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DxE West Coast Action Tour - Part One: Sacramento

DxE West Coast Action Tour - Part One: Sacramento

by Ronnie Rose

DxE is embarking on a journey across the West Coast on a three-week-long speaking and action tour. Starting in the San Francisco Bay Area, we are taking the tour up north, through California, Oregon, Washington and Canada, before heading back south to finish at the National Animal Rights Conference in Los Angeles. At each stop, we will be giving a short presentation and engage with local activists, with an aim at strengthening bonds between, and building an empowered network within, the animal rights community. The days following the presentation, we will be collectively planning and executing actions at places of violence.

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The first stop of the tour took us to Sacramento, CA, where we were hosted by Adrienne Ramirez, one of the most diligent and hardworking activists I know. When I first told Adrienne about the tour, all she needed to know were the dates, and everything else she took from there! She went around looking for the perfect spot for the presentation, set up event pages on the internet, persistently promoted, and drew a great crowd.

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The first night we all met at the conference room Adrienne secured, and gave our presentation to a roomful of dedicated activists, both experienced and new. After the talk, everyone in the crowd asked incisive questions, full of personal stories and intellectual insight, which led to a fruitful discussion. By the end of the night, I could already sense a newfound camaraderie, deeper commitment and hope to where the movement was headed.

On the second day, we met back up at the same space, joined by some new faces that hadn’t been around the night before. Some of the folks there had participated in DxE demos in the past—as part of the monthly actions for the It’s Not Food, It’s Violence campaign — but there were also others who had never done any type of disruption before. This was their first encounter with DxE’s approach to activism. Though nervous, they also felt the need to break out of their comfort zones and bring the stories of the animals into the very places where they have been most ignored.

The first action we planned led us to an upscale restaurant, replete with references to the “humane” treatment of the animals, while simultaneously offering “veal” dishes. We entered the restaurant calmly and confidently, with over 20 activists, and held placards stating, “It’s Not Food, It’s Violence.” Three activists—Adrienne, Angel, and Linda—all held beautiful images of our nonhuman kin and took turns telling passionate stories about the devastating torment these sensitive beings have to endure, as well as painting an alternative vision—a world of species equality, a world of liberation. 

We then took our demonstration outside, to bring these stories to the surrounding, and very curious, people. After some time, we made our way to another upscale restaurant a few blocks away, where the bodies of animals were proudly served.

On our way over, we noticed that the Sacramento police had been called and started following us. This isn’t such an abnormal response, but what happened after truly was. As our demo commenced, police began swarming in droves, with lights flashing, from all different directions. They ended up blocking the street with their vehicles, which looked like a scene out of a bank heist movie. 

However, nothing happened. With a good liaison, they stayed at bay, and we finished our protest while they stuck around to observe.

We couldn’t possibly have been happier with the wonderful turnout for both days in Sacramento. Adrienne and the crew set a very high bar for the rest of the tour that might be hard for other cities to beat! If the passion of the Sacramento animal rights community is any indication of future success, I have total faith that total liberation will become a reality. 

A Journey to DxE

A Journey to DxE 

by Wilson Wong

I’ve grown a lot the past year – but the thing that makes me the most proud is that I grew together with fellow activists, committed to fighting injustice against all species.

When Caroline and I, the main organizers of UBC (University of British Columbia) Activists for Animals, first started running our club last year – we were both remarkably conservative.  We were isolated as animal rights activists in our own lives. I was an engineering student who had grown accustomed to the daily mockings of my veganism from classmates (intended to be friendly, but exhausting nonetheless). Caroline was similarly isolated as a 2nd year math major, and like me, did not have many personal connections with people who didn’t immediately scoff at the word ‘speciesism’. One of my first memories of Caroline was when she told me that her favourite outreach method was ‘food activism’ – cooking delicious vegan food for others in an effort to dispel the myth that vegan food is bland and unexciting. She justified this preference by pointing out that this outreach method was safe, and had minimal risk of confrontation.

At our first meeting, we discussed seriously the prospect of changing our name UBC Activists for Animals to something more ‘conservative’. Caroline argued that the word ‘activists’ may scare off people, and may reinforce the negative stereotype of animal advocates being angry, irrational mobs of emotion. I agreed.

A few weeks later, a mysterious fellow Asian animal activist (there aren’t that many) named Wayne Hsiung messaged me on Facebook. He asked if I would be willing to run a demo for DxE’s It’s Not Food, It’s Violence campaign – meant to challenge the hypocrisy in the food industry’s messaging -- notably  Chipotle’s Food with Integrity propaganda -- by dismantling the idea that killing someone who doesn’t want to die can ever be humane.

At that point, I had never even attended a demo – and now this mysterious man from the internet is asking me to run something that (in my mind) could possibly get me deported (I am not Canadian). This had elements of everything my Asian mother warned me to look out for. Despite that, I politely told Wayne I would consult the rest of my group. Perhaps it was the fact that DxE’s messaging was so raw and uncompromising, or perhaps it was because I saw myself in the diversity of DxE’s activists (albeit a lot more timid)– I wasn’t sure, but their voices struck, and stuck with me.

When I brought this up with the UBC Activist for Animals – there was a lot of skepticism and even more questions. Why Chipotle? Didn’t Chipotle offer vegan options? Would such aggressive protesting be effective, or would it hurt our movement? What are the odds we’d be legally implicated?

After a lot of discussion, we ultimately decided to do a demo in solidarity. However as we were new, and frankly scared, we decided not to hold an in-store disruption. Wayne assured us that we should only do what everyone collectively was comfortable in doing. Our first demo went well, and without any drama.

In the months following, our demos got more radical. We became more aggressive, more willing to speak honestly and more willing to disrupt social expectations of appropriate conduct – not just during demos, but within our personal lives too. This came about as a result of two things:

1.       Greater confidence gained from participating in demos, as well as support from the seasoned Vancouver Animal Defense League activists (a local, highly active animal rights group)

2.       Increasing knowledge of DxE philosophy, and the rationale and research behind the in-store disruptions

Despite our demos being ‘aggressive’ in-store disruptions aimed at the ‘controversial’ issue of animals used as food (as opposed to more socially palatable campaigns against fur or foie gras), we were fairly successful at attracting new activists to our demos – something I’m proud of. Other things I am proud of: being open and non-hierarchical and so conducive to feedback (something the ever-perceptive Alissa Raye has excelled at); being extremely well supported by existing animal rights groups in Vancouver (especially from VADL and Liberation BC); and lastly- I’m proud of the community of empowered, truly passionate activists we created.

Less than a year ago, these people who stand shoulder to shoulder with me at demos were barely acquaintances – and today I am travelling down with 5 of them to attend a DxE forum to connect with strangers we had only ever chatted with online (another thing my mother definitely warned me against).

I’ve expressed a lot of pride in this post. But even my immense pride for what we’ve built is nothing when stacked beside the infecting, ever-swelling hope I’ve gained working beside passionate, uncompromising people who are as hungry for change as I am.

Voices: Mathias Madsen (Denmark) on the Humane Myth, Boycotting Veganism, and Marius the Giraffe

Mathias speaking out against the Humane Myth in Denmark. It's not food. It's violence. 

Mathias speaking out against the Humane Myth in Denmark. It's not food. It's violence. 

Today marks the first in a series of interviews that we are calling Voices from the Movement. Some will be famous names with global influence and reach. Others will be less well known activists who, while not as prominent, have made a big difference in their local communities. Many of the voices featured in our interview series will be from grassroots activists who have been inspired to participate in DxE's campaigns, but we'll also feature activists from other organizations with completely different (and even conflicting) perspectives. By doing so, we hope to both improve our own understanding of social change and build bridges with activists all over the world. 

Mathias Madsen, our first interviewee, is a sociology student, animal rights activist, and resident of Copenhagen. He is also an organizer on our "It's not Food, It's Violence" campaign. First exposed to Direct Action Everywhere while on an academic visit to Arizona State University, Mathias has since become an organizer of grassroots protests in his native Denmark. 

Mathias sat down to talk with us about the state of animal rights in Denmark, the prominence of the Humane Myth, and the recent scandal involving Marius the Giraffe. 


Tell us about how you got involved in Animal Rights Activism. When did you make the transition to becoming an activist? Who were the influential figures? What were the influential books, movies, or other media?

 I went vegan in 2010 after travelling the States for a month with a couple of friends while reading “Eating Animals” by Jonathan Safran Foer. I think for about a year, I was just a vegan consumer, and I had not really heard of the term speciesism. But my consciousness was expanding and at some point my mother told me about a new Danish organization, Go Vegan, that she had encountered on Facebook (by then both of my parents had followed in my footsteps and gone vegan, which I am very proud of). It was the founders of Go Vegan who introduced me to the concept of speciesism and the framing of animal rights as an issue of social justice. I think I’ve only recently started to really identify myself as an activist.  


What is the current environment in Denmark around Animal Rights? Is there a prominent activist community?

Denmark is a small country. On one hand there is definitely a growing vegan community, but most people are not yet engaged in organized activism. The largest animal rights organization in Denmark, Anima, corresponds more or less to PETA. However, they are way more abolitionist as they never advocate welfarism or contribute to the reproduction of The Humane Myth. They have successfully campaigned against fur for many years leading among other things to a ban on fox fur farms in Denmark. The last couple of years several groups and organizations promoting veganism have sprung up, and a strong network has been built across the country. This is very inspiring to be a part of but I believe there is a need for more people to advocate animal liberation and not just veganism. 


You recently visited Phoenix, and got in touch with the Phoenix chapter of DxE – the Phoenix Animal Liberation Squad (PALS). What brought you to Phoenix? How did you connect with PALS? Tell us about your experiences (best and worst moments; any funny stories; etc.).

Mathias (on the far left) with DxE in Phoenix, protesting Chipotle. 

I am studying sociology at University of Copenhagen, and I had the opportunity to spend one semester at Arizona State University. This was a good experience but it was connecting with PALS that really made Fall 2013 a special time for me. By coincidence I met a guy from PALS at a bicycle/dinner-event, and he invited me to join PALS on a trip to the Ironwood Pig Sanctuary. I spent a magical afternoon in the middle of the Arizona desert meeting the potbellied residents and their loving caretakers who are working so hard giving hundreds of pigs a good life. After that trip I joined PALS in several protests. It fascinates me how I was able to show up out of nowhere and form very special friendships with other activists over a short period of time. There is so much love and passion within this movement we are part of. My ultimate experience with PALS was a spontaneous road trip to San Diego just one week before I was leaving home. We did three Chipotle actions in one afternoon and I had the pleasure of meeting Ellen Ericksen, a truly inspirational figure to all Animal Rights activists.   

  

What inspired you to take part in Direct Action Everywhere’s “It’s not Food, It’s Violence” campaign?

I came to participate in the campaign through PALS. Participating in actions and protests in Phoenix and San Diego radically changed my perspective on the Animal Rights movement and which strategies we must use to achieve animal liberation. Before I came to Arizona, I guess I believed in vegan education. One of the members of PALS introduced me to the article “Boycott Veganism”, and it really made me see how veganism as a concept can and has derailed the Animal Rights movement from the course that was set in the 80s: the course of animal liberation. We need to get back to framing this movement as a social justice movement and we need speak for the victims of human violence and oppression. When we talk about veganism we talk about ourselves, our consumption, our lifestyles, and about how environmental degradation and climate change poses dangers to us. When the time came for me to return to Denmark, I made a promise to myself and all the animals we are fighting for that I would bring direct action to Denmark.

 

Do you see the same “humane” marketing in Denmark that we see with corporations such as Chipotle in the US? How has the movement responded, if at all?

I do not think any “humane” marketing in Denmark or anywhere else gets close to being as outrageous, deceiving and manipulative as Chipotle’s. But The Humane Myth is definitely alive and well here. Recently a Danish chain of supermarkets announced that it would no longer sell eggs from caged hens. Upon this announcement, another chain, Irma – that we have chosen as a target for direct action – pointed out that they themselves had not sold eggs from caged hens for many years. So “animal welfare” is definitely a competitive factor among those who profit on exploitation of other animals. Unfortunately the industry is not alone in promoting The Humane Myth. An organization with the absurd name “Protection of the Animals” is cooperating with the industry negotiating standards for the exploitation of animals and giving selected “products” their stamp of approval. This Christmas they made a consumer’s guide rating the welfare of “Christmas ducks” from one to five stars! To some extent there is unwillingness in the Danish AR-movement to attack welfarism based on the – mistaken – idea that even small “improvements” are steps in the right direction. But we are some who are pulling in the other direction with great conviction. 

 

Copenhagen activists protest the Humane Myth. 

We saw some really inspiring footage of you and two other activists charging into a grocery store to take a stand against violence (and the humane myth). Tell us about your January action.

I am glad you found it inspiring. This was our first direct action and though I had participated in actions in the States, I had not yet been the one who led one. So honestly, I was pretty nervous but the action was a success. We got quite an angry response from the store manager and one cocky customer, but everyone else were listening (in awe). We recently did one more action and we are now looking forward to February 22nd. Hopefully more activists will join us then.


How did people in the Denmark activist community respond, if at all. Have actions like this been done in the past?

I think this kind of activism is new in Denmark. Our long history is not really one of revolutions and we do not have the same culture of protesting as you have in the States. Most of the response from the community has been positive but there is a tendency of skepticism towards the direct approach. There is a lot of “peace, love and understanding”-vibes in the community and many people strongly believe in vegan education.


There has been a recent scandal involving the Copenhagen Zoo. A young giraffe named Marius was killed by the zoo because his genes were deemed unfit for breeding. Tell us about what has been happening in that story, from the perspective of a resident of Copenhagen?

The killing of Marius really got a lot of attention but actually - and to my surprise - I've heard as much about it from activists in the States, referring to media coverage outside of Denmark, as I've heard through Danish media. The reactions from Danish Citizens have been mixed. On one hand thousands of people signed a petition against the killing. On the other hand a lot of voices in the debate have come to the defense of Copenhagen Zoo. These people are either echoing the explanations and arguments of Copenhagen Zoo or they are, rightly, pointing to the fact that so many other animals are being killed every day, tragically using this as an argument that it was not at all wrong to kill Marius


.How has the local animal rights movement responded, if at all? What lessons do you think our society (and we as activists) can learn from the Marius episode?

Marius the giraffe has triggered more concern in the States than in Denmark, but local activists are hoping to change that. 

We have not responded enough, I must admit. The animal rights organisation that did respond is not one I knew of before this event and as far as I can see they are not really advocating Animal Liberation as much as "animal welfare". The activists I work with and I are currently discussing how to best make use of the momentum and attention that the fate of Marius has brought to the question of the relation between humans and other animals. As a friend of mine states, it is important to recognize the empathy a lot of people showed towards this one imprisoned giraffe and appeal to these people to take a stand against all violence towards all animals in every institution of exploitation. The lesson learned is that a lot of people who are not yet vegans do have the capacities to realize that violence against other animals is wrong, we just need to reach them and make them connect the dots. Another lesson learned is that there is some will to mobilize and speak up among ordinary citizens when they see something that is not ok.

 

A big part of what we are trying to achieve, with DxE, is to create a movement of activists who are empowered to take a stronger, more confident stand against animal abuse. How did you feel in the aftermath of your protest? Why did you feel that going into the store was important?

I did feel shaken by the aggressive and ridiculing attitudes that our message was met with by a few persons, but at the same time I felt empowered. Mentally, it takes some energy to put yourself up to and do direct action but it really does strengthen your confidence. At the end of the day it brings you great satisfaction to speak the truth and – if only for a minute – denying people their denial.

 

How have you evolved as an activist, over the years, in tactics and in ideology?

As already mentioned, my ideas of what works in the struggle for animal liberation has changed quite recently and I am now convinced that direct action is necessary. Also, I think becoming involved with AR-activism has made me more aware of other struggles for social justice and freedom. Oppression is everywhere, and human freedom goes hand in hand with animal liberation.

 

Do you have any heroes or role models as an activist? 

Steve Best has said: “Don’t tie yourself to a philosophy, don’t tie yourself to a dogma. Not any philosophy, not any dogma, not any figure, not any person, not Gandhi, not King, not anybody…” I think this is a good message. It is great to have inspirational figures within a movement but I do not think it is a good idea to idolize anyone like it is happening with for instance Gary Yourofsky (whose passion and work I do admire a lot). It is important that we think for ourselves and that we believe in our own power of judgment and our own abilities to create change.

 

How do you see the Animal Rights Movement changing in the next few years, either in Denmark or internationally?

I hope to see more direct action in the spirit of Direct Action Everywhere and 269life both in Denmark and the rest of the world. I hope to see activists uniting on a global level and coordinating our actions in the fight for justice. Change is happening. Our courage is growing and our hopes are rising.   

          

 

Animal Rights & The Work Environment

Animal Rights & The Work Environment

We had a great discussion led by Priya Sawhney this weekend regarding animal rights in the workplace.

Some of the questions pondered:

- Is the work environment an appropriate place to engage in animal rights advocacy?

- What sorts of risks are there in workplace advocacy?

- How can we engage in workplace advocacy?
 

Vegan Outreach: Wrong, but still a Friend

Vegan Outreach: Wrong, but still a Friend

One day before our next action, I am reminded of words I wrote long ago: 

So I witnessed a death two days ago. I am trying my best to get that image out of my mind, but I'm going to write about it here, in the hopes that writing will be a catharsis. An hour or so before I was planning to head out to leaflet, a friend of mine, Dan, who I hadn't seen in many months, called me up and said that he had spotted a stalled transport truck.... with a downed dairy cow inside. He had a camera and was taking pictures, but a large tow truck had arrived, and he was afraid that they might move to another location to "deal" with the problem. I drove out to meet him....

Individuals v. Systems: Emergence and Social Change (Video)

Colony wide properties, that no individual ant acts on or understands, matter more (even for understanding and predicting individual ant behavior) than an individual-level account. The intentionality of an ant colony is an  emergent property  

Colony wide properties, that no individual ant acts on or understands, matter more (even for understanding and predicting individual ant behavior) than an individual-level account. The intentionality of an ant colony is an emergent property 

The animal rights community typically focuses on individuals and individual decision-making, as the relevant locus of change. And yet a growing body of evidence shows that complex systems often have properties of their own -- so-called "emergent" properties -- that cannot be properly understood by examining individual components. So, for example, one cannot understand the behavior of a squirrel by using the tools of particle physics!

If human societies have emergent social and systemic properties, then one similarly cannot affect human social behavior by focusing exclusively on individual change. Focusing on systems, rather than individuals, leads to some important questions, such as:

- Should the movement be focused on creating public activists, or private vegans?
- Should the movement be targeting cultural norms, or individual consumer behaviors?
- How likely is it that any particular individual change, whether to a person or a business, is likely to sustain itself, if systemic properties remain static?

The Faces of Change

The Faces of Change

The Roman god of transitions, Janus, had many faces. The Romans understood that all transitions have multiple dimensions: beginning and end, peace and conflict, tension and relief, resistance and change. 

The same, of course, is true of social transitions: diverse (and, sometimes, even conflicting) perspectives and people are necessary to understanding, and solving, complex social problems.

The Open Model

The Open Model

Our next day of action, Someone, Not Something, is just a few days away, and we are expecting almost twice the number of cities to participate. One of keys to that growth is that we use an open model of organizing -- that is, we default to inclusion and transparency in everything we do, and make it a highest priority to support other activists in getting active for animals, no matter their background, experience, or current moral convictions. Even where there are ideological disagreements, tactical differences, or personal inhibitions, we do our absolute best to include every activist in our communities in campaigns, in a way that empowers us all. 

Effective Meme Spreading (Video)

Effective Meme Spreading (Video)

In disciplines ranging from economics to history, the cognitive revolution has shown that ideas that spread -- so-called "memes" -- are perhaps the most important forces in social change. But what causes some ideas to spread more effectively than others?

In this talk, activist, lawyer, and trained behavioral scientist Wayne Hsiung discusses three principles of "Effective Meme Spreading." Among other things, you will learn:

- why generating conflict and controversy (such as that created in the Civil Rights Movement, Occupy Wall Street, and the Arab Spring) might be vital to an effective meme; 
- why convincing a person's friends might be more important than convincing the person herself, if you want the idea you're spreading to stick; and
- how strong and supportive communities provide the necessary "fertile ground" for memes to grow, survive, and reproductively flourish. 

Slides for the presentation can be found here.  

About the Speaker

Wayne Hsiung is a lawyer, writer, and organizer for DxE in the Bay Area. Prior to entering the practice of law, Mr. Hsiung was a National Science Graduate Fellow researching behavioral economics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the Harry N. Wyatt Scholar and Olin Law and Economics Fellow at the University of Chicago Law School. He served on the faculty at Northwestern School of Law, as a Searle Fellow and Visiting Assistant Professor of Law, from 2006-2007, where he focused on behavioral law and economics, free speech, and environmental law.

Mr. Hsiung has worked on social justice campaigns since 1999, including campaigns against capital punishment and on behalf of low-income youth, and has been a grassroots organizer in the animal rights movement since 2001. In his free time, he enjoys playing with his two dogs (Lisa and Natalie) and two cats (Joan and Flash).

 

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Peer Effects

Peer Effects

The New York Times is reporting again today about a fascinating study on facebook, which suggests that the interconnectedness of a couple's friends is a powerful predictor of whether their relationship will survive. 

 

What does this have to do with animal rights? Studies like this show that, even in our most personal and important decisions, our social graphs play a huge role.