Confused by "let dairy die"? Good.
After I took the mic from Bernie on the campaign trail in Nevada to start a conversation about how the government is propping up the dairy industry, and again after two of my friends jumped on stage with Joe Biden during his Super Tuesday victory speech streaming live to millions of viewers to do the same thing, Twitter had two questions it was very eager to ask:
“Why do these crazy protestors think this is going to have any positive impact?”
“Why are they asking these men to let dairy die?”
If you take a closer look at those two questions next to each other, an answer starts to emerge. One of the common critiques of protests like ours is that viewers don’t get the message. The medium doesn’t lend itself to making sophisticated arguments or presenting facts- or, most sadly of all, talking about the victims of the dairy industry- victims like Angel.
I found Angel at a dairy farm in an area of the property where there were often “dead piles”- places where casualties of the factory farming system are dumped. I was shocked to find a little calf laying on the ground who was still alive- although barely. The temperature was in the 90s and she was desperate for water. She couldn’t even lift up her head to drink it on her own. I called for help and started carrying her down the road, sobbing- when I saw the police car pull up I actually thought “thank God, I can’t carry her anymore, they can take her to a vet.” But they arrested me instead. The farmers were there and they threw Angel in the back of a truck- I have no doubt she was killed. I just hope she didn’t suffer any more than she already had.
We have a national fantasy of what a dairy farm is. It doesn’t include boy calves being considered “byproduct” and killed soon after birth (many people assume cows just produce milk automatically, but just like humans, dairy cows produce milk for one simple reason: they’re mothers.) It doesn’t involve cows being forced to have baby after baby continuously until, after a few years, its taken such a toll on their bodies that it becomes more profitable to sell them for cheap meat. It also doesn’t include scenes of mother cows bellowing hysterically for their calves, sometimes even chasing the vehicle carrying them away. Because this is a story the powerful animal agriculture industry (more than 200 billion dollars a year powerful) in this country doesn’t want getting out, we have to take opportunities to speak to the American public wherever we can find them.
The fairy tale of the happy dairy cow is used to prop up the dairy industry. It’s trying to convince us that despite getting 400 million dollars in subsidies from the federal government in 2018, it needs even more “help” from the American taxpayer. Unfortunately, it’s a scam that a lot of our leaders- including forward-thinking progressives like Bernie- have been taken in by. Bernie is a long-time supporter of dairy subsidies, and Biden recently hit the campaign trail with Tom Vilsack, Obama-era agriculture secretary and current President of the Dairy Export Council, who makes a million dollars a year angling to get more taxpayer money into the pockets of big corporations while helping them avoid accountability and transparency.
If I told you about all the shady, disingenuous, and downright corrupt things that go on in the back rooms where animal ag and politicians get together, we’d be here all day. And if you pose too much of a threat, you could end up being thrown in prison; I’m now facing eight felony charges for blowing the whistle on criminal animal abuse in factory farms, and for rescuing dying animals inside them. Just like with the 15 seconds you have to get your point across when you take the stage from a Bernie or a Biden, one article can only go so far. The voices that get heard are usually the ones that have money and power behind them. Money talks, but it also shuts people up. My friends and I wanted to break the silence even if we could only get one thing out: let dairy die. That’s enough for it to be powerful because the public doesn’t need us to convince them- the reality of dairy is a Google search away, and its horrors speak for themselves.
Protests like ours always get a strong negative reaction out of some people, including those who say they’re sympathetic to the message but boy, did we screw everything up by doing XYZ. A common refrain is “that wasn’t the time or the place.” But now millions of people are wondering what it means when we say the death spiral of the dairy industry isn’t a tragedy, it’s something to celebrate- and those people weren’t wondering before. The comfortable road, the smooth road, for the animal rights movement isn’t working.
It would be great to believe that the truth will finally come out if we just quietly drink our oatmilk and make sure no one ever gets mad at us. We’d be waiting offstage for an opportunity to speak for animals like Angel that would never come. Bernie and Biden are not going to give us the mic, whether we ask nicely or not (we have asked, by the way.) The system is never going to give us the mic. We have to take it. We didn’t do it because we wanted people to like us, we did it so people would start asking questions.
A lot of people were bewildered as to why anyone would use their opportunity to say anything to an audience of millions to “talk about milk.” That’s exactly the point. Animal rights needs to be a national conversation, and that requires breaking through to everyday Americans- who won’t support the cruelty of dairy if they really know what’s going on- that we can’t reach with a Facebook post about being kind to animals. After the Biden disruption I was following the Twitter madness and laughed out loud was when I realized that even people who were raging against us or mocking us were still using the letdairydie hashtag! Some of them were even using a graphic we made with a picture of a weeks-old calf we found chained up alone in a hutch in the snow at a dairy farm (not sure where you found that, but thanks!).
That picture, by the way, was taken in Vermont, Bernie’s home state, at a farm that supplies milk to “humane” Ben and Jerry’s- which Bernie touts as a great example of what good animal agriculture looks like as opposed to those evil “factory farms.” The fact is, 99% of the animal products consumed in this country come from farms that use industrial production standards that qualify them as factory farms. There’s nothing about being a “family” farm that exempts one from being a factory farm (a family can own an oil company too, but you don’t hear about how we should be supporting “family oil businesses” as the way to mitigate the harm an industry is causing.)
As a smorgasbord of tweets, posts, articles, and “did you see the part when she…” conversations continue to cycle through our collective consciousness over the coming days and weeks, there are going to be a lot more confused people- millions more. And that’s great. If every person in America was thinking “what the hell are those crazy protestors talking about, this is ridiculous” then we’d be one huge step closer to a world where every individual is respected, human and non-human alike. When new ideas that challenge society’s paradigms hit the mainstream where it hurts- where it hasn’t granted the idea permission to exist yet- there’s a chaotic and, yes, confusing period where the public is just trying to sort out what the hell is going on. But they don’t stay confused forever. So to people saying “this protest was a waste of time, no one knows what you’re talking about and no one cares,” I say, give it a minute. That might change sooner than you think.