Glue, Chains, and Guts: A Recipe for Virality
High profile sporting events pose a significant opportunity to get eyeballs on a topic– if one is bold enough to risk criminal charges and bodily harm. And it's a tactic that has been used throughout history.
Around 40 million birds have been killed as avian flu spreads across the country, and the industry has turned to a brutal method of killing–ventilation shutdown. It’s as horrifying as it sounds: birds are packed together in a barn, all outside ventilation is sealed off, and heat is pumped in–roasting them alive.
As someone who has worked with birds at sanctuaries and has grown to love them, I wanted to take action. So, I raised awareness in the best way I knew how: By gluing my hand to the court while wearing a T-shirt that read “Glen Taylor Roasts Animals Alive” during the play-in game between the Timberwolves and the Clippers at Target Center in Minneapolis. Glen Taylor, the billionaire owner of the Timberwolves as well as Rembrandt Farms– an egg factory farm that recently killed 5.3 million birds via the most horrifying method imaginable.
Police promptly ripped my hand off the floor and dragged me away. In the days after my arrest, a spree of protests at the Timberwolves and Clippers games followed, including Zoe Rosenberg (aka #chaingirl), who chained herself to the basketball hoop while wearing the same shirt, and Sasha Zemmel (aka #refgirl), who was tackled by security on the court in her attempt to mockingly eject the Timberwolves owner. In the following weeks, similar protests ensued at other professional sports events: A climate-change activist chained and glued herself to the net at the French Open wearing a T-Shirt emblazoned with the phrase “We Have 1028 Days Left” and topless abortion rights protesters stormed the court at the NY Liberty game.
High profile sporting events pose a significant opportunity to get eyeballs on a topic– if one is bold enough to risk criminal charges and bodily harm. It's not everyday you have the opportunity to reach millions of people. And it's a tactic that has been used throughout history. In 1913, British suffragette Emily Davidson was killed as she walked onto a horse race track and attempted to put a scarf on the bridle of the King’s horse Anmer. A polarizing figure, her death ignited a worldwide conversation and marked a turning point in the movement for voting rights.
My action was far less dangerous, risking only my skin and my pride. My objective: To gain media attention about the animal cruelty that took place at Taylor’s Rembrandt Enterprises. Taylor received $11.3 million in taxpayer money for the mass killing of birds just 7 years ago, when Rembrandt destroyed their flock of 5.5 million during the 2015 avian influenza outbreak. And the facility, located right under the migration path of wild birds, is a continued risk for future avian flu outbreaks. Sadly, they failed to stockpile the equipment needed to depopulate the animals using veterinary preferred methods of depopulation. According to the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) Guidelines on Depopulation, ventilation shutdown, which causes death via heat stroke, is a method to be used in constrained circumstances only, as less cruel methods of killing are available.
Direct Action Everywhere investigated the farm while the killing was underway and showed after the steam cleared, some birds were still alive and walking around–having survived hours of extreme heat. Not only did this harm the birds, but it also posed an ongoing risk of spreading the infectious disease.
And that farm was not alone. The Animal Welfare Institute found that companies are increasingly resorting to using ventilation shutdown in place of preferred methods as a cheap alternative.
But many veterinarians do not want to see their profession used to lend legitimacy to this practice. Nearly 1,600 veterinarians have signed onto Veterinarians Against Ventilation Shutdown asking the AVMA to reclassify ventilation shutdown as a not recommended form of depopulation. But the AVMA refuses to respond to their members' letters and advocacy groups requests for meetings. And sadly, new reports describe the mental health trauma veterinarians suffered from having to kill animals en masse.
When you consider the suffering inherent in large scale animal agriculture, not just of the animals, and veterinarians, but the marginalized and exploited workers as well, the enormity of the horror is staggering.
After my hand was peeled off the floor and twitter made me into a trending hashtag, I was lampooned–as expected. My appearance was ridiculed, my intelligence and mental health questioned, but I achieved my objective. The media requests started pouring in and we were able to get our message out to the public. We were given the opportunity to engage in deep longform conversations about animal rights and activism on high-profile podcasts. Dozens of articles discussed the cruel killing of 5.3 million birds on Glen Taylor’s farm. Millions are now aware of the ultrawealthy profiting from unconscionable levels of animal cruelty. I will continue to use my voice and my body to raise awareness and defend the defenseless, until this injustice ends.
Alicia Santurio is a resident of Fairfield, CA and an activist and organizer for Direct Action Everywhere (DxE), a global grassroots network with the goal of achieving revolutionary social and political change for animals in one generation.