On the Shoulders of Giants

On the Shoulders of Giants

by Wayne Hsiung

Patty Mark and Animal Liberation Victoria performing an open rescue. 

During the past 30 years, I have been stepping across the line that humans draw to separate us from other animals. I hear their screams and witness their fear and suffering in hundreds of places, including slaughterhouses, industrialized farms, darkened sheds, open paddocks, feedlots and inside transport trucks/ships on four continents. There was nothing humane on their side of the line.

- Patty Mark, Founder, Animal Liberation Victoria

I don’t remember when I first read about open rescue and Patty Mark. From the first story I heard, I knew she was on to something powerful.

But the events of the past ten years the rise of animal welfare, the decline in US grassroots activism, the industry’s push for ag-gag laws across the country, and above all, the skyrocketing growth of so-called “humane” animal farms have changed what was just an effective tactic into an absolute necessity for our movement. The corporations that have the most to lose also have the most to hide, and they have put incredible effort into preventing us from getting a (gruesome) window into their world. Fear of scrutiny from animal activists has made jobs at so-called humane farms some of the hardest minimum-wage jobs to get in the world. (If you don’t meet demographic expectations and have a connection to a current employee, you can forget about it.) Farms are generally in remote areas of the country, far from the urban foodies who ravenously buy their “humane” products.  

Open investigation and rescue undermine the industry’s strongest weapons– ignorance and complacency– and bring the horrendous oppression of animals to the fore. Undercover investigations that take millions of dollars and many years of trial and error with concealed cameras can suddenly be undertaken by anyone with a big heart and a smart phone. And most importantly, instead of the nameless hordes we typically see in investigatory footage, with open rescue activists can narrow their focus down to the individual and tell stories of not just horror and violence, but of happiness and liberation.

There are two crucial points here. First, the work that we do is built on the shoulders of giants. We never could have undertaken this project without inspiration from legendary figures in the movement, such as Patty Mark. Her example provided not just the motivation, but the strategic blueprint for what was done.

Second, nonviolent direct action in all its forms is a product of empowered communities, not courageous individuals.  I know this from personal experience. Inspired by Patty, I too have walked in places of violence for nearly ten years; but one quickly realizes that footage alone can only take one so far. Without a community behind you, the story you tell will quickly wither away. Worse yet, with no support or attention, you and your friends may be punished severely for your acts.

The difference this time around is… you. We have you to inspire us. To support us. And most importantly, to share the story of these animals to the world. There will be much more to come in the coming weeks. The multinational giant that lies at the heart of this empire of lies will be exposed. You’ll meet some of the beautiful girls who made it out of this corporation’s engine of violence alive; but, above all, what we want you to take from this is that direct action is everywhere. It’s in the difficult personal conversation you have with a close friend about how much it hurts you and the animals when he eats meat. It’s in the gentle tears of a grandmother who, remembering her beloved dog, weeps after seeing a frightened cow with the same look she remembers on her long-lost companion. It’s in the powerful waves of nonviolent protest that have animated social justice movements for hundreds of years. And it’s in the act of civil disobedience when someone decides, with a community’s support, to rescue a terrified animal from sickness and pain.

To bridge the violent line that we have set between humans and our fellow animals the speciesist divide will require the work of giants. And while the giants we know and love are important Patty Mark, for example, has changed the face of our movement the giants we don’t recognize are even more important. They are the giants that we build together. Patty would be the first to say that her work and the open rescue movement would not have been possible without the support of countless ordinary people across the world. The same is true of the work we do. We stand on the shoulders of giants; but the giants who matter most cannot be slain by a single swing of a blade. They are the giants that are born from a people who are no longer willing to be bystanders to violence and oppression. They are the giants that start with you.