Wayne Hsiung
Published on
December 13, 2013

A Jolt to the System

 There are animal rights activists everywhere, waiting for our movement to find them. 
There are animal rights activists everywhere, waiting for our movement to find them.

It's said, by social scientists, that it takes a jolt to the system to trigger fundamental change. But it's not too often that you literally slam into someone, and cause them to change. But that's exactly what happened to me, and one of the customers at Chipotle at our last day of action. 

 I slam into Jude, as I'm being pushed out of the restaurant. 
I slam into Jude, as I'm being pushed out of the restaurant.

Jude is an animal lover. He was also, until just a few weeks ago, an animal eater, and a former animal farmer, to boot. As I was being shoved out of the store, at our last day of action (Someone, Not Something), I slammed into Jude. What at first seemed like one crazy man, however, suddenly turned into a throng of protesters. Jude was stunned and stared at our signs, with beautiful animal images saying, "Someone, Not Something." and "It's Not Food. It's Violence." 

And something in him changed. He found our group online. He came to our next community event. And, after a long and involved discussion, he's now planning to attend our next day of action. Here's the story, in his own words:

The first time I witnessed DxE's protest, I was waiting in line just outside the door of Chipotles on Telegraph Ave in Berkeley. Not normally a chatter by any means, I allowed myself an exception, for I kind of nudged the dude in front of me and said, NOT in a whisper, 'DID YOU SEE THAT?! Like, a hundred people just sneaked by us. Are they ALL cutting in line?' I wanted my lunch. Then they popped up all around me, with animal pictures saying 'We are somebody, not something'. Like I cared. I mean, I have only been farming at the most forsaken locales in the past two-plus years. I lived with animals, fed, watered, washed, birthed, poop-shoveled, corpse-buried, 22mm-executed, skinned, butchered, skilleted, devoured, loved, played-with, into-deliverance-carried. What do those hipsters know about death and resurrection, besides what one or two of them might glean from an occasional random copy of Tolstoy? Amused, I watched the Tai-chi dance between the speaker dude and one then a second chipotles employee. When it was my turn to order, I asked for a veggie bowl, ignoring the server's rather annoying disbelief. And my own. Ever since then, the smell of meat starts to turn, as something starts to turn inside me, disquietingly, between the molars of my heart. To the grudging I listen.

 Customers, including Jude, turn and stare, as activists reveal themselves with the message: Someone, Not Something. 
Customers, including Jude, turn and stare, as activists reveal themselves with the message: Someone, Not Something.

His story reminds me of my first experience with direct action around ten years ago. My friend Josh, a quiet and brilliant computer science student who was active in the University of Chicago Vegan Society, revealed to me that he had served a year in New York prison for activism he did on the SHAC campaign. (The principal offense: throwing a brick through a window.) I was stunned. How could someone I know be an ex-con and felon? How could someone I know have done something so rash, and so crazy? Up until that point, I had always taken what I now consider a dishonest approach to activism. "People aren't ready for the truth," I told myself. "So I have to convince them in little bites. These ideas are seen as radical, so even if they're true, it's best to leave them unspoken in public. Small steps work best." 

But the shock of meeting Josh triggered thinking. Someone I knew well -- someone in my personal circle -- was so outraged by animal abuse that he was willing to sacrifice his own freedom to push for change. A movement that I had always conceived of as a consumer marketing problem that would take thousands of years to succeed, suddenly began to seem like something different: an immediate movement for liberation. (Years later, I read about the same shift that happened when William Lloyd Garrison and Frederick Douglass jolted the then moribund antislavery movement into exponential growth. While historians call them abolitionists, they had a different name for themselves: immediatists, because they were not afraid to demand the immediate emancipation of slaves, no matter how crazy it sounded to the world.) 

Josh unintentionally posed a personal challenge. I had decided years ago that my life would be devoted to helping animals. I was a sad and lonely boy growing up, and animals -- especially my dog -- had been my one lifeline to a happier world. There was nothing more important to me in the world than saving those who I considered (and still consider) my close friends... my sisters and brothers... my saviors from a life of desolation and rage... to save these perfect and innocent beings from unspeakable torment and violence. But how devoted was I, really, when I could not even say the words "animal liberation" in public? How could I honestly say that I was affirming the notion that all animals are equal, when I was not acting against animal abuse with the same urgency and directness and honesty that I would act, or ask others to act, to save my sister, my cousin, or even my dog? 

The lesson I learned was an important one, both for me personally and for the movement. Sometimes, a jolt is necessary. Because without a jolt, complacency reigns. And as Martin Luther King, Jr. once said, "Nonviolent direct action seeks to create such a crisis and foster such a tension that a community which has constantly refused to negotiate is forced to confront the issue." 

Let's jolt the system together, my friends. And start making real and permanent change. 

Note: the original article described Jude as a former slaughterhouse worker. In fact, while Jude worked on the slaughter of pasture-raised animals, he did not work in a slaughterhouse. 

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