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Tell Their Stories

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!

Sometimes, You Just Need a Blanket

We have written a lot in the past about scientific demonstrations of animals' consciousness and even sophistication. But sometimes, the joy, playfulness, and ingenuity of non-human animals is expressed in something as simple as a blanket. Enjoy! 

Allies, Not Saviors

Allies, Not Saviors (by Kelly)

Original photo by Farm Sanctuary, photomanipulation and text by DxE.

Original photo by Farm Sanctuary, photomanipulation and text by DxE.

They have voices of their own, but they are being silenced, so we are here to carry their voice. They have agency of their own, but they need help.

We are their allies, and we are here to empower them in their struggle for liberation.

We are here to open windows in the walls of speciesism that hide them and their personhood from human eyes -- windows for their voices to shine through.

We are not here to tell other humans what other humans do to degrade our nonhuman brothers and sisters, we are here to assist those nonhumans in expressing their desire for liberation to their human oppressors. We are here to share their stories of love, excitement, wonder, fear, pain, desolation, desperation, and hope. We are here to force their voice onto the table beside their bodies, no matter how belligerently our human brothers and sisters try to mute them.

All movements are led, fought and won by the oppressed rising up against their oppressors, not strictly by members of the oppressing class "saving" the victims of a discrimination. The oppressed need allies in the oppressing class, and those allies were, are, and will be there to stand in solidarity with the oppressed, to pry the oppressor's hands off of their mouths and release their suffocated voice, and to fight behind them in whatever efforts they need from us. Perhaps nonhumans cannot organize in the same human political terms as disenfranchised groups of human animals have, but they are the people leading this fight, for this fight is for them, and we, their allies, are here fighting with them because we have heard their battle cry.

We are not going to tell other humans how desperately she wants to be free, we are going to help her tell them how desperately she wants to be free.

What a Little Hen's Bloody, Deformed Leg Can Teach Us About "Humane" Farming

A band embedded into a hen’s deformed and crippled leg is just one brutal example of so-called “humane” farming. (Left: normal leg of a chicken rescued from a battery cage facility. Right: swollen and deformed leg of a hen rescued from a "humane" and pasture raised facility.) 

A band embedded into a hen’s deformed and crippled leg is just one brutal example of so-called “humane” farming. (Left: normal leg of a chicken rescued from a battery cage facility. Right: swollen and deformed leg of a hen rescued from a "humane" and pasture raised facility.) 

What a Little Hen's Deformed Leg Can Teach Us About "Humane" Farming

by Wayne Hsiung

 

Chipotle and the “meat” industry want the world to believe that there’s a kind way to raise and kill animals.

But the reality is that the animals Chipotle kills are often raised and tormented in exactly the same conditions as every other fast food chain. The company admits in its own regulatory filings that it sources from “conventional” farms (search for “conventional” here) -- code speak for factory farms -- and that its brand is vulnerable to damage by activist groups. And even its so-called “responsibly raised” nonconventional suppliers offer little more than a window dressing difference from a factory farm. For example, Bob Comis, a pig farmer who has been haunted by the screams of the animals he raised and killed, discussed recently how a “deeply bedded pen” facility is an industrial, concrete shed with disgusting conditions and brutal crowding -- an industry average of 4 x 2.75 feet of living space for a 250 pound animal that is 4 feet long. (Imagine a 250 pound man living his entire life in a bathtub.) The only difference from a CAFO is that the farmer throws in some straw…. and, of course, charges a huge price premium.

Even on "humane" farms, pigs are intensively confined in as little as 5 square feet of space. 

Even on "humane" farms, pigs are intensively confined in as little as 5 square feet of space. 

But there are a small number of farms that genuinely raise their animals in pastures. Small scale and exorbitantly expensive, these farms are, in fact, growing in number, as niche foodie products of all types have exploded in the past 10 years. Does pasture raised farming present a reasonable alternative to conventional factory farms?  

Resoundingly, no.

First, we have no land. One illustrative example: giving a reasonable living standard to a single pig requires more than 2000 square feet of land (the size of a large-ish apartment), according to pig farmer Comis. This would require devoting almost 200 times more space than even a so-called “humane”, "free-range" farm, where the pigs (on average) receive 10.7 square feet of space. That's not feasible in a world where 30% of all land mass is already devoted to animal agriculture. Truly humane farming, in other words, is a physical impossibility.

Second, even pasture raised suppliers are horrifically cruel. Exploitation of animals, it turns out, necessarily requires… exploitation.

DxE activists saw one vivid example of this at a chicken rescue over this past weekend. Two hundred fifty gentle souls, depleted by three years of egg production, were about to be rewarded with a violent death, for the years of toil on behalf of a cruel master. Taken from a truly small scale farm that raised its chickens on pastures, you might think that they would be in good health.

A hen with a bloody, deformed, and crippled leg due to a band embedded into her by a callous master. 

But you would be wrong. Afflicted with all manner of ailments, from vent blockages to respiratory infections to parasites, the chickens were far from happy and healthy. But perhaps most disturbingly, dozens of the hens were limping severely or completely crippled because, it turns out, their master never bothered to remove the leg bands from their young feet. As the chickens grew, the bands constricted their legs, causing bloody and grotesque deformities, swelling, and permanently crippling many of them. We spent hours grooming, cleaning, and carefully clipping the leg band off of these poor souls, hours that a farmer at ANY scale simply would not have. Because caring for an animal properly, it turns out, requires…. well, time and care. Time and care that a for-profit business of any size simply does not have.

At this point it seems almost unnecessary to offer a third reason that “humane” animal farming is simply an impossibility: the inevitability of killing. We have noted previously that almost all of the animals killed in animal agriculture are killed as children -- babies, in some cases. A “broiler chicken” that might have a natural lifespan of 8 years, for example, is typically killed at 6 or so weeks. Pigs that can live for over a decade are murdered at 6 months, when their still juvenile bodies are young and supple. Even dairy cows, whom farmers have an incentive to keep alive longer as milk producers, are typically slaughtered at 5 years of age, a mere one fourth of their natural lifespan.

Each of these animals did not want to die. They were welcomed into the universe of stimulation and experience, meaning and fulfillment, that we all call life. And by killing them, we take that from them -- we take everything from them -- for the sake of a juicy piece of flesh.

And when an individual animal -- scared and alone -- sees that her life is about to be taken, as Bob Comis notes, she completely loses it. Scrambling desperately to free herself from her tormentors, wailing in terror at her impending doom, and even engaging in self harm in a desperate attempt to escape her fate… this (and not Chipotle’s Orwellian happy meat fantasy) is the reality of humane farming.

And this is why DxE’s campaign to bust the humane myth is so absolutely vital. We cannot allow violent corporations to take everything from the weakest and most vulnerable among us… and pretend they are doing the oppressed a kindness. 

With 37 cities, increasing public attention, and a shift even in the largest animal non-profits (PETA and COK, for example, have recently taken a stand against "humane" farming), our story is finally gaining the traction that the animals desperately need. But we need your help in keeping our momentum going. So join us, and activists all over the world, in speaking clearly and loudly

Pastured raised or battery caged. Free range or factory farmed. Small scale or industrial-sized. It matters not a bit. Because it's not Food. It's Violence. 

The Story of Duo Duo

After being forced into multiple surgeries to "train" veterinary students, Duo Duo was abandoned to starve in a back room in China. But then Andrea Gung took action, feeding him through a window until she could find a way to get him freed

The Story of Duo Duo

Despite the common portrayal of the Chinese as animal-abusing monsters, there is a grassroots movement growing in China, as with the rest of the world. The Duo Duo Project, and its conference this weekend in San Francisco, are powerful examples of this growth. 

by Wayne Hsiung

I've said before that being Chinese in the animal rights movement is a lot like being a Dodgers fan at a Giants game. There is this vague sense among many that you just don't belong. People almost always assume that you're a passerby rather than a participant. And some even show active hostility. There are so many campaigns directed against East Asians that it's hard for even the most non-racist people to not be affected. So much of discrimination -- including speciesism -- is not even conscious. And studies have found that even arbitrary visual classifications, such as wearing a different colored t-shirt, can create biases among young children. "You're different, so you're bad." The effect is even more pronounced when there is active conflict between "us" and the "other." 

This is problematic for two reasons. First, the targeted class is often not, in fact, any more likely to engage in the problematic behavior at issue. Studies have shown, for example, that people are far more likely to shoot at a black man, even if there is no reason to think the black man poses a danger. Second, given the incredible importance of local and peer influence in effecting social change, we need buy in from targeted communities to actually have a positive impact. We can't change the Chinese -- or any other group -- if we don't have Chinese voices in our movement. 

This is why I am so excited to see the Duo Duo Project get off its feet. While not an animal liberation project, it shows that, even in countries and among communities that animal rights activists typically see as an "enemy," change is happening. Andrea Gung, the tireless founder of the Duo Duo Project, will be holding a conference this weekend at Golden Gate Law School to share the stories of activists in China and Taiwan and, even more importantly, the animals they rescue. 

Duo Duo himself is a powerful example of this. Abandoned after repeated surgical procedures in the filthy backroom of a veterinary school, Duo Duo was fed by Andrea through a window for days until she could find a way to see him freed. Today, he is in a happy home in the Bay Area. China is the largest and most populous country in the world, and there are many more people like Andrea doing everything they can to help our animal friends. And to have a balanced perspective on China and animals, I think it's vital for all of us to hear Andrea and Duo Duo's story -- and the many similar stories you'll hear at the conference this weekend. 

So please join us and the Duo Duo Project this weekend in San Francisco. Because it is when activists all over the world come together that our movement is strongest. 

When a Hero Joins You

Activists in Australia with the message: It's not Food. It's Violence. Photo courtesy of Patty Mark and  Animal Liberation Victoria .

Activists in Australia with the message: It's not Food. It's Violence. Photo courtesy of Patty Mark and Animal Liberation Victoria.

When a Hero Joins You

by Wayne Hsiung

It's odd and a little awkward when one of your inspirations as an activist joins a campaign you are an organizer for. Part of me thinks that we should all just step out of the way and let Patty Mark run the show! 

But this is how movements grow. We see the horrors, and we crawl into a dark corner to cry. We pick ourselves up, wipe away the tears, and decide to take action: "No more tears. No more shame. No more lies, and no more pain. It's time to take a stand." We find guides and teachers, who show us tactics, strategy -- and, perhaps most important, ideas -- that we can... that we MUST.... spread far and wide. And if our movement is as strong as I know it to be, we see those ideas blossom even in the most unexpected of places. 

Patty Mark performing an open rescue. 

Patty Mark performing an open rescue. 

Patty has been a guide and inspiration to DxE, from afar, in more ways than one. And her words are well worth heeding

I left the United States in 1973 and traveled the world with my Australian husband. It was during this time, and especially during the past 30 years, that I have been stepping across the line that humans draw to separate us from other animals. I routinely enter the barren and dismal world we give to farmed animals. I hear their screams and witness their fear and suffering in hundreds of places including slaughterhouses, industrialized farms, darkened sheds, open paddocks, feedlots and inside transport trucks/ships on four continents. There is nothing humane on their side of the line. [emphasis added]

It's not about how we 'care for' or treat the billions of animals we mass produce to keep in line, it's about erasing the line altogether. Humans are incredible animals, but we can also be a very selfish species--we so often put ourselves first. We can and must open our minds and hearts. Promoting and/or consuming animal products deepens the rut that is grinding down our humanity, our health and the future of the planet.

Help us step across the line that separates human from non-human animals, and erase it all together. Dog or cat, human or rat, we are all equal. We love our mothers. We miss our friends. And we are desperate when we are alone or in pain.

And we all have the basic right to be free from violence. 

Thank you ALV and Patty. And thank you to all the activists all over the world who fight for the rights of animals. It is because of you that, some day soon, our animal friends, who have for millennia lived in downtrodden communities that lie underneath -- broken down and brutalized by misguided traditions and bloodthirsty corporations -- finally see the light and freedom that they have always deserved. 

Rescuing Hens with Animal Place

RESCUING HENS WITH ANIMAL PLACE (by Kelly)

Last Friday, Organizers Kelly and Brian helped Animal Place rescue 755 hens from a concentration camp in California's central valley. The next day, several of our activists went to Animal Place's Rescue Ranch in Vacaville, to assist with the girls' health checks.

Working one-on-one with real rescued individuals is very important, first and foremost to the people we're helping, but also because it motivates us in our activism for their cousins. Feeling their little heartbeats and the warmth of their bodies, watching them explore and socialize, hearing them talk to you, and looking them in the eyes turns this abstract, removed idea of "chickens who are suffering" into a much more tangible and powerful conception of real, breathing, living individuals. They are the reason we fight, they are the real faces we fight for.

The "free range" prisons where they had spent their lives were large, crammed, stifling, stale, ammonia-filled sheds, hot in the summer, full of feces and the noise of the hens' calls. Many of the girls had respiratory problems. Every hen had part of her beak cut off as an infant, and was completely covered in lice, many with large colonies of egg clusters the size of my fingernails. And though they were young, because they are forced to lay more eggs than their bodies can handle for long, several were suffering prolapses. Like most hens exploited for their eggs, all were to be gassed once "spent."

At least, those are the external conditions we observed being imposed on them. Internally, on account of my human privilege, I can hardly begin to imagine what they experienced. In their position, I would have felt terribly trapped, not just by the spatial restrictions and the physical immobility of being so tightly packed into that space with other people, but how maddening would it be to not be able to escape the smell or the noise either? How frustrating would it be to have difficulty picking up food, and to not be able to feel the world as I do now with intact fingertips? How infuriatingly irritating would it be to have lice crawling all over me, day in and day out, my whole life? And to never get a deep breath in? How exasperating.

When we were at the sanctuary after the rescue, I found that time and time again, when I picked up one girl after another for a health check, many would lie calmly in my lap, and turn their head around to look me straight in the eye, then quirkily cock their head -- as birds do -- and cluck curiously, as though to ask me what I, this strange giant, was doing to them. But most of them trusted me and let me go about examining them. They were all very eager to explore every inch of the barn, and some would come stand beside the humans doing health checks (and in some instances perch on a shoulder), just watching what we were doing to their sisters. While I held them in my lap, some of them would gently grab my thumb with their little feet, and it flooded me with protective feelings, just as an infant human grabbing your finger does.

I cannot stop seeing this one little girl who didn't want to be caught and checked, but when I turned her on her side and placed her in my lap, she calmed right down, and just looked up at me so casually and by her delicate little cluck I could swear she was just saying, "Oh, hello there, how are you today?" My heart skipped a beat and the moment nearly drew a tear out of my eye, because she was just so sweet, so pure, so totally and completely without hatred or anger or any of these nasty emotions we humans get so hung up on. She's just a youthful child, who wants to explore and play and love. She had just spent her life in a cramped, filthy concentration camp, and here she was just happily moving on with her life three hours later. Though I insist that offensive violence is wrong no matter who the victim, her incredible innocence just made me feel the atrocity that much more intensely.

I am very relieved that they are now almost all -- excepting a few girls in critical condition -- safe and cared for, most adopted out to new homes and some remaining at the sanctuary. But while I smile at the thought of their safety, I cannot help but think of and grieve deeply for the millions who were taken to a kill floor today.

Fight for them, until every animal is free.

 

Friday Rescue at the Concentration Camp:

Saturday Health Checks at Animal Place's Vacaville Rescue Ranch:

Caring for Hens (Video)

DxE activists woke before the crack of dawn this past Saturday to head over to Animal Place to volunteer on a cold, rainy day. We were split up into two groups, one at the main sanctuary and the other at the rescue barn. While much of the day was focused on basic tasks, such as cleaning, setting out straw, and moving refuse to the compost pile, we also had the opportunity to perform health checks on a few dozen hens rescued from an egg-laying facility. 

In California, virtually all egg-laying hens are deemed "disposal problems" after their egg production wanes. Their bodies are too weak and wiry to be used for flesh. And so, at a mere two years of age, the hens will all be killed... unless activists such as the incredible people at Animal Place step up.

The hens were impressively calm in the hands of complete strangers. 

The hens were impressively calm in the hands of complete strangers. 

On this particular day, a few hundred hens had just been moved from a rescue facility to the main sanctuary. And our task, after being trained by the wonderful Celeste and Elizabeth at Animal Place, was to perform a health check on the hens to ensure they were suitable for adoption, and/or release into the general sanctuary population. We started out by checking their heads and eyes, to ensure there were no injuries or abnormalities. We then opened the hens' tiny little mouths to see if they had any sores inside their mouth cavity. We proceeded to check their crop, their keel bone, and even their vent, for abnormalities or infections. And we trimmed both feathers and toenails too, to prevent infection and excessive growth, and to ensure that the hens were in good shape to be released into the flock. 

While we learned a lot, perhaps the most important aspect of the experience was the opportunity to bond with individual hens. When you see them in pictures, or even in person when the hens are all bunched up into a mass, it's hard to identify them. They are just a crowd, a flock, a mass -- not individuals that we can easily empathize with. But when a sanctuary worker puts an individual hen into your care, suddenly the relationship transforms. They are now not just animals, not just chickens... they are our wards and responsibilities. And we begin to notice how each is different from all the others. 

One will cluck and scramble, from the moment the health check begins. Another seems to positively enjoy the experience (or at least is so accustomed to it that she can sit calmly while being poked and prodded). Some are extraordinarily talkative, clucking through the entire process. Others are astonishingly quiet. But what one cannot deny, after these sorts of interactions, is that every hen, in all her uniqueness, has a strong will -- frustrations and desires; fears and feelings of relief. It is that will to experience the world under her own control -- to live -- that makes each hen's life and freedom so important. 

After spending the morning caring for hens, we went on the usual sanctuary tour and got to see some of the other animals.

It was a beautiful day, and one that we hope to repeat sometime soon. I hope some of you can join us!

See more pictures from our work day below! 

Open Rescue

Perhaps the most powerful effect of a liberation action, especially when done openly and proudly, is the dramatic and inspirational story. Our friends at Animal Equality have shown this again and again. This time, they were featured on a prominent Dutch news magazine.