Berkeley's Yulin Resolution Shows Our Hypocrisy on Animal Rights - But Not in the Way You Think
By A.J. Hill
Two weeks ago, Berkeley City Council passed a resolution condemning the dog meat trade in Yulin, China but not before three city councilmembers objected that the resolution, by condemning a practice in China, violated international sovereignty. In June 2010, Berkeley City Council declared support for an end to genital mutilation. No one considered this culturally insensitive or imperialistic; instead, our community welcomed this change. In the same vein, fracking does not exist in Berkeley but in November 2013, our city council extended its voice to end that horrible environmental practice. When it came to Yulin, the mere idea that we as human beings should end the slaughter and forced captivity of dogs, just like the ones many of us have at home, generated accusations of insensitivity, cultural imperialism, and mere insignificance.
To me, this is the nature of oppression. Those in power decide what is insensitive and who gets to control the debate—but when we actually stop and think about the dogs whose lives are being lost, the ones held in captivity—the ones being oppressed, we begin to see a bigger picture forming: All sentient beings have intrinsic value; they do not deserve to die.
Let’s pretend that our city shouldn’t invest in the state of the world for a moment. Let’s pretend that what happens in Berkeley is divorced from what happens overseas; out of sight out of mind. Why would I support this resolution? In short, this resolution sends a powerful message to the city as a whole: Berkeley should be held accountable to take a stand against violence in general. We can create a blueprint in which all other cities end the practice of animal abuse.
For years, Chinese activists have fought to end the dog meat trade in their country. Dogs are routinely kidnapped in the streets and forced to live in their filth. Chinese activists with groups like V-Shine Animal Protection Association, Duo Duo Project, and Humane Society International have confidently spoken out against and documented the torture and killing of dogs in Yulin, China regardless of potential government repression. Yet, even as they fight every year to end the trade, Westerners often focus on the People’s Republic of China support this abuse and do nothing to work with grassroots movements working against dog slaughter.
Our resolution passed by the Berkeley City Council makes this fact clear. Berkeley supports the movement to ensure animal safety everywhere. We come from a place in which all life has basic standards of protection. Citing “a legislative proposal by Zhen Xiaohe, a deputy to the National People’s Congress of China, to ban the dog meat trade,” the resolution points out that there is already pressure on the ground to end these practices. Berkeley is not imposing its views on another culture, but rather, supports views that already exist within that culture in favor of animal rights.
The resolution goes beyond both Chinese and US values. Animals like humans, should have basic standards of protection because they can think, feel, love and experience joy. Our resolution notes, “many dogs die during [their] transport, suffer illness and injury…or suffer mentally” - just as many pigs do here. Our passage of this resolution is a rare - and welcome - acknowledgment that what happens to animals in captivity is often an injustice.
In “[affirming] the commitment of the Berkeley City Council against animal abuse,” we acknowledge that there is no difference eating dogs in China to eating cows, pigs, chicken and fish in the United States. Our movement has only begun and it is worldwide. The condemnation of dog meat is not about international sovereignty or national jurisdiction, but rather a commitment to those who are often said to not have a voice - or at least a voice Western imperialism fails to understand.
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