Oily Money Out – a leap forward for British environmentalism

rs21 members report on one of London’s biggest and most varied mobilisations against ecocidal fossil magnates.

Artwork by Oily Money Out.

Between the 14th and 20th October, thousands of environmentalists traveled to London, called there by the environmentalist group Fossil Free London. At the same time, CEOs of fossil fuel companies, representatives from different national governments, and a whole host of cartoonish capitalist villains also came to the city. They were both there for the ‘Energy Intelligence Forum’, held at the 5-star InterContinental London Park Lane Hotel, and known until recent years as the ‘Oil and Money Conference’. The mission of the environmentalists was simple – shut this meeting down. 

This report, written by rs21 members who participated in the workshops and actions, hopes to update people not just on how successful the mission of Oily Money Out was, but also highlight the ways in which it represents a positive development for the wider environmental movement in Britain. 

Learning together

The first three days of the Oily Money Out were focused on workshops for those present. These ranged from discussions of climate reparations, run by the climate reparations network, all the way through to non-violent direct action training. These were spaces that allowed activists to both develop their practical skills, as well as be politicized around a variety of climate justice topics. 

rs21 contributed a workshop on the final day: ‘Red-Green Action: How to unite workers and environmentalists?’ This was attended by around 50 participants who discussed various examples of joint activity between environmental activists and workplace activists. This then opened into a conversation where comrades from various countries also shared experiments with this kind of organising, as well as the difficulties of combining various forms of direct action with sustained workplace organising. 

Throughout the days, activists were given effective legal briefings and introductions to why targeting the Oil and Money Conference was important. If you hate fossil capitalism, you are spoilt for targets in London. The conference itself is around £5k a ticket, with government and key fossil companies present – it is in these spaces that capitalists make deals, screw over workers, and destroy the planet. By targeting these spaces, not only might we disrupt the flows of oily money but we also expose them to the light of day. When fossil companies and their government lackeys have an expensive private event, it reveals the reality of the functioning of fossil capital – that this is a class war. The demand to kick oily money out of London isn’t merely a practical one of stopping fossil money, it’s also about democracy and who has a say in the ecological crisis. 

Action days

Early in the morning of 17 October, people assembled at various points across London, then marching as ‘fingers’ they began to converge on the InterContinental Hotel. The hotel was surrounded with security barriers, with smatterings of police and security, buthey were not prepared for the activists’ tactics. 

One by one, the groups converged at each open entrance and succeeded in standing or sitting in front of them. Over the course of twenty minutes, the crowds swelled as more joined, photographs of climate disasters were placed out, banners were unfurled, and the drumming brigade of XR arrived and made even more noise. 

For several hours, the conference was entirely blocked, with people in suits milled around looking confused and then terrified, until they ran away as activists tried to engage with them. 

Eventually, the police began arresting activists, revealing themselves as defenders of fossil capital. They were intense in their attempts to open up entrances, but at this point the damage was already done, as a significant number of the CEOs and states involved had pulled out or decided to appear merely remotely – such as COP28 President-Designate and oil exec Sultan Al Jaber,  who had pulled out the previous week, and the Shell CEO Wael Sawan, who opted to appear over video to the conference. 

After a few hours of people standing outside the hotel, everyone suddenly started pointing and looking up. A Greenpeace climb team had snuck into the hotel in the previous days, and unfurled a giant Oily Money Out banner from the side of the building – whilst also abseiling down the side of it. 

Eventually, the police began arresting more and more of the people outside, under the new anti-protest laws. This included notable youth climate activist Greta Thunberg, who has been open about the necessity of escalating protest action at this moment. Unfortunately for the oil execs, there were too many activists for the police to remove. Their conference was completely disrupted for the day.

Further days of action

On the second day, the Met mobilised more officers to defend the InterContinental and the oil execs trying to sneak in. They were assuming that all the activists would target the conference again, but while there was an all day picket of the conference, most activists instead headed out to the financial sector and occupied the offices of various insurers and financial institutions, such as Standard Bank. Their targets were the funders and backers of both the planned West Cumbria Coal Mine and the neo-colonial East Africa Crude Oil Pipeline. These offices were successfully shut down, with people scrambling out of back entrances. 

Similarly, on the morning of 19 October, activists mobilised at Canary Wharf to blockade a main entrance to JP Morgan, one of the world’s leading investors in fossil fuels. Watching the well-suited  bankers have to queue at a side entrance, as they were leafleted and heckled by activists, was a wonderful feeling. From here, activists marched to Barclays, a key fossil funder, as well as funder of Israeli apartheid, and decided to blockade here as well. 

The days of action ended with a festival of resistance, with thousands heading to the Park Lane Hotel, differentunions, groups, and traditions marching together and demanding oily money must leave our city. 

Key lessons

Oily Money Out was an effective, targeted action striking the nexus point of government support for fossil fuels, fossil executive networking, and the wider inequalities of their current approach to ecological breakdown. 

Lesson one – it is possible to do escalated, effective, multi-day mass actions in cities. Previously, mass actions, where thousands democratically target fossil capital, have often been focused on big sites in Europe – such as coal mines or gas infrastructure. These have often been countryside camps and outside of the major towns. Oily Money Out, and the recent BlockGas movement in Vienna, have demonstrated that this kind of activity can be done within a city – relying on comrades putting each other up, the multiplicity of targets, but retaining the effective and disciplined tactical practices of attempting multi-pronged blocks and entry. 

Lesson two – the British environmental movement can break out of its bubble, and many are sympathetic to this. Oily Money Out saw participants from XR, Just Stop Oil, trade unionists, groups like rs21, and others, all come together to focus on a clear target. Both the actions and the workshops allowed groups to break out of sectional and sometimes sectarian differences, through a focused clear target. This was a testament to the clear strategy that Fossil Free London put forward, but also to the wider desire for coordinated action from those in environmental groups. Uniquely as well for a large British mobilisation, was the sheer number of comrades who had come internationally to participate, from as far as the Czech Republic, Sweden, Norway, Italy, France and more. This speaks to a nascent internationalism and desire for movements to have clear opportunities to learn from each other. 

Lesson three – the police are happy to use their new powers to defend fossil capitalism. It was clear from the 30 or so activists that were arrested, that the police feel empowered to aggressively use their new powers. More infrastructure will need to be built to support and respond to this repression as these powers come to bite against movements, including the near hundred activists engaged with Just Stop Oil who were arrested this week. 

This all occurred in the backdrop of the Israeli settler-state’s latest genocidal offensive against the Palestinian people. This link was made by activists who filtered between Oily Money Out spaces and the various marches for a free Palestine, as well as when targeting clear shared enemies like Barclays. 

Oily Money Out was a rare thing. Effective actions, well targeted at fossil capital, allowed various groups to come together to develop and learn. It showed that a wing of the environmental movement has a coherent understanding that London is a choke-point in the system of global fossil fuel expansion, and is committed to a vision of ecological activity that understands class, anti-racism, feminism and the anti-colonial struggle. We were proud to join this activity and hope this is the start of even bigger mobilisations.

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