I disrupted Les Mis to protest for Just Stop Oil. Am I so different from Jean Valjean?

‘Yahoo News - Insights’ is a new series in which we hear directly from people with an inside track of the big issues. Here, activist Lydia Daisy Gribbin explains why she thinks everyone must take a stand over the climate crisis

  • Lydia Daisy Gribbin was one of five Just Stop Oil activists who took to the stage at a performance of Les Misérables in London’s West End to protest against new oil and gas projects amid the climate crisis.

  • Just Stop Oil demonstrators have drawn attention to their cause with tactics including slow marching through traffic, throwing soup on artworks, stopping sporting matches, and - most recently - interrupting a theatre performance.

I went to the theatre on 4 October to see the West End show ‘Les Misérables'. But unlike most of the audience I didn’t stay in my seat for the whole performance.

When the song ‘Do You Hear the People Sing?’ was at its loudest, and the actors were parading with red flags, I climbed onto the stage with four other Just Stop Oil supporters, stopping the show.

We were wearing T-shirts reading ‘Just Stop Oil’ and ‘The Show Can’t Go On’ and we had banners that said the same. Then four of us attached ourselves to bits of the set.

Some people in the audience were clearly upset, and booed as we took over the stage, but a group of people near the front started singing in support of us. The performance was halted, and the theatre was evacuated.

Just Stop Oil protesters took to the stage amid a West End production of Les Miserables. (Just Stop Oil)
Just Stop Oil protesters took to the stage amid a West End production of Les Miserables. (Just Stop Oil)

I’m 28 and I live in Bristol. I’ve loved theatre ever since I was a child. I trained at theatre school, I’m an artist myself and I worked in the charity sector for more than seven years. One year ago, I attended a Just Stop Oil talk, which changed my life.

I knew that the climate crisis was something to be concerned about, but that evening opened my eyes to the truth and the scale of the issue. Since then, I’ve become more and more involved - this is the most important work to be doing at this moment.

I give talks, run training in non-violence and support a wonderful community of people who are also terrified of what’s to come. Recently I took the decision to quit my job after realising that I wouldn’t be able to live with myself if I didn’t do everything within my power to stand up against the abhorrent acts of our leaders.

I’m sick and tired of the lies and the recklessness of our government. You can’t argue with the evidence; leading climate scientists, the United Nations, the International Energy Agency, and all reputable experts have stated that we face an uninhabitable earth.

This is real, and it is happening before our eyes right now. What do we have to do to hold our leaders to account?

The opening of ‘Les Misérables’ starts with Jean Valjean stealing a loaf of bread to feed his sister’s starving child. How long will it be before we are all forced to steal loaves of bread? Because that's what it will be like in an uninhabitable world.

Activists chained themselves to the stage during their protest. (Just Stop Oil)
Activists chained themselves to the stage during their protest. (Just Stop Oil)

How long will it be before there are riots on the streets? The show cannot go on. We are facing catastrophe. New oil and gas means more crop failure, starvation and death. It is an act of war on the global south and an utter betrayal of me and of all young people.

I did not disrupt the show for fun, I wish we weren’t in a situation where this was necessary. Les Mis is a show about desperate people living in a system that has left them for dead. It shows us that sometimes, breaking the law is the moral thing to do.

I love Les Mis and I think it’s vital that we learn from our history books. Breaking the law or disrupting a theatre performance isn’t generally the right thing to do. Obeying the rules is important. Public order is important. Laws are supposed to make us feel safe.

But right now, for the common good, we have to disrupt the public and cause a nuisance.

Aren’t I justified in disrupting a theatre performance to oppose a reckless, criminal government and its murderous policies? Am I so different from Jean Valjean? The citizens of Paris in the play, stand by and watch. Is that what you’re doing? Or will you stand up against our governments’ criminal plans and call for an end to new oil and gas?”

Rishi Sunak has just approved Rosebank, a new oil project in the North Sea which will produce as much carbon as the annual emissions of the 28 lowest-income countries combined.

Like the revolutionaries featured in the story, I am calling on everyone to take a stand against the government’s criminal plans to “max out our oil and gas reserves” and to join in civil resistance against new fossil fuels.

I cannot face the future knowing I didn’t do everything I could to halt the coming horror - and I am certain that in the future, we will all be ashamed of ourselves for not doing more.