When did free speech become synonymous with extortion?

By Tania Campos

A relatively small, double-sided, 15x15 inch sign on the window of The Local Butcher Shop in Berkeley, California is attracting international media attention: SF Gate, The Washington Post, The Guardian, Russia Today, and dozens of other media outlets, plus a Facebook post from the Mayor of Berkeley.

The typical portrayal: vegans pressure a butcher shop until the owners agree to put up a sign that reads: "Animal lives are their right. Killing them is violent and unjust, no matter how it's done."

I attended every demonstration outside the Local Butcher Shop over the three months we protested there, and this is my attempt to clarify 5 reasons why I believe it was the perfect target for Direct Action Everywhere (DxE).

1. We protested there because it's a place of violence.

Some articles and comments online say protesting at the local “mom and pop" shop is wrong because it's "bullying the little guys." They claim protests should be directed at big corporations instead. Peaceful nonviolent protests have been alternatively called "abuse," "bullying," "harassment," “extortion," and "blackmail."

What these articles seem to forget is that free speech is protected by the first amendment. DxE held protests on the public sidewalk, where it's our constitutional right to do so. If the liberal city of the Free Speech Movement is now labeling nonviolent protests as "abuse," it seems like a very troubling trend for the future of democracy.

Additionally, given that baby pigs are routinely being separated from their mothers and castrated without painkillers, from the animals’ perspectives, it’s the Local Butcher Shop, and the customers who purchase the bodies of these animals, who are the bullies. We are the ones asking for animals to be protected from bullies.

Even though DxE has indeed protested and investigated big stores like Safeway, Costco, and Whole Foods, protesting outside any establishment that profits from the exploitation of animals is ethically justified. In fact, I believe we actually have a moral obligation to stand up and protect the innocent, just like we would intervene if we saw someone beating a dog on the street.

2. The Local Butcher Shop aggressively promotes the “humane myth”

When polled, 62% of Americans believe animals deserve some protections from harm. An additional 32% believe animals deserve the same rights as people. This means the vast majority of Americans already believe that it's wrong to harm animals unnecessarily. What they have not come to realize is that eating animals for food is completely unnecessary in the world we live in. Companies like Beyond Meat and Hampton Creek have been replacing most animal-based foods, and vegan alternatives are increasingly available.

DxE has repeatedly shown, by entering into some of the most "humane" farms in the country, that there is no humane way to breed and exploit animals. Disease, trampling, and starvation have been found in all of the supposedly best farms in the country. The problem actually is that as long as animals are legally considered "property," the "owner" of such property will commonly make the decisions that best serve their own profits.

Recent marketing campaigns use labels like "grass-fed," "locally sourced," "sustainable," "humane," and "cage-free" to appeal to people's belief that animals should not be harmed. Corporations are noticing that people don't like to see animals being abused so they are using the "humane" marketing scheme as a last ditch effort to try to save this inherently violent industry.

When confronted with animal cruelty, most people's response is to claim they support “humane meat." Even the normally-progressive Mayor of Berkeley is quoted in an article showing support for killing "locally sourced animals raised in humane conditions." I wonder if he would show the same support for locally sourced, “humanely” raised Yorkshire terriers.

3. The classes that were the target of the protest are meant to teach how to hide violence

The protests started occurring in response to a "butchering class" offered by the Local Butcher Shop. Most people don't like to chew tendons, veins, blood and bones, so bodies are conveniently disguised as “patties” and “sausages." In fact, “sausage," “bacon,” “lamb chops," and “scallopini” are simply euphemisms we use to distance ourselves from those we are eating.

In the article in the Guardian about the incident, David Dewey, president of the California Association of Meat Processors, blamed "cartoons for making children believe that animals have emotions and feelings."

Unfortunately for Mr Dewey, there is actually scientific consensus among the world's top neuroscientists that humans are not the only animals who are conscious and have feelings.

The other excuse Dr. Dewey uses, “animals eat other animals too," is one of the most common justifications used to exploit animals, all of which are either fallacious or unscientific. We cannot use wild animals’ behaviors to justify our own behavior. After all, many animals inflict violence against their own children, but we would never allow someone to use this as a justification to eat their own human babies.

4. The people attending the classes are privileged, and wealthy

Wal-Mart and McDonald's customers sometimes can't afford or don’t have access to fruits and vegetables because of our racist food system. The meat industry is so powerful that they lobby politicians and receive 63% of food subsidies, while fruits and vegetables only receive less than 1%. This means people in poverty are pushed to eat these unhealthy foods. Worst of all, people of color, who are commonly lactose intolerant, are forced to eat the surplus milk and cheese the dairy industry convinces the government to buy. We need to address the issues of availability of healthy-foods for everyone, regardless of their income or race.

While we protested outside the store, people inside were paying $175 a session for a class to learn how to turn someone's body into a product. People who can afford that can afford vegan alternatives everywhere, so eating animals for them is purely for entertainment, just like paying to attend Seaworld or a dog-fighting match.

5. Berkeley is the future

The meat industry is using "humane washing" as an alternative to animal liberation. Places like Berkeley lead the way in social justice, and we must stop the lie that it's somehow ethical to kill a baby animal if you "do it nicely."

We would've liked to get the butcher shop to stop profiting from exploitation, or at least hold vegan-sausage making classes instead. This sign was the least we could hope for. My belief is that through future legislation, labels like this will expose the truth that there is no excuse for killing animals in the 21st century. Just as cigarette companies must post warnings that expose their harmful effects, we must continue to pressure companies that exploit animals to tell the truth about this violence. What just happened in Berkeley is only the beginning. Where Berkeley leads, California follows. And where California goes, so goes the nation.

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