Tell Their Stories
By Saryta Rodriguez
Devotees of The Lib may already be aware of the recent press coverage we have received since our last Day of Action, September 27, 2014. A video from one of the many demonstrations carried out in the Bay Area that day, featuring DxE organizer Kelly Atlas, has gone viral, been discussed on Glenn Beck, and prompted both CBS San Francisco and On Call to interview Kelly. Kelly is a brilliant speaker and a perfect model of emotional authenticity; but emotions aside, Kelly utilized a tactic that embodies one of DxE’s five organizing principles: she told a story.
In an attempt to mock Kelly, Glenn Beck surprisingly shared an animal story of his own: the story of Charlie, a chicken friend he had when he was a boy.
“I had Charlie the chicken. And it was this nice little chicken and it was my chicken. Well, grandpa ate my chicken, and I was very upset. He ate my chicken. He took my chicken, and one day, we were eating chicken,” Glenn said. “And my grandpa said, that’s why we don’t name our chickens. And he said the whole time, don’t name the chickens. Don’t name the chickens. He warned me and he’s like, Glenn, we eat chickens. This is what we do. We grow them so we can eat them. This is what we do. We gather their eggs.”
The message Glenn seems to have derived from this boyhood experience is: Turn your empathy switch off. Do not personalize non-human animals; they are merely tools for production, and not individuals with whom we can form friendships. It’s the story every farm boy/farm girl hears; Harold Brown, a farm-boy-turned-animal-advocate, relates his experiences being trained in the art of empathy suppression in the heartfelt documentary Peaceable Kingdom: The Journey Home (2004).
Even more surprisingly, one of Glenn's co-anchors—a vegetarian—called him out on the decree against naming chickens: "Isn't that just a sort of...denial? Of their individuality?"
When I was about four or five years old, my mother related to me the story of a goat named Pepa. Pepa was her friend, just as Charlie was Glenn’s; but like Glenn’s parents and/or grandparents, my mother’s grandparents (by whom she was raised) murdered Pepa one day while she was visiting an aunt--and served her for dinner that night. I don’t remember whether or not my mother cried while telling me this story; but I do recall distinctly that her voice cracked, and her brow furrowed ever so slightly. This is the first memory I have of ever seeing my mother in pain.
Glenn may have been trying to mock Kelly with his Charlie story, and convince her and others like her to “hop on the speciesist bandwagon” and stop campaigning for a more compassionate world; but in my view, his story only further highlights DxE’s most fundamental views. The fact that he remembers Charlie at all, so many years after his death, proves what a unique individual Charlie was. His memory has not been obscured by any previous or future encounters with chickens that Glenn may have had; Charlie continues to stand out in his heart and mind. I’m sure Glenn has a wealth of memories of hanging out with Charlie, watching him do this or that, hearing him make funny noises and perhaps trying to imitate him: memories he chose not to share on the air because of who he has become in the public arena.
I don’t expect one of the loudest conservative mouthpieces in the country to ever admit it; but I know that deep down, Glenn still feels that pain, that loss. No amount of money, fame or “success” will ever bring Charlie back. Or Pepa. Or any of the hundreds, thousands, millions of animals that are slaughtered day in, day out, by people who can’t or won’t allow themselves to form any connection with them.
I am sorry that Glenn has fastened himself to the opposite course of action; but Pepa’s story is, I believe, one of many reasons that I became an animal advocate. Rather than emulating her caregivers and suppressing my empathy, I choose to emulate my mother and acknowledge the individuality of all sentient beings—not just cats and dogs.
This is why telling the animals’ story is paramount to what we do, and is one of our five organizing principles. Of all the Bay Area speak-outs that occurred on September 27th of this year, Kelly’s was the only one that told a story: the story of Snow. Hers was the only speak-out to go viral and receive national press coverage. In an attempt to criticize her, Glenn could not help but relate the story of Charlie; now he, too, lives on in the public’s consciousness.
This post is for Pepa, and for my mommy. This is their story; and now, you are a part of it.
What stories will you tell?
After writing the above, I sent it to my mother for approval. She wrote back with the following, which I've decided to include here verbatim rather than just mushing it into my article. Here it is, straight from the human's fingertips:
HI BABY! I am going to give you Pepa's story:
Pepa was a baby goat that grew to be my one and only companion after school and on lonely weekends. How did I acquire Pepa? A neighbor was looking for someone to take of his goat: Pepa's mom. In return for taking care of the senior goat, I was given baby Pepa to keep as my own.
I was super excited! I was finally coming home to a friend who would listened to my day at school! I accepted the neighbor's offer and started looking forward to coming home from school to do all of my chores on time and take care of the goats--especially mine. I made sure that her mother was always well-fed and clean. I then would take my goat to the hill and sit in front of her, talking about my day at school...the day of a twelve-year-old lonely girl who was left without brothers and sisters and in the care of her old grandma and grandpa. I was happy to have that time alone with Pepa; she looked at me as though she understood my life better than I did!
Years passed, and Pepa grew to be a beautiful, healthy goat that everybody wanted to buy. Everybody congratulated me on a job well done in raising her; but one unfortunate Mother's Day, my long-lost older uncle decided to come visit us. Hours of house-cleaning and organization....Rehearsing what to say and what not to say....After all, he was coming from The City--and that was A BIG DEAL!
My grandmother asked me to visit my aunt, who lived about two miles from our home. I looked to my grandfather for permission, and he granted it. None of this was strange to me; he always did what she wanted. I hesitated to ask them why. I think deep inside, I knew something bad was going to happen; but I never thought that they were going to kill Pepa as a present to celebrate my uncle's visit.
They did--without any regard for my feelings, or hers. Somehow, after days of quietly crying and feeling sad, I forgave my grandparents. My uncle, on the other hand, was impossible for me to forgive; he was the first one to die in the family, and he was the only one for whom I did not cry!