Getting the Issue on the Table: Disrupting Bill Clinton
By Matt Johnson
DxE's October 24th disruption of President Bill Clinton put animal liberation in the national media spotlight. Matt Johnson reflects.
I remain pleasantly surprised at how smoothly the disruption was executed and how receptive (relatively speaking) folks have been. President Clinton opted not to criticize, instead endorsing free speech. The crowd of thousands had its vocal critics, but there was also a time of relative quiet in which many seemed open to the message. The police response was incredibly respectful; I was released with a handshake just a few minutes after the disruption. The response online -even among those not sympathetic to the cause- has included relatively little of the anti-animal rights vitriol which often flares up behind the anonymity of internet access.
This strikes me as more than respect for free speech. If the message were truly toxic -imagine a Westboro Baptist Church disrupter- the response would likely be heavily skewed toward criticism of both message and messenger. Likewise for animal rights disruptions just a few years ago. While some might say this is wishful thinking, I say it looks a lot like progress. People remain resistant to confronting their privilege, but the atmosphere seems to be shifting, particularly in progressive circles.
With smaller efforts increasingly capable of producing bigger results, nonviolent direct action should increasingly not be considered an activity reserved for a specially-qualified few; it's something most should seriously consider.
Executing this disruption required small sacrifices. Vanessa Hilst and I spent about six hours planning, traveling, and attending the event itself. While I experienced a few tense minutes of uncertainty, there was a very low risk of physical injury, as security officers have generally proven deliberate in not escalating with nonviolent activists in these types of speakouts.* Similarly, there is surprisingly (at least to me) very little legal risk. A disruption is simply an exercise of free speech in a public space (or private space to which one is invited). The controversial nature of the message and its delivery are mostly irrelevant in the eyes of the law.**
This network is invaluable in carefully minimizing exposure while maximizing impact. Guidance is always available with questions quickly and competently addressed.
My ongoing decision to take action has been a very easy, obvious, and objectively-clear one; the pros so vastly outweigh the cons. This is particularly true in my situation -living in Iowa, with few activists and lots of political attention. But it applies everywhere.
Keeping in mind the end game -animal liberation- we owe it to the animals to make informed decisions when acting on their behalf. Seek out opportunities to make their voices heard widely. Carefully weigh risk and reward, and take action. Because it just makes sense.
*We recognize that some people, particularly with marginalized identities, may have different experiences with security/police.
**Nothing in this post should be construed as legal advice.