Why Are Berkeley Officials Trying to Shut Down the Animal Rights Center?

Rogue Officials in the City of the Free Speech Movement Are Trying to Silence Free Speech

by Zach Groff

Chalk outside Berkeley City Hall Wednesday night.

Chalk outside Berkeley City Hall Wednesday night.

When the first event happened at the Berkeley Animal Rights Center in mid-July, it was a moment of celebration. For a social justice movement often characterized by isolated individuals and siloed nonprofits, this was a symbol of a new direction: gathering together and pooling our resources to create a mass movement for animals. In the months since then, the Animal Rights Center (ARC) has had massive support from the local community, including a welcome event for UC Berkeley students; a two-day non-violence training; and a coalition event featuring animal rights and welfare, food justice, and civil rights groups from around the Bay Area. In the past months, however, ARC has gotten an early taste of the state repression that faces our movement, with rogue Berkeley officials seeking to shut down the Animal Rights Center.

Ever since ARC opened, it has maintained a good relationship with the city representatives overseeing the Center, located in a low-rent City-owned mall.

Mysteriously, on September 16, the city representatives stopped talking. Threatening letters started coming in from the city building manager. ARC’s calls and emails went unanswered. The commercial agent said: “I’m not exactly sure what is going on with everything.”

Community members participate in a public speaking seminar.  

Community members participate in a public speaking seminar.

 

Then, two weeks ago, ARC managers received a letter from a pricey outside law firm threatening eviction for alleged lease violations. Most of the City’s complaints are trivial - a lockbox on the door, a yoga session scheduled in the future, signage by the door. A City employee was even sent on a Sunday morning to take pictures of female volunteers in sports garb doing an early morning workout.

City insiders feel sure that the threatened eviction is 100% political, coming as it did immediately following a slew of victories and activities highlighting animal rights in Berkeley. From a protest at Berkeley restaurant Chez Panisse - one of the ten most influential in the country - to a Berkeley City Council resolution condemning dog meat.

A nonviolence training at the Berkeley Animal Rights Center.

A nonviolence training at the Berkeley Animal Rights Center.

Our movement knows what happens when powerful institutions face challenges from animal activists. We’ve seen what happens when activists document the rampant violence that goes on behind farms’ walls. We’ve seen what happens when animal agriculture gets scared of activists and the U.S. Senate is asleep at the wheel. We’ve seen what happens when a Silicon valley food tech startup threatens the egg industry. Now we see what happens when a scrappy group of grassroots activists start changing the culture in a supposedly progressive city.

If Berkeley officials think they can shut down a community center that easily, they’re wrong. As with other times government officials have tried to silence our movement, they will see that repression of free speech does not happen without a cost. We will not be silent, and we will fight with love, but we will fight, and we will win the right to this space that has so quickly been becoming a movement’s home.

To help out, please:

1) Sign this petition to the Berkeley City Council: http://bit.do/savethearc

2) Call the members of the Berkeley City Council: http://bit.do/callberkeley

3) If you are a member of an animal protection, rescue or social justice group, please sign this open letter: http://bit.do/arcletter

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