Almira Tanner

Published on:

October 28, 2021

A Small Win for Activism in Sonoma County

Following public outrage, the Sonoma County Farm Bureau cancelled their "Beyond the Fence Line" event intended to teach farmers how to "manage activists."

The Animal Agriculture Alliance, a Deputy District Attorney, and a Sheriff walk into a bar. Sounds like the start of a bad joke. 

But on November 10th, the Sonoma County Farm Bureau was set to host Beyond the Fence Line, an event designed to teach farmers and ranchers to “prepare for and manage activists,” featuring this same cast of characters. 

The collaboration between the Farm Bureau and the Animal Agriculture Alliance (whose mission is to safeguard the future of animal agriculture) and the Sonoma County Sheriff and District Attorney’s offices demonstrates a clear bias on behalf of Sonoma County public officials. And this is far from the first time.

We have documented and reported animal cruelty in Sonoma County so many times, and in so many ways, it’s hard to keep track. We have shown authorities images of chickens from beloved Sonoma County farms collapsed under their weight or trapped in wire cages, struggling to reach food and water, as bodies of dead birds line the floor of the barn. Since 2018, we have emailed the District Attorney’s Office with this evidence, and we have written letters, called, and tried to visit their offices. We also made reports to the Sonoma County Sheriff, Sonoma County Animal Services, and the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors. But our reports are ignored or dismissed. And no action is ever taken, even when their own animal services report indicates severe neglect and suffering on the farms. 

Instead, industrialized animal agriculture operates like business as usual in Sonoma County. The Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office wins the Friend of Farm Bureau award, in part because they “are always present at the Farm Bureau’s Beyond the Fenceline meetings [...] offered to members on how to best prepare for activist activity on their property.” And the Farm Bureau becomes the leading non-law enforcement ally on a 2020 ballot measure against police oversight. What a beautiful friendship! 

The activists who exposed the animal cruelty and rescued animals from certain death, though? Well, we get arrested, thrown in jail, and charged with felonies. Over 100 nonviolent activists have been arrested on felony charges in Sonoma County since 2018. I and five others are still facing seven to eight felony charges each. At a previous Beyond the Fence Line event, a speaker called us domestic terrorists, and another spoke of their strategy to “cut the head off the snake by going after leaders.” This prosecution is political. And the partnership between those with a vested interest in promoting animal agriculture and those who supposedly represent the public is unacceptable. 

After the initial promotional flyer for this event was distributed, residents expressed outrage, and Deputy District Attorney Carla Rodriguez announced she would no longer participate in the panel. She was replaced by Brian Staebell from the District Attorney’s Office, and the Farm Bureau apologized for the “insensitive” wording. They updated the flyer with softer language and some nice wheat bushels, and they hid the location. A subsequent email newsletter from the Farm Bureau made no mention of the event. The Press Democrat started working on a story about the issue and my attorney, who happens to be a Farm Bureau member, tried to register. A few days later, the Farm Bureau cancelled the event. (The Press Democrat still published their story.) While I am heartened to see the response to this event from other social justice activists in Sonoma County, I have no reason to believe anything of substance about the way the Farm Bureau and public officials view animal exploitation has changed. They’ve just begun to realize it’s not a good look for them. 

There are strong alliances between those who profit from animal agriculture and those who have the power to make and enforce laws. Don’t believe for a moment that police and prosecutors are on our side. They are here to uphold the status quo. But they are no match for the power that can occur when ordinary people come together to take collective action. Our movement is growing, and a time will come when we will have the ability to change these corrupt and cruel systems and transform them into something compassionate and just. Join us.