2016 Was a Groundbreaking Year for Animal Rights in Berkeley - Here Are Five Reasons Why

by Zach Groff

Social networks: concentration or distribution?

Social networks: concentration or distribution?

Just under a year ago, Wayne Hsiung and I sat down with Stanford sociologist Doug McAdam to chat about his groundbreaking work on the politics of contention and asked him a question: should social movements concentrate in a few places or spread out? We expected a somewhat tempered answer, as academics typically like to hedge overly bold answers. What we got was one of the most resolute responses:

"Concentration, no brainer."

One academic might not be enough for a complete overhaul of our strategy, but McAdam's advice came on the heels of a slew of other academics saying similar things - not to mention our own familiarity with history and science suggesting that social movements do best when people come together, literally.

We'd been seeing potential political and social opportunities in Berkeley, a city that has served as ground zero for social movements for decades, so we made a shift. Here's a look at five things that have happened in the year since that turning point:

1. The opening of the first ever Animal Rights Center in the Western hemisphere.

July saw new residents at 2425 Channing Way in Berkeley: a community of animal rights activists with regular meet ups, training sessions, and a supporting activist store. The ARC, as it's called, has become a tourist demonstration for animal-friendly travelers and has fueled a striking increase in energy for animal rights in the Bay Area.

2. Animal rights becomes a public issue in Berkeley.

Pao, a dog rescued from Yulin dog meat farms, at the Berkeley Animal Rights Center.

Pao, a dog rescued from Yulin dog meat farms, at the Berkeley Animal Rights Center.

From headlines across the Bay Area around a protest at famed Berkeley eatery Chez Panisse to a march for animal rights, animal rights was a public presence in Berkeley. There are plans in store to establish a vegan chamber of commerce, and businesses are rethinking their use of animals (more on that in a later blog). Hundreds of people are coming through the doors of the animal rights center and seeing animal rights in a new way.

3. Berkeley City Council becomes the first government body in the U.S. to condemn dog meat.

The Berkeley City Council showed how Americans can stand in solidarity with Chinese activists on the ground, condemning dog meat and tacitly saying that killing animals is a form of abuse. With a rousing speech from councilmember Max Anderson on the importance of speaking out against injustice, Berkeley came down on animals' side.

A rally outside Berkeley City Hall

A rally outside Berkeley City Hall

4. Berkeley city officials' attempt to shut down the Animal Rights Center is halted.

Berkeley officials threatened to evict the Animal Rights Center in a thinly veiled attempt at political gamesmanship. Activists organized and got the support of fellow tenants and dozens of animal advocacy groups. 80 activists showed up at the Berkeley City Council meeting, and before long, the city rescinded its threat, showing the power of nonviolent mobilization.

5. Signs of a promising future for animals appear in Berkeley - and around the world.

The Berkeley Coalition for Animals organized, fueled by the growing animal rights presence in Berkeley, and began planning for changes to businesses, civic institutions, and legislation in Berkeley. Authority figures, media, and others have started taking notice, and the coming year offers opportunities for historic shifts for animals.

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