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Animal Testing: The Irony of Veterinary Training

Animal Testing: The Irony of Veterinary Training

By Barbara Sharon Glick

From as early an age as I can remember, I loved animals, and decided to be a vet by the age of 5. In my senior year of high school, in pursuit of this goal, I took a course covering animal testing entitled "Scientific Research." We were given rats on whom we did all sorts of gruesome experiments, killing them with chloroform before we cut them open in the guise of animal testing. I imagine some of them were not dead when we did that, and how much they suffered as we exploited them. At the time, though, I thought I was working toward my goal of helping animals and continued on this ironic path.

 Animal Testing

Animal Testing

I majored in Animal Science at Cornell, a common major for those wanting to go to vet school. From 1975-76 I worked on the Cornell Dairy Farm, a huge complex and testing place for the latest practices in intensive animal farming. I thought nothing of the fact that the calves I bottle fed in hutches were stolen from their grieving mothers or that the ice cream I served up at the campus dairy bar was made from stolen milk. I didn't recognize the cruelty of the dairy industry even while I was immersed in it. Despite the fact that I was so clueless, I did realize how odd the name of one of my text books was: "The Science of Animals That Serve Mankind." Today, I know that all animals exist for their own purposes, not to serve humans. It just took me a while to realize this even though I have been a social justice activist my whole life. 

In October 1969 I organized a bus to the March on Washington against the war in Vietnam. I have been involved with many social justice issues over the years. Before I became the animal rights activist I am now, I was heavily involved with environmental activism, and eventually I realized that I can do that via the animal rights movement and also fight for the animals. Although for many years I went to circus, zoo, and fur protests, it wasn't until a few years ago that I understood that in order to love animals we should not eat them, wear their wool, eat their eggs, drink their milk, or exploit them in any way. 

In 1977 my first "real" job was with the Farmers Home Administration (FmHA), an agency of the USDA which no longer exists. FmHA financed farm purchase and operations as well as homes in rural areas. I moved to the Eastern Shore of Maryland, where chicken farming was booming. My county was the home of Purdue headquarters. I remember meeting Frank Purdue in the opening of the "latest and greatest" style chicken houses (aka jails). My job was to approve loans for the purchase of farms, for construction of chicken houses, and for operating loans. I had absolutely no idea how immoral that whole industry was!

Last year, I attended the DxE Forum, which featured a session on open rescue. As a result of that and of the increasing role this work is having in our network, I rescued two chickens from Kaporos in Brooklyn, NY in October 2016. And to think that at one point in my life I had a job that financed the chicken farming industry! I like to think that rescuing those two chickens was just the start of making up for my former involvement in the chicken industry.

Now that I know how immoral it is to use another, I feel compelled to actively work against this violence. I plan to help save more lives this year and on. I am beyond grateful to be involved with Direct Action Everywhere, a truly supportive group of dedicated activists, I have learned and been inspired by so many, and I appreciate that we continue to study social sciences and emphasize developing the skills we need to become the most effective activists we can be. I will proudly fight side by side with these amazing activists for animal liberation.

Want to get involved? DxE is a grassroots network focused on empowering you to be the best activist you can be. Here are some steps you can take. 

  1. Sign up to our mailing list and share our content on social media. 
  2. Join a local DxE community (or, better yet, come visit us in Berkeley).
  3. Take the Liberation Pledge. And join us in building a true social movement for animals.

Activism and Anxiety

Activism and Anxiety

By Erika Jensen

 

  Erika Jensen speaking boldly for the animals in spite of her anxiety.

Erika Jensen speaking boldly for the animals in spite of her anxiety.

One constant in my life is anxiety. For as long as I can remember, I have struggled with this invisible monster. My childhood environment was not a healthy one, and for a long time I was ashamed of the things I went through and the anxiety they created in me; but not anymore.

I never really had the support I needed to believe I was good enough or capable of accomplishing anything. I grew up in a home in which I didn’t always feel comfortable or safe. I was talked down to, ignored and forgotten at times, often mocked, and made to feel like everything was my fault and that there was something wrong with me. I endured both physical and emotional abuse in my home, and sexual abuse outside of it. It took me a very long time to even begin the process of attempting to love and accept myself. Fortunately, despite a lot of negatives, I was able to take everything I felt and turn it into something positive. Because I knew what it was like to suffer, I was always full of compassion for others, and I never wanted anyone else to suffer. That desire and passion in me to stop the suffering of others was a big part of why I was able to survive and to stay strong.

When I describe my anxiety, I tend to call it debilitating. It affects every aspect of my life. What are everyday tasks for others might as well be climbing Mt. Everest for me. Even just writing this, my heart is racing, my palms are sweaty, and all I can think is, “Am I good enough to write this? Would my words even help anyone? Isn’t there someone more qualified to do this? Will people question my anxiety because of the things I have been able to accomplish?” I can’t seem to ever escape my own mind’s endless questioning and self-doubt. The physical symptoms, while different depending on the situation and the level of anxiety felt, are just as unpleasant. They typically manifest themselves as a racing heart, sweating, shaking, breathing rapidly, feeling weak, chest pain, nausea, and a general out-of-control sensation that is hard to put into words.

I experience all of those things before a DxE action. I am also stuck in my head wondering, “Is this it? Will this be the time I fail?” When I am out there speaking for the animals, I am not doing it because I love speaking in front of people, talking to people I don’t know, or having any sort of attention on me (all things that cause a great deal of panic in me), but because the stakes are too high not to speak. Every moment counts; every moment could potentially make a difference.

I have done so many things in the last few months that are completely out of my comfort zone. Traveling alone, participating in public disruptions at restaurants, several solo speak outs—including a half-hour of just speaking by myself in front of Whole Foods—among others.

There are two specific moments that stick out in my memory— moments in which it became clear to me that I was going to start my own DxE chapter in Cleveland. One mid-November evening in 2014, after a trip to Chicago to meet its amazing DxE team, I walked into two very different restaurants in my neighborhood. One was an upscale Italian restaurant, and the other was a bar/grill. I spoke out at both—my very first (and second) time doing it. My voice came out loud and coherent—which, to be honest, surprised me, as I am very soft spoken and don’t typically articulate very well.

  DxE Cleveland's first action, January 10, 2015.

DxE Cleveland's first action, January 10, 2015.

The second moment was in early December 2014, when I participated in another disruption with the amazing Chicago folks. We needed to go upstairs to Trader Joe’s on a different floor, but there was only an elevator and no stairs to be seen. Part of my anxiety is that I have a lot of different phobias, a big one being elevators. I will walk up twenty flights of stairs if necessary before ever getting on one. So, in situations like this, normally I would panic and search for stairs while unintentionally inconveniencing everyone with me; instead, I told myself to just get on because I had to go fight for the animals—and I did.

  Author Erika Jensen.

Author Erika Jensen.

To this day, it’s rare that I feel comfortable in my own skin or believe that I am capable of doing anything. It is a work in progress; but I'm speaking up for those who need my voice, and that is the one and only reason for everything I am doing. I am not thinking about myself when I speak for the animals; I am only thinking about them and their suffering.

Can you imagine what we could accomplish if people would stop thinking about themselves?

There is one, and only one, reason to do what we do; and if you are focused on that, all the other stuff just isn’t important. Suddenly you become this person doing all of these things you never thought in a million years that you would be doing. I feel like, if this is something I can do, then it is something anyone can do. I’ve realized that being an activist— being their voice—is someone I’m meant to be.

How PETA’s Chinese “Dog Leather” Campaign Hurts Dogs (and Other Animals)

 An investigation of the dog leather trade in China showed horrifying abuse. But did it help dogs?

An investigation of the dog leather trade in China showed horrifying abuse. But did it help dogs?

How PETA’s CHINESE “Dog Leather” Campaign Hurts Dogs (and Other Animals)

The dog leather campaign fails the animals in three ways: by promoting racism, by promoting speciesism, and by promoting inaction in the face of violence. Here's what we can do to change that. 

By Wayne Hsiung

[Note: a friend who used to work at PETA wrote to me expressing concern that this post would inevitably be perceived as an attack on PETA and its supporters, and that I should therefore move the below words to the top of the post. I think this is good advice -- particularly since the issues I am discussing in this article extend far beyond a single organization or campaign. You can read a more in-depth account of the problem in a three-part series here. Anyways, here are the words: 

This is not an attack on PETA. Some of my hardest working and most dedicated friends work at PETA. And PETA’s founder, Ingrid Newkirk, lives a Spartan lifestyle, devotes every waking moment to animals, and has shown true genius in understanding the crucial role of disruption and provocation in building movements. PETA is also one of the only nonprofits that has consistently shown support for grassroots activists. Rather, this is a heartfelt request for us to collectively do better...

I'd also like to emphasize that I don't think there was necessarily any intentional racism on the part of PETA employees. The issues set out here, in fact, are cultural and systemic in origin. And I know many PETA employees who are fiercely devoted to the right of every animal -- human or non-human -- to be free from discrimination or violence. But anyways, on to the blog post... ]

I’m crying, furious, and filled with a near-unbearable feeling of shame. Because, once again, my people are killing dogs.

PETA unveiled a horrifying investigation of “dog leather” in China yesterday. And the video is devastating. A little brown dog, shaking in terror, is dragged out of a filthy, dark room. She backs up against a wall and looks up in fear, as if to beg the man who is dragging her, “Please, sir, don’t hurt me. What did I do to you?” But he ignores her entreaties, lifts up a huge wooden club, and begins to smash her head with horrifying ferocity. The little dog cries out. But she is small, weak, and defenseless. Her brutalizer is massive, strong, and armed. All she can do is shriek in terror as he bludgeons her head over and over and over again. Soon she collapses to the ground. Two men cut the little dog’s throat and throw her into a huge bucket of water, where numerous corpses have already been tossed. They don’t seem to bother with determining whether she’s actually dead, so she may very well have drowned in a pool of her own blood.

 Little Lisa. 

Little Lisa. 

The narrator tells us that many of these dogs are stolen from their families on the city streets. I can’t help but wonder… what if this were my little Lisa? What is the difference between the little brown dog I am seeing on the screen and the one I hug every night before I go to bed? The comparison is almost unbelievable. Just a glimpse into that nightmare brings my world crashing to the ground. Lisa, the light of my life, my favorite person, my happy child in a world so often filled with desolation, sadness, and pain…. Lisa, dragged to such a hellish and violent place? Impossible.

But it is possible, as the PETA investigation shows. Someone just like my little girl -- just as innocent, just as loving, and just as deserving of safety, happiness, and freedom -- is being brutalized at this very moment. 

So why am I disgusted… with the campaign?

1. The campaign plays on racism to draw support, and undermines our attempts to inspire Chinese activists to take action.

The PETA video, like so many other campaigns against Chinese practices, relies on an American-sounding narrator describing horrible abuses by the Chinese. It has the feel of a nature documentary, with dirty, violent, animalistic Asians contrasted with the calm, compassionate, English-speaking narrator.   

The video’s headline is the “Chinese Dog Leather industry.” Yet when was the last time an investigation of farms in the United States targeted Americans by decrying the “Brutal American Pig Flesh Industry?” 

The campaign decries the lack of animal welfare laws in China. Yet the US’s animal welfare laws are toothless and filled with exceptions advocated by industry, e.g. the wholesale removal of all birds from the requirements of the Humane Slaughter Act.

One of the thousands of dogs rescued from slaughter by grassroots activists in China. 

And the campaign fails to include a positive Asian face to counter-balance the horrible acts of cruelty. Yet the video ignores the fact that, as a product of PETA-Asia, Chinese activists almost certainly played a role in this investigation. Or the fact that recent grassroots mobilizations have inspired countless Chinese to travel great distances to block trucks delivering dogs to meat factories -- at significant personal risk in a nation where civil disobedience is often met with violent oppression. The movement has saved thousands of dogs from slaughter through these courageous acts of nonviolent direct action. When did we last see any similar action taken in the United States for the millions of dogs killed in experiments or “shelters” including, distressingly, many thousands killed by PETA itself? Those Chinese, it seems, could attack “barbaric Americans” (and “barbaric animal activists”) for their heartlessness, cruelty, and cowardice toward dogs.

All of that, however, is ignored. And with such a biased framing, it’s no surprise that the public’s reaction to the video is filled with hate against the Chinese. One of the top comments (approved by over 200 others) is as simple as it is antagonistic: “I hate China.” Many people state that they will boycott the entire nation for the faults of a few.  “[E]veryone should boycott chink made goods!” As usual, the strangest attacks are made by those who decry the Chinese as “not human”: “The more I learn about China the more I have come to believe that culture is for the most part not civilized - in fact, not even human at all,” says one. “Disgusting China. Filled with monsters, not humans,” says another. Why is being “non-human” used as an insult among advocates for non-human animal rights?

Perhaps most troubling are the many comments endorsing racial violence. Someone replies by advocating a nuclear attack: “China is the worst country in the world… nuclear bomb please!” Another commenter suggests replacing the dogs with Chinese: “lets have some chinamen hats… made from their mean slant eyed mother fuckers skins!” It’s enough to make even a fairly well-adjusted Chinese person, such as myself, a little shaken. What are the people on the streets of America actually thinking about the Chinese? What are they actually thinking about me?

You might reject this as paranoia, but discrimination is part of our historical experience as Chinese. We remember that a shocking 68% of Americans express unapologetically negative sentiments towards us, including a recently-viral, profanity-laced anti-Chinese rant in SF. We remember that Vincent Chin, blamed for the declining auto industry, was brutally bludgeoned to death for the crime of being born different. (The men who murdered him did not receive any jail time.) We remember that ludicrous rumors involving our integrity and loyalty continue to be spread even by the flagship “progressive” media outlets of our day, such as The New York Times or ABC. And we remember that far more Asians have been killed by the US government in the past 50 years than the people of any other continent. And we are understandably concerned.

Campaigns such as PETA’s, which incite terrifyingly-violent rhetoric, contribute to this fear. And perhaps the worst part of all is that the animals -- including those poor dogs in rural China -- are being undermined in the process. Because we know that, to effect change, we have to start in local communities. This is not just ethical but effective; sociological research shows us that our ability to impact those outside of our local communities is weak. We have to find Chinese supporters if we want to save the animals of China. We have to inspire people of all nations and continents, and all cultures and creeds, to solve the global problem of animal exploitation.

We have to represent the world to change the world.

At Direct Action Everywhere, we avoid ethnic targeting for exactly this reason. There are countless Chinese who have cried just as many tears, and felt just as much anger, over the murder of dogs and other animals. There are Chinese people risking their lives to help animals in need. There’s a Chinese kid out there -- who has faced despair, bullying and violence himself -- who is just as desperate as any one of us to save that little brown dog in the video. To reject these potential allies would be a disservice to the movement. To allow a Chinese kid with a big heart for animals to be subjected to racist threats is an incredible betrayal to the animals we represent. We simply have to do better.

2. The campaign is speciesist, i.e. it privileges dogs over other animals, and thereby reinforces the notion that human beings can arbitrarily decide which animals matter.

But what of public support? The dog leather campaign has mobilized a truly astounding level of public attention and outrage. In less than one day, PETA’s video has been watched by nearly a million people and shared by over 50,000. Many say that focusing on industries such as dog leather, marginal though they may be, is strategic because it is the “low hanging fruit” -- easy to garner opposition to, and just as easy to destroy.  

This confuses the basic function of the activist. We are not here to be popular. We are not here to cater to existing views. We are here to challenge and change those views. And focusing thoughtlessly on a single species, based on human perceptions of special worth, reinforces the species prejudice that feeds the entire system of animal abuse.

 Shooting stink bombs at foreigners may give Westerners self-satisfaction. But does it help whales? 

Shooting stink bombs at foreigners may give Westerners self-satisfaction. But does it help whales? 

Anti-whaling campaigns are perhaps the greatest example of this. As the Japanese activist Tetsuhiko Endo points out, with a global budget of $25 million, anti-whaling NGOs (most notably, Sea Shepherd) are nearly as large as the entire whaling industry, which has annual revenues of $31 million. Yet whaling levels are twice as high as they were in 1990. Over that same time period, violence against other animals has continued its rapid increase in the very countries that have been most heavily targeted by anti-whaling campaigns, including Norway and Japan.

There is irresistible logic to this. When I was a child and first learned that dogs were being killed for food in China, I was horrified. I screamed and cried and begged my parents to stop my friends from being murdered. But they quickly dismissed my concerns as performing whiteness. “Americans do the same. Don’t you love bacon and baloney?”

As I child, I rejected this comparison. But in my adulthood, I now recognize that my parents were right. If we are going to break the species frontier, and grant rights to certain animals, there is no logical reason to stop with a single species. And if we are going to deny rights to one species, on the basis of their non-human status, who are we to object to the abuse of other animals?

The Japanese, Chinese, and others can see this logic as well, and immediately dismiss our single issue campaigns as hypocrisy, or worse yet, cultural imperialism. Local Asian activists who otherwise might be supportive of our efforts, in turn, are dissuaded from joining the movement for fear of being decried as hypocritical race traitors. The losers in all of this? Cultural understanding. Movement solidarity. And above all, the animals.

Don’t get me wrong. I am a huge dog lover. They were my entry into the world of animal rights. I am therefore the first person to say that dogs can be a window into the bigger picture of animal rights. However, to effectively serve as such a window, we have to give the public -- and indeed, animal activists, too -- a gateway into anti-speciesism. We have to hammer home the notion that concern for dogs without similar concern for animals killed by Westerners is both racist and speciesist. We have to have the courage to push our dog-loving, whale-loving, orangutan-loving friends to move beyond the low-hanging fruit -- marginal campaigns that the public is already willing to offer token support to (since they’re not involved in the abuse at issue anyways) -- and toward the root of the problem: the mentality of human supremacy. A mentality that people in our own neighborhoods are complicit in, most obviously, in who (not what, but who) we choose to eat. 

{Note: To PETA’s credit, the video does mention cows specifically. And the petition asks viewers to pledge to boycott all leather, not just the tiny amount of leather from dogs. But the campaign otherwise makes the abuse of dogs in China the subject of special ire, e.g. by emphasizing in bold type, “There's no easy way to tell whose skin you're really in.” But why does it matter whose skin you’re in, as long as it’s someone else’s skin?]

3. The campaign asks too little from us, when we have so much more to give

We need not travel great distances to find horrific abuse of animals. It's happening right next door. 

Perhaps the most troubling aspect of the campaign, however, is that it asks so little of the online activists who rush to support it. The action page has two options: donate or sign a petition. But what in heaven’s name does this do for the dogs who are being brutally murdered across the world? (The deeper and more troubling critique -- that the campaign uses horrible abuse of animals as a fundraising device while seemingly making no effort to actually help the animals abused -- will be developed in a future blog post. The danger of the “animal abuse industrial complex” is one of the primary reasons behind DxE’s soon-to-be-announced Open Rescue Network.)

I have walked in places of violence for nearly 10 years, and I can tell you that animal abuse is everywhere, and easy to find. We need not cross a gigantic ocean to find men doing horrible things to animals. We can fix the log in our own eye before picking at the speck in our neighbor’s. But to do that, we have to take action.

And the “we” in that statement is important. We need each other to succeed. We need to be organized, ambitious, and unified. The greatest movements in history have always been products of collective grassroots mobilization. While they have elevated figureheads to speak for them, their power has stemmed from their ability to inspire ordinary people to come together in waves of nonviolent direct action. To be the change they want to see in the world.

Single-issue campaigns that demonize foreigners do the opposite of this. They offer Westerners a pat on the back for their own moral beliefs and behaviors, and give us license to return to “normalcy.” But this sort of self-satisfied clicktivism is the opposite of what we should be shooting for, if we are seeking real and permanent change for animals. And it’s so far short of what we can achieve. We don’t have to settle for being cogs in a nonprofit machine. We don’t have to relegate our activism to being mere names and emails in a donor database or registry. We can save our animal friends, and, with the right support and community, we can do it now.

Undercover investigations, particularly of foreign practices, are, too often, a form of moral voyeurism. We watch. We shake our heads. Sometimes, we even condemn. But we never act. This failure to act, however, is as big of a problem as the violence itself. Peter Singer is known as the author of Animal Liberation, the father of the animal rights movement. But he made his name as a philosopher with another idea: namely, that the suffering of the oppressed is the result of both acts and omissions.

If you came across a child collapsed in a pond, what would you do?

The point is best illustrated by a simple example. Suppose a man walks by a little girl playing in a pond. He notices the child holds a quarter in her hand, and decides to strangle her to take the quarter.

Now let’s consider another man. He also walks by a child playing in a pond, but sees that the child has bumped her head and fallen unconscious in the water. She will drown if he does not step into the water and take her out. But he thinks to himself, “Washing my pants will cost at least 25 cents. That’s too much to ask” And so he leaves the child to drown.

Singer makes the quite sound point that there is no moral difference between these two men. In both cases, they have chosen 25 cents -- and their own self-interest -- over the fundamental rights of someone in need.

This example shows that the responsibility for suffering lies in the hands of both those who commit affirmative acts of violence, and those who sit quietly while that act of violence is being committed. Those who elevate privilege, comfort, and popularity over the terrors of the oppressed. Yet, too often, our campaigns ask for only that: to be mere bystanders to violence. We have to do better. We want to do better. We can do better. But to do that, we have to completely rethink what it means to fight for animal rights. We have to envision, not a consumer marketing campaign fed by flash-in-the-pan single-issue campaigns, but a global community of activists fighting with every ounce of their energy for the animals who have so little power to fight for themselves.

We do this at DxE. When we look at our campaigns, and measure our progress, we ask ourselves: have we built something that will survive? Have we built institutions, norms, and community? Have we created empowered networks of animal rights activism?

Summing Up

Let’s make no mistake. I would never express solidarity with those Chinese engaging in violent acts against innocent animals. What they are doing is truly an atrocity, and one that justifies immediate action to end. But the same industries, practices, and traditions that allow certain Chinese to terrorize dogs with impunity also oppress the Chinese people themselves. The government’s failure to act to protect animals, for example, is logically connected to its failure to protect human rights. This is a nation, after all, where hundreds of millions languish under the weight of one-party rule.

This is also not an attack on PETA. Some of my hardest working and most dedicated friends work at PETA. And PETA’s founder Ingrid Newkirk, though justifiably criticized, lives a spartan lifestyle, devotes every waking moment to animals, and has shown true genius in understanding the crucial role of disruption and provocation in building movements. PETA is also one of the only nonprofits that has consistently shown support for grassroots activists.

At DxE, we focus on building campaigns that are robust over the long haul. Join our next day of action on January 11.

Rather, this is a heartfelt request for us to collectively do better in three important ways. First, we need to start focusing on the big picture back home, rather than pick on secondary issues or marginal communities. We can’t afford to lose allies in the largest nation in the world, a nation with the fastest-growing animal abusing industries. Second, we need to start taking animal equality seriously -- in our campaigns, in our actions, and even in our words. We can’t rely on speciesist messaging if our goal is to end species prejudice. Third, while the temptation to wallow in clicktivism is strong, we have to ask more of ourselves than signing an online petition. We have to remember that that little brown dog is not just a pixel on a screen, or an unfortunate story in a land far away. She is a window to the desperation, terror, and suffering of animals who are imprisoned right next door. And we have to take nonviolent direct action to ensure that their lives are not forgotten.

A Queer Vegan’s Déjà Vu

A Queer Vegan’s Déjà Vu

by Anonymous

As a vegan, it's tempting to throw in the towel in an argument when a meat-eater declares, "But meat tastes so good!" It's as close to an admission of defeat as you can get, and the only remotely coherent reason for eating meat. Selfish, yes, unjust, yes—but at least they're being honest.

I've long since considered this the end of an argument: the point at which I give up and let the cognitive dissonance do its work.

No longer.

Two days ago, I was eating dinner with a friend when the discussion turned to a video we had both seen of a young lamb skipping down a hall. "It's so cute," he said, "But lamb tastes so good!”

It had never happened before; but, at that moment, I had déjà vu—not of the many times I'd heard that excuse in the past, but of a similar phrase I heard from my dad as a middle-schooler on the verge of questioning my sexuality: "Gays are disgusting.”

I remembered the day we drove to school and I'd mentioned that my progressive private high school was celebrating Gay Pride Day. I made a comment about how each color on the rainbow flag had a meaning. My dad offered his: "Red is the color of your *ss after you've been reamed by a f*gg*t."

I remembered the time my friend proposed we pretend the character we were trying to kill in a video game was his soccer team's gay coach. I joined in, shouting every epithet I knew at the TV screen while we thwacked him.

Behind these expressions was nothing more or less than raw, visceral emotion—disgust privileged over justice. As a white, economically privileged and abled male, I had a life pretty much set up for me; yet the visceral anti-gay hatred I heard growing up condemned me to spending eight years of my life in a grim depression. I spent eight years at two of the most progressive institutions, yet was constantly on edge, alert to the necessity of hiding myself as much and for as long as possible.

My dad has since changed dramatically, showing the power of human transformation. It's difficult to imagine anybody changing more powerfully for the better and being a more loving father; yet every decision I made—from my major to my friends to my decision to quit dance—was based on the desire not to be disgusting.

With this casual turn of phrase—"But meat tastes so good!"—my friends, family, and loved ones condemn countless individuals to a life filled with torture that is far worse. Flesh eaters say this with the same tone of voice my dad used when he said, "Gays are disgusting!" If you know the Latin root, you'll know that "disgust" literally means "distaste.” The injustice is no less.

So the next time somebody says "But meat tastes so good!" I won't stop there. I'll tell them my story, and how I am no different from the animals on their plate. Because "Gays are disgusting" has the same force for a homophobe as "But meat tastes so good!" has for a speciesist. It is the visceral emotion that leads people to throw away reason, to discard what they know to be right because of their bigotry.

I am glad to live now in a community where "Gays are disgusting" is no longer said; yet after that déjà vu, I will never stop fighting until "But meat tastes so good!" is also taboo.


Becoming a Gentle-Man

Becoming a Gentle-Man

By Pax Ahimsa Gethen

 

“F*ck it or kill it.”

   Pax prepares for their first injection of what their partner affectionately calls "Boy Juice."

Pax prepares for their first injection of what their partner affectionately calls "Boy Juice."

Those words jumped out at me from the pages of The World Peace Diet, an amazing book by Will Tuttle. I recommend this work to everyone, as it shows the historical parallels between herding cultures that dominate and exploit animals and societies that dominate and exploit vulnerable humans. As captivated as I was by this book, I was troubled because the full context of this quote, from consciousness theorist Ken Wilber, described the effect of a hormone that I was voluntarily injecting into my body on a biweekly basis:

“Studies on testosterone — in the laboratory, cross-culturally, embryonically, and even what happens when women are given testosterone injections for medical reasons — all point to a simple conclusion. I don’t mean to be crude, but it appears that testosterone has two, and only two, major drives: f*ck it or kill it.”

It was hard to think of myself — with my short, slim stature and graying hair — as any kind of a sexual or physical threat; but the fact remained that I was transitioning from female to male, physically and legally. I was saddled with the knowledge that I was now joining the oppressor class. The hunter. The abuser. The rapist. The Man.

Of course, not all men are sex-obsessed killers; but men undeniably have earned a reputation of being aggressive. When I was first coming to realize that I was not a woman, I read tips on how to “pass” as male. These tips included interrupting people, taking up space, and acting like you owned the place. I shuddered to think what trans women were being counseled to do.

I later read tips from trans men on how to build upper-body strength, and they included the seemingly inevitable advice to consume lots of animal-derived protein (such as whey powders, eggs, and “red meat”). I thought about how when I reviewed the consent form I needed to sign in order to get a prescription for testosterone, I read that taking this hormone could shorten my life expectancy by five years. I questioned my doctor on what role lifestyle played in this determination. After all, I’d never smoked; didn’t use recreational drugs; hadn’t had an alcoholic drink in years; ate a whole-foods, plant-based diet; and was generally risk-averse. I did not intend to abandon these lifestyle habits when the letter “F” on my ID card changed to “M.” She admitted there simply hadn’t been enough studies on FTM patients to say for sure.

I decided that transitioning to male did not mean that I had to become “The Man.” In fact, I didn’t have to become a man at all. I am a transsexual male, but I identify as agender.

While I’m secure in my (lack of) gender identity, I realize that I don’t have the luxury of deciding how others view me. Once I’m further along in hormone therapy, I will appear to most people as a brown-skinned man (I’m half black, half white), with all of the advantages and disadvantages that represents. And part of using male privilege responsibly, including for trans men, is recognizing it, stepping back, and allowing women their space. There’s been an astonishing amount of male dominance in the animal rights movement, especially considering that veganism is more frequently associated with women than men.

If I were to be seen as a man, I would have to be a gentle-man — in the literal, not chivalrous, sense. I chose a gender-neutral name that literally translates to my most important values, peace and non-violence: Pax Ahimsa. This pacifism extends to all of my fellow Earthlings, human and non-human.

Ahimsa is Sanskrit for “do no harm.” It is a common theme in Eastern religions, including Buddhism, Jainism, and Hinduism. Many teachers and followers of these religions claim to hold animals in high regard, often following some form of vegetarian diet; but few are vegan, and fewer still call for total animal liberation. Thich Nhat Hanh, the gentle Vietnamese Zen master, is one major religious teacher who has put non-violence into practice by keeping animal products out of his diet and out of his monasteries, while actively working to promote peace. If I were looking for a specifically male role model, Thich Nhat Hanh would certainly fill the need; yet, in keeping with the overwhelming majority of religious and secular institutions, he enforces a gender binary, separating monks from nuns.

I acknowledge that there are physical differences between sexes; but there is a lot more variation than most people realize, even down to the chromosomal level. (There’s a surprising amount of sex variation in non-human animals as well.) Peering at a person’s X and Y chromosomes is not going to tell you anything about their intellectual abilities, preferred clothing or hairstyles, habits, mannerisms, hobbies, or beliefs. So treating people differently solely based on their primary or secondary sex characteristics just doesn’t work for me.

Similarly, treating animals differently solely based on their species doesn’t work for me. Elephants, dogs, chickens, and other non-human animals obviously don’t need equal rights to vote, marry, or do other things that only make sense in the context of human society; but all animals are sentient beings that feel pain and desire to live. Why make an arbitrary distinction between food and friend, slave and citizen? We all desire — and deserve — not just respect, but freedom.

Two days before the publication of this blog post, Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh experienced a severe brain hemorrhage. My thoughts are with this gentle yet effective teacher-- a true inspiration for peace activists everywhere.

Is there a place in animal rights for a kid from China? - Part III: The Path Forward

Racist fear-mongering over the "Yellow Peril" has driven public perceptions of Asia for almost 200 years, yet very few acknowledge harboring bias against Asians. 

Is there a place in animal rights for a kid from China?  
Part III: The Path Forward

by Wayne Hsiung

(Check out Part I and Part II of this series.)


One of the most striking things about the hateful anti-Chinese rant that went viral last week is that it was, surprisingly…. not racist. Yes, the speaker derided Chinese people for being loud, dirty, and disgusting. Yes, she mocked our most heartfelt and earnest practices, e.g. our commitment to giving our children educational opportunities denied to prior generations. And yes, she screamed profanities at us for failing to assimilate and insisted that we had a duty to become more “American.” But it wasn’t racist because, you see, the tour guide emphasized that she’s “not racist.” 

Too often, thoughtful discussions about race within the animal rights movement are met with a similar dismissal. “It’s for the animals,” we say. “It’s not about race.” Even more troubling, however, is when dismissal turns into outright hostility – even among the people within our movement who wear their anti-racist credentials like a badge of honor. Indeed, at DxE our earnest attempts to start constructive dialogue on race have often been met by untrammeled hatred and anger.

In the first part of this series, I set out the concept of performing whiteness: the elevation of white, Western perspectives, practices, and people over other communities across the world. In the second part, I showed how the problem of performing whiteness has undermined the struggles of both Asians and animals. Today, I want to move away from problems and toward solutions. But as the infamous tour guide’s declaration shows (“I want you all to know that I’m not racist.”), solutions are not easy to come by. They require us to dig deep, think hard, and reflect on our beliefs and behavior in ways that may make us uncomfortable or even angry. But if we can meet the challenge, it will make us better people and activists. So let’s take that journey together.  


Representing the World

I ended my last post with a question: Am I betraying my own heritage, culture and people… betraying my own non-whiteness…. by fighting for animal rights?

Before I answer that question, though, I want to explain why it’s important. In prior posts, I showed how performing whiteness has undermined our ability to gain real traction in communities of color. And this, alone, is a significant fact. After all, perhaps 85% of the people on this planet are people of color. And the most rapidly growing animal killing industries are in India and China, where the people have not, historically, eaten much meat. We cannot change the world, in short, if we are only changing the white world.

But one might say, “People from developing countries can’t be won over at this point. There are too many struggles these people face, and they don’t have time for animal rights. Let’s focus on the low-hanging fruit.”

And there is some truth to this claim. Our ability to change foreign peoples is quite limited… but not because animal rights can’t take hold in a poor country. After all, the main objectives of animal liberation, contrary to conventional wisdom, are not economically privileged. My own parents, who grew up on a quasi vegan diet due to poverty, are one example. But more generally, animal agriculture comprises a tiny portion of the global economy, and is hardly a growth industry. (By my calculation, the value of all the animals on farms in this country is just 1.7% of the US federal budget.) Education (especially of women), technology, and institutions, not resource-and-labor-intensive agriculture, are key to development in the third world.

The reason we struggle to recruit foreign peoples, then, has nothing to do with material deprivation and everything to do with… friendship. That’s the conclusion of a new strand of research that has burgeoned in the past 10 years, network science. And what network science has taught us is this: When it comes to social change, we are affected first and foremost by our immediate peers. Government and public health professionals have struggled for half a century, for example, to determine what drives people to stop smoking, but smoking rates have remained stuck at the same 20% of the adult population.  We’ve tried education, taxes, and replacement products galore. But what social scientists have found is that a single intervention beats pretty much any other in causing even the most stubborn smokers to quit: the smoking norms of one’s friends. If a smoker’s spouse stops smoking, and begins to condemn the practice, an astonishing 67% of people will follow by quitting themselves. And if a single friend stops smoking, the figure is 34%.

Spreading influence through peer networks, in short, is the Holy Grail of social change. And yet this is exactly where we have little capacity when we attempt to change a foreign practice or community. Yet, because of our unspoken commitment to performing whiteness, our most popular and passionate campaigns focus on these areas. In short, we engage in campaigns against foreign practices and communities because they are foreign, and not because they are effective.

We should not be surprised, then, when those campaigns fail. Take the white-led campaign to end whaling in Japan. The Japanese activist Tetsuhiko Endo writes that “the international whaling industry makes no more than $31 million a year while major anti-whaling NGOs spend around $25 million. What have whales gotten out of all this anti-whaling money? Hunting rates that are twice as high as they were in 1990.”

What’s the problem? Well, the campaign has made no traction whatsoever in Japan. Endo writes that “for many Japanese, citing whaling as a source of 'national heritage’ is another way of saying ‘I’m not going to let some fat, aggressive White man tell me what I can and cannot eat.’… [I]f the scales were reversed, and it was the Japanese… who were slandering us for eating, say, tuna, most people would feel the same way.” And without the support of the Japanese – without local activists working with us – it is the whales who ultimately lose.

A recent pro-vivisection rally in Southern California had far more diversity than the typical animal rights protest. That has to change. 

But anti-colonial sentiments are not confined to the issue of whale slaughter. (For the record, notwithstanding its often racist messaging, I admire the folks at Sea Shepherd, including Paul Watson, and have had many friends serve on their ships.) Virtually every campaign of ethnic targeting creates the same us v. them dynamics. Whether it's dog meat images that portray "uncivilized" Chinese taking advantage of men's best friend. Primate trapping videos where "barbaric" Cambodians kidnap primate children from their mothers. Or even fur protests that make unusual and derisive emphasis on Asia as the region of origin. All of these campaigns play into racial animosity, shape the way people of color view our movement, and create situations in which a poor kid from China can’t work for animals without feeling like a traitor to his own people. Who wants to side with the bullying white man, after all, against his own family?  The entire movement for animal rights, in short, is discredited within communities of color by anti-foreigner campaigns. 

The problem goes even further than this, however, because performing whiteness does damage within white communities as well. The unusual focus on "minority" issues, and by privileged white folks who know almost nothing of the communities they are targeting, creates a public perception that the animal rights movement is frivolous. The province of bored and entitled white people who have too much money and time on their hands. Country club activism. Not a true social justice movement. Maybe even, dare we say it, a little racist -- which, at least when it is finally acknowledged, is the cardinal sin of the Left. 

Indeed, the distinguished scholars I cited at the start of this series – Donaldson and Kymlicka  – identify performing whiteness as perhaps the single largest stumbling block in our movement’s growth. How can anyone – even white people – take this movement seriously when it’s so inconsistently, incoherently, and arbitrarily attacking foreigners, people of color, and marginal practices while ignoring far larger and worse atrocities occurring in our own neighborhoods?


In short, changing our movement’s race dynamics is vitally important for two reasons. First, we have to represent the world if we are going to change the world because local activists on the ground – with specific knowledge, experience, relationships, and credibility – are the key to real and permanent change. Second, our diversity gives us strength even in the West. It shows that our ideas have been independently discovered by people from all nations and continents, from all cultures and creeds – and therefore gives those ideas global credibility. It shows that we are not just a bunch of bored, privileged, and judgmental white people, but rather an urgent, heartfelt, and international movement to give voice to the animals whose voices have been so heartlessly silenced.

It shows, in short, that our message can change the world.


Easier Said than Done

So if performing whiteness hurts us both at home and abroad, if it stops Chinese people such as me (and countless others) from finding a place in our movement, why don’t we just fix the problem?

The first difficulty is the same one we face as animal rights advocates: failure to take the victim's perspective. Many of the powerful people in the animal rights movement, because they lack the experience of being mocked, bullied, or even violently attacked for their race, simply don’t appreciate the existence of the problem. Like animal eaters, they ignore the victim’s perspective.

The most recent national animal rights conference, for example, included panels on the intersections between animal rights and many other social justice causes (environmentalism, feminism, class issues, etc.). But despite having virtually no faces of color, and being filled with campaigns (including the keynote speaker Paul Watson) targeting foreigners and people of color, there was not a word about race in the original program. It took an aggressive behind-the-scenes effort by DxE (with a few supporters within the conference’s organizing group at FARM) to get a small workshop addressing diversity and racism – a workshop that ended up being heavily attended by people of color and whites alike. Still, though we tried our best, we failed to get even a simple statement in support of racial diversity into the conference’s program.

The irony is that this would be a disappointing outcome even in the corporate world. Following Nobel-winning economist Gary Becker – who first pointed out that racism simply doesn’t pay half a century ago – large corporations have spent the past few decades trying to create a more inclusive racial environment. Support for racial diversity is now standard practice in corporate missions and codes of ethics. And the largest corporations in the world trumpet their diversity efforts, e.g. Coca Cola, McDonald’s, and Exxon.

Corporations such as Exxon take racial diversity and cultural awareness more seriously than the animal rights movement. 

The grassroots animal rights movement needs to push the powerful people in animal rights to give diversity the same attention. We have to do at least as well as Exxon. The good sign is that key organizers of the conference at FARM and other leaders in the national animal rights movement appear to be taking heed. For example, the coordinators of Animal Liberationists of Color have been promised that there will be a serious attempt to address racial diversity and targeting at AR2015. (Simultaneously, many prominent voices, including Matt Ball and Gary Francione, have pushed our movement away from relatively marginal "minority" practices and towards majority practices in the West.) 

But powerful people are not enough. We also need to challenge culture – the widespread and unspoken assumptions (e.g. that dog-meat is a crime but chicken-meat just a faux pas) that affect all of us, and not just people in power. And that leads us to the second difficulty: the natural human tendency to lash out at criticism. This tendency is particularly stark in activist circles because our movements are filled with passionate people whose self-image is linked to social justice and ethical rectitude.

And, again, DxE has experienced this problem firsthand. In one of our earliest trips down to Southern California in March 2013, I raised what I hoped would be constructive suggestions with a grassroots group called Empty Cages Los Angeles (which subsequently spawned another group called The Bunny Alliance). ECLA was protesting Chinese airlines and the Asian primate trade, and I talked to them about the importance of including Chinese voices in the campaign. But when I made what I thought was a relatively uncontroversial statement – that all Chinese people in this country have had the experience of walking into a white room and feeling immediately undermined and excluded – I was met with a shockingly hostile response.


“You have to acknowledge your privilege as an Asian person. You all have assimilated in a way that other people of color have not.”

This was my first introduction to the concept of Asian privilege, which Bill O’Reilly, among others, is fond of. I disagreed respectfully.

“I think that’s a little bit of a myth. There is no such thing as a model minority – all people of color face discrimination – and Asians, far from assimilating, are actually seen as perpetual foreigners.”

“But you have to admit that, demographically, Asians have more social and economic power,” another person chimed in.

The tense conversation that followed was bizarre. Even in conservative Indiana, where people of color were widely derided, I had never been told that Asians had too much power. The idea seemed utterly absurd to me. After all, Asians are hardly even seen, much less given power. But I’ve subsequently learned that it’s a “thing” in California to hold resentment against Asian people because, despite the overwhelming evidence of continuing discrimination, many feel that we have too many slots at elite universities. Never mind that we’re paid less for equal work, that our children are physically beaten in American schools (the same schools that we supposedly “control”), or that the slots at elite universities, for us, rarely result in elite positions post-graduation.

There’s another layer to this, however, in the context of animal rights. Scholars of racism have shown that the mere act of setting one group against another, in an adversarial setting, generates resentment and prejudice against the “other.” The movement’s overwhelming whiteness and unusual focus on Asian practices, therefore, not only reflect but also actively worsen our discriminatory feelings against Asians. The vicious cycle of antagonistic race relations is fed by white campaigns against Asians even if race is not expressly invoked.

Given both the evidence of widespread discrimination and my personal experiences as a victim of racist violence, I was shocked by the discussion of “Asian privilege.” But I dropped the conversation. One of the things you quickly realize as a person of color is that talking too much about race, especially to a white audience, often has bad results. I privately wondered, though, whether the activists leading the campaign against the Asian primate trade were developing unconscious prejudices against Asians. When you have one race on one side, and the other race on the other, it’s hard to avoid.

A few months later, when I saw a video of an office disruption at a Chinese airline in which a group of mostly white activists streamed into an office and screamed “Leave Town” at the Chinese people inside, my heart almost stopped. As someone who has had exactly those words screamed into my face, my body’s fight-or-flight response was triggered. My first thought was to send an angry email to the organizers. But after sleeping on it, I felt that the issue could not be pushed too aggressively. It was early in DxE’s history -- indeed, before DxE even officially existed -- and we were trying to build alliances rather than create enemies. So after sending a polite message suggesting that the campaign could be re-framed, and asking the organizers to try to put forth more Chinese voices in support of the campaign, I dropped the issue. These were, after all, systemic issues, and it made no sense to pick on one particular campaign.

If only things were so easy. The consequence of the comments I made about the targeting of Asians was a hostile response the likes of which I have never seen in my 15 years as an activist. A horde of activists lashed out at us for "racism" against whites. And prominent white supporters of the campaigns that I privately criticized, including Amy Love (Empty Cages LA), Jordan Act (The Bunny Alliance), and Jake Conroy (SHAC7 defendant), took it upon themselves to engage in a 1.5 year campaign of racial one-upsmanship and character assassination (including referring to me as “disgusting,” barring me from demonstrations when I offered to join as an olive branch, and mocking DxE activists at every opportunity in social media) that I can only compare to the hatred that I felt growing up in Indiana. Mutual friends have relayed to me that the supporters of the Asian campaigns took it upon themselves to show to the world that they are not, in fact, racist – and to “destroy DxE” for daring to suggest otherwise. Virtually every week another strange rumor or allegation comes out, and unlike many expressions of social media hostility (which are inevitable as our platform grows), the campaign appears to be organized and has actively interfered with our work, including nearly causing a Seattle speaking event to be cancelled because of my alleged connections with racists and white supremacists.


Among the many false allegations against DxE: 

Attempts to build better racial understanding are often met with violent opposition, such as this post on the author's Facebook page. But unapologetic racists are a small part of the problem. 

Rumor: DxE took money from the wife of a white supremacist, and Wayne has close ties to such groups. (Amy Love, Jordan Act, Jake Conroy)

Truth: If it sounds absurd – after all, DxE is organized primarily by people of color – it probably is. In fact, we hardly know the woman at issue, a close friend of Amy’s named Melissa who lives in Southern California, and Melissa ironically blocked all of us after the rumor came out because she thought we were the source. DxE did not even exist as a fundraising entity when we met her briefly in August 2013.

Rumor: DxE has silenced and excluded people of color. (Jake Conroy)

Truth: We had some unfortunate conflict between two community members – one Jewish, and one Persian – but did our best to hear out the genuine concerns about racism raised by both sides and still welcome all parties to the conflict to our events.

Rumor: DxE refuses to work with other groups, is exclusive, and divides the animal rights community. (Jake Conroy)

Truth: We’ve worked with and promoted IDA, Animal Place, Animal Liberation Victoria, and countless other groups across the world. Even the leaders within the movement whom we most disagree with, e.g. Bruce Friedrich, seem pretty ok with our approach to conflict.

Rumor: DxE doesn't have a real concern for anti-racism because some of its members have shown support for anti-Asian campaigns. They are just hypocrites. (Jake Conroy)

Truth: This one is also a little hard to take seriously, given the number of Asian people in our organizing group. (Do we really have to defend our authentic interest in not having our own families murdered?) But it’s true that many of us – including yours truly – have attended demonstrations addressing Asian practices. What our critics fail to understand, though, is that DxE does not operate as they do. When we see a problem, we try to show solidarity with other campaigns and reshape them from within. (And we often succeed.) We don’t immediately set out to destroy those who are different from, or disagree with, us.

Rumor: Wayne is a member of the Illuminati, or a mole for Chipotle/the CIA. (Anonymous Portland activist, as conveyed to one of our organizers)

Truth: Sigh. 

One of hardest things about these rumors is that the source of many of them, Jake Conroy, is a long-time activist whom I respect immensely. But Jake has been a big and vocal supporter of two campaigns that DxE has politely (and privately) questioned: against the Asian primate trade, and against the Japanese whale/dolphin slaughter. A well-known and extremely intelligent activist, and someone whom I share many close friends with, Jake was one of the first people I reached out to when I moved to the Bay Area. He’s a genuine hero to many in the animal rights movement, and justifiably so, as he served 4 years in prison for his work on the SHAC campaign.

But Jake is also, to be blunt, very uninformed when it comes to race. In private conversations with both myself and a co-organizer (Priya Sawhney, an immigrant from India who has shared powerful stories of racial oppression with mainstream media), Jake has indicated that he feels discussions of anti-Asian sentiment and racial diversity in the animal rights movement are, in his exact words, “playing the race card.” Campaigns targeting Asians, he has instructed us, are not about race. Case closed.

In multiple meetings in which we've attempted to address the issue, I haven’t seen in Jake any interest in trying to understand others’ perspectives, to understand what it feels like to live your entire life wishing you had another person’s face and skin, and to have the people who have always been placed above you screaming at you with frightening levels of hostility. Moreover, while privately condemning us for “playing the race card,” Jake has gone out of his way to attack DxE publicly for supposed failings of intersectionality and for silencing people of color. That’s right. The same person who threatens and attacks us for playing the race card also alleges that we are silencing people of color.

We know that Jake and his allies have specifically reached out to people of color to try to mobilize them against DxE. When I wrote to Jake privately raising a concern about campaigns against the Asian primate trade, instead of considering whether there might be some legitimacy to my concerns, his group’s immediate response was to write to a Chinese person to seek out token support. How do I know? The Chinese person they wrote to was a friend of mine who immediately forwarded along the message back to me, with a puzzled comment, “What the heck is all of this about?” I could only shake my head.

We further know that they have attempted to torpedo DxE events by reaching out to folks working with us and spreading rumors about our supposedly racist connections (even after repeatedly ensuring us in person that the bad behavior would stop). Non-DxE activists in Seattle and Vancouver, among other places, have written to us warning us that there are people within the movement seeking to destroy DxE -- and having some success at doing so. 

Faced with criticisms of their own practices, a group of primarily white activists threatened to "out" three DxE members -- all women of color -- for participation in a Taiji slaughter campaign. 

And we finally know that all of this appears to have been started with a simple conversation about being Asian in America. Jake recently wrote to me and Priya dismissing our concerns about racism against Asians and warning us that, if we continued on this path,  “things are going to get messy.” He then sent a photo of Priya and two other DxE members, Danielle and Damayanti -- all people of color, incidentally – at a Taiji slaughter protest under a banner that said “Shame on Japan." 

Both Priya and I perceived this as a threat, and surprise, surprise, the photo was posted publicly by Jake’s roommate the next day on Facebook, along with a comment condemning racism within the movement. The irony of singling out the only three people of color at a huge Taiji demonstration for racism would be funny… if it weren’t also so incredibly hurtful and false. In fact, what the photo (which was taken long before DxE even existed) leaves out is that all three women got into a dispute with the organizer (who provided most of the signs) about anti-Japanese messaging at the protest, and attempted to hand out information targeting Western abuses of animals, as well. 

The important point, however, is not in the specifics. The important point is that this entire episode reveals how deeply problematic and shallow our race politics often are -- even, and perhaps especially, among those who are nominally interested in anti-racism. Are we a movement that will start taking race seriously, and address concerns about race with open-mindedness and integrity? Or are we a movement that sees race politics as some sort of game of hot potato that can be tossed back and forth in a competition of racial one-upsmanship?

The former approach offers us a path forward. The latter perspective will only continue the disturbing trend of performing whiteness.

I believe that our movement can do better. We can have serious and constructive discussions about race that do not devolve into hateful personal attacks and rumors. We can build bridges even where there are serious disagreements about strategy. And we can start making a movement for everyone – not just the white folks who have traditionally dominated our ranks. But it starts with a willingness to engage in dialogue. So Jake, Amy, Jordan, I will ask you again, instead of attacking people in DxE with rumors in the wind, let’s sit down and talk instead? The animals – and all the other oppressed peoples of this earth – deserve at least that much.

 
The Bigotry Within

What the past few decades have taught me is that the bigotry that lies within is the most dangerous to making true progress for the oppressed. Those who actively attack animals or people of color openly and publicly, e.g. Glenn Beck, are not much of a concern. The attention – and bad reputation – they give to discriminatory beliefs is wonderful fodder for our movements. The more troubling thing is when people who insist they are not speciesist or racist – the animal-lover who raves about the humane meat at Chipotle, or the avowed “anti-racist” who actively engages in racist campaigning – support these violently oppressive systems… and then just as violently attempt to destroy those who raise a serious and heartfelt concern.

Progress on these issues requires us to address the bigotry within our movements – and not just without. And that is a painful process. I know this because I went through the process myself. For most of my life, I hated being Chinese. I looked at the few Chinese people I grew up with with contempt. I went out of my way to avoid Chinese foods, culture, and people. And I accepted the values imposed on me by the dominant American culture – that playing football was more important than math, that success could be measured by individual accomplishment rather than community empowerment, and that charisma and talent were more valuable than nose-to-the-grindstone effort.  In short, I was performing whiteness.


Even after readings in college politically awakened me to the world of anti-discrimination (and ultimately, anti-speciesism), there was a difference between my stated values and my emotions. I still felt embarrassed, for example, when I walked through the din of Chinatown. I felt disgust when I saw another video of Asian people hurting animals. And I felt ashamed when I looked around me, in the social movements that I was working in, and saw nary a colored face.  In the recesses of my mind, I secretly still feared that, perhaps, white people truly were better than the rest of us.

DxE has transformed that. The theory that I never dared to test – that animal rights activists could be found on all nations and continents, and from all cultures, races, and creeds – has now been tested, and we have passed with flying colors. I now realize that I never should have worried at all. We can speak proudly for animals – and for our own people – and be confident that we can find allies of every race. No more apologies. No more begging. No more fear and shame. Liberation is born from confidence and honesty, from shining the light of truth onto even the darkest recesses of the human condition.

If I could go back, then, to my teenage self… to the self-loathing Chinese boy, I would share three lessons that I have learned, lessons that I think the entire animal rights movement can apply.

The first is that oppression is, in fact, everywhere, and that we don’t have to be scared or ashamed to admit this. It’s in the unthinkingly violent Chinese man who skins a dog without a second thought. It’s in the angry white bully who pummels a poor Asian kid in a gym class in Indiana. It’s even in a radical anti-racist activist who has spent her entire life thinking about justice but, somehow, doesn’t have any non-white friends. The reason for this is that oppression is systemic, not individual; and as individuals who are fundamentally shaped by the systems in which we live, we can’t avoid the system’s impacts on our beliefs, on our behaviors, and even in our most basic emotional reactions. (For example, having grown up in America, the Western preference for dogs may remain forever imprinted in my mind. Though I love hens dearly, I fear that I will never emotionally respond to a chicken the way that I respond to my dogs Lisa and Natalie. That is speciesism.)

The second lesson is that contesting this oppression is hard, and requires a constructive and open-minded outlook. Performing whiteness – the elevation of white and Western perspectives – is in fact just one instance of deep and insidious discrimination. Performing maleness. Performing straightness. Performing humanness. Each is an equally important frontier of social justice. When our most basic assumptions about life – that traditional American practices are superior, that men are stronger or smarter than women, that alternative sexual behavior is disgusting, or that meat is just “food” and not the body of a murder victim – are dictated by unspoken systemic bias, we have to dig deep into ourselves and think hard about our own beliefs and behaviors to uproot discrimination and make real and permanent change.

Animal rights activists come from all nations and continents, all cultures and creeds. And we are speaking with one voice for animal liberation. 


The third and most important lesson, however, is that there is hope in the intersection of all of these struggles, and in the progress that has already been made. My father never became a leader, but he still survived in a country that, just a generation ago, barred everyone of his race from entering its borders. My mother never became a math professor, but she was an astonishingly successful small businessperson in a state where both Asians and women faced obstacles that I can only imagine. As our movement grows, it touches people across the world, and relates the animals’ struggles to their own. When we recognize the commonality of oppression, we also recognize the commonality of liberation. We recognize that direct action is, in fact, everywhere. And in the brilliant connections that are made, we will light the path to liberation.  

Is there a place in animal rights for a kid from China? Part II: Orphans of the Left

Is there a place in animal rights for a kid from China?  
Part II: Orphans of the Left

by Wayne Hsiung

(Check out Part I and Part III of the series as well.) 
 

When I was growing up in central Indiana, my family, like many immigrant families, was alienated from the white communities that surrounded us. My parents have never had a white friend. Heck, they have never, as far as I know, been invited to a white social gathering. Worse yet, living in central Indiana, where people of color were basically nonexistent, there was not even a ghetto for us to retreat to. We lived, for all intents and purposes, in isolation.

Alienated from the surrounding community, my family sought support from within. 

Isolation breeds fear. Fear of the uncertain. Fear of the unknown. Fear of those tall, sun-splashed, statuesque white people who seemed to effortlessly walk through a world that, to us, was terrifying and foreign. From our broken English to our sloppy immigrant clothes, we stuck out like sore thumbs. So it was with great trepidation that I made my first entrance into the white world: first grade.

It did not go well. On the first day, the kids looked at me with curiosity. I could see their strange glances, and hear their whispers. And it did not take long for one of them to finally pop the question.

“What’s with your eyes?” a girl asked me at lunch.

“My eyes?” I mumbled in broken English.

“I mean, what’s with your eyes?” the girl asked again, this time with a slightly mocking smile.

Fighting tears, I looked away from her and tried to focus back on my food. But the chatter continued. I noticed the girl and her friends using their fingers to bend their eyes upward, to mimic the slanty shape of the stereotypical Chinese eye. They later pulled me over to perform the infamous limerick -- “Chinese, Japanese, dirty knees” (with eyes pulled up, then down, then hands placed on the knees) – that to this day makes no sense to me at all.

Except that it sort of did make sense because, from that day, the pattern was set: I was expected to perform whiteness, i.e. to normalize and privilege Western attributes and perspectives above all others. 

It would take a book to describe the humiliations I faced over the next 10 years. But though I suffered many episodes of physical violence, the worst incidents – the incidents that remain deeply engraved in my mind and that still wake me up screaming in the night – always involved the way I looked. Eyes were only the beginning. Kids asking why I dressed the way I did. Why my hair was so “geeky” (i.e. stiff, straight, and un-stylish). And whether my “cum was yellow, too” – an insult that, being a naïve Asian kid, I did not even understand until I went off to college. It got so bad that, for years, I would hide in the stalls of the bathroom. There, I would sit on the toilet, trembling, and tear at my own hair and skin (sometimes to the point of bleeding). I would sit, trembling and crying, and plead to myself, “Why can’t I just be white?”

In the 2000 presidential election, candidate John McCain explained that he "hates gooks" - a racial slur used against Asian people. The mainstream media yawned. 

The strange thing about all of this was that the town I grew up in, Carmel, had a reputation for being less ignorant than the surrounding areas. It was where the “educated” people lived. Indeed, that was precisely why my parents chose to make Carmel their home. But while discussions of racism did enter into our curriculum – even in conservative, white Indiana, Martin Luther King, Jr. was lionized as a hero – it was something that was remote, abstract, and almost mythological. It was never something that students, particularly of Asian descent, could actually be hindered by.

And so, even when a bully was battering my face and screaming that I was an ugly chink – which happened on more than one occasion – it never occurred to me that the problem was racial.

“It’s just me,” I told myself. “If only I weren’t so stupid, so ugly, so clueless.” If only I could properly play white.

And my experience is not unique. Millions of Asians across the country face the same struggle. The mainstream media loves to promote the myth of the model minority. We are the chosen colored people. The people who have assimilated, adopted Western norms and habits, achieved social and economic power, and succeeded beyond our wildest dreams! Bill O’Reilly blabbed to Jon Stewart recently about so-called “Asian privilege,” and even some progressive writers have begun talking about “Asian as the new white.”

There’s just one little problem: the facts.  

Consider:

-  A frightening 68% of the American public has “very negative” or “somewhat negative” views of Chinese Americans, and those views extend to Chinese in leadership positions (with over 50% more people saying they would be uncomfortable with a Chinese president than a black president).

- Asians are represented at lower rates in positions of power despite having higher educational status. Asians comprise 0.3% of corporate officers relative to 5% of the population – a 17x difference. (The comparable rate for women, who are also discriminated against, is 14.6%, relative to 50.9% of the population -- a 3x difference.)

- Asians are paid lower wages for equal work, even in industries such as Tech (where Asians make $8,146 less than white workers, compared to a $3,656 gap for Black employees, a $6,907 gap for those whose race is "other,” and a $6,358 gap for women).

- Asians have far lower representation in the mainstream media and other public roles than other races. (One prototypical example: in its four-season run, the popular television show The OC did not have a single Asian face, despite depicting a region of California, Orange County, filled with over half a million Asian people. The Asians literally just disappeared.)


- Victims of bullying in schools are “disproportionately Asian.” Those of us who grew up in white schools know this very well: we are perceived as weak, and the first targets on every violent bully’s list.

- Asians (particularly men) suffer from the strongest bias in measures of attraction. ("[O]ur main finding is that Asians generally receive lower ratings than men of other races. In fact, when we run the regressions separately for each race, we find that even Asian women find white, black, and Hispanic men to be more attractive than Asian men.") 

- Asians are socially excluded at higher rates than any other race in simple tests of implicit bias, even in the ivory tower. I saw this when I was in graduate school. Asians had to work twice as hard as white kids to get attention from star professors, and even then, we were invariably perceived as robotic drones.

And then there is, of course, what happens in, well, Asia. Nearly one billion people in my home continent (70% of the world’s total) live in extreme poverty, defined as less than $1.25 a day in income. That is just the tip of the iceberg because millions more don’t meet the criteria for “extreme poverty” but nonetheless suffer under the crushing weight of Western hegemony.

Some recent examples:  Twelve hundred people are killed in the collapse of a dilapidated garment factory for huge American corporations such as Sears and Walmart (who don’t even bother to compensate the grieving families for their loss). Employees at an Apple factory toss themselves off the roof of their workplace, in a desperate attempt to escape slave-labor working conditions. (Apple CEO Steve Jobs responds by saying, “For a factory, it’s pretty nice.”) Hundreds of workers are locked into a factory making American handbags, for all but 60 minutes a day, and face beatings if they dare challenge their confinement.

Every now and then, ever so briefly, the suffering of Asia blinks into American view. But it is just as quickly forgotten.

We tell ourselves that what happens in Asia is a product of Asia. But it’s not. In fact, the abuses in Asia are the direct result of, not just corporate practices, but widespread indifference to the plight of people who are seen as “perpetual foreigners” even in our own country. It’s a result, in short, of the global pull of performing whiteness. Consider some perspectives from Asians in America.

“The West has taken our best and our brightest – the leaders of Asia – and turned them into servants to white people.”

- A friend of my father’s contrasting life in Asia with life in the West. Like so many Asians, and despite exceptional performance, my father and his friends were relegated to non-leadership roles throughout their careers.

“I have no idea where we can live if we have to leave here. We're hoping not to sleep in the street.”  

- Poon Heung Lee, an 80-year-old retired hotel housekeeper, after being evicted from his San Francisco apartment along with his 48-year-old mentally disabled daughter. Countless other families in historically Chinese neighborhoods have been physically forced out of their homes due to the Ellis Act. (Yes, the very neighborhoods that the racist tour guide last week told to “F--k off.” She, and many other people, are getting their wish.)

“I’m in pain, but they don’t believe me. They tell me, stop faking.”

- Hiu Lui Ng, undocumented immigrant who was shockingly seized after 17 years in this country at his final green card interview, taken from his wife and two young children, and thrown into a grim detention center. After nearly a year languishing in the facility, and despite his cries of excruciating pain, Ng was dragged from his cell because he could not stand on his own power. Shortly thereafter, he was diagnosed with a broken spine and liver cancer, which killed him five days after the diagnosis. As with the Vincent Chin beating and death, the government responded with a collective, “Who cares?"

In short, Asia and Asians have been forced into the most humiliating positions, used to serve Western capitalism, confined in spaces no living being should be forced to endure, kicked out of our homes when the land is needed for more powerful peoples, and even murdered in cold blood. And yet the American Left is unmoved. Indeed, the American Left hardly even remembers that we exist.

Sound familiar? It should. Because there’s another group that suffers from the same problem to a much more severe and horrific degree.

Animals.


Invisible Oppression

Readers of this blog do not need me to recount the horrific details. 10 billion land animals killed in the United States. Hundreds of millions more for fur, experimentation, and entertainment. Even dogs and cats, our beloved family members, are murdered by the millions every year – all for the crime of being born to a different species. But the most heartbreaking stories are always those of individuals. Two are particularly salient.

A poor cow is forced to witness the violent end of her friend. And she's next in line. 

In a recent video, a poor cow is forced to witness violent men murder her friend. She struggles to escape the slaughter line, to stay as far away from the room where death awaits. But she is eventually shocked with an electric prod into the chamber where she will meet her end.  You see the fear in her eyes, as she desperately tries to turn and escape. 

The second is the story of the so-called last pig. A baby pig, surrounded by the dead bodies of her friends, screams and scrambles desperately as men approach to take her body and flesh. These are not screams of physical pain. They are screams of terror and fear… the screams of a gentle soul who cannot bear to face her oppressors alone…. the cries of someone who desperately needs a friend with her as she faces an unspeakable end.

When I see the world through these animals’ eyes, I can barely maintain my composure. I think back to the moments in life where I have lived in fear, in isolation, in terror of imminent violence, and I can barely stop myself from screaming out, at the top of my lungs, “JESUS CHRIST! WHAT THE F--K IS GOING ON? SOMEONE STOP THIS NOW!” 

My friend Lisa put it very well, when I talked to her recently about her evolution towards animal rights consciousness. When she first saw what happened in a slaughterhouse, she cried out in her head, "Nothing could be more evil in the world!" I wholeheartedly agree.

And yet, despite the horrific evil that  surrounds us, oppression of animals, like discrimination against Asians, is largely ignored. Approximately 2% of the American population has taken the small step of declining to consume the bodies of animals. Even in that small sliver, only a small percentage endorse true animal rights or species equality. And finally, there is the sliver of the sliver: those proud few who have committed to take a stand

Abandoned by the Left, you might think that Asians and animal rights activists would be allies. But instead, we have the opposite.

In fact, a list of the most hate-filled animal rights campaigns almost invariably includes a long line of Asian targets. The slaughter of elephants and rhinos for "trinkets." The deforestation of orangutan habitat for palm oil. The primate trade in China. The list of Asian targets is like the animal rights movement’s Most Wanted. And even when the organizers of such campaigns expressly disavow racism, hateful sentiments always bubble up.

Take dog meat. Perhaps the most prominent international animal rights organization on the planet, with a reputation for being effective, ethical, and thoughtful, took on the issue last year. And they did so with the highest and most ethical purpose in mind – to extend consideration and equality to all animals, not just the dogs and cats that Westerners traditionally have loved.

And yet a brief perusal of responses to their campaign media shows a torrent of violent and racist rhetoric. A commenter (approved by 225 people) calls the Chinese “weak cowards” and asks “Why are they allowing these scum bags to exist?” (One wonders if Americans are cowards, too, for killing and eating over 100% more animals than the average Chinese.) Another comment with the text “Go to hell, China!” and “Hang them all, devils” is approved by an astonishing 131 people on the page. (Ironic, given the hanging dog in the image.) And perhaps most perversely of all, “I always wanted to go to China, I will not set foot in that place! They are a disgrace to humankind and in fact don't deserve to even to referred to as human!” (A strange thing for an activist for non-human animals to say. After all, while we Chinese are, in fact, human, what’s wrong with being non-human?)

And this, of course, is by an organization that is doing a “foreign” campaign as ethically as it can possibly be done. For example, the campaign included Chinese activists and voices in its materials, emphasized that Western countries also engage in violent practices toward animals, and expressly disavowed any sort of racist rhetoric or messaging.

But if you have been following this blog, you should not be surprised. After all, when 68% of the public un-apologetically holds negative views of Asians, when many more who disavow conscious prejudice nonetheless show dramatic evidence of implicit bias (e.g. refusing to even talk to someone simply because of their ethnic face or name), and when an entire continent remains under the heel of the Western powers that have ruled the world for hundreds of years, should we be surprised when campaigns that target foreigners... trigger anti-foreigner hatred or even violence?

It should also be no surprise when Asians, and other minority communities targeted by the animal rights movement’s ire, don’t take well to these campaigns. Indeed, one begins to wonder what self-respecting person of color would even consider becoming an animal rights activist in the first place. My cousins asked me if I was performing whiteness. But perhaps they should have been harsher on me: Am I betraying my own heritage, culture and people… betraying my own non-whiteness…. by fighting for animal rights?

 

Next: Part III: The Path Forward.


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!

Dramatize the Issue

Dramatize the Issue (by Kelly)

UPDATE: Glenn Beck personally spent twelve minutes on his talk show talking about the disruption (hatefully, in perfect human supremacist fashion, though with an interesting acknowledgement of how he was taught speciesism).

I have adopted three little girls. One is a dog. Two are chickens. All are family.

You know how that is. Heck, most of America knows how that is where their dog or cat is concerned. The trouble is, we've learned to be so speciesist that we have a hard time seeing a chicken for the social, gentle, loving, clever little girl she is, because we're taught that only animals like "dog" and "cat" are "friend" but other animals like "cow" and "chicken" are called "food" instead -- without ever bothering to listen to what that animal has to say about it, when she cries out in a very clear call for help before a human kills her for his pleasure.

Well, last weekend, with other liberationists at my back, I went into a space that normalizes violence against animals who are not named "human" or "dog" or "cat" and I told the people there (and the people to view the video on the Internet) the story of one of my little girls.

Today it was widely publicized through a conservative web publication, namely by bullies eager to demonstrate their human supremacism, in tandem with threats of violence ("get between me and cooked meat, and i'll show you some violence" and "go away, woman, before we barbeque you") as well as a dash of misogyny ("sorry, but I don't trust females with little boy haircuts" and "crazed woman"), of course. (The publication's Facebook post is here.)

Other leftists, take note: If Glenn Beck's camp hates us this much, we're probably doing something extremely progressive. Leftist politics have everything to do with not treating others badly just because we can -- being against discrimination and violence is core to our position. And it's quite apparently antithetical to theirs, which is why they hate the threat of empathy that we embody. They believe that violence is a joke.

And to the #FirstWorldProblems comment, while I personally have that privilege, it is not hard to find animal rights activists and ethical vegans and anti-speciesist sentiment in any human society, and no actually, the hashtag doesn't justify dismissing the issue and the voices of those who are crying out for help just because they aren't humans. All oppression has the same ideological roots, we can't just fix the "human" problems first and then move on to the other animals. And we certainly shouldn't continue actively harming other animals just because other human animals are still being oppressed, there is no logic to that, unless it's okay to beat and rape and kill me because there are still men who experience oppression at the hands of some other logic of domination and they're just that much more important than me. And we should not judge that one person's suffering is more important than the suffering of any one or one billion others just because that person occupies a privileged class that the others do not.

The #FirstWorldProblems hashtag is used by people complaining about something that happened to them that they acknowledge is trivial. Nothing has happened to me. I have the privileges of being a human in a human supremacist society. The grievance here is from someone who is crying out for help as she desperately tries to escape being murdered. (And currently humans are not listening to her -- rather, we're silencing her -- so I am trying to use my voice to make space for hers.) That's not a triviality. She wants to live, she wants freedom, she wants to be loved, just like you and I and our dog friends. Really, the Blaze article itself should be hastagged #humanproblems, because it's just humans complaining about other humans trying to stop them from engaging in gratuitous acts of violence that they only can participate in because they are humans in a human supremacist society.

Basically all the other comments I've seen are straw humans and attempts at diversion and other obvious fallacies or just plain trolling.

While the speciesist hate speech in the comments may be enraging and disheartening, it is important to remember that confrontations like these and the others we do function to force the issue onto the table. And clearly, people are talking about it, it's not a non-issue that they're dismissing anymore. Instead, they're feeling pressure and retaliating. The animal rights movement is growing and everyone can see that happening.

(I'd like to note too that we should consider it an indication that our message is strong when the opposition themselves reiterates in our terms our attitude that Snow is a "somebody" rather than a something.)

As activists who engage in nonviolent direct action like the activists of the anti-oppression movements before us, we are here to get the dialogue moving, to get the animals' voices on the tables beside their bodies. And it's working. We're here to polarize the debate so people have to take a side and fight for it, and look at how the human supremacists are letting their colours show -- the animals' opponents are making it very clear that they are just violent, oppressive, hateful bullies who aren't particularly interested in empathy, rational conversation, or new ways of thinking. They're very actively and proudly in favor of hurting defenseless animals who just want to live, and they're aggressive towards humans who peacefully speak of a world without cruelty to animals. They're bullies, to the nonhumans and to their human allies. Seriously, whether you read our history books or just watch the movies we make, I think we are all equipped to determine who the bad guy in this story is.

No, this won't be easy. What movement against violent oppression ever was?

Yes, there is hope. Oh, so much of it. Why?

"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. It seeks so to dramatize the issue that it can no longer be ignored." (Martin Luther King, Jr, Letter From a Birmingham Jail)

They're not exactly ignoring it.

(PS: The original video is on Facebook and YouTube.)

Fertile Ground (East Coast Tour - Part 5)

Fertile Ground

by Wayne Hsiung

(This is the fifth post in a multi-part series about DxE's East Coast Speaking Tour. Read all the blog posts from the tour here.)

Ronnie and I are waiting at the airport to head home, after a whirlwind 18 day tour of 6 cities. We have met some of the smartest and most enthusiastic activists in the animal rights world -- and beyond. We have been challenged, at times, but we have also received incredible support. And we have spread the idea of a beautiful network for change -- create, connect, inspire -- to dozens of the most committed activists on the East Coast.

But as we return to the Bay Area, one idea is stuck in my mind: the importance of community.

Wherever the animal rights movement is strong, community forms the fertile ground upon which activists can develop and grow.

 Sherrie speaking up for animals. 

Sherrie speaking up for animals. 

This was perhaps most personified by Sherrie in Providence. Sherrie is an indigenous woman who is embedded in radical environmental and feminist activist communities. She has participated in civil disobedience and has a fierceness that is obvious to anyone who spends a moment talking to her. She believes passionately -- powerfully -- in making the world a better place. And yet she has a warm and welcoming touch that is hard to believe until you see it in action. A woman 40 years older than her -- and not even vegetarian -- confides in her, tearfully, after watching our video, as if Sherrie is a decades old friend. An activist from Connecticut, Anthony, comes to stay and do activism with her, and feels as comfortable as if they were siblings. And the environmental network Sherrie has become a part of -- Fighting Against Natural Gas -- has inspired commitments from activists across the world, including the rural, front-line communities most affected by environmental devastation. The personal touch makes a world of difference. Offering to make someone food. Giving so generously that it seems that her home is yours. And listening with such engagement that she makes your words take on a power that you never knew they had. Sherrie is the sort of person, I think, upon whom great communities are built -- and through those communities, great activist networks.

There were many other people we met in Providence who inspired us to be more empathic, more gracious, and more brave. Nick, Sherrie’s partner, was featured in a recent article in the Providence paper, as an unexpected leader in a radical movement for change, and has a heart as big as Sherrie’s. And it gives me great optimism for what they can build. Providence has a unique blend of heart, and will, and mind.

 Boston activists disrupt a space of violence. 

Boston activists disrupt a space of violence. 

In Boston, we met a small group of committed activists, including Laura (who leads many of the demonstrations in her city) and Robert, who were just starting to think about the importance of movement building to achieving our ultimate ends. Others, including Elizabeth and Marcia, were excited by the prospect of joining the DxE Network -- and a blooming international community. A city filled with transients -- students move in and out all the time -- is a hard one to build a sustaining community. But I can see leaders stepping forward and solidifying a city with great potential for animals.

In New York City, the folks at New York Farm Animal Save have formed a vibrant community around weekly vigils for farm animals. Robert Jensen, one of our main organizers in the region, is a computer engineer with a humble demeanor and a heart of gold. When a homeless man came to ask us for food, Robert leapt forward to help him -- and even gave him guidance and support in his struggles with substance abuse. Miriam, Tony, Tomoko, Shafali, and others -- all dedicated activists who try to help every animal rights group in the region, no matter the campaign, were equally good hearted and supportive, sharing food, advice, and sometimes just kind words of support, to ensure that everyone who came to our talk, demo, and even social gatherings felt welcomed into the local animal rights community. Finally, Dana, who was DxE’s initial organizer on the It’s not Food, It’s Violence campaign, came out to join us despite the incredible pressure of a new job, an imminent move across the country (to San Diego -- hello Ellen Ericksen!), and an important exam just a few days later.

 New York City had a great turnout, thanks to both the NY Farm Animal Save crew, and the SALDF at NYU Law. 

New York City had a great turnout, thanks to both the NY Farm Animal Save crew, and the SALDF at NYU Law. 

Even more surprisingly, to me, some prominent names in the vegan world -- the imposing Jamison Scala (whose incredible facebook page always gets hundreds of likes per post) and the fiery Eddie Lama (hero of the documentary, The Witness) -- came to both our talk and the demo the next day. And a brilliant young law student at NYU, Jay Shooster -- who sponsored our talk -- joined a DxE demo for the first time, showing that there are supporters of nonviolent direct action for animals even in the halls of power and prestige. In total, we had over two dozen people perform an in-store disruption. Their words were so moving and powerful and unified that my voice broke, and I was brought to tears. I know that the momentum they are building will only grow.

Philly was perhaps the most surprising city. I had been told, prior to arriving, that the city of brotherly love did not have the most vibrant of vegan/AR communities. But we were met immediately by my old friends Rachel and Tim. Rachel is a math professor at the prestigious Swarthmore College, where they’ve made a beautiful home for themselves in a forested suburban community just 25 minutes from Philly. She (and Tim by extension) was key to my development as an activist -- and person -- since I really did not have a close friendship circle before meeting Rachel in Chicago and starting a small local vegan board game circle that ended up spiraling in all sorts of unexpected directions  -- from karaoke to cooking competitions to ultimate frisbee. And yet while the Philly community was small, there were still passionate voices that joined us for our talk and demo.

George, a veteran Earth Firster, drove all the way from Redding, PA to see our talk and join our demo. An animal liberationist in the 1990s, he had since dropped out of the movement due to its failures in developing leaders in the grassroots. Too often, George said, animal rights activists were both rudderless and directionless. Activists were not given the opportunities they need to grow. And the movement’s vitality was sapped as a result.

George is someone that animal rights movement needs to learn from. In addition to decades of experience as an environmental activist, and a rural background so different from many young activists today, he has an appreciation for the importance of new ideas and people that makes him unusual among veteran activists. Too often, those of us who have been at this for a long time become wedded to particular ideas, strategies, and even people. We close ourselves off to new paths, and the movement loses as a result. But notwithstanding George’s extensive received wisdom, he came out to a talk by a new group that he had never heard of. And he took a lead role in our resulting action -- speaking strongly for animals, in a movement that he had so long ago moved away from, as ineffective and obsolete.

DC, I previously blogged about -- in particular, our wonderful stay with Farm Sanctuary’s Bruce Friedrich. But just as important as Bruce, Dawn Moncrief, and the other big names we had the honor to speak to while in town, there were also some new faces who inspired us. In particular, Katherine, the sister of one of our most dedicated and intelligent activists in the Bay Area (Lisa), came out to her first demonstration, ever… and spoke out at an in-store disruption. While the grassroots community in DC does not seem strong, we hope we can continue to provide Kat and others the support they need from afar. As I emphasized to Kat, it is often the small acts of dissent, by brave people who do NOT have as much support as they should, who rouse the public into action on an issue that has long been forgotten.

And finally, there is Baltimore. There is so much more that should be written and said about our stay in Baltimore than can be done in a single blog post. Suffice it to say, we had conversations that truly blew our minds. I learned about the struggles of an inspiring leader fighting for animals in urban communities, the struggles of a convicted felon making the connections between human and non-human captivity, and the insights of a veteran feminist and LGBTQ rights activist on the perils of corporatization, and the vital importance of calling out human abuse of animals for what it is -- not just a minor cruelty, not just institutional discrimination, but a violent and domineering form of human supremacy -- that shook my thinking to its core. But on these last few subjects, I will have to say more later. For now, we have to board a plane.

But even as we leave, our connections -- and the international community we are building -- will remain. Thank you to all the activists we met. Thank you for your generosity, your open-mindedness, your passion, and your integrity.

Next stop? Chicago. The city that made me the activist I am today.