Wayne Hsiung

Published on:

June 18, 2014

A Journey to DxE


by Wilson Wong

I’ve grown a lot the past year – but the thing that makes me the most proud is that I grew together with fellow activists, committed to fighting injustice against all species.

When Caroline and I, the main organizers of UBC (University of British Columbia) Activists for Animals, first started running our club last year – we were both remarkably conservative.  We were isolated as animal rights activists in our own lives. I was an engineering student who had grown accustomed to the daily mockings of my veganism from classmates (intended to be friendly, but exhausting nonetheless). Caroline was similarly isolated as a 2nd year math major, and like me, did not have many personal connections with people who didn’t immediately scoff at the word ‘speciesism’. One of my first memories of Caroline was when she told me that her favourite outreach method was ‘food activism’ – cooking delicious vegan food for others in an effort to dispel the myth that vegan food is bland and unexciting. She justified this preference by pointing out that this outreach method was safe, and had minimal risk of confrontation.

At our first meeting, we discussed seriously the prospect of changing our name UBC Activists for Animals to something more ‘conservative’. Caroline argued that the word ‘activists’ may scare off people, and may reinforce the negative stereotype of animal advocates being angry, irrational mobs of emotion. I agreed.

A few weeks later, a mysterious fellow Asian animal activist (there aren’t that many) named Wayne Hsiung messaged me on Facebook. He asked if I would be willing to run a demo for DxE’s It’s Not Food, It’s Violence campaign – meant to challenge the hypocrisy in the food industry’s messaging -- notably  Chipotle’s Food with Integrity propaganda -- by dismantling the idea that killing someone who doesn’t want to die can ever be humane.

At that point, I had never even attended a demo – and now this mysterious man from the internet is asking me to run something that (in my mind) could possibly get me deported (I am not Canadian). This had elements of everything my Asian mother warned me to look out for. Despite that, I politely told Wayne I would consult the rest of my group. Perhaps it was the fact that DxE’s messaging was so raw and uncompromising, or perhaps it was because I saw myself in the diversity of DxE’s activists (albeit a lot more timid)– I wasn’t sure, but their voices struck, and stuck with me.

When I brought this up with the UBC Activist for Animals – there was a lot of skepticism and even more questions. Why Chipotle? Didn’t Chipotle offer vegan options? Would such aggressive protesting be effective, or would it hurt our movement? What are the odds we’d be legally implicated?

After a lot of discussion, we ultimately decided to do a demo in solidarity. However as we were new, and frankly scared, we decided not to hold an in-store disruption. Wayne assured us that we should only do what everyone collectively was comfortable in doing. Our first demo went well, and without any drama.

In the months following, our demos got more radical. We became more aggressive, more willing to speak honestly and more willing to disrupt social expectations of appropriate conduct – not just during demos, but within our personal lives too. This came about as a result of two things:

1.       Greater confidence gained from participating in demos, as well as support from the seasoned Vancouver Animal Defense League activists (a local, highly active animal rights group)

2.       Increasing knowledge of DxE philosophy, and the rationale and research behind the in-store disruptions

Despite our demos being ‘aggressive’ in-store disruptions aimed at the ‘controversial’ issue of animals used as food (as opposed to more socially palatable campaigns against fur or foie gras), we were fairly successful at attracting new activists to our demos – something I’m proud of. Other things I am proud of: being open and non-hierarchical and so conducive to feedback (something the ever-perceptive Alissa Raye has excelled at); being extremely well supported by existing animal rights groups in Vancouver (especially from VADL and Liberation BC); and lastly- I’m proud of the community of empowered, truly passionate activists we created.

Less than a year ago, these people who stand shoulder to shoulder with me at demos were barely acquaintances – and today I am travelling down with 5 of them to attend a DxE forum to connect with strangers we had only ever chatted with online (another thing my mother definitely warned me against).

I’ve expressed a lot of pride in this post. But even my immense pride for what we’ve built is nothing when stacked beside the infecting, ever-swelling hope I’ve gained working beside passionate, uncompromising people who are as hungry for change as I am.