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Vegan Friends Come Together at the DxE Community - Join Us!

Vegan friends come together in the dxe community - join us!

By Ryder Meehan - DxE SF Bay, Tech Team

Even living in San Francisco, California, one of the most progressive and vegan-friendly cities on the planet, I was feeling like a lonely vegan.  I had no vegan friends and none of my other friends wanted to listen to my lectures about it.  I tried going to a few other local vegan community Meetup events but it felt more like a one-time get-together than long-lasting vegan friends or a real vegan community.

Finally, I stumbled into the right community and knew I had found my new vegan friends network.  Direct Action Everywhere said all the right things - they were doing it for the animals but when the protest was over there would be potlucks, parties and jam sessions.  I was welcomed and immediately made my way into the DxE Tech working group where I felt like I could contribute the most.

DxE - San Francisco Bay Area

DxE - San Francisco Bay Area

DxE - Chicago

DxE - Chicago

In the Bay Area Chapter alone there were hundreds of members and they were all welcoming, awesome and shared a passion for a vegan lifestyle and animal activism.  There were events happening multiple times a week offering something for every type of person.  Then every Saturday morning there would be a regular Meetup at the Berkeley Animal Rights Center (ARC) to learn new and interesting things as well as meet even more cool people and get a glorious all vegan lunch out together - it finally feels normal to not eat animals!

so Why is it important to have vegan friends?

After finding veganism and the importance of animal rights, you may feel uncomfortable being around others who are eating animals or you may just want to talk with friends who understand.  There are many reasons if you think about:

  • Shared values in the belief that animals deserve to be happy, safe and free
  • Amazing, harm-free meals with friends
  • Never be made to feel weird for being vegan
  • Build a community with a shared passion for animal rights
  • Learn and share ways to spread the good word of veganism

Why Direct action everywhere?

One of the Organizing Principles that sets DxE apart is to create a community for vegans and animal activists.  One of the most common obstacles to going vegan or staying vegan is that most of society still normalizes eating and mistreating animals.  Unfortunately most other animal rights organizations do not have a true community that meets regularly or socially.  DxE is creating a community where it's normal to NOT mistreat animals.  We help one another out, share our challenges, and come together frequently for merriment and good times!  Think of it like a college fraternity or sorority - only less exclusive and without the hazing.  Oh plus the whole animal rights mission thing ;)

In one year being in DxE, I've been to a karaoke night, potluck, house party, Halloween party, Thanksgiving vegan feast, vegan ice cream social, cookie decorating contest and too many other events to count.  I went from zero vegan friends to having an entire community around me.

And if you're not in the San Francisco-Berkeley Bay Area, not to worry; there are dozens of DxE chapters across the county and the world organizing regularly and building vegan communities (veg-munities?) around the same principles.

So what are you waiting for?!  Come meet your new vegan friends within your own city!  Does your city not have a DxE Chapter yet?  Consider starting one.  And once a year all chapters come together at our global Forum where we meet, learn, share and empower our movement!



Interview with Marie and Butterfly, Founders of Solfood Catering and Cafe Caravan

Interview with Marie and Butterfly, Founders of Solfood Catering and Cafe Caravan

By Natalie Blanton

I grew up in a sleepy, conservative, violence- and hunter-centric Utah mountain town. Unintended teen pregnancy and deer-skinnings in the front yard were visible and rampant. It was this environment that cultivated my awe, wonder, and full alignment with ecofeminism, veganism, liberationism, and the diverse feminist fights occurring across society today.

A few weeks back, I was contacted by a pair of women identifying as Marie and Butterfly of Solfood Catering, hailing from Little Rock, Arkansas. They spoke my language. They were working directly with Carol Adams, author of The Sexual Politics of Meat, the mother goddess of all my ecofeminist ideologies; and shared my passion for the inextricable ties between plant-based diets, animal liberation and women’s liberation.

Marie and Butterfly are currently on tour as Café Caravan, with their remarkable ability of creating delectable vegan food, bringing people together with a liberationist message, and bridging the divide between human and nonhuman animal rights.

Interviewer Natalie Blanton (far right), her partner Harold (far left) and the Solfood Catering team (center).

Interviewer Natalie Blanton (far right), her partner Harold (far left) and the Solfood Catering team (center).

I had a chance to interviewing these two wonderful women about their tour, their involvement in the Animal Liberation Movement, and their stories:

NB: What made you originally go vegan?

Both: Health reasons, initially; but then, personal research and experience led us to other avenues of vegan outreach and activism.

Marie: I was in Egypt when I encountered a horse in a cramped corner market. It was harnessed with blinders on, undernourished, and looked generally miserable. I could feel its presence, though—more than animals ever before. I remember thinking, “What is your name?” to the horse, and the response came back overwhelmingly: “I don’t know.” I decided right then and there that we do not have to treat other beings like this.

NB: What did you think when you first heard of veganism?

Marie: I thought it was so extreme and only raw foods.

Butterfly: I thought it sounded like something I wanted to try—but just couldn’t because it would be too expensive or too hard. When I gave it a try, my joint problems, insomnia…everything just stopped. It heals the body.

NB: How did this vegan outreach come out of Little Rock?

Butterfly: It began with the raw food movement and public support at farmer’s markets on the weekends. People would smell our food and not believe it was vegan.

NB: How do you equate feminism with veganism?

Marie: Read The Sexual Politics of Meat—once you have read that, you cannot forget it. People think that dairy products are “so humane,” but this could not be less true. Kept constantly pregnant and lactating sounds worse to me than death. By making a slave of the cow and then killing the body once it can no longer produce—that is how you get your dairy.

Patriarchy couldn’t survive without this enslavement and cooption of female bodies. People no longer have to do that work—these creatures are simply fed into the machine and forgotten.

Butterfly: The humane meat movement is ridiculous. You think it’s better to treat someone nicely and then kill them?

NB: What are some ways in which your business has supported, or seeks to support, feminist groups, actions and initiatives?

Both: Our business supports feminist actions by offering plant-based nutrition workshops to populations of underserved mothers and women, thus sharing with them the ideals of how their tation in life is connected to the liberation of other species.

We give workshops on women's health, for example—fibroid elimination and cancer prevention. That workshop gives them a plethora of information, from how to eliminate the actual fibroid to how to heal themselves mentally and spiritually. We reiterate that diseases that affect women aren't just physical ailments—they are often self-esteem driven and/or environmentally driven.

Focusing on what things in our lives are no longer valid and hold us back, making us feel less than, and then taking steps to rid ourselves of them helps us to become viable, contributing forces in the world and for ourselves. Self-care is important, and most women have not a clue. To be a feminist/activist, you have to first love yourself. Otherwise, you won't be around to make a difference for women—or anybody. 

NB: I have received many critiques of animal rights activism as being a classist, white, privileged movement. Can you comment on this for me?

Marie: Go ask 500 million Hindus and the rest of the world who does this all of their lives. Some of the world’s poorest are thriving off of this lifestyle. If meat is eaten in these communities, it is a fraction of their intake. Everybody in the village can be fed off of a few grains for weeks. Take a look at tofu’s protein and nutrient make-up and compare that to the same amount of ground beef. Then we can have this conversation of price comparisons.

NB: Do you have any advice to offer to liberationists organizations regarding how they can better embrace communities of color, and/or how to reach across classes, here in the US?

Both: Yes, and in fact we were just discussing this challenge a few days ago!  These liberation organizations need to strike while the iron is hot, so to speak, with the topic of police brutality having its day in the sun in national media. There are so many disaffected young people of color with no purpose, calling or motivation that have so much energy that can be channeled in a positive direction. There should be outreach programs that specifically target these communities. Take it to the schools, take it to the corners, take it to the churches.

Everyone wants to talk about there is no food, there are no jobs, etc. Taking time with young people to teach them and engage them in the arts, including gardening, gives them direction, focus and something to do.

We ran a program a couple of years ago called Fresh Start, where we worked with a group of young women of color to plant a garden in the yards of people from our community. We had two volunteers who allowed us to come into their homes and lay out plans for a garden. The girls not only dug the gardens and planted seeds with us, but they were also responsible for the filming of this process.  Teaching theses two skills has given them something that they can take and make their own. We can't just sit by and say, “The youth are causing problems; they have no direction.” We have to be bold enough to seek them out and give them something worthwhile and productive to do. If we don't, someone else will.

NB:  I am curious as to how the South of the United States responds to veganism?

Marie: We have been keen and aware of this as well. We have been showing low-income parents these “Cooking Matters” classes.

Butterfly: We explain to them that if they live in a resource or food “desert”—an environment or city that does not have walk-able resources (within 1 mile), such as fresh fruits, vegetables, or grocery stores—like many of us do in the South, by grabbing bulk non-perishable legumes you can have meals for weeks. Try your local Mexican or ethnic markets for legumes (dried beans, etc.) they are inexpensive and last forever. Try twp bags of lentils, seasoned; put some grain and lettuce in with them, and you have meals for days.

Marie: In areas with high minority concentrations, farming and gardening continues to be connected to slavery. There is stigma against growing your own food, and it is almost a status symbol to be able to go to the grocery store or through the fast food drive-thru. In Little Rock, there is a center for Urban Farming and Ecology with different organizations doing outreach regarding how to grow for yourself and your family; but there is such a resistance. You cannot be an outsider who thinks they can make a change—you need to be there for years.

Butterfly: Teach your kids to play in the dirt. They need that tactile connection to the earth. We need to teach new generations of people to live off of the land and be willing to work in urban farms.

Marie: Once young people get to high school, it is too late. Arkansas has a summer program called Learning through the Arts. I teach the culinary arts and 95% of my students, from low-income and rougher pasts, do not understand what average vegetables look like or where they come from. They couldn’t identify anything beyond green beans.

NB: How do you think veganism and your movement can aid in combating hunger?

Marie: We get this “escapism” mentality in November and December. We allow ourselves to indulge and escape from the humdrum everyday reality and world.

Butterfly: Everything gets all glossy this time of year—but come January 1st we are right back to where we were.

Marie: There is a stigma attached to being poor, and a lot of people will not ask for help; but just like there is no shame in helping others, there is no shame in being poor. People across the spectrum are working equally as hard; there needs to be redistribution of wealth. Businesses, corporations, and farms need to be a part of this redistribution, and not just write it off.

Butterfly: Empathy and compassion are lost when there is this solution—making everything a tax write off. It is hard to think about people in your own community being hungry when there is a new iPhone coming out. This is escapism; this is what consumerism and capitalism is built around. Got to give them something, right?

NB: The Internet world would have it known that these are all currents of influence that will eventually and inevitably fade. Is this all a fad? Feminism? Veganism?

Marie: Well, you know feminism isn’t a fad.

Butterfly: Veganism is not a fad; but there is always going to be somebody who wants it to remain unpopular because it is trying to change their ideas. It works; healing our bodies and our planet is not a fad.

NB: What do you want to say to feminists who are not vegan, or who refuse to equate animal rights with human rights?

Butterfly: I have two words for these people: Rape Racks.

Marie: Yeah, tell them about the Rape Racks—the dairy farmer slang for the mechanism used to artificially inseminate and perpetually impregnate mother cows. Also, encourage them to read The Sexual Politics of Meat and then see where they stand. Simply observe your environment. Where did that milk and cheese come from? How do we have this constant supply of milk? Why are we the only animals that drink milk into our later life?

We also need to encourage empathy for all animals. If you can have empathy for your dog or your cat, you can have it for a cow or a chicken. 


Here’s to you, Marie and Butterfly of Solfood Catering and Café Caravan. Thank you for sharing social justice and vegan love in such a unique way. These remarkable ladies are currently on tour, and may very well be coming to a city near you. I could not encourage you more to take this opportunity to catch up with them in person, or on their Facebook page. You can also donate to their initiatives here

Three Emotional Approaches

Three Emotional Approaches

By Saryta Rodriguez

The extent to which emotionality is effective and appropriate in nonviolent direct actions is a subject of many heated debates within the animal liberation community.  Conventional wisdom has long held the position that as activists, in order to be taken seriously and not to offend our audience to the extent that it will no longer heed our words, we must control our negative emotions when engaging in nonviolent direct action and only demonstrate those emotions which are positive and welcoming.  However, pioneering research in the social sciences tells us quite a different story, indicating that there is not only a place for negative emotions in the animal liberation movement but that negative emotions are of the utmost importance if we hope to truly enact change in the world.

Here, I would like to focus on three prominent emotions and the results they stand to yield in the animal liberation movement: happiness, anger, and sadness.

The beloved house elf, Dobby, from the  Harry Potter  series.

The beloved house elf, Dobby, from the Harry Potter series.

The Dobby Approach: Have some free cookies and magazines!

On November 10, 2014, Direct Action Everywhere organizers Wayne Hsiung and Brian Burns gave a talk at the University of California at Berkeley entitled, “What if Everything We Think We Know about Social Change is Wrong?”  Early in this lecture, Wayne shared his experience as a student at the University of Chicago engaging in vegan outreach, years prior to moving to the Bay Area and founding Direct Action Everywhere.

Wayne began by sharing with us what he referred to as the “1-2% story”—a popular myth perpetuated within animal advocacy groups claiming that for all of the people to whom such groups reach out with the vegan message, 1-2% of these people will adopt a vegan way of life.  As his experience—and doubtlessly those of many other activists as well—illustrates, this is simply not the case.  Over the course of three years at the University of Chicago, Wayne and others offered free vegan cookies and magazines about veganism on campus to anyone willing to watch the gruesome five-minute documentary entitled “Meet Your Meat.”  Based on the sheer volume of cookies and magazines distributed over this time, hundreds of students should have gone vegan over that three-year period; however, when Wayne’s group reached out to people via email in the weeks following each campaign asking if they had committed to the vegan lifestyle, the group was met with…silence.

Understandably, Wayne asked the question: Where are all the missing vegans?

He and his group acted according to conventional wisdom.  They were not aggressive.  They were not disruptive.  Their demeanor was polite, and their offerings were 100% free of charge.  Still, the numbers simply did not add up.  Why?

One explanation I can readily offer is that, when it comes to free food, college kids will do just about anything.  I am confident, though disappointed, that many of the students who consented to watching “Meet Your Meat” couldn’t have cared less about animal liberation, and simply preferred to give five minutes of their time in exchange for food than money—which, for college kids, seems perpetually to be in short supply.  The combination of a minimal budget and a growing appetite often compels students to engage in all kinds of campus activities without really absorbing the intended messages of said activities.

Another explanation is that those who may have been truly moved by the video lacked the necessary community support with which to maintain their commitment to an admittedly challenging new way of life.  After watching the video, they were sent back into the world from which they had come—a world of parties, midterm exams, spring break, etc.  They were no longer compelled to engage in dialogues about animal liberation; and, as time wore on, their initial passion for the subject waned.

Finally, while watching this video may have opened many eyes to the atrocities committed by the meat and dairy industries, neither it nor the vegan literature dispensed after viewing it provided any instruction as to how to put an end to this once and for all.  The message delivered here was not one of true animal liberation—empowering activists to take the message to the streets—but one of simply, “Go Vegan”—i.e., change your personal lifestyle so that you can feel better about yourself, knowing that you personally are not participating in animal cruelty, while the rest of the world around you continues to do so, uninterrupted.

Brian later shared with us his personal experience as a member of this broken model: the “Go Vegan” model.  As a self-proclaimed math nerd, he was very antisocial in his youth and preferred reading math textbooks to socializing and engaging in dialogue.  The “Go Vegan” approach worked on him personally, as it had on Wayne (as well as myself); he saw something, read something, was repulsed, and radically changed his lifestyle.  However, what he saw and read did not empower him to enact any form of social change.  He continued to be isolated for a long time, living an animal-friendly lifestyle without encouraging others to do so.  It wasn’t until he encountered a strong liberationist community—Direct Action Everywhere— that he became increasingly comfortable discussing his views and the reasons behind them in public.  He is now a passionate and engaging speaker, giving talks not only to members of the DxE community but also at major universities such as UC Berkeley.

Conventional wisdom teaches us that what I’m calling The Dobby Approach (inspired by an image of Dobby from the Harry Potter series that Wayne included on a slide about vegan outreach) is the most effective way to save animals.  Wayne’s experience at U-Chicago, Brian’s experience as a young vegan and my own experience of having been vegan for many years prior to becoming an activist illustrate that this model simply doesn’t work.  Yes, it changes individual minds; but the goal of our movement is not to create individual vegans but to create communities of activists who can support each other (thus ensuring that people stay committed to the cause and don’t abandon it) while spreading the message, inspiring a domino effect.

The Angry Approach: I’m so angry I made a sign!

Conventional wisdom offers us one, and only one, counterpoint to the Dobby Approach: that of the Radical Angry Vegan.  The general consensus among mainstream animal advocate communities is that “Being aggressive, disruptive or confrontational makes us look crazy and unreasonable, and can only hurt our movement.  It damages our credibility while offending the very people we hope to reach!”

Bert Klandermans (a professor of Applied Social Psychology at the VU-University of Amsterdam), Jacquelien van Stekelenburg (head of the Department of Sociology at the VU-University of Amsterdam), and Jojanneke van der Toorn (an assistant professor of Social and Organizational Psychology at Leiden University) assert in their article, “Embeddedness and Identity: How Immigrants Turn Grievances into Action” that:

“It is not enough to assess that one is treated unfairly; it is also important to have an affective reaction–specifically anger–to translate that assessment into action.”

Their argument is based on the understanding that it is negative emotions—most commonly, feelings of outrage and offense—that motivate people to engage in direct action.  Think about this in the context of your own life.  How often do you take the time to write positive reviews on Yelp after going to a good restaurant or store? How does that number compare to the number of times you have rushed to your computer to rant after an infuriating experience at such an establishment?

When someone says something with which you agree on social media, you may take the split-second required to “Like” the comment; but in all likelihood, you will not compose a lengthy reply.  By contrast, when someone says something with which you strongly disagree via these same mediums, you may feel compelled to compose a long, aggressive reply in which you rip apart the offending statement point by point, citing multiple examples to the contrary and including links to articles and videos that support your position.

While I understand and value the insights provided by the above team of Dutch social scientists, I have to admit that my personal experience as an animal activist simply does not correlate with these findings.  Ample individuals have told me that, while they care immensely about non-human animals and want to contribute to the cause, they shy away from it specifically because they have been confronted in the past by the stereotypical Radical Angry Vegan.  Their personal, negative experience with this one Radical Angry Vegan has since led them to the misconception that all animal liberationists are angry, judgmental, vicious people—not the kind, compassionate individuals we often claim to be.

So, how do we reconcile these findings?  We know that, statistically, the Dobby Approach doesn’t work; and while we know that there is some value to being open about our anger concerning the atrocities committed against non-humans, I for one am not fully convinced that The Angry Approach is the best way to inspire social change of this magnitude.  Might there be a third option?

The Somber Approach: The slaughter of non-humans is a true tragedy, and we must mourn the victims while advocating for the end of non-human massacre.

DxE's October 2014 International Day of Action:  Ghosts in the Machine , Berkeley Bowl, Berkeley, CA. Photo by Pax Ahimsa Gethen.

DxE's October 2014 International Day of Action: Ghosts in the Machine, Berkeley Bowl, Berkeley, CA. Photo by Pax Ahimsa Gethen.

My two favorite Direct Action Everywhere International Days of Action in 2014 so far have been Silenced Voices (July 2014) and Ghosts in the Machine (October 2014).  For our Silenced Voices demonstration, we entered restaurants around the world where meat and dairy are served (in the US and some other countries, the focus was on Chipotle; in countries where Chipotle has little or no presence, DxE branches visited establishments such as McDonald’s and Burger King), with recordings on our phones, laptops and other electronic devices.  Entering in silence, we then coordinated the start of our recordings, so that they would all play simultaneously and increase in volume as time wore on.

The recording included the real-life sounds of:

  • A hen crying for her life as she was turned upside-down and her throat was slit.
  • A piglet being castrated.
  • A cow having her horns seared off with a hot iron.
  • A pig, squealing, surrounded by the corpses of his friends and relatives, moments before being murdered with a stun gun.

The sounds first played individually, for about 20-30 seconds each; then, for about a minute, all of the sounds played at once.  Following this, one activist at each location gave a brief speech explaining to consumers what they had just heard, and imploring them to no longer support such atrocities.

At the Bay Area demonstration that I attended, for the first time since I moved to the Bay Area in March and started engaging in direct action here, not a single customer antagonized us.  Also for the first time (to the best of my knowledge) since my arrival in the Bay, one customer was so moved by our demonstration that she stopped eating and began to cry.

For our Ghosts in the Machine demonstration, we targeted grocery stores around the world (Bay Area activists engaged at Berkeley Bowl’s larger location).  We entered the grocery stores in funeral attire, carrying a black, cardboard coffin.  We then placed the body of a victim of violence—in the case of Berkeley Bowl, the corpse of a hen—into the casket and held a memorial service for her, as well as all of the victims on display in the meat and seafood counters behind us.  Various activists delivered brief eulogies for the departed, and we solemnly exited the store in an organized funeral procession.  (We regrettably had to place the body of the hen near the door as we exited, so as not to be criminalized as thieves.)

While the employees at the meat counter behind us were incredibly hostile and aggressive throughout our demonstration, the customers were not.  Whereas at past demonstrations customers have violently pushed past us, varying in vocalization from muttering insults under their breath to shouting into our faces or ears, in this case I felt that a path was cleared for us as we left.  I did not find myself having to squeeze around anyone; and in briefly glancing at some of the faces around me both during the memorial service and upon our exit, the majority of the faces I encountered wore expressions of genuine interest and even sadness—rarely hostility, and perhaps only once amusement.

What these demonstrations have taught me is that, more effective than the Dobby Approach and the Angry Approach combined, is the Somber Approach: Focusing on the tragedy being inflicted upon the victims, rather than trying to sway the public via cheerful consumerism or condemning the choices of those who simply don’t understand what they’re doing (yet).  Both Silenced Voices and Ghosts in the Machine, perhaps more evidently than any other demonstration DxE organized in 2014, truly focused one hundred percent on the victims—not on us, and not on commercial veganism.  These demonstrations forced people to view the bodies on display in a new light: not as dinner options but as corpses of individuals who neither wanted to nor deserved to die.  Victims whose only crime was to be born of a species other than homo sapiens.  I am convinced that the spectators at these two demonstrations were considerably more moved, and thought about what they had seen for a significantly longer amount of time, than the spectators at any of our other demonstrations—many of which include chanting on street corners, which some perceive as aggressive and hostile.

This is not to say we should not be disruptive; in both of these demonstrations, as with all DxE demonstrations, we did disrupt the status quo.  Disruption and confrontation are paramount to our success.  We cannot let business go on as usual. We cannot allow people to continue ignoring the problem; but these two demonstrations in particular illustrate how to be both disruptive and confrontational without perpetuating the stereotype of the Radical Angry Vegan.

On a more personal level, all movement-building aside, these types of demonstrations resonate most powerfully within me.  I am not nearly as angry with meat- and dairy-consumers as I am pitying of them, for I strongly believe that these industries hurt humans almost as much as they hurt non-humans.  When I think about these industries, my gut reaction is not one of rage but one of overwhelming sadness.  So, in my case, it is far more emotionally authentic to engage in a funeral procession or to encourage folks to hear the voices of the victims crying out in pain than it is to shout from the rooftops, “GO TO HELL, MEAT-EATERS!” 

In closing, I should note that the Somber Approach is not without anger; but rather than the Radical Angry Vegan brand of anger that lashes out at people and makes them uncomfortable, this anger serves as fuel for enacting positive social change (and, yes, still makes people uncomfortable—but for different reasons).  The anger bubbles beneath the surface and pushes us as activists forward, just as an instigating comment on the Internet fuels us to write a reply—sometimes aggressively and offensively (Radical Angry Vegan-style) but, in some cases, in an intelligent and well-thought-out manner (Constructive Anger-style).  Thus, this model does not directly contradict our Dutch social scientists so much as it pushes their declaration one step further, distinguishing between constructive and destructive modes of anger.

Not all responses or actions fueled by anger are themselves angry, and what the Somber Approach enables us to do is put our anger to good use while maintaining one-hundred-percent focus on the victim.  The kind of anger inherent in the Somber Approach does not create an Us vs. Them dynamic—that is, us wonderful, perfect vegans versus the heinous and immoral Everybody Else—but rather emphasizes the Us with Them dynamic: we humans standing boldly before our fallen non-human brothers and sisters, unabashedly mourning them in the same way that many Americans would mourn their dogs and cats at home.

I believe that, ultimately, we are all most effective when we remain true to ourselves; and the Somber Approach is what rings most true to me.

Why Are Animal Rights Activists Protesting a Veg-friendly Chain?

Activists in San Francisco protesting Chipotle. 

Why Are Animal Rights Activists Protesting a Veg-friendly Chain? 

by Wayne Hsiung

(Repost with permission from an article last week at BeyondChron. )

San Francisco is a city of animal lovers. It was one of the first cities in the nation, along with progressive bastions such as Boulder, Berkeley, and Amherst, to legally recast “pet owners” as “guardians.” Dogs now outnumber human children in the city. And it was the birthplace of the no-kill movement in animal shelters.

It’s not surprising, therefore, that vegetarian eating is a big part of the city’s culture. Even fast food chains that cater to the Bay Area are starting to move in an animal-friendly direction. That is exactly what happened two weeks ago, when Chipotle announced the introduction of a vegan option. Chipotle, the third largest publicly traded restaurant company, has experienced explosive growth in recent years that outpaces even industry behemoths such as its former owner McDonald’s. Introduction of its vegan “sofritas” therefore portends a significant expansion in options for animal-friendly eating.

So why are Bay Area animal rights activists protesting the chain?

That is the issue taken up by a Salon article asked last week in a scathing review of the company’s marketing and practices. And, as a Bay Area organizer for the grassroots animal rights network Direct Action Everywhere, which is leading the international “It’s not Food, It’s Violence” campaign against Chipotle, it is a question that I am well-equipped to answer.


Chipotle is one of the leaders in what animal rights activists describe as “humane washing” – attempts to disguise the brutal reality of animal agriculture as “humane,” “responsible,” or even “compassionate.” The company’s website, for example, is littered with beautiful pictures of happy animals in green pastures (often baby animals to maximize the cuteness factor). It distinguishes its animals products from competitors’ with the marketing moniker “Responsibly Raised”–and charges a hefty premium for the distinction. And its CEO Steve Ells made a public promise to “run our business in a way that doesn’t exploit animals.”  

Yet even meat industry publications have noted that the company sources from factory farms, where animals often go insane from confinement in dark, terrifying cages. The company uses marketing language – such as “natural” – that has no regulatory significance. And, as the pig farmer Bob Comis has pointed out, standard practices at even “humane farms” involve brutal mistreatment of animals. It is because of these discrepancies that consumer fraud attorneys, with no connection to the animal rights movement, have filed class action litigation to challenge Chipotle’s deceptive practices.

But the problem with humane washing is even more fundamental than a mislabeled burrito. Because the basic question our campaign asks is not whether we have been duped by a single company… but, rather, whether we, as an animal loving society, have been duped by an entire industry that wants us to believe its violent lies. After all, even McDonald’s now trumpets its commitment to animal welfare. And nearly three out of four people believe that we should “eliminate all forms of animal cruelty.” But how can we say we love animals, and that we oppose cruelty against them, when we are cutting their throats (in necessarily violent and frightening fashion) for our financial or gustatory benefit?

Chipotle’s fraud, in other words, is problematic, first and foremost, because it reinforces the violent lie that our dominant industries and culture are already telling us: that animals are merely things for us to (responsibly) use, kill, and eat.  But, as the New York Times columnist and one-time food critic Frank Bruni recently discussed, there is increasing understanding, both morally and scientifically, that animals are beings who deserve the same respect and dignity we demand for ourselves.


Still, many even within the animal rights movement question the strategy behind focusing on a “good” company such as Chipotle. “Aren’t they at least getting a conversation started? Their CEO promised to be kind to animals. And don’t forget they have a vegan option!”

But praising corporations as a strategy for social change is doomed for failure. Using the example of electoral politics, the prominent social justice activist Randy Shaw (founder and director of the Tenderloin Housing Clinic) explains that activsts must make powerful interests fear the consequences of breaking promises. From Shaw’s The Activist’s Handbook (2013):

“[A]ctivists often view elected officials as allies without their having done anything to earn the moniker. Politicians need only agree to take certain positions in the future to earn the support of many progressive organizations. This makes strategic sense for politicians but not for advocates of social change…. Adopting a ‘fear and loathing’ approach toward elected officials, particularly self-identified progressives, is essential for achieving social change. Activists most focus on results, not promises; they must pursue their agenda, not the politician’s.”

What is true of politicians is even more true of profit-seeking corporations, whether in housing, banking, or food. They do not have our movement’s agenda at heart. And, as Shaw points out, it takes pressure – not just praise – to ensure that progress is achieved and sustained. Moreover, corporations such as Chipotle, whose brand and profits are so heavily linked to progressive issues, are precisely the ones that should be pressured because they seek to appeal to (and therefore profit from) the progressive market. They, and not their more oblivious competitors, are the parties most likely to take action in response to pressure.

In short, even supposing that some of Chipotle’s actions are indications of real progress, a strong campaign is the best way to ensure that those baby steps are sustained.


The third and perhaps most important reason for our campaign against Chipotle, however, is that it presents an opportunity to create an empowered network against animal abuse. It takes on industry’s strongest argument, and one of its biggest and most popular players… with the confidence that it can win. This change in strategy – focusing on the industry’s strongest arguments and biggest players—is absolutely vital because, despite widespread sympathy for animals and compelling arguments by the most distinguished scholars of our age, the animal rights movement has made little progress in recent decades. Activists too often feel the need to appeal to flawed conventional wisdoms and accommodate to a false neutrality, even to achieve the most toothless reforms.

Why Chipotle? This infographic sets out the reasons. 

In this regard, the animal rights movement is not unique.   Paul Krugman has written for years about how conventional discourse on fiscal austerity has been deluded by popular acceptance that so-called “Very Serious People” (such as the deficit hawks of the Simpson-Bowles Commission) must have merit to their views—no matter the lack of evidence. Concerted action against climate change has been stalled by the public’s acceptance of false neutrality on the causes of climate change, and activists’ unwillingness to push back hard against this narrative. What these examples show us is that, to achieve success, social movements cannot concede to a problematic conventional wisdom; they must challenge it and attack the monolithic institutions that hold it up.

The Very Serious People of the animal rights movement – even seemingly radical organizations such as PETA – believe that we cannot push the animals’ agenda with the strength, confidence, and honesty that the issue deserves. They believe that we have to compromise with conventional understandings of animals – and offer support for even the most deceptive and violent multinational corporations – in order to be heard. But, as with the debate on fiscal austerity and climate change, this is a false compromise that inhibits growth of a truly empowered network.

Chipotle, in other words, is a platform for us to test, strengthen, and expand our movement’s message. When a movement is confident in the need for fundamental change, there is no need to apologize, or accommodate, or beg for the smallest of concessions from supposedly good corporations. Successful movements – such as Occupy Wall Street or the Arab Spring – assert themselves confidently even against the most powerful opponents.

Animal lovers are, in fact, everywhere. The trick, as with so many other progressive issues, is to politically realize the public’s latent sympathy into an empowered network for change. And that is exactly what we plan to do with the “It’s not Food, It’s Violence” campaign – take on our most powerful and wealthy opponents, have confidence in the integrity of our message, and have faith that the arc of the moral universe will bend toward justice. 

Intrinsically Moved: The Main** Reason Consumerist Advocacy is the Wrong Approach

Intrinsically Moved: The Main** Reason Consumerist Advocacy is the Wrong Approach (by Kelly)

I write this in response to this article from 2010 by George Monbiot, called, "It goes against our nature; but the left has to start asserting its own values" and the WWF "Common Cause" report that Monbiot refers to.

Excerpts to summarize the Monbiot article:

"Extrinsic values concern status and self-advancement... Intrinsic values concern relationships with friends, family and community, and self-acceptance... Those who strongly value financial success, for example, have less empathy, stronger manipulative tendencies, a stronger attraction to hierarchy and inequality, stronger prejudices towards strangers and less concern about human rights and the environment. Those with a strong sense of self-acceptance have more empathy and greater concern for human rights, social justice and the environment. These values suppress each other: the stronger someone's extrinsic aspirations, the weaker his or her intrinsic goals."

"Instead of confronting the shift in values, we have sought to adapt to it."

"Many greens and social justice campaigners have also tried to reach people by appealing to self-interest: explaining how, for example, relieving poverty in the developing world will build a market for British products, or suggesting that, by buying a hybrid car, you can impress your friends and enhance your social status. This tactic also strengthens extrinsic values, making future campaigns even less likely to succeed. Green consumerism has been a catastrophic mistake."

"The progressive attempt to appeal to self-interest has been a catastrophe. Empathy, not expediency, must drive our campaigns."

"Common Cause proposes a simple remedy: that we stop seeking to bury our values and instead explain and champion them. Progressive campaigners, it suggests, should help to foster an understanding of the psychology that informs political change and show how it has been manipulated. They should also come together to challenge forces – particularly the advertising industry – that make us insecure and selfish."

"People with strong intrinsic values must cease to be embarrassed by them. We should argue for the policies we want not on the grounds of expediency but on the grounds that they are empathetic and kind; and against others on the grounds that they are selfish and cruel. In asserting our values we become the change we want to see."

What can we learn from this?

Our framing has to be about caring for the oppressed, not about the benefits for the oppressor of ceasing (er, minimizing*) that oppression. So stop talking about how healthy and convenient and tasty it is for a human to abstain from buying products of nonhuman oppression.

We should focus our efforts on creating a culture that values non-discriminatory empathy, not on trying sell nonspeciesist products of the consumerist (self-interested) machine. So confront people about speciesism and violence and oppression and atrocity, disrupt spaces of oppression, and challenge discrimination and domination when and wherever you see it.

So stop talking about veganism. Stop talking about vegan products. Stop talking about individual humans. Talk about speciesism. Talk about the animals. Talk about culture.

And shout about atrocity.

*Don't forget that NO ONE who exists in a speciesist society can completely abstain from participating in speciesist institutions. Notably, we pay taxes that subsidize the violence, we give money to an animal killer (and humanewasher) when we buy tofu from Whole Foods, and we perpetuate the invisibile hegemony of Speceisism in every single instance that we see a product or act of speceisist oppression and say nothing.

**Additionally, the vegan consuemrist model of activism is problematic for several other reason, as I have written about here (how consumerism perpetuates objectification of the animals), here (how a consumerist focus on the consuming human oppressor distracts from the oppressed nonhuman), and here (how focusing on plant foods distracts us from the atrocities happening beside them).

How the "Go Vegan" Message Perpetuates the Objectification of Nonhumans


How the "Go Vegan" Message Perpetuates the Objectification of Nonhumans (by Kelly)

When we use the "go vegan" message and talk about "vegan options" we immediately -- by the implicit construction of a dualism -- frame the animals whose rights are being violated as mere commodities. When we tell people to choose one product over another, we're reinforcing that the bodies of those animals who did not want to die are "products." We are therefore not challenging people to see those animals as conscious entities deserving of the same protection of their inalienable right to life that we ask for ourselves -- which is what we need to do to challenge speciesist society.

No matter what we say about those animals and their right to live and be free from violence and oppression, when we tell (or ask of) people what personal choices to make, through that consumerist framing, we're telling people to think about themselves, and we're perpetuating the idea that the animals are just other consumer commodities.

So should we even identify as "vegans"? (I put that in quotes because, let's remember, even those of us who don't eat animals or things made in their bodies still pay taxes that are funnelled into the violence, and fund an animal-killer and humanewasher when we buy kale at Whole Foods, and participate in a corporate machine that is wrecking havoc on our planet and contributing to the displacement and death of countless animals in every ecosystem whenever we buy anything at all, which is especially not particularly aligned with the apparent "vegan" ethic if it's more than we need for our bare minimal survival). I think that the label is counter-productive, since it focuses on the human instead of the animal, and since it frames the animals as the commodities they're already being treated as. Yeah, we who are trying to move society away from speciesism should be behaving as nonspeciesistly as manageable, as part of our vocal and uncompromising demand that the animals' rights be acknowledged and protected. But we should not be framing the conversation about the animals' rights in ways that distract people from the matter of their rights.

We have to demand liberation for the nonhuman victims, not plant-based options for the human oppressors. The animals need the systemic change that will come from a societal shift in perspective, not from a shifting chain of demand and supply.

We would call for an end to speciesism even if all it left our plates with was rice, because it's the right thing to do. Fruits and veggies are nice, but ultimately irrelevant. We can't make not hurting innocent animals a matter of how convenient and pleasurable it is for the human to abstain from that violence, we have to make not hurting animals -- and further, demanding that our entire society stop hurting animals -- a moral imperative. Demanding an end to injustice can't just be the easy and enjoyable and nice thing to do, it has to the be right thing to do. (Not to mention that we're not even encouraging people to do that when we merely tell them to "go vegan," to not intentionally participate to whatever degree comfortable in speciesist violence, to by-stand.) Because it IS the right thing to do. Because doing anything less than demanding justice for all is the wrong thing to do.

And when we talk to an individual about personally eating "vegan" we leave the systems that run the speciesist injustice and violence we're attempting to combat completely invisible -- and invisibility is how the most oppressive power structures remain in power.

Forget about the tasty tofu burrito, there's a baby pig screaming and writhing in the hands of a human with a knife right now. Which of the two messages will motivate people to demand action for that baby pig, and other oppressed innocents?

The stakes are extremely high. Actually, they really don't get any higher. The animals cannot afford for us to make their interests look as low in value as the stakes of someone choosing a favourite band.

Love Chipotle's Vegan Option? Then You Should Love Our Campaign

Chipotle announces today in Fast Company a nationwide expansion of the sofritas option, despite paltry sales. What this shows us is what we said all along: Violent corporate empires don't need to be coddled and praised. They need to be confronted with their violence and their lies.

Chipotle announces today in Fast Company a nationwide expansion of the sofritas option, despite paltry sales. What this shows us is what we said all along: Violent corporate empires don't need to be coddled and praised. They need to be confronted with their violence and their lies.

Love the Vegan Option? Then You Should Love Our Campaign

by Wayne Hsiung

Fast Company reports today that Chipotle's vegan option -- sofritas -- is now going nationwide. This is the first ever menu addition in Chipotle's history, as the company has prided itself on a simple, elegant menu. And the addition comes despite paltry sales: less than 3% even in the locations targeted as especially suitable for the introduction. 

I've previously blogged about how vegan options are mostly irrelevant to the animal rights movement's success, and might even serve as a significant obstacle, if framed in a way that reinforces the traditional "personal choice" narrative of veganism.  But even if you disagree, what the sofritas introduction shows us is that our 6 month old protest campaign has had exactly the effect that we predicted all along. It has solidified the company's commitment to the vegan option. 

Why? It's quite simple. As the pioneering social justice activist Randy Shaw writes in his wonderful book, The Activist's Handbook (Berkeley Press) , we cannot smile our way to success. With powerful people and institutions who have no intrinsic interest in helping our movement, we have to use a strategy that Shaw calls "Fear and Loathing." We have to show these powerful institutions that we are not afraid to criticize them when they fall short of their rhetoric because if they feel there is no cost to betraying us, companies like Chipotle will do so in a heart beat. 

In fact, that is exactly what Chipotle did in 2010. It introduced vegan Gardein in a few restaurants, watched as the positive press (and endless praise from animal rights groups) came in, then quietly threw away the vegan option when the press and public stopped paying attention. A few activist groups who had previously praised Chipotle gave the slightest bit of a whimper in protest. But it didn't matter because the news cycle, in both mainstream and social media, had already passed (and activist groups did now want to admit defeat to their fundraisers). So Chipotle had its (bloody) cake, and ate it too. The animal rights groups got to claim a victory (without having to actually ensure that the "victory" was sustained). And everyone was happy... Except, of course, the animals who continued to scream in terror at Chipotle's massively growing engine of violence. 

We can't allow ourselves to be duped by these corporate shenanigans again. Chipotle is not an ally to the animals. It is the third largest publicly traded restaurant company in the world, and a corporate empire that has a legal duty to focus single-mindedly on maximizing profits. To effect real and permanent change, we have to show companies such as Chipotle that half measures are not enough, that they will face continuing pressure to do the right thing, and that if they want to claim the mantle of "integrity," "love," and "compassion", they will have activists watching them to ensure that their behaviors match their rhetoric (and calling them out the moment they fail). This is exactly what Shaw calls Fear and Loathing. If you want to be successful as a social justice activist, you have to show powerful institutions that there is a cost if they betray or lie to you. 

Activists in Vancouver pointing out the obvious. And yet so many have fallen under Chipotle's marketing spell. 

Unlike the Gardein fiasco of 2010, that is exactly what we did, this time around, and lo and behold, the vegan option has stuck around. 

But that is not the end of the story. Because Chipotle continues with its brilliant manipulation of our movement. As I discussed last weekend in our most recent open meeting -- Chipotle's Seven Deadly Sins --  Chipotle has followed the exact divide-and-conquer strategy (bribe the opportunists; persuade the moderates; attack the radicals) that was set out by a meat industry PR firm two decades ago. And the very Chipotle executive who is interviewed by Fast Company, about the wondrous vegan option at Chipotle, was also quoted in the New York Times (in a moment of inadvertent honesty) as saying, "You put tripe in a bowl and tell them it’s from a humanely raised cow, and they’re going to eat it." 

When a corporation is this blatant and obvious in trying to manipulate and deceive, not just the public but our movement... when it is going out of its way to mock the exact rhetoric it is using, and to the flagship newspaper of our times... how can our movement possibly continue to believe these lies? How can our movement continue to support one of the largest and fastest growing animal killers in the world? And yet our movement does support Chipotle, with many of the most prominent voices not only aggressively defending Chipotle's empire -- but going out of their way to attack and undermine a grassroots campaign to protect animals from Chipotle's violence.

There are many complicated answers to the question of why our movement has fallen under Chipotle's spell. Some answers (corporate bribery) are darker than others (earnest faith, however misplaced, in the good intentions of a multinational empire). But the reasons are irrelevant. The question is what we do, going forward. And what our protest campaign has shown is that we can not only speak truth to power -- even in the face of withering criticism and hate by Chipotle's corrupt or misguided defenders -- but we can inspire activists all over the world to join us. 

Challenging Our Own Status Quo

Challenging Our Own Status Quo

Speciesism is the underlying disease of which all human exploitation of nonhumans is a symptom. If our goal as liberationists is to dissolve speciesism, to bring about a robust cultural change that will ensure lasting change for the animals, then the perspective of the "animal rights" movement and its advocates needs to shift:

Right now the dominant perspective, goal and message is about limiting the number of future animals brought into the world. ("Go vegan" and "this company kills animals but we'll ignore that and praise it for the plant-based option they offer on the chance that someone who is not yet ethically aligned with the idea that violence against animals is wrong might purchase it instead of a violent option, thereby slightly reducing the demand for more future violence."*)

We need to shift that to a focus on how the rights of the trapped animals who are suffering and crying and being forced onto a kill floor at this very moment are being violated. The goal here is to get people to realize that the violence is wrong and that these animals are in a state of emergency and need to be fought for. These stakes are much higher, which makes this framing much more compelling. Not only will the currently popular goal of reducing the demand for exploited animals be achieved through this pushing of anti-speciesist, anti-violent ideology anyways, but this is how we will actively combat the disease of speciesism, instead of just pumping drugs into the system to relieve a few symptoms.

*Just to be brutally redundant with this: No one who has decided to stop eating animals and products of their exploitation is going to buy a burrito with someone's flesh in it, and no one is going to decide to stop eating animals because they ate a single plant-based burrito. People don't need convenient access to nonviolent food options, they need motivation to not by violence-based products. What they need (and what the animals need from them, in the interest of a cultural shift in how humans perceive nonhumans) is to become ethically aligned with anti-speciesism. And even if one's goal is "more individual humans eating plants instead of animal products" then making anti-speciesists out of them is their most compelling reason to do that.

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.   



How a Debate Between Two Friends Reshaped a Movement


In a recent online discussion, a former high level staff member at a prominent national animal rights organization suggested that "Chipotle going out of business= bad for animals. We should be supporting and encouraging them, not protesting them. I want to meet the CEO so I can give him a hug." This is a common view in the modern animal rights movement. If we don't praise people for tiny baby steps, even when they're still engaging in horrifically bad behavior, then how do we make progress? (In this case, the sentiment apparently extends even to massive multinational corporations. Corporations, by some accounts, are people too.) But while this debate ties our movement into intellectual knots -- liberationists v. welfarists, radicals v. conservatives -- it shouldn't. Because it's not a new debate. Indeed, it's a debate that has been held in every liberation movement. And in every past movement, the radicals have won. 

Consider, for example, the movement most similar to our own: antislavery. In the early stages of the antislavery movement, around the year 1830, there was a debate between two friends: Benjamin Lundy and William Lloyd Garrison. Lundy, a gentle and compassionate man, believed that one ought to educate slaveholders to free their slaves, one by one, and provide positive encouragement every step of the way. The dominant “antislavery” organization of the day – the now-infamous ACS – agreed with this approach. The problem of slavery, they thought, was the lack of realistic options. Options for products. (“We have to move our economy away from production that relies on slavery!”) Options for labor. (“Let’s expand the pool of free labor!”) And options for placing the slaves once they were freed. (“We need somewhere to send all these colored people; let’s make a colony in Africa!”)  Give slaveholders options, Lundy and the ACS believed, and slowly, the system will disappear.   

Garrison, a fiery activist and orator, fundamentally disagreed. He believed that slavery was a basic injustice, regardless of what supposed "efforts" slaveholders made to improve their victims’ lives. He believed that the public could be won over with an honest message of liberation and equality. He believed that the question of slavery was not one of “options” for the oppressor but of “justice” for the oppressed. The goal of the liberationist, in Garrison's mind, was not to appease slaveholders with more and better options (and by doing so, reinforce the notion that the life of the slave was subject to the whims of his master) but to re-frame the debate on behalf of the oppressed... to protest slavery and slaveholders regardless of what "options" were offered. Ironically, taking such a strong and honest position, Garrison believed, was the only way to ensure that even incremental reforms could be sustained. 

There are two important points we should make about the Garrison-Lundy debate. 

1. Psychological research shows that tradition and conformity push people in the direction of greater accommodation of brutal institutions, even when such accommodation is unjustified. Those who have studied violent systems of discrimination are struck by how even good people can shrug their shoulders in the face of the worst atrocities in history. The leading scholar of prejudice – John Jost at NYU – has shown that the dampening of moral outrage is key to maintaining systems of injustice.  When we think about how we respond to atrocities against animals, we should always ask ourselves, am I really looking at this in an unbiased way, focused on effecting change for the victims? Or are my message and tactics and even my most basic emotional responses biased by the corrupt institutions that surround me (including marketing by corporations such as Chipotle)? We are, in so many ways, naturally inclined to be Benjamin Lundy. 

2. The data is out on the Garrison/Lundy debate, and Garrison was right. Garrison’s confident and inspirational message led to an exponential surge in the antislavery movement – a 45000% increase (yes, 45000%) in the number of antislavery societies in less than 10 years, according to numbers tabulated by historian Paul Goodman. Nobel Prize winner Robert Fogel notes, moreover, that this incredible growth occurred despite the fact that slavery was becoming even more indispensable to the economic structure of antebellum America. Slavery, Fogel shows, was upended not by economic options but by moral and political pressure: "There is such a thing as morality, and morality is higher than economics." In short, though we are naturally inclined to be Benjamin Lundy, what social movements need, more than anything else, is people like William Lloyd Garrison. 

That's not an easy thing to do. The human mind usually thinks incrementally. It is limited by habit and tradition. And revolutionary leaps in our basic understanding of the world are few and far between. That is precisely why the Garrisonian perspective -- revolutionary and radical though it may have seemed -- was so vital. It set out a new framing, a new anchoring point, a new vision of the way the world ought to be. But its importance was matched by its difficulty. Garrison was attacked, ostracized, and even imprisoned for his uncompromising views. 

The Chipotle campaign, similarly, was never intended to be an easy one. Neither was it intended to be noncontroversial. Martin Luther King Jr. believed that direct action forces out the prejudices in a community. He believed that it polarizes the debate, and forces the public to take a stand. And, in an important sense, that is the ultimate goal of our campaign: to push our society to take a stand. To push our movement to take a stand. Because if even the animal rights movement can't muster up the confidence to stand against the largest animal killers in the world, who can? 

So ask yourself, where will you stand? When we look back on these days, will we say that we stood with one of the largest and fastest growing animal killers in the world... a $16 billion corporation that enslaves millions every year; that is being called the "New Model" for fast food; and that, in an unending parade of violence that is hard to even imagine, slits the throat of frightened and shrieking child, after frightened and shrieking child, over and over again, all while portraying these brutal acts of violence as integrity, love, and kindness? Or will we stand with a grassroots movement --- simple, honest, and confident --  that seeks to stop the violence, that portrays corporations such as Chipotle for what they actually are -- engines of brutality -- and that protects that desperate child from a horrific and bloody fate? 

We must choose wisely. Because the allies we choose will determine the fate of billions.