A DxE Convert
By Leslie Goldberg
I really didn’t know what to make of the DxE video I was watching: Animal rights activists marching into restaurants and yelling their heads off about animals who wanted to live and how “meat” isn’t food, it’s violence. The activist/troublemakers usually held AR signs and stony expressions. The restaurant customers looked amused, embarrassed or annoyed. The staff? Angry, then frazzled.
As an animal rights activist myself, generally of the polite variety, I was intrigued, but also intimidated— especially when I’d see a DxE video of someone going into a restaurant alone and starting to shout. I said to myself, I COULD NEVER DO THAT. My husband said, “YOU’D BETTER NOT DO THAT.”
I live close to a Nations Giant Hamburgers, a KFC, a Jack ’n’ the Box and a Burger King – so many opportunities, I thought. But no, I can’t. I just can’t.
Weeks passed and still I kept wondering about DxE. I’d check out the notices on Facebook for Direction Action Everywhere Meetups, held on Saturday mornings at the DxE House in Oakland.
The DxE House. I had a picture in my mind – White frame house, falling apart, in a rough part of Oakland. My imaginary house was kind of modeled after the left-wing nut Symbionese Liberation Army (SLA) “safe house” in San Francisco, where fugitive Patty Hearst was hiding, hoping to evade arrest for a bank robbery in which she’d participated. In my fantasy DxE House, unsavory characters hung out on the steps in the front or inside in a sort of trashed-out living room with stained and broken-down couches.
No way, no how would I go there. The ‘60s are over and these days, troublesome animal rights activists end up in federal prison.
Still, something nagged at me. I asked around. Pretty much everyone said, DxE? No, they’re making things worse for our cause. We need to be good vegan examples instead.
Then I emailed one of the most sensible, logical, respectable and respected vegans I know. She’s been around for a long time. She’s an author, a public speaker and volunteers helping homeless people: “What do you think about DxE?” I wrote.
“I love DxE,” she wrote back. “It seems like they’re the only ones talking about the ‘humane meat’ thing.”
I told my husband I was going to the DxE Meetup in Oakland and if he wanted to come too, that would be awesome. He gave in.
Arriving at a sleek, modern high rise in Jack London Square, with some kind of yuppified fitness place on the ground floor next door, I thought, This can’t be right. Where are my scary dudes hanging around outside? The unmarked cop cars? Marijuana smoke wafting through the air?
The DxE house is, I’m kind of sorry to say, an appallingly normal apartment. That morning it was filled with 25 or so UC-Berkeley-student types visiting with each other, having coffee and doughnuts. (Yes, they have chocolate and coconut.) Somebody was grinding away on a Vita-Mix, making smoothies. There was no vague smell of pot or last night’s beer in the air. Instead, there was laughter. Wholesome laughter.
Two dogs— an old, old black one, Natalie, and a light brown pit with a crooked tail, Lisa— were wandering around. Supposedly two cats live there, too, but I didn’t see them.
I found out that each DxE Meetup usually consists of watching an inspirational protest video and doing a “community-building” exercise. The exercise can be as low-key as people pairing up to introduce themselves or as structured as the whole group holding a long pole (horizontally) with two fingers and trying, in unison, to slowly lower it to the floor. (It helps to close your eyes and concentrate, otherwise the thing flies way up in the air.)
After that, three volunteers give five-minute presentations. I liked it. I had fun. I met people. I learned stuff. My husband liked it, too.
At my first DxE meeting back in April, I was told there would be a protest in San Francisco the following week and asked, would I go? Before I gave myself a chance to get scared, I said yes. The “Would (I) go?” question sounded to me like “are you a person who walks the walk or just talks the talk?” (I know, I know, I have an over-developed sense of responsibility, as well as an over-developed sense of pride.)
I showed up, and I survived the protest. Not just survived— I was inspired by the experience, and by the other activists. I felt empowered. I’ve since participated in many more protests. I think I’m up to 18 now.
I was probably born to be an activist. I grew up in the South at a time when the Civil Rights Movement was taking off. My father was an activist Episcopal priest and took significant risks both to himself and to our family by speaking out against segregation in our small town of Stuttgart, Arkansas.
Having lived through the Viet Nam War, I understand in my bones the necessity of protest when there is injustice. I also understand that you don’t necessarily see immediate success or progress by protesting. Drawing attention and kicking up a fuss matters. Unfortunately, I think it’s the only thing that makes people realize you’re serious.
But one cannot be serious all the time. (Yes, even while animals are suffering.)
One DxE member, Adam Kol, said to me, “We think the Meetups are just as important as the protests, maybe even more important. We’ve got to build our community.”
So today, I skipped the restaurant protest and just went to the Meetup. The community- building exercise was this game involving numbers on a white board. Since numbers, especially mystery sequences of numbers, generally scare me, I pretended to be interested and stayed quiet.
The three presentations were: “How to Be in the World” by Margaret, “DxE Women’s Liberation Group” by Maryam, and “How I Became an Activist” by Sapphire.
Margaret, a relative newcomer to DxE, shared her conundrum with the group. She has four friends who get together for a monthly brunch at a non-vegan restaurant. One of the friends never misses a chance to order bacon. Recently this same friend wrote a FB post about the “joy” of eating animals, including the innards of lambs. Margaret commented online that she felt sad for the lamb. The next thing she knew, felt attacked by the bacon-eater, who demanded to know why she would write such a thing.
The next presentation was a pitch for DxE’s women’s group, where women animal rights activists gather once a month for a potluck and to socialize. The final presentation was Sapphire’s story about her long family tradition of both activism and vegetarianism.
After the presentations, the floor was opened for questions and discussion. Mostly we brainstormed Margaret’s difficulty. I thought she should just make a request of the brunchers to have the meal at a vegan place. Other people thought Margaret should visit with the problem friend one-on-one and explain why it’s painful for her to have to watch people consuming animal products. Others shared their experiences with their animal-eating friends and family.
No solution was reached, but it seemed like everyone felt better just having had a chance to talk about what it’s like being a vegan in a non-vegan world. There was a sense of commonality and an awareness that pretty much all vegans have to deal with the same stuff.
I liked the idea that just getting together is as important as protesting and that having coffee and a doughnut with a newcomer can be a lot more useful and productive than arguing anonymously on Facebook.
As we left the apartment, my step felt a little lighter. “That was fun, huh?” I said to my husband.
We walked past the gym, where people were swinging kettleballs, their T-shirts soaked in sweat. They were doing something good for themselves, I thought. And going to the DxE meetup? That’s a two-fer: good for me and good for the animals. (Hey, I can go to the gym later in the afternoon.)
Leslie Robinson Goldberg is a former writer for the San Francisco Examiner and is the creator of the blog Vicious Vegan. She was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize for her investigative series on San Francisco’s 911 system. She taught journalism at San Francisco State University and at City College of San Francisco. Her book of humorous drawings, The Sex Lives of Cats, is now available. She lives in El Cerrito, CA with her husband, Michael Goldberg.