With trial approaching, I’m stepping down from all leadership positions at DxE. Here’s why that’s a good thing.
DxE has always been about giving, not taking, power. Now is the time to prove that.
by Wayne Hsiung
Today, I am excited to announce a new day for DxE. As of September 1, 2019, I will be stepping down as Lead Organizer of the founding SF Bay Chapter and all other leadership roles within the DxE network. Almira Tanner -- who has been on our Steering Committee for over 4 years, has led our Direct Action and Development committees, and is uniquely qualified for the job -- will be taking on the role of Lead Organizer until the next election cycle (and hopefully, if our organizers support her in the vote, beyond that). I will not be running for any office.
What do I plan to do instead? Become a normal rank-and-file organizer. I plan to propose a new working group (“Project X”) that will focus on communications “moonshots” -- ways of scaling our message and impact exponentially. I want to focus more of my work on the Asian and Buddhist communities. Heck, I may even try to go volunteer for a political campaign -- and try to inject animal rights into the 2020 race. What I will not do is maintain any sort of formal power within DxE. And here’s why that’s good for DxE.
1. As my trials approach, now is the time for us to transition. Since DxE’s inception, we have saved hundreds of animals from nightmarish violence and told their stories to the world. We have reached millions of people with these stories. And we’ve used their power to fuel unprecedented institutional changes -- including temporary closures of massive animal exploiting facilities, successful campaigns to end the sale of fur, and even getting animal welfare into our nation’s presidential politics.
And it is precisely because we are effective that the industry is aiming, in their words, “to cut the head off the snake.”
What they don’t realize is that DxE has no single “head.” We are a multi-faceted, diverse, and growing community of ordinary people who are extraordinarily committed to a powerful and unified vision: a world where every animal has the legal right to live free from violence. Our informal motto is, “We make people the best activists they can be.” And our success with this motto is exactly why we embrace leadership change. When they try to throw one of us in prison, for giving aid to suffering animals, our reply is, “Bring it on! We’ve got 10 more ready to step up.”
I plan to fight each of these charges with the support of some of the best lawyers on the planet, but there is still a very real chance that I’ll be behind bars in the next few months. What will DxE do, then? The easiest way to answer that is to show that DxE will thrive without me -- even before the trials begin.
2. There are changes that need to be made -- changes that I can more effectively understand and advocate for outside of leadership. The last few years have been the most intense of my life -- and this is coming from someone who was used to sometimes working 100+ hours a week in a corporate law firm. Building a network that has now mobilized thousands of activists, and hundreds of organizers, around the world has been all consuming. But it has also left me in the middle of the hurricane -- always swirling from one urgent initiative to the next and never having sufficient time to process how each of our tactics and strategies are being perceived by our “rank and file.” It will be extraordinarily valuable for me to see the operations of DxE from an outside view -- where I’ll be able to more effectively advocate for those (including, very soon, me!) who are not in a formal leadership position.
My sense is that significant changes need to be made, if we are going to continue our past success. Indeed, they are the only way we can succeed. These changes will require tough structural and cultural choices, choices that need to be advocated for vigorously by unbiased advocates. If I’m going to be an unbiased advocate, I can’t be in leadership.
3. It’s time for new voices. It’s been 6+ years, folks, and while they’ve been both the best and the worst 6 years of my life, it’s now time for a new voice to lead DxE. For my first 15 years as a community organizer, I did not see myself as a leader. I was a dorky Chinese kid in a movement that suffered from anti-Chinese racism. DxE thrust me into leadership in 2013 as an accident of fate, a viral video that forced us to organize something larger than a band of merry friends because the opportunity presenting itself to us was just too great. But I didn’t really want to be a leader. And when I’m honest with myself, I still don’t really much like being a leader today.
That doesn’t mean, of course, that I’m not willing to lead -- if it’s needed. When I first walked into a slaughterhouse, over a decade ago, I committed to doing whatever it takes to help the animals. But leadership is not what the animals need from me, right now. To the contrary, in recent months, I’ve often felt like a coach whose words are no longer being heard. Partly this is due to the chaos and conflict of grassroots movement building. Partly this is because of the loss of specific personal relationships. But the largest part is probably simply due to my own limitations as a leader.
I need to grow. I need to rekindle the optimism and vision and fire that drove me to walk into a slaughterhouse for the first time, that drove me to start DxE with a few friends in a small Bay Area apartment and transform it into a global force. I need to learn to be more patient and empathetic and courageous and thoughtful and all the things the animals need me to be.
But more importantly, DxE needs to grow, too. The fresh perspective offered by new voices will inject an energy into DxE’s activism that simply doesn’t exist when everyone looks to me for answers.
If it all works out, as I expect, one day I’ll be ready to come back to leadership. But in the meantime, the DxE network is in great hands. I’ll see you in the streets!