Direct Action Everywhere is a simple idea: that a movement of people can be empowered to take a strong, direct, and honest stand against violence, anywhere and everywhere it’s occurring. Our just-launched campaign – It’s Not Food. It’s Violence. – focuses on this simple idea. It is a platform for spreading the idea of animal liberation far and wide; for de-normalizing places of violence (and the corporate juggernauts that fund them) so they are seen for what they are; and, most importantly, for inspiring activists all over the world to confront brutal and violent traditions.
Perhaps the most common criticism we get of this strong message is, “You’re turning people away!” Of course, as Schopenhauer first wrote, new ideas, even if seen as obvious in retrospect, are routinely “condemned as paradoxical, or disparaged as trivial” before they are accepted. Indeed, the most prominent historian of the Civil Rights Movement, Taylor Branch, writes that the pioneering activists who performed nonviolent direct action by sitting in at a Woolsworth in North Carolina were met with rejection, even by the black waitress who was running the whites-only counter. “Fellows like you make our race look bad,” she said.
But the power of a strong, direct, and honest message is that it forces the issue onto the table. And we can see this demonstrated, powerfully, in our most recent day of action: Someone, Not Something. Business at both of the Chipotle locations we protested, yesterday, shut down the moment we launched our creative protest. Employees grabbed at us, yelled at us, and threatened to have us arrested. And many passerbys – including one who we'll call the Nervous Passerby – stopped and stared. The Nervous Passerby told one of our camera people that our methods were too direct, that the world was not ready for animal rights, and that people “are not listening.”
But as the prominent activist and scholar Naomi Wolf has emphasized, for protest to be effective, it has to "stop business as usual," and send a strong message to the public that “all is not well.” Even for those who disagree with the message, we leave a mark. We open the people’s eyes to the fact that, “There are people in the world so upset about what is happening to animals that they are streaming into these stores… Is this something I should be concerned about too?” For example, while the Nervous Passerby insisted that people “are not listening,” she and her friend could not tear their eyes and ears away from the protest. Indeed, they stopped, stared and listened for many minutes – and the protest triggered their own private dialogue about animal rights!
But there is an even more important point. While there are those – like the Nervous Passerby – who are made defensive by our protests (and that's not a bad thing at all), there are many other reactions that are just as important.
Consider three other witnesses of our in-store protest at Chipotle.
One was already a vegetarian. He was eating at Chipotle with two animal-eating friends, when the flash mob suddenly descended on the store. The protest triggered a dialogue between the three, that would not have happened otherwise. Our Dissident noted that his friends made casual remarks that were “offensive.” And when those friends said that animal rights protests would have no effect, he replied, “Unless you listen.” He came to one of our activists and said that he wanted to help out with the next action.
Harvard’s Solomon Asch found almost half a century ago, in a now famous experiment, that people will not believe their own eyes under the pressure of conformity. But just as importantly, he found that, with a little support, dissidents can pop out of the woodwork everywhere. And a flawed belief can be reversed. Our Dissident showed this effect. With a protest behind him, he was able to push the people in his community, in a way that he would not have been able to do, on his own.
The Excited Gawkers
Another set of four witnesses were what I would describe as Excited Gawkers. Like so many people in our society, it had probably never occurred to them that there could be a serious – profoundly serious – moral objection to the use of animals’ bodies for food. Sure, the ideas were out there. But there are a lot of causes and ideas in the universe. And there was nothing that compelled them to our cause, even as intelligent and open-minded Berkeley students.
Our protest changed that. The four could not stop chattering and taking pictures, even after they departed the restaurant. They stayed afterwards to discuss their reaction to the camera person. “It was, like, a flash protest. All of a sudden, everyone pulled out their signs,” one said. “They started chanting, and I was like, ‘Whoa.’ “
Another added, “All of the sudden the Asian guy walks in, and it’s like, 'Shhhuah!', and everyone else was like, signs up!”
“Pretty sweet,” a third said.
There are always people who aren’t quite ready to make a change because our society has not reached the point where a cause or idea, on its own, has the necessary social momentum. The power of creative and nonviolent direct action is that it captures their attention and even excitement.
The Latent Activist
Third and finally, there are those who, notwithstanding the massive cultural and marketing forces pushing against them, are ready to open their eyes and take a stand: the Latent Activist. One woman, watching activists stream out of the restaurant with signs and chants, stopped in her tracks. She explained to our camera person, “I’m so hungry. I wanted to buy some Chipotle.” But seeing the protesters stream out of the restaurant, she turned away.
When asked what she thought of the message, she responded, “It’s interesting. They’re fighting for animal rights. [Chipotle marketers] preach that it’s all good meat, friendly for the environment and friendly for animals. But [the activists] say they’re lying. I’ll have to research it because I can’t take a side until I know.”
Our Latent Activist wants to do the right thing. She is upset by animal cruelty and, also, by the possibility that the meat industry’s marketing is a lie. But without an energetic protest to inject energy into the debate – to give life to the idea – she never would have stopped to think.
But yesterday, she didn’t just stop and think. She also turned away. And if our movement maintains its openness, and gives such people opportunities to make real and independent choices, free from the pressures and constraints of a speciesist culture, perhaps she will even take the third and most important step: becoming an activist for animals.