Wayne Hsiung, the co-founder and lead organizer of Direct Action Everywhere (DxE), has studied social movements and what made them successful. He and the other co-founders decided to apply the methods that worked to create social change in the past to the animal rights movement today. More specifically, Wayne Hsiung believes that animal rights activists should use the same type of tactics that were used by Martin Luther King, Jr. and Mahatma Gandhi.
Some of the tactics at first appear controversial. Nonetheless, Wayne Hsiung believes that they’re effective for the same reasons they are so controversial. In a blog titled “Why DxE brings the message inside,” Wayne Hsiung explains, “There has been an unusual sight over the past few months in fast food chains around the country and (increasingly) around the world. Animal rights activists, with DxE and otherwise, are taking their message inside the places that serve animals' mutilated bodies. Why?
“Speaking out while others are eating, while not illegal, is a violation of one of our most important social traditions: breaking bread. When we sit down to eat, we seek nourishment, and comfort, and peace. We bond with those who are around us, and set aside our differences. Michael Pollan, among others, has written about the importance of “table fellowship” and how socially uncomfortable and alienated he felt in his brief spell of vegetarianism. Pollan’s solution? Don’t just give up on saying anything about the ethical problems with eating animals; give up the vegetarianism, too!”
Unlike Michael Pollan, Wayne Hsiung suggests embracing the discomfort of challenging a social norm, though he admits the movement so far hasn’t quite agreed with this approach. He continues:
“The mainstream animal rights movement has, until this point, mostly accepted Pollan’s framing of the issue by admonishing us for speaking honestly about eating animals… while animals are being eaten.”
In response to this opinion, Wayne Hsiung lays out several reasons for the powerful and rising trend of disrupting business as usual:
“The first reason is that dissent is vital to achieving social change, and that dissent is only effective if it is powerful, confident, and yes, even (morally) disruptive… Passersby, customers, and even multinational corporations can easily dismiss and write us off, if we do not push our message in the places where it is most unwelcome. But when we transform a space where violence has been normalized into a space of dissent, we can jolt, not just individual people, but our entire society into change.”
The next reason Wayne Hsiung gives to support disruption focuses on storytelling:
“Going inside a restaurant, and breaking the rules of Pollan’s table fellowship, does not just convey a stronger and more confident message, however. It also feeds a cycle of viral storytelling that has been vital to every movement’s growth… a seemingly ordinary Tunisian fruit vendor, in defiance of social norms, doused himself with gasoline in front of the governor’s mansion and burned himself alive. People said he was “crazy.” But his small act of defiance, triggered a movement, the Arab Spring, that changed the face of the world.”
The final reason Wayne Hsiung outllines in this blog on disruption relates to the empowered networks that are created in the process:
“As social animals, we humans are heavily influenced by the behavior of our peers. And this as true of activists as it is of other people. So when we see a movement comprised entirely of passive action, we become passive ourselves. When we have a movement that socializes its adherents to “not make too much of a fuss about this,” then we will be inclined towards complying with the social norms of the day… Going into stores, rather than merely standing outside, is a way for us to send a jolt of electricity through our own movement. So many individual activists have shared with me the empowering effects of demonstrating in places where they had previously been scared to demonstrate, of speaking in places where they had been previously been scared to speak. And there have been powerful empirical demonstrations of this effect, even for viewpoints and movements that have little substance behind them, e.g. the Tea Party. Speaking loudly and proudly in defiance of social convention, it turns out, inspires others to do the same. And that, perhaps more than anything else, is why we encourage our activists to step outside of their comfort zones, past the boundaries of tradition and the table fellowship, and into the stores that our selling the dead bodies of our friends.”
In the blog entry I have summarized above, Wayne Hsiung explains that while bringing the message inside places of violence is indeed disruptive to the business and the individuals breaking bread inside, it is through this “morally disruptive” act that changed is sparked. More than a restuarant, what’s being disrupted in a social conception and deeply-held values. Wayne Hsiung argues that disrupting people’s routines gets them to think in a new way about animals, and from picking up the social cues of outrage from others, to even join the movement themselves.