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Tell Their Stories

Tell Their Stories

By Saryta Rodriguez

 

Devotees of The Lib may already be aware of the recent press coverage we have received since our last Day of Action, September 27, 2014.  A video from one of the many demonstrations carried out in the Bay Area that day, featuring DxE organizer Kelly Atlas, has gone viral, been discussed on Glenn Beck, and prompted both CBS San Francisco and On Call to interview Kelly.  Kelly is a brilliant speaker and a perfect model of emotional authenticity; but emotions aside, Kelly utilized a tactic that embodies one of DxE’s five organizing principles: she told a story.

In an attempt to mock Kelly, Glenn Beck surprisingly shared an animal story of his own: the story of Charlie, a chicken friend he had when he was a boy. 

“I had Charlie the chicken. And it was this nice little chicken and it was my chicken. Well, grandpa ate my chicken, and I was very upset. He ate my chicken. He took my chicken, and one day, we were eating chicken,” Glenn said. “And my grandpa said, that’s why we don’t name our chickens. And he said the whole time, don’t name the chickens. Don’t name the chickens. He warned me and he’s like, Glenn, we eat chickens. This is what we do. We grow them so we can eat them. This is what we do. We gather their eggs.”

The message Glenn seems to have derived from this boyhood experience is: Turn your empathy switch off.  Do not personalize non-human animals; they are merely tools for production, and not individuals with whom we can form friendships.  It’s the story every farm boy/farm girl hears; Harold Brown, a farm-boy-turned-animal-advocate, relates his experiences being trained in the art of empathy suppression in the heartfelt documentary Peaceable Kingdom: The Journey Home (2004).

Even more surprisingly, one of Glenn's co-anchors—a vegetarian—called him out on the decree against naming chickens: "Isn't that just a sort of...denial? Of their individuality?"

When I was about four or five years old, my mother related to me the story of a goat named Pepa.  Pepa was her friend, just as Charlie was Glenn’s; but like Glenn’s parents and/or grandparents, my mother’s grandparents (by whom she was raised) murdered Pepa one day while she was visiting an aunt--and served her for dinner that night.  I don’t remember whether or not my mother cried while telling me this story; but I do recall distinctly that her voice cracked, and her brow furrowed ever so slightly.  This is the first memory I have of ever seeing my mother in pain.

Glenn may have been trying to mock Kelly with his Charlie story, and convince her and others like her to “hop on the speciesist bandwagon” and stop campaigning for a more compassionate world; but in my view, his story only further highlights DxE’s most fundamental views.  The fact that he remembers Charlie at all, so many years after his death, proves what a unique individual Charlie was.  His memory has not been obscured by any previous or future encounters with chickens that Glenn may have had; Charlie continues to stand out in his heart and mind.  I’m sure Glenn has a wealth of memories of hanging out with Charlie, watching him do this or that, hearing him make funny noises and perhaps trying to imitate him: memories he chose not to share on the air because of who he has become in the public arena.

I don’t expect one of the loudest conservative mouthpieces in the country to ever admit it; but I know that deep down, Glenn still feels that pain, that loss.  No amount of money, fame or “success” will ever bring Charlie back.  Or Pepa.  Or any of the hundreds, thousands, millions of animals that are slaughtered day in, day out, by people who can’t or won’t allow themselves to form any connection with them.

I am sorry that Glenn has fastened himself to the opposite course of action; but Pepa’s story is, I believe, one of many reasons that I became an animal advocate.  Rather than emulating her caregivers and suppressing my empathy, I choose to emulate my mother and acknowledge the individuality of all sentient beings—not just cats and dogs. 

This is why telling the animals’ story is paramount to what we do, and is one of our five organizing principles.  Of all the Bay Area speak-outs that occurred on September 27th of this year, Kelly’s was the only one that told a story: the story of Snow.  Hers was the only speak-out to go viral and receive national press coverage.  In an attempt to criticize her, Glenn could not help but relate the story of Charlie; now he, too, lives on in the public’s consciousness. 

This post is for Pepa, and for my mommy.  This is their story; and now, you are a part of it.

What stories will you tell?

***

After writing the above, I sent it to my mother for approval. She wrote back with the following, which I've decided to include here verbatim rather than just mushing it into my article.  Here it is, straight from the human's fingertips:

HI BABY!  I am going to give you Pepa's story:  

Pepa was a baby goat that grew to be my one and only companion after school and on lonely weekends. How did I acquire Pepa? A neighbor was looking for someone to take of his goat: Pepa's mom. In return for taking care of the senior goat, I was given baby Pepa to keep as my own.

I was super excited! I was finally coming home to a friend who would listened to my day at school! I accepted the neighbor's offer and started looking forward to coming home from school to do all of my chores on time and take care of the goats--especially mine.  I made sure that her mother was always well-fed and clean. I then would take my goat to the hill and sit in front of her, talking about my day at school...the day of a twelve-year-old lonely girl who was left without brothers and sisters and in the care of her old grandma and grandpa. I was happy to have that time alone with Pepa; she looked at me as though she understood my life better than I did!  

Years passed, and Pepa grew to be a beautiful, healthy goat that everybody wanted to buy.  Everybody congratulated me on a job well done in raising her; but one unfortunate Mother's Day, my long-lost older uncle decided to come visit us. Hours of house-cleaning and organization....Rehearsing what to say and what not to say....After all, he was coming from The City--and that was A BIG DEAL!

My grandmother asked me to visit my aunt, who lived about two miles from our home. I looked to my grandfather for permission, and he granted it. None of this was strange to me; he always did what she wanted. I hesitated to ask them why. I think deep inside, I knew something bad was going to happen; but I never thought that they were going to kill Pepa as a present to celebrate my uncle's visit.

They did--without any regard for my feelings, or hers. Somehow, after days of quietly crying and feeling sad, I forgave my grandparents. My uncle, on the other hand, was impossible for me to forgive; he was the first one to die in the family, and he was the only one for whom I did not cry!

How to Get Glenn Beck to Put Your Issue on the Table

Perhaps the most famous conservative voice in America attacked animal rights this week. Here's why that's a good thing.

Perhaps the most famous conservative voice in America attacked animal rights this week. Here's why that's a good thing.

How to Get Glenn Beck to Put Your Issue on the Table

by Wayne Hsiung

Over the past two weeks, with three major press hits, millions of people across the world have been exposed to the debate over animal rights -- and DxE's #ItsNotFoodItsViolence campaign -- in a significant, serious, and meaningful way. 

The LA Times, the largest paper in the second largest media market in the country, posted a piece discussing our campaigns and the meaning of "speciesism." (Our response here.) TheBlaze and Glenn Beck's influential TV and radio show both published angry rants about liberal animal rights activists going too far. (Our response here.) And, just this morning, Truthout published a powerful piece by my co-organizer Priya Sawhney on the intersections between racism, sexism, and speciesism. How did we get our issue on the table? 

In one word: disruption. 

I've written and spoken previously about how disruption has been a necessary element to every successful social movement . It has been described by distinguished political scientist Sidney Tarrow as "the strongest weapon" of social justice. It was the original form of direct action, going back all the way to Socrates, who was killed for speaking in places where his words were unwelcome, and defined most powerfully in America by Martin Luther King, Jr. And it works through three primary mechanisms: inspiring activists; provoking the public; and broadening the circle of debate.

That is exactly what our campaign of nonviolent direct action has achieved in the past year. We have jumped from 1 to 66 cities, mobilizing an inspiring and diverse array of activists across the world. We have provoked public attention and dialogue by some of the biggest names in media. And we have pushed the debate over animal rights into circles where it had previously been unheard.

And it is only by pushing our words and actions beyond social convention and comfort -- yes, to the point of disruption -- that we were able to make this incredible progress. 

Consider: if we had adopted less disruptive or emotionally wrought tactics, would anyone have cared? Almost certainly not. We are a grassroots operation with no money, no history, and no famous names. The LA Times' of the world could not have cared less if we had picked a less provocative target, or adopted less disruptive tactics. Educating calmly outside of a McDonald's for bigger cages is not just ethically problematic; it's a story that's stale and old. "Protesters stream into 'humane meat' restaurant," on the other hand, is a headline well worth writing. 

"But it makes us look extreme and crazy!"

And yet, at the same time, and despite our campaign's rapid growth and many successes, we've faced fierce internal criticism.  It's worth emphasizing that this is nothing new. In every movement, disruption has been met by fierce critics from within movements for change. (Indeed, criticisms from within the movement caused King to write perhaps the most famous letter in the history of activism.

One powerful example came up as I was examining the early documents of one of the most successful and famous activist networks in history: the SCLC (which, like DxE, had a central objective of inspiring networks of nonviolent direct action across the country). An early pamphlet defending the waves of sit-ins by students in suits and ties -- essentially, disruptive street theater -- had an interesting description of the reaction to the actions in the community. "It has electrified the Negro adult community with the exception of the usual Uncle Toms and Nervous Nellies."

The pamphlet was perhaps unfair to early opponents of the sit-ins. After all, there unquestionably was an intense backlash to the early waves of nonviolent direct action that swept across the country in the early 1960s. Common sense might have predicted that triggering this sort of reaction was a bad thing. After all, who among us wants to be seen as shrill, weird, or insane? (All words, incidentally, that were also used to describe William Lloyd Garrison.) 

But common sense routinely fails us when it comes to social change. And what works on changing individuals often has no relevance at all on changing society. It turns out that the backlash, far from being counter-productive, triggered massive growth and sympathy for activists -- first and foremost, by finally getting their issue on the table for serious public discussion. The old adage often attributed (perhaps falsely) to Gandhi -- "First, they laugh at you. Then, they fight you. Then, you win." -- turns out to be true. 

Direct Action is a Value, not just a Tactic

There's so much more to say, but let me end my point with this. In Glenn Beck's surprisingly thoughtful discussion of DxE's recent #DisruptSpeciesism action (in which he says, among other things, that he won't eat veal because of the cruelty), he mentions that, in listening to Kelly's heartfelt speakout, he was at first mobilized to outrage by the story because he believes it is about a human victim. Indeed, he has so much outrage that he wants to join the protest! "I'm thinking, this is horrifying! I'm taking my napkin and tossing it angrily on the table right now. My gosh, how can I help you?"

Then he learns the victim is a chicken. And he just laughs. 

This, of course, is the definition of speciesism. A violent act that, at first, is a horror and outrage becomes.... a joke simply because the victim is a member of a different species. But before we leap forward to condemn Glenn Beck, we should ask ourselves, "Am I doing any better? If these were human children on the plates, how would I respond? And if I don't respond the way Beck suggests that we should respond -- by getting angry, by speaking out, and yes, even by disrupting the status quo -- am I really living up to what I say I believe?" 

We live in a world where violence is routinely made normal. Where the bodies of gentle creatures who meant us no harm are routinely objectified, violated, and then even consumed in ways that would be widely perceived as nightmarish, if such things were to happen to a human being. We are constantly told that we have to accept these horrific practices, as if they were no different than personal choices as to what to wear.

But nonviolent direct action rejects that abhorrent value system. True, direct action comes in many different flavors and forms. ACT UP made clear that even a personal conversation, if coming from a strong spirit of dissent, was a powerful form of direct action. But direct action is, fundamentally, not just a tactic or strategy but a value... a belief that all is not well... and a disruption of the way things are. And when we take direct action, we are not just tactically leveraging our limited resources to make huge waves (as important as that is), we are living up to our deepest and most heartfelt values, speaking as the animals would if they could, and building our dream of a better and more beautiful world -- one disruption at a time.  

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.)

Three Things Sean Hannity's Assault on Vegans Can Teach Us About Advocacy

When confronted with animal-hating bullies such as Sean Hannity, we are often told that we should be respectful and deferential. That advice is dead wrong. 

When confronted with animal-hating bullies such as Sean Hannity, we are often told that we should be respectful and deferential. That advice is dead wrong. 

Three Things Sean Hannity's Assault on Vegans Can Teach Us About Advocacy

by Wayne Hsiung

As the California legislature was considering a ban on captive orcas, Fox News brought in a former Sea World trainer and PETA spokesperson Lisa Lange to debate the issue. What started out as a respectful declaration of views, however, quickly becomes outright bullying, as Hannity (in usual Hannity style) shifts the debate to PETA's views on the consumption of animal products, and berates Lisa for her perceived failure to answer the question. See the video here

Hannity's debate style was a classic "ad hominem" strategy. Latin for "to the person", an ad hominem argument attempts to undermine a person's argument by undermining the person. By showing that animal rights activists are "crazies," due to their "ridiculous" opposition to killing animals for food, Hannity hopes to incite his audience against them even on issues where they might have some sympathy, e.g. the orca bill. While Lange does an admirable job of trying to deflect and reframe Hannity's criticisms -- shifting the discussion away from consumption to cruelty, as we at DxE always try to do -- the viewer is still left with the perception that Hannity has won. The animal rights position is weak, or crazy, or inconsistent, and one can almost imagine the average Fox News viewer saying to themselves, "Right on, Hannity! I'm not one of those people." 

The good news about the Hannity debate is that even our most irrational opponents can see the obvious intersections between abuse of orcas and other animals. Hannity and his viewers ask themselves, "Well, if we are going to help orcas, shouldn't we help pigs, cows, and rats, too?" The bad news is that, since these less charismatic species do not appeal to public sentiments, our opposition to their mistreatment is used against us as advocates -- but not because of the logic of our position (which is quite straightforward) but because it tarnishes us personally as "crazies." 

What is one to do in response to such "ad hominem" attacks? Well there are a few lessons I think we can learn from research into litigation (by anthropologists at Duke)-- a domain where professionals have fought out arguments for millennia. 

1. Be controlled and direct rather than reactive and evasive. Body language and tone are key to effective rhetoric. And while it is difficult to maintain one's composure in the face of interruptions and aggressive questioning, it is vital to do so, as one's audience will perceive your reaction as a sign of intellectual weakness. 

Lange, in this video, begins to blink extremely rapidly. Her movements become more tentative. And she appears both evasive (refusing to directly answer the question) and deferential, as she allows Hannity to dominate the framing of the discussion. The Duke research shows that this weakens the persuasive effect of the advocate.

2. Use a plain-spoken narrative style. Hannity tells a very simple story that his viewer's find ridiculous: a world where animal products are illegal. Lange reacts by focusing on "cruelty" in the abstract. While this is a reasonable debate point, it's not effective when viewers have already been emotionally primed against the advocate. "Make my behavior, and almost everyone else's, illegal? That's outrageous!" You can't respond to that with abstraction. 

What research shows, however, is that when you make a case, particularly against a hostile opponent, it's important to use a plain spoken narrative style, i.e. to tell a story. The abstractions of "cruelty" and "consumption" are not emotionally or rhetorically powerful in moving a largely unsympathetic public. But a story of one's personal experience, told in a plain spoken way, might be.

This is consistent not only with decades of experience from litigation -- the best trial lawyers are basically wonderful storytellers -- but the preliminary data from DxE's study of graphic images. Perspective shifting images impact attitudes towards animals and animal rights significantly more than gory images of violence. We need to get people to see through the animal's eyes, and feel both her joy and her pain  -- not accept the philosophy of animal rights in the abstract, or shrink from gory images of cruelty.

3. Don't be afraid to be assertive, provocative, and even critical in advocating your position. Hannity (and Fox News more generally) shows the power of taking a strong and even hostile position to inspire support for one's position. In many ways, Lange has the worst of both worlds: being perceived as invasive and argumentative (e.g. weakly interrupting Hannity's questioning) while maintaining a near deferential tone and posture. 

President Obama had the same issue in the early debates in 2012. Romney was aggressively attacking his positions -- arguing, for example, that he would take Americans' health care choices away from them -- and Obama was weak in response. He refused to answer Romney's questions directly, and failed to "go on the attack," despite the ammunition that the Romney campaign had left at his feet (e.g. Romney's infamous dismissal of 47% of Americans "who believe they are victims"). 

Obama's strategy was understandable. Polls showed him ahead in the race, and he didn't want to come across as mean spirited or hostile. But his caution was disastrous, as Romney eliminated Obama's 5% lead with his aggressive and strong debate performance. 

We face the same problem in animal advocacy. We are constantly told to be cautious, even deferential, despite the fact that, unlike Obama, we have no lead to preserve. "Good progressives," wise old men tell us, "are always nice and positive!" And our naive caution, like Obama's in 2012, or Lange's in the debate with Hannity, leads to disastrous results. (Contrast this with the powerful effect of a strong message on the growth of the Israeli animal rights movement.) In fact, when Obama finally decided to go on the offensive -- to offer poignant and proactive criticisms, rather than reactive and defensive complaints -- he reclaimed the driver's seat in the presidential race and set himself on the path to ultimate victory. We need to do the same -- to not be afraid to aggressively defend our principles, turn the tables on our opponents, and show that animal abusers, and not us, have the weaker moral and emotional position. 

Summing Up

So if we were to summarize, how should we respond to hostile questions such as Hannity's?

  • Be controlled and direct.
  • Tell a story.
  • Don't be afraid to criticize at a point of weakness. 

Let's put it into words.

Q: Are you against the consumption of all animal products? For example, in your world, people wouldn't eat chicken, they wouldn't eat meat, they wouldn't wear leather belts. Isn't that true? 

A: Great question. Yes, Sean, we are against all violence against animals, as you should be, too. I was with a beautiful little piglet just last week, tickling her nose and playing with her in the grass. And she wanted to be safe from violence as much as any orca or dog. Would you have an orca or dog killed for your amusement, Sean? So what's the difference with a little piglet?

Press Kit and Instructions

Press materials are below. The below templates are probably not ideal for this event. REPEAT: the below links are NOT ideal for this event. Please contact us separately at dxe@directactioneverywhere.com, if you are interested in a fuller press release template, as we do not want to post the full template publicly until the day of the event.

However , if you would like to draft your own press release from scratch, or need a template for other events, please go ahead and use these: 

Template Press Advisory (Send on Thursday - two days before event)

Template Press Release (Send immediately after event begins - by smartphone, if necessary)  

General Press Tips 

 

-          Announce news only (an event, a development).  “Animal rights activists said X” is not news, “Animal rights activists had the exact same protest they had last Saturday” is not news every Saturday.  Tell the press what they want to know, not what you think they should want to know.

-          Contact the right people.  Reporters have particular beats, so send your materials to the people who are interested in your issue.  Do not, do not, do not just blast a press release out to every reporter whose email address you can obtain.  A national security correspondent doesn’t care about your animal rights protest and will be irritated that you’ve bothered her about it.  Find out who covers animal issues, protesters, maybe environmental issues.  Google recent animal issues to see who has covered them – ag-gag, Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act, Humane Society of the United States, Mercy For Animals, animal cruelty…those terms will bring up recent coverage.  Ideally, you should send your release directly to these individuals.  If you do not have direct contact info, use the generic “news” email address.

-          No frills.  Make sure the press has the information they need right up front and nothing more.  Do not make them search through your materials to find the info they need – they won’t do it and you’re lucky if they even read past the first paragraph.  Be short, sweet, clear, and right to the point.

-          Don’t send attachments.  Send email out via BCC to those on your list. 

-          Few things are worthy of press kits.  Don’t burden the press with them for now.  By the time you’ll need a press kit, you’ll know what warrants a press kit.