, unlike an organisation such as Occupy did.


Throughout history, it has been demonstrated time and time again that the most effective organisations are the ones that have hierarchy because it makes decision-making and accountability easier. These organisations get out there, and they organise and get things done.


You spend less time sitting around in big circles bickering about what to do and more time doing. That's what JSO is about. It's about doing.


It's about saying, okay, we all know it's fucked. We've all discussed for hours and hours about how fucked the world is. We all know that. But we need to act now.


By having a horizontal consensus decision making structures, groups get into positions where they don't act. They discuss and argue about the way that they need to act without doing.


I've personally struggled with certain ideas within the campaign. Ultimately, the feeling I have is that action needs to be taken regardless of my disagreement with elements of strategy or particular tactics; my overarching feeling is that something needs to be done.


If something pissed me off enough that I didn't want to continue in the campaign, then I'd leave the campaign and do my work elsewhere. We still have agency in that way.


The power of such an important organisation in the wrong hands terrifies me. But ultimately, my argument will be that if we want to get stuff done in the quickest way possible, there needs to be an element of hierarchy.



What ideas and approaches were you personally uncomfortable with?


Sometimes, I felt particular actions were distasteful and potentially targeted the wrong areas of British culture.


Our strategy uses unpopular tactics to allow more moderate groups to be taken seriously by the political system. But, I think it is possible to do more harm than good with certain actions. If you start messing about with certain areas of British culture, there is a risk that actions can be counterproductive. There are also issues with some areas of our messaging. But that's just part of having a hierarchy like we do.


Now that the autumn actions are finished and we're into the new year, what does JSO's transition look like? What do JSO's actions look like in the future?


It's unclear. It's not going to be the same as the last campaign. I know that for sure.



Were the autumn actions successful?


They were disappointing; it wasn't what we hoped for, but there were successes.


Most critically, we galvanised many people within the student space of the campaign, an area that I believe to be most vital to the success of the British environmental movement. The action phase played a massive role in building and growing energy.


It was also a politicising experience for a lot of people involved in the campaign. That will only help us grow. The potential is huge. In that sense, there were successes.


However, its impact on politics, the press, and our attempt to overwhelm the Metropolitan Police were not so successful.



Why do you think that is? Is that a numbers game?


Yeah, basically. There was also so much going on in the press at the time that we were in the background. The press wasn't interested in us.


Understandably so, there was a lot more focus on Israel and Palestine and on the huge Palestine protests that went on during our action phase.



Do you think JSO is the one major action group in this country that could make the difference?


No, I don't think we're the one.


We're obviously not the only organisation doing this. For Just Stop Oil to succeed, it relies on other organisations doing work and growing. Any significant change is only going to happen when we all work together.


However, it is necessary to push the agenda in the desired direction for the sphere of climate activism. We have to normalise protests and be pushing what is acceptable as protest.



Does JSO do enough to work with other groups and other communities? Would it be better if it was seen as a coalition of efforts?


No, I don't think it would be better seen like that because that's not how I think the radical flank effect works.


If JSO becomes too complicated, coalesced with the rest of the environmental movement, and everyone's pissed off at JSO, then that hurts the broader movement.


I acknowledge that there does need to be a broader coalition. Still, within that broader coalition, there doesn't need to be clear connections made between the organisations because, in fact, as I've said, that could create negative associations.



Does that mean JSO goes ahead with tactics that give them bad press intentionally? Are you accepting the fact that JSO will be disliked by, perhaps, the majority of our wider community to give space to more moderate groups?




Throughout the Just Stop Oil campaign, I have seen a shift in public response. At the start of the campaign, people were saying, "oh, what a ridiculous way to protest. Why are they going around pissing people off like this?" And also, "what a ridiculous thing to protest about. We need oil."


But I felt a shift towards "what a ridiculous protest. I understand why you're protesting, but it's such a ridiculous way to do it." And for me, that's where we get the wins.


When someone comes along with more moderate tactics, things that people can perceive as conventional forms of protest, they agree with the tactics and their message.



So, JSO is a vanguard group using radical action to tip the scales? It allows the majority, the electorate, to come forward and participate in more moderate and agreeable action?


Exactly. That's how social change works. Over time, more and more people become receptive.



Why do you believe young people should participate in more radical action and protests?


We are living through a unique point in history. We're potentially in the last decade humanity has to do anything about the biggest humanitarian crisis of all time.


It's our futures that we're fighting for. It will be too late if we don't engage in this sort of activism now. Young people need to get behind this cause, and it provides not only the pressure to move our states and corporations away from the use of fossil fuels, which we so desperately need, but also creates a political climate in which larger social change can happen.


Most young people are sick of our system; we're sick of how we're getting fucked over by capitalism, and we're terrified of the climate crisis.


I believe radical climate activism is the first step in moving in the direction of meaningful change as it re-centres the conversation.

Image: David Currey/Europinion

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