In 1960, four students sat down at a white lunch counter at a Woolsworth in Greensboro, North Carolina. What they were doing was - because of the color of their skin - illegal. It was also rude, brazen, confrontational, and downright dangerous. Even the black waitress who was working the counter did not approve. “Fellows like you make our race look bad,” she scolded.
But history would tell a different tale. Because the Greensboro action, small and isolated though it seemed, inspired a trickle of copycat actions. Within days, a few other activists performed similar sit-ins in Greensboro. Days turned into weeks, and the trickle soon became a stream, as stories of the Greensboro Four spread across the city. People began to whisper, "I can do that too... It's time for me to take a stand!" The stream became a wave. Hundreds of activists returned to the Woolsworth weeks later to perform a sit-in. And then national newspapers began to pick up the story. The story of the Greensboro Four spread far and wide, far beyond the city of Greensboro. And then suddenly, almost inexplicably, the wave became a cascade - a cascade so wide and powerful that it would sweep over the country in a tide of direct action.
By the end of the campaign, over 100,000 people all across America would participate in sit-ins, despite the risk of arrest, beatings, or even assassination. Civil rights was on the front page of every newspaper in the country. And people of all colors, who had previously accepted racial tyranny as “the way things are, and always will be,” were jolted out of their torpor by a brilliant movement for change.
The world would never be the same.
The story of the Greensboro Four is the story of direct action. It is a story of resistance and sacrifice, of good and evil, and of heroes and villains. It is a story that has been told, and retold, in every social justice movement in the history of human civilization. And it is a story that, with your help, we want to tell for animal liberation.
Three Myths... And a Meme
But there are some myths that stand in the way of that unfolding story.
Myth #1: Direct action is illegal.
The Greensboro Four broke the law to shine light on the injustice of racial tyranny. But illegality was not necessary to their action. Rather, the key was their willingness to stand apart from the social norms of the day, and for a better and more just vision of the world. That departure from the status quo can occur in ways small or large. But it must be a departure, an intervention, a confrontation.
If you are confronting (rather than accommodating) injustice, you are taking direct action.
Myth #2: Direct action is underground.
The Greensboro Four did not believe in hiding their faces or names. Their action was open, proud, and direct. Whatever the merits of underground action (and there are many), it is not a direct challenge to species oppression.
If your actions are loud and proud, you are taking direct action.
Myth #3: Direct action is only for the brave, or the reckless.
The Greensboro Four were young and brave. But the most profound and successful social movements have been mass movements, comprised of people from all walks of life. Indeed, it is precisely because such ordinary people take action, that the movements have so much power and sway. “If my neighbors are so outraged about this injustice that they are willing to risk their life and limb, then maybe it’s time for me to change. Maybe it's time for me to take a stand too.”
If you are inspiring ordinary people to become heroes, you are taking direct action.
And a Meme.
Humans are social animals. And our behaviors are transmitted through social channels. This is the power of the meme -- the idea that is so addictive, stylish, hilarious, or just plain good, that it spreads like an epidemic through the masses.
But not all memes are made equal. Grumpy Cat, adorable though he may be, does not have the power to change the world. The great memes - the ones that turn the world upside down - have always been direct actions. William Lloyd Garrison burned the US Constitution in public, and was thrown in jail, to show his fierce opposition to a nation that held his dark-skinned brothers in chains. Emmeline Pankhurst smashed the windows of Parliament, to show that she and her sisters would not give up, until they had won the right to vote. Rioting queens fought the police, tooth and nail, at the Stonewall Inn in New York, to show the world that they would no longer be afraid to be gay. All of these actions were direct actions. All of them painted a picture of the world, in stark and powerful strokes, that was fundamentally different from the world that existed. And all of them inspired thousands of people to stand and fight, with a meme that is as old as mankind itself -- that if you fight for a just cause, you can change the world.
The passion of the movement for animal liberation is unmatched. Many of us have cried countless tears of pain, as we have heard, seen, and even felt the oppression and violence imparted on our non-human sisters and brothers. If we can realize that passion in a collective movement for liberation... nothing in the world will be able to stop us.
But it starts, quite simply, with you. We need you to be one of the first to stand. They need you.
And while it will not always be easy, it will be worth it. Because when history looks back on these days, people will ask, “Did you stand for the greatest liberation movement in history?”
And we will be able to say, with the pride and joy that only liberation can bring:
“Yes. Yes, I did. And what a beautiful movement it was.”