Create. Connect. Inspire. (East Coast Tour - Part 1)

Final hugs with the two girls. 

Create. Connect. Inspire. 

by Wayne Hsiung

(This is the first in a multi-part series about DxE's East Coast Speaking Tour. Follow the tour on facebook here.) 

It’s been over 12 years since I last left home on a trip longer than a few days. More than 14 since I had a proper vacation. So it is with some trepidation that I leave the Bay Area today. Lisa and Natalie, my two special, and special-needs, girls are constantly on my mind. And a potentially-dangerous family health situation continues to draw my attention home. I’ll have to call in to a few hospital meetings with an oncologist at Stanford from a couple thousand miles away. (And even as I write this, I tremble at the bad news this man may bring.) 

My co-organizer Ronnie, ready for the red eye flight. 

But I’m also excited. In 15 years as an animal rights activist, I've never done something like a speaking tour. For many years I never thought that my voice mattered enough that anyone would want to hear what I have to say. And it always seemed an imposition to ask anyone for an opportunity to speak when my words had not been expressly invited. It has taken years -- decades, really, with the support of incredible mentors in academia, law, and (above all) activism -- to train in myself the confidence to speak even when my words might be unwelcome. 

And that is, perhaps, the first theme of the tour. That we must collectively steel ourselves to speak even when our words are unwelcome.  That we must resist the conspiracy of silence by saying plainly that atrocities are occurring right in front of our eyes.

That is, to me, the most important message of the inspiring speech by Lauren Gazzola, SHAC7 defendant, that we posted to our site yesterday. From the earliest days of human civilization, dissent has been the time-tested tool for social change... the original and most powerful form of direct action. From Socrates in the Greek Agora, to Martin Luther with his 95 theses, to Mohamed Bouazizi with his burning words of rage, the power of the word has always overcome the power of the sword. And that is our movement's mission today: to inspire a powerful wave of nonviolent dissent that will overcome even our mightiest foes.

But, of course, much of the speaking tour will not be unwelcome. And that is the second theme as we fly East: that even a radical animal rights story, if told well, can be embraced by people from all walks of life. Half of the groups that will be sponsoring us on the tour will be non-animal rights groups -- from the Students for Sustainable Investment (part of the divestment campaign) at Harvard to the Asian students alliance at Northwestern.  People routinely tell us that the world will turn away if we say things too strongly, too directly, too honestly. But DxE’s successes over the past year prove this is not true. In fact, it is our weakness  -- and not our confidence and strength -- that has led our movement astray.

This is not to say that animal rights will face no opposition. There undoubtedly will be opposition, particularly when our movement begins to show its confidence and strength, and we can expect that opposition to be fierce. What it does show, however, is that even in the face of fierce opposition -- indeed, especially in the face of fierce opposition -- we can and will find strong allies. Love for animals lies latent in people all over the world. The animals of this earth are simply waiting for that love to be realized into a powerful movement for change.

And so we set out today, and every day, to do that. And that brings us to the third and most important theme of the tour: that, to effect real and permanent change, to follow in the footsteps of successful movements, we have three essential objectives: To create activists. To connect them with allies across the globe. And to inspire those networks -- through mutual support and community -- to stronger words and actions against violence and prejudice .

Create. Connect. Inspire. In my conversations with Ronnie, as we prepped for this tour, those three words rang most strongly in our minds. We hope that they will continue to ring throughout the movement. The incredible people who have joined the DxE network, both within the Bay Area and beyond...  the beautiful networks and relationships that those people have made... and the inspiring words that have flowered, in cities as far flung as Istanbul and Chennai, on behalf of the same message: It's not food. It's violence. We depend on all three of these to fuel our movement for change. We depend on every one of you. And it is with every DxE activist in our minds that we fly, with hope in our hearts, to spread our message of change. 

My skin may be brown, but I'm still American. The sign says so! 

Every day, before I go to sleep, I remind myself that, not so far away, there is a child suffering unimaginable terrors. I think of a little girl huddling in darkness, pressed up against thousands of her tortured sisters, trapped in a pile of feces that has enveloped her foot in an unyielding vice of pain, moaning silently but with no one to hear her cries. I think of her, and it nearly breaks me. It reminds me that whatever problems I face in life, they are trivial compared to what my animal brethren are facing in concentration camps just a few miles away.

But I also remind myself that there is hope for this world. You give me that hope. We give each other that hope. And it is with hope and gratitude, above all, that we take our message East. Thank you to everyone who is part of the DxE network, and more broadly, part of the community of social justice. It is only with your tireless efforts that we will finally dispel the nightmare of the cage and the blade, and replace it with a world where the cages are gone, the blades are put down... and the innocent child from our nightmares will finally be safe and happy and free.