Exeter University’s Forum defaced with red and orange paint by Just Stop Oil protestors
Exeter students gathered to watch the protests led by George Simonson as part of the Just Stop Oil campaign
Just Stop Oil staged a protest on the University of Exeter campus today, at the Forum.
George Simonson, 23, painted the exterior of Exeter University’s Forum with red and orange paint above its foyer entrance. Using an orange spray can, he wrote the words, “Just Stop Oil” alongside the paint.
The protest commenced between 12:15pm and 12:30pm when Simonson was joined by fellow Just Stop Oil campaigners amongst the crowd. They distributed flyers and encouraged students to sign a petition in collaboration with the Just Stop Oil campaign. It is unclear if his fellow campaigners aided Simonson in sitting atop the foyer entrance.
Simonson also displayed a banner from the British environmental activist group while urging the gathered students to acknowledge that Exeter University’s own academics are sounding the alarm about the country’s use of fossil fuels.
Campus security arrived promptly on the scene, shortly followed by police officers. They temporarily prohibited the use of the Exeter Forum entrance, pushing back the crowds to the Forum steps by taping off the area in front of the main entrance. Despite this, an audience of students still gathered to watch, support, or heckle the Just Stop Oil protest.
Simonson recently graduated with a degree in mechanical engineering from Edinburgh University and is a member of the Just Stop Oil movement.
Amongst the crowd, a third-year English student asked Simonson, who was sitting atop the foyer, “How do you feel right now?” to which he replied, “I feel powerful right now,” commenting that his actions had “put a shockwave through this university”. He continued to encourage students to “sign up for civil disobedience” as it felt “fucking amazing”. Simonson’s use of profanity later led to a verbal warning from the police on the grounds of public disorder.
Simonson’s actions at the Exeter University Forum were a direct response to the university’s funding from fossil fuel sources, notably receiving a staggering £14.7 million from Shell.
This complicity is seen by data released, just days before, by DeSmog that revealed Exeter University as the largest beneficiary of funding from fossil fuel sources among UK universities.
Amid the students’ heckles and the campus police and security presence, Simonson seemed adamant in his choice and in good spirits, with a prideful smile. He responded to the police, perhaps overly optimistic, saying, “I will get down if you get a meaningful statement from the government to end new oils and gas.”
He continued his comments about the government, telling the crowd, “this government is going to kill us.” Simonson also pointed out that fossil fuels are nine times more expensive than renewable energy. He suggested that the reason for the lack of change isn’t due to concerns about energy sustainability in renewables but rather that the wealthy government intends to further enrich themselves through fossil fuel use.
Exeter student Connie, a friend of Simonson’s, and a campaigner with the Just Stop Oil movement, shared the following comment with The Exeter Tab: “The UK government is complicit in genocide, the climate crisis will kill a thousand million people before the end of the century. [Exeter] university know this. They are the leading climate university in the world, and they’re taking nearly £15 million, they are profiting of environmental collapse and degradation.”
She continued: “There will be 1.2 million climate refugees by 2050 and we’ve seen the way this nation reacts in hostile way to migrants and this will only be exacerbated in the future.”
Connie justified that: “George taking action [is] because it’s the only moral thing to do, because the people before them haven’t, so they’re [George] taking action for everybody else around them.”
A second campaigner, Paul, expressed his concerns. A PhD student studying climate impact, he said: “I am terrified for my future” and emphasised that “transgressive acts are the only way of bringing attention to the climate crisis.”
Simonson recognised his friendship with Eddie Whittingham, a 25-year-old Exeter student and eco-activist who interrupted his own graduation ceremony with a Stop Oil Protest just three months ago.
Simonson had a telephone number written on his arm, ensuring that when he inevitably got arrested, he knew who to call when he didn’t have his phone. In a later address to the crowd, he commented, “I’m not having fun. I’m going to be arrested.”
A spokesperson for Exeter University said: ‘The protest being held at the University’s Streatham Campus has concluded peacefully. The University respects the right to protest, providing it is carried out safely, respectfully and within the law. We understand the individual involved has been arrested, and will not comment further during the police investigation.”
Related articles recommended by this writer
- Exeter University tops list of UK unis receiving highest funding from fossil fuel sources
- Knee-deep flooding causes chaos in Exeter for students trying to move into their uni house
- Just Stop Oil protests to cowboy boots: Here’s what went down at Exeter’s 2023 graduations