Meet the ‘Robin Hood’ Group Linking Poverty and Climate Breakdown

This Is Rigged is doing more than media stunts.

by Douglas Rogers

15 March 2024

This Is Rigged have stolen and redistributed large quantities of bread, tattle scones and baby formula. Photo: This Is Rigged

On 3 March, two women walked into an art gallery in Glasgow and sprayed the word “cunt” underneath a bust of Queen Victoria. They then doused the monarch’s head in porridge and jam, and glued themselves to the plinth.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, this action went viral on social media. But it’s just one small part of an extensive campaign being run by direct action group This is Rigged. In recent weeks, This Is Rigged has scaled government buildings, defaced Scottish Parliament, disrupted the World Athletics Championships, held picnics in supermarkets, vandalised billboards, redistributed large quantities of stolen bread, tattie scones and baby formula, and more.

Many of these actions bear resemblance to those of climate troublemakers Just Stop Oil. It’s no surprise, then, that they’ve triggered the usual combination of reactionary hysteria from some and support and sympathy from others.

But most commentators, whatever their stance, tend to overlook the deeper vision behind the group’s tactics. While many understand This Is Rigged as a project of media-facing outrage-generation, this isn’t the full picture.

Heating or eating.

In late 2022, a group of Glasgow-based activists came together to discuss how they could do things better. Many had been involved in Scotland’s Just Stop Oil scene, joining up with the fervent desire to do something impactful about the climate crisis. Over time, however, they’d come to question that group’s applicability to their own context.

Their reappraisal was as much cultural as strategic: the Glaswegians were interested in a more community-rooted form of activism. They stepped out of Just Stop Oil, spent some months reflecting, and in early 2023 trialled running shared meals designed to facilitate discussion and connection known as “soup nights”. These proved to be the soul around which This Is Rigged grew (and, ironically, were later emulated by Just Stop Oil itself).

For This Is Rigged, community was an end in itself – but also a means of sustaining direct action campaigns. The group’s initial demand was for the Scottish government to oppose all new oil and gas projects. To this end, its first big campaign was a multi-week disruption of Grangemouth oil refinery (previously visited by Climate Camp Scotland). Within a short while, however, This Is Rigged became increasingly preoccupied with more immediate forms of injustice. 

Hannah, one of the group’s first organisers, recalls coming to this realisation. “We were looking at where we were in Glasgow, at the cost of living crisis, and realised we couldn’t keep working at climate stuff isolation from that,” she tells Novara Media.

So when Scottish First Minister Humza Yousaf came out against the Rosebank oilfield and in favour of a just transition in September of 2023, the group declared victory and updated its strategic focus. Two months later, two This is Rigged activists walked into Edinburgh Castle and smashed the glass case of the Stone of Destiny, an ancient symbol of power and oppression in Scotland, to draw attention to new demands around the cost of living crisis.

“The climate crisis can seem like an abstract issue,” says Xander, a Glasgow local and This is Rigged spokesperson. “What’s not abstract is choosing between feeding yourself and putting your heating on.”

Food scarcity is an issue Xander sees up close in his job as a community food coordinator. “You can see the toll it’s taking on people, on kids,” he says. “And it’s crazy how little the government is doing”.

The situation in Scotland should be better than the UK more broadly. 2022’s Good Food Nation Act set out a vision that “by 2025 […] people from every walk of life take pride and pleasure in [food]”. But progress has been slow. The first consultation was only launched in January – “heels are being dragged,” Xander says – and more stalling could lead to the project’s collapse or appropriation by economic interests. Meanwhile, with some recent reduction in inflation, elite discourse is already moving on from the question of economic hardship. In December, The Spectator even asked: “Is the cost of living crisis over?”.

The slow resumption of the status quo is something This Is Rigged is challenging through its “Robin Hood” actions. These actions are straightforward: activists enter a supermarket and take things off the shelves (generally products like baby formula), and then deposit the takings in the supermarket’s food donation bin. In the recent wave of action, activists have gone one step further, bringing food into the streets and offering it directly to the public.

First trialled last summer, these actions have become a core part of the group’s mission, simultaneously foregrounding greedflation, demonstrating civil resistance (“we want to show people how much power they have,” says Xander), and, significantly, making some small difference to those in need.

Rowena, who works in a wholefoods shop, took part in one of the latest actions where four This Is Rigged activists offered baby formula to people in Glasgow. “It was really positive,” she says. “Once we were on the street we got loads of support. We thought we might talk to some angry people, but there was none of that”. In fact, in almost a year of Robin Hood actions, the group claims it’s had almost no adverse reactions to its antics – and several instances of shop workers smiling approvingly.

Xander notes that given This Is Rigged’s size, these Robin Hood actions are still mostly symbolic. “But imagine if everybody did this, all the time,” he says. “Something would have to change.”

Mutual aid.

This Is Rigged isn’t just about drawing attention to the cost of living crisis, however. Since its inception, soup nights have remained a key pillar of their work.

“We don’t have the resources to do mutual aid everywhere,” says Heather, another spokesperson. “But we’re trying to build a culture around it: the soup nights are about supporting each other”.

Any group might lay on dinner for a meeting, of course – but there’s something unusually considered about This Is Rigged events: a subtle re-politicisation of both the food and the community around it. Indeed, these aren’t really meetings at all: the main order of business is discussion of radical themes, from the poet Robert Burns to Kurdish teahouses to movement theory. 

Nonetheless, the group is clear that the overall project requires balancing the abstract and symbolic with concrete outcomes. Heather, who works in homelessness and social care, says it was this outlook that drew her to This Is Rigged. She’d had negative experiences of climate activism at university: “It felt quite privileged, like a contest of who could be the most eco-friendly.” This Is Rigged felt different: class-conscious, immediate, and grounded.

This Is Rigged’s core organisers do mutual aid work beyond the soup nights, too. Many people volunteer with food banks in their own time, while Xander and Heather formalise links with these food banks as part of This Is Rigged’s food solidarity team. 

“We’re starting by mapping out community food groups in Glasgow, and reaching out and just listening,” Xander explains. “Asking what challenges they face, how things have been changing post-pandemic” (answer: demand exploding, funding shrivelling).

Once the current wave of action is over, the team is planning to turn This Is Rigged’s efforts to assisting these groups. It recognises it can’t offer much in terms of financial resources, so will focus on committing members’ time.

The team is also talking to the Landworkers’ Alliance, a grassroots group of growers with a similar focus on social justice. “We want as holistic a picture [of the situation] as possible”, Xander says. “The amount farmers earn on crops is shockingly disproportionate [to what they’re sold for]. It’s also a more obvious connection to the climate crisis, with the threat of droughts and flooding.”

Unlike the interest of many involved in Extinction Rebellion in deep adaptation – a school of thought proposing active preparation for climate collapse – This Is Rigged seems reluctant to take such measures. All the same: with the threat of food-systems breakdown and the recent explosion of farmers’ movements, the group’s aim of repoliticising food is staking out important ground for the climate movement as a whole.

But this isn’t going to happen on its own. So while the current wave of actions will last “a wee while yet,” as one organiser says, the group’s longer-term determination is apparent: “We’ll continue taking disruptive action until our demands are met.”

Douglas Rogers is a writer and climate activist.

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