Get Red Pepper's email newsletter. Enter your email address to receive our latest articles, updates and news.
Photo: Philip Grey
The voices of the children rang out through the National Portrait Gallery: ‘We are the ones who will inherit the mistakes you make,’ they said, as onlookers quickly gathered. ‘We are the ones who can’t drink oil and can’t eat money.’
This was an action I took part in last weekend enabling a group of children to directly challenge BP, and voice their concerns about climate change. The children, who devised the intervention themselves, are members of a group called Children Against Global Warming.
It was part of a day of protests on Sunday 13 September organised by Art Not Oil, involved 16 different groups performing stunts and interventions, aimed at getting the British Museum, the Tate, the National Portrait Gallery and the Royal Opera House to not renew their sponsorship deals with BP in 2016.
Twice they stood up unannounced and occupied space at the British Museum and the National Portrait Gallery, the latter next to a BP-sponsored exhibition titled ‘The Next Generation’. At a time when their future depends on a move away from fossil fuels fast, who better placed to direct their concerns to the companies continuing to ignore these warnings than the very generation who find themselves most at risk?
Working with children can be controversial and although their performances were greeted with loud applause by onlookers, there were comments on Twitter saying the children were ‘used’ and even that they ‘should be protected from knowing about climate change’! But in having the logos of fossil fuel corporations branded over our public institutions, while these same companies continue wrecking the delicate ecology that sustains life, perhaps it’s worth taking a closer look at who’s really being ‘used’, as well as questioning some of our assumptions about children’s levels of awareness.
As a child I remember visiting the British Museum with my brother, and skidding about on the marble floor, gawking at vases the size of trucks. I doubt if we paid much attention to the glossy yellow and green logos alongside the exhibits, but this very normalisation of BP’s brand is what grants it the social license to continue as usual. It’s as if they’ve always been there, a part of the air we breathe, the background fabric that makes up the comforting certainty of life.
A documentary video covering the various actions on the day
But behind the brightly-coloured logo sits a darker reality; in the words of Cherri Foytlin, a local Gulf Coast resident from the area affected by the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, BP are ‘serial-killers of life’. The spill, which is the largest ever recorded environmental disaster, took 11 human lives and the lives of thousands of marine creatures, causing irreparable damage. So is the symbol of the world’s biggest corporate criminal really something we want splashed over our public spaces?
Do we really want children ‘normalised’ to a company that continues ploughing ahead with life-destroying oil and gas exploration, despite the fragility of our climate at this pivotal time, against all of the scientific evidence? One has to wonder too what’s in it for the British Museum, who receive a paltry annual donation from BP in return, less than 0.8% of their yearly income.
Photo: Philip Grey
Prior to the action, a group of adults from the Dharma Action Network for Climate Engagement (DANCE) – a group supporting creative responses to the climate crisis – worked with the children. One of the members of the group, an associate with the National Youth Theatre, played games with them to sensitively draw out their feelings about climate change, as well as unearth what they already knew.
What we witnessed challenged us all. The children knew far more than we assumed they did, along with speaking with a rawness of emotion that reminded us all of the gravity of what we’re facing, and why it’s vital we act now. It was humbling to support their feelings to be heard, and challenging to give up control and hand over complete autonomy to them, trusting that they knew best in how to frame their own words.
As we walked into the National Portrait Gallery we felt nervous and uncertain about how security would react to us occupying the space. The gallery was crowded, but we’d had a briefing beforehand to ensure a safe space was created.
Seeing the children speak, they appeared both confident and vulnerable, with the framed portraits of senior statesmen looking down from the walls. A hushed silence cut through the room – at the end of the performance many onlookers were visibly moved. And behind them on the wall the green and yellow logos blared out, as if they’ve always been there, a simple fact of life: ‘BP Portrait Award: Next Generation’.
The police spend little of their time making arrests, and most crimes are not solved, writes Alex Vitale – their real purpose is social control
Many important things happened on conference floor, reports Alex Nunns – but you wouldn’t know it from reading the newspapers
Radhika Desai says Capital by Karl Marx is still an essential read on the 150th anniversary of its publication
The Spanish state is seizing ballot papers and raiding meetings, write Ignasi Bernat and David Whyte – but it is being met with united resistance
The crunch executive meeting ahead of Labour conference agreed some welcome changes, writes Michael Calderbank, but there is still much further to go
Dipesh Pandya speaks to documentary film-maker Sanjay Kak, who for 30 years has been working outside the mainstream to tell a story rooted in the struggles of those excluded by India’s militarism and its narrative of neoliberal growth
Jeremy Gilbert on how radical Labour politics can be inspired by the utopianism of the counterculture
Disasters have unequal impacts – it's the poor and marginalised who suffer most. David Harvey writes on Hurricane Harvey
‘There is no turning back to a time when there wasn’t migration to Britain.’
David Renton reviews the Migration Museum's latest exhibition.
#MeToo is necessary – but I’m sick of having to prove my humanity
Women are expected to reveal personal trauma to be taken seriously, writes Eleanor Penny
Universal credit isn’t about saving money – it’s about disciplining unemployed people
The scheme has cost a fortune and done nothing but cause suffering. So why does it exist at all? Tom Walker digs into universal credit’s origins in Tory ideology
Meet the digital feminists
We're building new online tools to create a new feminist community and tackle sexism wherever we find it, writes Franziska Grobke
The Marikana women’s fight for justice, five years on
Marienna Pope-Weidemann meets Sikhala Sonke, a grassroots social justice group led by the women of Marikana
Forget ‘Columbus Day’ – this is the Day of Indigenous Resistance
By Leyli Horna, Marcela Terán and Sebastián Ordonez for Wretched of the Earth
Uber and the corporate capture of e-petitions
Steve Andrews looks at a profit-making petition platform's questionable relationship with the cab company
You might be a centrist if…
What does 'centrist' mean? Tom Walker identifies the key markers to help you spot centrism in the wild
Black Journalism Fund Open Editorial Meeting in Leeds
Friday 13th October, 5pm to 7pm, meeting inside the Laidlaw Library, Leeds University
This leadership contest can transform Scottish Labour
Martyn Cook argues that with a new left-wing leader the Scottish Labour Party can make a comeback
Review: No Is Not Enough
Samir Dathi reviews No Is Not Enough: Defeating the New Shock Politics, by Naomi Klein
Building Corbyn’s Labour from the ground up: How ‘the left’ won in Hackney South
Heather Mendick has gone from phone-banker at Corbyn for Leader to Hackney Momentum organiser to secretary of her local party. Here, she shares her top tips on transforming Labour from the bottom up
Five things to know about the independence movement in Catalonia
James O'Nions looks at the underlying dynamics of the Catalan independence movement
‘This building will be a library!’ From referendum to general strike in Catalonia
Ignasi Bernat and David Whyte report from the Catalan general strike, as the movements prepare to build a new republic
Chlorine chickens are just the start: Liam Fox’s Brexit trade free-for-all
A hard-right free marketer is now in charge of our trade policy. We urgently need to develop an alternative vision, writes Nick Dearden
There is no ‘cult of Corbyn’ – this is a movement preparing for power
The pundits still don’t understand that Labour’s new energy is about ‘we’ not ‘me’, writes Hilary Wainwright
Debt relief for the hurricane-hit islands is the least we should do
As the devastation from recent hurricanes in the Caribbean becomes clearer, the calls for debt relief for affected countries grow stronger, writes Tim Jones
‘Your credit score is not sufficient to enter this location’: the risks of the ‘smart city’
Jathan Sadowski explains techno-political trends of exclusion and enforcement in our cities, and how to overcome this new type of digital oppression
Why I’m standing with pregnant women and resisting NHS passport checks
Dr Joanna Dobbin says the government is making migrant women afraid to seek healthcare, increasing their chances of complications or even death
‘Committees in Defence of the Referendum’: update from Catalonia
Ignasi Bernat and David Whyte on developments as the Catalan people resist the Spanish state's crackdown on their independence referendum
The rights and safety of LGBTQ+ people are not guaranteed – we must continue to fight for them
Kennedy Walker looks at the growth in hate attacks at a time when the Tory government is being propped up by homophobes
Naomi Klein: the Corbyn movement is part of a global phenomenon
What radical writer Naomi Klein said in her guest speech to Labour Party conference
Waiting for the future to begin: refugees’ everyday lives in Greece
Solidarity volunteer Karolina Partyga on what she has learned from refugees in Thessaloniki
Don’t let Uber take you for a ride
Uber is no friend of passengers or workers, writes Lewis Norton – the firm has put riders at risk and exploited its drivers
Acid Corbynism’s next steps: building a socialist dance culture
Matt Phull and Will Stronge share more thoughts about the postcapitalist potential of the Acid Corbynist project
Flooding the cradle of civilisation: A 12,000 year old town in Kurdistan battles for survival
It’s one of the oldest continually inhabited places on earth, but a new dam has put Hasankeyf under threat, write Eliza Egret and Tom Anderson
New model activism: Putting Labour in office and the people in power
Hilary Wainwright examines how the ‘new politics’ needs to be about both winning electoral power and building transformative power
What is ‘free movement plus’?
A new report proposes an approach that can push back against the tide of anti-immigrant sentiment. Luke Cooper explains
The World Transformed: Red Pepper’s pick of the festival
Red Pepper is proud to be part of organising The World Transformed, in Brighton from 23-26 September. Here are our highlights from the programme
Working class theatre: Save Our Steel takes the stage
A new play inspired by Port Talbot’s ‘Save Our Steel’ campaign asks questions about the working class leaders of today. Adam Johannes talks to co-director Rhiannon White about the project, the people and the politics behind it