I messed up. So did DxE.
I’m writing this note to apologize to Senator Kamala Harris for a disruption that occurred on June 1 -- and to explain the efforts I plan to make to redouble DxE’s focus on ensuring future actions don’t replicate the racial and gender dynamics at issue in that protest.
Many of you saw the news of a Direct Action Everywhere (DxE) organizer disrupting Senator Kamala Harris at the MoveOn Big Ideas Forum on June 1. The interruption of Sen. Harris inside the forum, which unfolded as a 1000+ person march for animal rights was occurring outside, was not approved by DxE’s steering committee. And there is no doubt that it was well-intentioned. But the disruption was a mistake -- and one that could have been prevented by ensuring better training, deliberation, and vetting of our actions. Those are mistakes that I as DxE’s co-founder and lead organizer take responsibility for, and that I hope to correct. And correcting them starts with apologizing today.
First, some basic facts. We live in a society where racial inequity and gender inequity continue to be urgent problems. From the devastating impacts of mass incarceration on Black communities to the glaring social and individual harm of the gender pay gap (which Kamala was addressing when she was interrupted), there is increasing awareness of and action against the racial and gender inequities that afflict our nation and society. From its inception, DxE has tried to stand up against these injustices. The network was founded by people of color, women, and immigrants who have been victims of these injustices ourselves.
And yet we can also replicate exactly the dynamics we’ve sought to challenge. That’s what the disruption of Sen. Harris did. It caused fear in a community that has too often been targeted by racial violence. And it took space away from a conversation -- about racial and gender equity -- that needs to be heard.
I know for a fact that our activist’s intention was not to do that. Far from it, their intention was to elevate the atrocities committed against all living creatures (including communities of color and women) by the animal abusing industries that hold far too much power in our political system. And yet the decision to take the mic from Sen. Harris did not achieve that; rather, it reinforced to the public the notion that white, male-presenting people in our society are entitled to more space, resources, and power than those with less privilege. That is something we, as advocates for a safe and equal society for all sentient beings, should not be doing. And I bear personal responsibility for that, as our internal training and deliberation structures failed to adequately elevate those values in the decision to protest Sen. Harris -- and in the DxE network’s communications afterwards.
Beyond apologizing to Sen. Harris and the others on the MoveOn panel, here’s what I’m proposing we do to correct the mistake.
- Update our anti-oppression training to ensure there’s a more explicit understanding of racial and gender dynamics in our demonstrations and protests;
- Ensure that any high stakes disruption has an extensive vetting process -- including consideration by women and people of color; and
- Continue our efforts to fund and support diverse candidates to DxE leadership positions.
I know this is not enough, and I want to hear more from critics about what we can do better. (Feel free to sit-in on our leadership meetings, which are open to anyone to attend.) But I hope this is a good start -- and that, by starting this conversation, we can turn a mistake into an important learning experience.
Below is the note we are sending directly to Senator Harris’s office.
Dear Sen. Harris,
On June 1, an activist in the Direct Action Everywhere (DxE) network disrupted a crucial discussion of racial and gender equity at the MoveOn Big Ideas forum. As co-founder of DxE, I apologize for the interruption of that conversation and for any distress caused by it to the participants on the panel.
We are redoubling our efforts to ensure the actions of activists in the DxE network never replicate the racial and gender dynamics of that protest — and to continue elevating voices that have historically been marginalized in our society (including in the animal rights movement).
Please feel free to have any member of your staff reach out to me if you have any other concerns.