Solidarity with Nonhuman Animals – Create, Occupy, and Claim Spaces

by Darren Chang

If direct action for nonhuman animal liberation is to be everywhere, I argue that nonhuman animals must also be everywhere, at least in the tension-filled spaces during moments of political struggle (e.g. at a demonstration inside a restaurant that normalizes violence against nonhumans). 

In May 2014, DxE kindly gave me an opportunity to present and discuss my paper, “Creating Space and Building Solidarity with Lab Rats.” The paper engages with the animal welfare science experiments my colleagues Joyce and Joanna had done with rats. By demonstrating the cognitive complexities of rats, Joyce and Joanna aimed to convince scientists to end the use of rats in torturous scientific experiments. In order to study the rats’ emotions and behaviours, Joyce and Joanna had to create spaces to enable and empower the rats to express and perform behaviours normally made invisible inside tiny lab cages. To achieve the common political aim of lab rat liberation, Joanna, Joyce, and the rats had to form trusting interdependent relationships; the rats needed Joyce and Joanna to create spaces where their desires could be performed and communicated, and Joyce and Joanna needed the rats’ performances in order to show them to the world.

Interdependent relationships are key to achieving solidarity with animals. 

Interdependent relationships are key to achieving solidarity with animals. 

For far too long, many animal liberationists continue to believe that nonhumans depend on us humans for their liberation, that the dependency is unidirectional, that we the humans are the “voice of the voiceless.” The take-away from Joyce and Joanna’s relationship with rats is that we, the humans who self-identify as animal liberationists, are the ones dependent on nonhuman animals, and we need the nonhumans to participate in their struggle. How we could practically achieve this, as allies rather than saviours, comes down to how creative we can get in bringing nonhuman presence into diverse spaces, where their agency can be performed.

It takes boundary-breaking creativity to create spaces where animals’ voices can be heard, where their agency and presence can be felt. These spaces could be virtual or physical, to be experienced through various senses. We are already familiar with classic examples of occupying spaces with animal imagery (on physical posters or digital images, often accompanied by texts), or displaying videos showing animal agency on both social media or in a physical space. Perhaps it’s time for us to push the limits.

What if we could fight side by side with our nonhuman comrades in spaces that promote and perpetuate violence against them? What if we entered violent butcher shops, grocery stores, and restaurants with chickens, pigs, cows and fish to disrupt business-as-usual. What if we, human and nonhuman animals, occupied violent spaces together and momentarily claimed it for our voices to be heard?

Yes, the animals may be scared and stressed out in loud, unfamiliar environments. Yes, violent humans may try to hurt the animals. But what revolutionary struggle did not involve the oppressed to be vulnerable to dangers (not to mention hundreds of billions of them already face death and violence on a regular basis). To keep nonhumans sheltered under human protection when their presence is politically needed is to maintain the unequal power dynamics between privileged saviours and powerless, vulnerable victims.

Humans are only allies in the nonhuman animal liberation struggle. Perhaps it’s time for nonhuman animals to become animal liberationists themselves.

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