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Wayne Hsiung

Why Disrupt? (Video)

DxE's Araceli Rodriguez dragged off of stage after disrupting Chris Christie's talk in Iowa. 

DxE's Araceli Rodriguez dragged off of stage after disrupting Chris Christie's talk in Iowa. 

Why Disrupt? (Video)

In light of the recent Chris Christie disruption, many people are asking, "Why disrupt?" 

DxE Organizer Wayne Hsiung sets out reasons that disruption has been key to every effective movement for social justice. This talk will show how disruption provokes attention, reshapes norms, and ultimately helps us build a stronger movement for animals.

Note: This talk was recorded in 2014. 

Should I Move... for the Animals? Lessons from Occupy Wall Street

Should I Move... for the Animals? Lessons from Occupy Wall Street

The original call to action in Adbusters. 

When it comes to effective activism, where you live might matter as much, or more, than what you do.

By Wayne Hsiung

On September 17, 2011, a few dozen protesters gathered on Wall Street. They were responding to the call of a Canadian anti-consumerist magazine, Adbusters, to challenge the corporate greed that nearly led to a global economic meltdown in 2008. While a major depression had been avoided – job growth slowly began ticking up by 2011 – the benefits of the recovery were mainly going to the richest of the rich. The vast majority of the people on this planet continued to suffer quietly, with poor health care, stress, and even displacement or death.

The beginning of this protest movement, however, was interesting in that the call was not to Occupy Your Local Bank. Rather, the call went out for activists across the world to Occupy… Wall Street. For those of us who see financial greed and misconduct as a widespread, global practice – as it surely is – this might have seemed a strange decision. After all, there were bad actors in not just Wall Street but also in LA, Chicago, and San Francisco. Moreover, it seemed unrealistic to ask activists against inequality, who were politically weak, geographically dispersed, and few in number, to uproot their lives and travel to New York City. Yet that is exactly what Adbusters did.

The rest, of course, is history.

Perhaps the most powerful movement against inequality in a generation was triggered, leading to tens of thousands of protesters not just in NYC, but also in dozens of cities (and eventually, countries) across the world. Public discussion of inequality skyrocketed, and serious policy changes were sustained (e.g. Obamacare) or enacted (extended unemployment benefits) as a result. And it all started when just a few dozen activists gathered in Zucotti Park.

Occupy Wall Street is just one small example of the power of concentration to cause growth in a movement.  In areas ranging from technological innovation to improved health care practices, concentration has been instrumental to giving marginal ideas the boost they need to survive and ultimately flourish.

Yet within animal rights circles, we often take the opposite approach. We say that we have to disperse widely to get the broadest reach. We stretch ourselves thin to reach schools, neighborhoods, and cities that have the lowest concentration of animal rights sympathy. We even sometimes move to far-flung regions of the world in an effort to spread our message far and wide.

The story of Zucotti Park (and the extensive research into geographic concentration in sociology, political science, and economics) suggests flaws in this approach. From sociological research into the spatial clustering of social movements, to recent breakthroughs on the importance of high-density cities to innovation, to Paul Krugman’s now canonical work on economic geography, there is a convergence around a simple idea: concentration matters. And it matters for three principal reasons. First, concentration allows for shared resources, knowledge, and commitment. Second, concentration provides a stronger foundation for growth. Third, concentration creates political opportunities that are out of reach for a dispersed movement. 

Sharing

Many of the resources in a grassroots movement – e.g. community spaces, protest equipment, or even a website – can only be acquired through group effort. For example, a community of three people probably does not have the ability to rent out a community space. But if there are clusters of activists in the same area, they can share in the expense and acquire resources that previously had been out of reach.

This clustering is particularly important, as Mancur Olsen pointed out many years ago, when the resources are “public” in nature, i.e. they benefit the community as a whole rather than specific individuals. While public goods are vital to community development – and innovation – it can be difficult to secure contributions for such resources because every individual can “free ride.” That is, since securing the resource probably does not depend on their individual contribution, and they can’t be excluded from utilizing the resource once it is secured, it often makes sense to let others do the work. But if everyone takes this approach, then even public resources that we all want may end up underfunded.

Geographic concentration helps us combat this problem in two ways. First, it allows for better coordination between activists to ensure that public resources receive commitments from individuals. It’s a lot easier to check in and ask someone for help when you’re seeing them physically on a regular basis. Second, once a resource has been secured, e.g. a community space, geographic concentration allows for more people to benefit from it. Instead of having to rent ten different community spaces in ten different regions, we can rent one – and everyone gets to use it!

What’s true of material resources is just as true of knowledge, skill, and enthusiasm. It is well established by scholars of technological innovation, for example, that geographic concentration greatly benefits new industries such as the car industry in the early to mid 20th century, or the computing explosion in the early 2000s. Particularly with technology such as software, this might seem puzzling. Why should everyone cluster in Silicon Valley, for example, if all the work can be done remotely (and far more cheaply in regions of the country with far lower property costs)? The reason is that knowledge has a way of spilling over when innovative people are all in the same city, neighborhood, or even room. Instead of each re-inventing the wheel, participants in a movement – whether technological or moral – can learn from and enhance one another’s insight and experience. The result, very often, is an innovative explosion.

Perhaps the most important sharing, however, is of commitment and enthusiasm. Doug McAdam at Stanford identified social influence as the key determinant in movement participation many decades ago, and we know that social influence spreads more powerfully when people are geographically close to one another. (See, for example, how geography can surprisingly have impacts on loneliness or happiness.) Maintaining and growing our commitments to social justice, in short, may be as simple as moving closer to one another.

Growth

DxE is an international network that has now had participation in an astonishing 130 cities and 27 countries. Indeed, our founding mission was to inspire direct action… everywhere. Not just in one geographically concentrated region. And, indeed, the international scope of our network is one of the most inspiring aspects of our activism. Doesn’t concentration defeat this purpose?

The answer, surprisingly, is no, and for three primary reasons. First, if a movement is truly a movement – rather than just an organization led by a few key people – then concentration and growth go hand in hand. One of our most important values within the DxE organizing group is emergent leadership: the notion that leadership is assessed not by individual talent or success but by community empowerment. The mark of a great leader, under this philosophy, is the creation of other leaders.  Emergent leadership (which is all the rage in the tech circles that are most focused on innovative forms of organization, e.g. Google) is the only way for a movement to effectively grow. We can’t compete in the battle of dollars and cents. We can’t hire our way to liberation. But we can inspire leadership in the grassroots, where we trade in the power of ideas rather than dollars.  

If this is our model, however, then we need not worry about individuals moving towards greater concentration. It is the culture and community that will lead to sustained international growth, after all, and not any particular set of leaders. If our movement is strong, then new leaders will step up. That is exactly what has happened, in fact, in cities such as Vancouver and Chicago. When Wilson left Vancouver (or Almira left for a two-month stay in the Bay Area), you might have thought that the chapter would fall apart.  In fact, it became even stronger because it gave new leaders an opportunity to step up. Similarly, when Katie left Chicago, it might have been seen as a blow to the Midwest. But again, new organizers such as Linzi and Ernesto stepped up (and Katie started a new chapter in Tucson).

This brings me to the second reason that growth is sustained by concentration, however: the power of symbols. We know that talking about numbers, for their own sake, has limited impacts. A million is simply a statistic, they say, but the story of one suffering child can change the world. What is true of suffering is also true of inspiration. The key to mobilizing a network is to have powerful symbols of success. In short, strengthening key hubs that have been important to the history of social justice can have impacts that resonate across the globe.

This was the power of Occupy Wall Street. It was one regional cluster, for sure. But it was a regional cluster that had symbolic importance across the world. And when thousands took over the Brooklyn Bridge, the world – and not just NYC – paid heed. The result was that Occupy encampments sprouted in dozens of cities across the world.

Of course, there are ways to maintain geographic concentration while fostering an international network. We encourage organizers to maintain relationships throughout the network, but especially in cities to which they once had a geographic connection. (Chicago will always be close to home for me personally.) Regional or international convergences, moreover, can help spread the strength of the big urban centers to smaller cities with less active movements. But at root, it’s important to remember that this strength comes from concentration and connection – not dispersion – and this is as true, surprisingly, as in the remote regions of the country as in its urban hubs.  

Political Opportunity: Banning Meat in Berkeley?

The third and perhaps most important reason for concentration is that it expands our movements’ opportunities, and allows us to achieve incredible political change. One of the central findings of social science is that changing institutions – the formal and informal set of rules and understandings that guide every human decision – is absolutely key to creating real and permanent change.

Imagine a world where eating animals is banned in Berkeley. The city would quickly become a hub to expand animal rights across the world.

The problem is that institutional change is hard and uncertain. How do we change cultural conceptions of animals, for example, so that they are seen as persons and not property? While we can’t say, for sure, what the specific solution to this problem is, we can make some general observations about social change in the past. And one key strand in our understanding of social change, from history, is that collective political action is absolutely vital. It allows even marginal social interests to get their issues on the agenda.

Imagine, for example, if every animal rights activist in the world suddenly moved to Berkeley. What has, until now, been a fairly marginal issue – even in a progressive hub of the United States – would suddenly have real political power, the power to change both formal and informal institutions. Legislatively, we could achieve incredible results such as a wholesale ban on the killing of animals. Socially, we could create entire neighborhoods, communities, and even professional associations that believe fiercely in animal rights. Culturally, we could suddenly transform our social norms so that eating animals would be seen as the species bigotry that it is. Establishing systemic change in one region, moreover, would not only prevent movement erosion and recidivism but also give the movement a powerful political bulwark upon which to expand its political reach. It is no surprise, for example, that the UK played a vital role in stopping the slave trade around the world; the moral movement against slavery first gained success in Britain. Progressive hubs for animal rights can serve the same function, but they are only possible if we can reach the critical mass to achieve real political change.

Should I move for animals?

There are compelling reasons for our movement to seek concentration. First, it allows for shared resources, information, and commitment. Second, it benefits international growth, ironically, by establishing symbols for success. Third, by expanding the political opportunities, concentration fosters sustainable change in institutions.

In short, moving to an activist hub is a powerful way to fuel the engine for change. Indeed, even moving locally near other activists can have powerful effects for activism, as geographic distance can serve as a huge barrier to activist collaboration and solidarity. Like the hundreds or even thousands who left their homes to take camp on Wall Street, moves of this sort can be costly or even physically risky, but they also present incredible opportunities for the movement. So the next time you ask yourself, "What can I do for animals?", seriously consider this: 

Move to Berkeley. 

Why activism, not veganism, is the moral baseline

Activists across the world took action this weekend for animals as part of the international event: #LightThePath (Credit: Pax Ahimsa Gethen)

Activists across the world took action this weekend for animals as part of the international event: #LightThePath (Credit: Pax Ahimsa Gethen)

Why activism, not veganism, is the moral baseline

In the aftermath of the Francione debate, DxE’s cofounder explains why veganism is not enough.

by Wayne Hsiung 

In yesterday’s discussion, Gary Francione repeatedly stated that DxE is “anti-vegan” – implying that we condone the use of animals. This is false. At DxE, we believe that it’s important to avoid personal contributions to animal exploitation, and we have strong norms against using animal products within our community. (Indeed, many of our organizers – including me – take this a step further and refuse to eat with others who are eating animals. Here’s Lauren Gazzola explaining why at last year’s AR conference.)

The difference between DxE and Gary is that, at DxE, we also believe that our personal actions are not enough. That if veganism is a political principle and not a personal choice, we must live out that difference in action.

Let’s use a hypothetical to explain the difference.  

Suppose you come across a mob of people beating a child with a stick.

In the face of nightmarish violence, a global movement for animals grows. #LightThePath to liberation.

“Join us,” they say. “It’s fun.”

The first response to the mob is, “Everyone else is doing it, so I might as well, too. And who knows, maybe they’re right that it’s fun.” This is the unthinking reaction that most people give to the brutal violence raging against animals. While we often condemn them for this choice, moreover, it’s important to note that most people don’t make a real choice. They never say to themselves, “Between torturing and slaughtering billions of gentle baby animals, or not torturing and killing… I choose torture.” As with other historical participants in atrocity, they simply accept the way things are; they are products of the system to which they were born.

Our most basic perceptions of the world – even something as simple as the length of a line – can be hugely distorted by cultural or social influence. And it’s difficult for ordinary people to see atrocity as atrocity, when it has been “made normal.” So yes, participating in mass violence is a shameful and unethical choice, but let’s always keep in mind that, ultimately, this participation is a systemic and not individual problem. (See the recent talk we gave at Northwestern for more on this distinction.)

The second response to the mob is, “I’m not comfortable with beating a child. It’s wrong. So I’m not going to join you.” This is veganism – non-participation in a violent practice. And while it’s certainly preferable to beating the child ourselves, it still falls far short of the moral baseline. Because where we have the power to take some action to help someone who is being abused – whether a human or non-human child (and note that virtually all animals killed by humans are, in fact, children) – we have a duty to do so. Indeed, many jurisdictions make it a crime when we fail to act to assist a helpless person in need.

This is especially true when we have benefitted in some way from the victim’s abuse. For example, while ordinary citizens do not have a duty to intervene in or report violence, if someone joins and partakes in the benefits of such a criminal conspiracy, the law requires them to take action to stop that conspiracy.  For example, suppose that you have been paid to be the getaway driver in an armed robbery. It’s not enough to say, “I won’t participate” after you’ve already been paid. After all, if you have benefitted from the crime, you have a responsibility to stop it.

As beneficiaries of 10,000+ years of human supremacy, and of continuing violence against animals both in captivity and the wild, we are all in this position. We are beneficiaries of a violent conspiracy. Our homes, our gadgets, our streets, and, yes, even our vegan food are products of violence against animals.  (For every animal humans kill for food, there are perhaps 1,000 who suffer and die to habitat loss and climate change.) And simply attempting to remove ourselves, when we continue to benefit from this system of violence, falls far short of our moral duty. So yes, participation in violence is shameful and unethical, but so too is inaction in the face of violence. So too is veganism without action.

But then what is the moral baseline? This brings us to our third response to the mob: action.  “Hey, stop what you are doing!” we might say to the men who are beating the child. Those of us who can muster the courage might try to physically shield the child from the blows. We might call 911, or try to rally other neighbors to help us save the child. We might even use physical force to defend the child and take away the stick. But if we truly seek to fulfill our moral duty in the face of the largest atrocity in history, we must do something beyond inaction.

But if activism is the moral baseline, why do so few vegans take action? There are at least three important reasons. The first is that they have not been taught to do so. Partly due to pseudo-scientific research, our movement is so focused on personal consumer behavior that it loses sight of its reason for existence: not vegan food, but the animals. I’m distressed by the number of conversations among AR activists that start with the tone and color of justice, and end with the tone and color of a vegan cupcake. But this is not a personal but a movement flaw. We need to collectively stop talking about where we can get vegan French fries, and start talking about animals and their lives. We need to make action for animals, not vegan consumerism, the unrelenting focus of our movement.  If people are not taught to act, they will not.

The second reason is that people have no idea what action to take. There is extensive research showing that, if people are presented with too many options, and those options have uncertain effects, they will often be paralyzed by indecision. “I want to help animals, but how?” Anyone who says they have a 100% clear answer to this question “What action?” is deceiving us, but there are big picture insights, from both the practice and scholarship of social movements, that should inform our decisions. One of those big picture insights is that movements rise or fall on the basis of their ability to mobilize and sustain nonviolent direct action. It turns out doing so is rather hard because early movement adopters face ridicule, rejection, or even repression. But it’s not nearly as hard as one might think. In fact, all you need is 3.5% (and probably far less). If you can mobilize 3.5% of the population in sustained and nonviolent civil resistance, you win. Every single time.

DxE's model in one simple infographic. 

This is the reason for DxE’s existence. We don’t need to convince 100% of the public to “go vegan.” We need to inspire those who are already vegan to take action. To give people the mentorship and support they need to speak and act strongly and publicly for animals. To build the organizing capacity, the social institutions, and perhaps most importantly, the culture that our movement needs to change the world in one generation. To create activists, connect them in networks, and inspire those networks to take nonviolent direct action.  

But can we actually succeed? This brings us to the third reason for vegan passivity: hopelessness. Recall the hypothetical we started this discussion with, of a mob attacking a child. While morality requires us to intervene, where we can, it does not and cannot require us to intervene if there is no way to actually stop the violence. Morality cannot require the impossible.

If the raging atrocities against animals are unstoppable, then, we have no obligation to take action. Action requires hope. And hope, in our movement, is seemingly in short supply. Many advocates suggest that the end of animal exploitation might occur hundreds, if not thousands of years from now. They say, with confident regret, that people will most likely always exploit animals. We’ll never get to 3.5%.

But this is nonsense. Indeed, it is a cognitive bias that a distinguished psychologist at Harvard calls “The End of History Fallacy.” Because it turns out, change does happen, and it happens far faster than any one of us can predict. Just a few decades ago, marriage equality would have been unthinkable. Only 1 in 4 supported it, and even progressive politicians rallied to “defend marriage” against the insidious influence of “the homosexual agenda.” A professor of mine in law school, one of the most distinguished progressives in the legal academy, said that, when he started as a professor decades ago, the term “gay rights” sounded like a criminal conspiracy. Yet 20 years later, the tides have turned. Over 60% of the population now supports marriage equality (and a much higher percentage of young people), and it has been enshrined as a constitutional right. Gay rights is no longer a criminal conspiracy. It’s what every upstanding American citizen believes.

We will achieve the same progress for animal rights. Indeed, a recent Gallup poll showed that 32% of the populationhigher than the percentage who supported LGBTQ equality in 1996 – currently believe that animals should have the “same rights as people.” Moreover, this percentage is increasing quickly…. while animal exploiting industries get smaller. (Agriculture, for example, is a vanishingly small percentage of the American economy, and our calculations show that it would take a mere 1-2% of US GDP to rescue every single animal currently in captivity and place them in a sanctuary for the rest of their lives.) Further, animal issues are blowing up in our broader culture. The Dodo founders have pointed out that animals are among the most shared subjects on social media, and an astonishing 79% of people in America say they must be protected from “all suffering and harm.” As Frank Bruni of The New York Times points out, windows into the world of animals are growing, both big and little. And the more we see of animals, the more we realize: they are us. They are our family members, our children, our friends. And when we see they are us, we see, too, our duty to defend.

In the face of all these incredible reasons for optimism, it’s time for us to discard our cynicism and doubt. It’s time for us to be inspired, not to lonely inaction, but empowered activism. And it’s time for our movement to take a new and more confident tone: That we are strong. That we are smart. And that we are inspired.

And we will succeed. 

 

 

Why are we afraid of radical change?

A DxE investigation in January showed us the truth of cage-free eggs, suffering and death, but also presented a radical path forward: openly rescuing animals from violence. 

Why are we afraid of radical change?

Bill Maher’s problem is not hypocrisy or ignorance. It’s something deeper: a fear of the radical.   

by Wayne Hsiung

Earlier this week, comedian and talking head Bill Maher wrote in The New York Times that Costco needed to free its hens… by switching to “cage free” facilities. Those of us who have actually seen so-called cage free facilities were dismayed by the idea that some people would read Maher and get the idea that cage-free means “free.” In fact, cage-free facilities have the same confinement, abuse, and mutilation of battery cage facilities. (And add a host of new problems, too.) The mortality rates are often even higher than battery facilities, as the hens attack and cannibalize one another in the disgusting concentration camp conditions.

In today’s New York Times, my co-organizer Priya Sawhney brought Maher’s – and the public’s – attention to the horrible conditions in even “cage free” facilities. Priya’s letter makes the point that if our concern is over abuse, shouldn’t we be ending animal agriculture entirely, rather than making a minor modification (with uncertain benefits) to a system of mass violence?

Radical change is within our reach, but only if we are ready to openly defend it. 

Radical change is within our reach, but only if we are ready to openly defend it. 

But there’s a broader phenomenon at work here. Maher and others are not uninformed or hypocritical. They legitimately seek to end abuse, and that is a laudable sentiment. But they are also highly influenced by their social environment – including the environment within the animal rights movement – that goes out of its way to accommodate to conventional norms, including norms relating to the use of animals. We are told that enslaving and killing animals is “normal” and that we therefore can’t challenge this violence too aggressively. Rather, we should calmly present information to the public – and celebrities such as Maher – and happily slide down the slippery slope to animal rights.

The problem is that societies don’t change because we’re educational or nice. And individual people do not change because of information or rational argument. (A recent study shows this is true of even moral philosophers. A whopping 60% of them say that eating animals is wrong, many times the rate in the population at large. Yet their behaviors are shockingly no different than the public at large.) They change, first and foremost, because the norms around them change.

And how do we get these norms to change? Advocates so often say to us that we can’t push too far, or ask for too much, because the only way to achieve success is to get our foot in the door. But this directly contradicts decades of research into social movements showing the power of disruption and confrontation to generate attention and shift social norms. On everything from women’s right to vote to environmental protection, the biggest and most fundamental change has been caused by radical moral and political movements. (Don’t believe me? Listen to Nobel Prize winner Robert Fogel.)

The trick, of course, is that the “early adopters” of such a strategy face humiliation and embarrassment precisely because of their supposed radicalism. Cambridge Professor Thomas Taylor laughed at Mary Wollstonecraft when she suggested the radical idea of women’s equality. The British ridiculed Gandhi for daring to push the radical concept of self-determination. And people laugh today at the radical divestment movement growing on university campuses (even Harvard!) to extricate our economy from fossil fuels. But the laughter and pushback were not reasons to stop. To the contrary, they were reasons the movement absolutely needed to push on because, in the face of such laughter, if they didn’t keep pushing, who would?

The moral of the story? We should be encouraged by statements such as Maher’s. They are a sign that our movement is on the cusp of a breakthrough. But the way for us to achieve that breakthrough is not to sit back and rest on our laurels. We need to keep pressing society – keep pressing figures such as Maher – to take us down the path, not to bigger cages or better deaths, but a radically different world. One where every animal is safe, happy, and free.

Celebrity Vegans: What Does the Science Say?

Celebrity Vegans: What Does the Science Say?

by Wayne Hsiung 

The Internet was afire yesterday with back and forth arguments about the impacts of celebrity vegans, most of whom adopt vegan diets for selfish reasons.  But one thing was notably missing from the discussions: evidence.

As someone who has performed research with some of the top social scientists of our day, back in my time as a researcher and then faculty member at MIT and Northwestern respectively,  I have a special interest in utilizing evidence over mere intuition. So what does the evidence say?

1. Celebrities don’t have nearly the influence that you might think.

Malcolm Gladwell coined the term The Law of the Few to assert that, when it comes to social change, some people are just more important than others. Those with special influence, connections, and fame – like Beyonce or Miley Cyrus -- can cause messages to explode exponentially. Gladwell’s popular writing refers back to work by a psychologist at Yale, Stanley Milgram, who famously conducted a study on spreading messages through a social network in 1969. Milgram’s study made two startling conclusions: first, that every human on the planet is connected within just a few small steps (thus the famous Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon test);  second, that an astonishingly small handful of people seemed to be “supernodes” through which all messages would be transmitted. Gladwell implied that, if we could change Milgram’s supernodes, we could change the world.

It’s a compelling story. The problem is, quite simply, that the data does not bear it out. Duncan Watts, a sociologist at Columbia, showed us why. First, in experimental tests of message transmission using thousands (rather than dozens) of messages, it turned out that supernodes were not so important. Messages would, in fact, be spread through a small number of social steps. But there were many pathways through which this could happen, most of which did not utilize any highly connected person. The supernodes, it turns out, were not important.  A second set of experiments explained why. In everything from musical tastes to Twitter retweets, it turned out that masses of highly motivated “ordinary people” – and not a few strategically placed influencers – were the driving force for change. If Watts is right – as most social scientists now think (see, e.g., Christopher Chabris's takedown of Gladwell at Slate) – then we should be spending more time on building networks of highly motivated ordinary people and less time on celebrities. Gladwell’s Law of the Few should be retracted and replaced with the Law of the Many.

2. Focusing on selfish motivations (e.g. health) can “crowd out” intrinsic and moral motivations (ethics).

Many say that we should “throw everything but the kitchen sink” to convert people to veganism. Others say that humans, as selfish animals, must be given selfish motivations to refrain from harmful conduct. The upshot is that we often focus on selfish reasons for people to go vegan – health, beauty, etc. The problem, again, is that these arguments are contradicted by the evidence.  

In a series of ingenious experiments,  sociologists, psychologists, and economists have shown that selfish motivations can “crowd out” moral ones – and lead to more harmful behavior as a result. In perhaps the most famous example, Uri Gneezy and his collaborators showed that creating a material incentive to encourage parents to arrive on time to day care actually increased the number of people who would show up late. The reason? There was a prior moral motive to show up on time – the embarrassment of forcing employees to stay late, and appearing to be bad parents – but focus on the selfish motive, i.e. financial costs, crowded this moral motive out.  And when framed in a callous and self-centered away, surprise, surprise, parents failed to pick up their kids.

The same is true of focus on selfish motivations for veganism. To the extent it’s framed in selfish terms, people will behave selfishly (e.g. abandoning veganism the moment it becomes inconvenient). This problem, in turn, is not just theoretical. The vast majority of vegans (over 75%) revert to eating animals, and in an astonishingly short period of time. (One study found that 60% of self-identified vegetarians were eating animals again... within a week.) This reversion, moreover, is associated with selfish motivations for going veg. 

In short, if we want to create effective, robust change, we should focus on the social and moral instincts that have driven human beings since our inception as a species

3. Economic change, on its own, is not effective at creating social change.

Finally, many argue that the growing consumer power of vegans, limited though it might be at present, will take us down the path to liberation. Animal exploitation, as an economic industry, must be challenged on economic terms. Only by increasing the costs for exploitation, or benefits of nonviolence, can we shift our social equilibrium. Celebrities, given their supposed influence on mass consumer behavior, are a powerful tool to achieve this success.

But once again, the data from notable historical periods simply does not bear this out. Robert Fogel, the Nobel Prize winning economist, is famous for exhaustively researching the data on slavery and finding that, surprisingly, economic factors played almost no role in its disappearance. To the contrary, slavery was a massive, profitable, and growing system, right up to its abolition in the 1860s. But if slavery didn’t end via economics, how did it end? In short, moral and political mobilization.

Fogel’s research is part of a massive trend in social science that some have called the “cognitive revolution.” The basic idea: that we cannot understand behavior without looking at mental models and processes. Numerous examples of activism targeting consumer behavior -- from the failed free produce movement (which attempted to economically modify slavery via boycott) to modern green consumer activism -- have failed to achieve tangible results. In contrast, powerful moral and political mobilizations -- the antislavery movement that began in the 1830s, or the early environmental movement built on direct action -- achieved groundbreaking systemic change. Yet in so many ways, modern thinking within animal advocacy remains mired in outdated social science. As animal advocates, we too often assume that we can understand incredibly complex economic systems as if they are deterministic and predictable, e.g. with poorly-supported claims of how many animals we "save" via a vegan diet. And we focus on changing supply and demand rather than reshaping the moral and political ecosystem that determines what counts as a “product” (as opposed to a “victim’s body”) in the first place.  This naiveté undermines our effectiveness. 

Summing up, when you see the next celebrity going vegan, don’t jump on the bandwagon. First, ordinary people – like you – are the ones who power movements. Second, the selfish motivations that often motivate celebrities can “crowd out” the powerful moral norms that are our movement’s greatest weapons. Third, even if celebrities drive consumer behavior, that alone is not sufficient to drive social change.

So by all means, keep eating vegan, Hollywood. Just don't expect social change to result.

Because it is the moral power of ordinary people -- and not a celebrity-inspired consumer fad -- that will change the world for animals. 

Turning Crisis into Opportunity

Turning Crisis into Opportunity

In recent weeks, DxE has been bullied, bludgeoned, and even betrayed. But the Chinese word for crisis shares a common character -- ji or  -- with the Chinese word for opportunity. Following that ancient parallel, here’s how we can transform crisis into opportunity.   

by Wayne Hsiung

Punched in the face at a demonstration in May 2014, but still smiling! 

Nearly one year ago to the day, I was slugged in the face by an angry man at a Chipotle protest in San Francisco.

The man was not initially violent, laughing and yelling “Meat! Meat! Meat!’ as he passed our #ItsNotFoodItsViolence protest. But when one of my co-organizers, Priya, began to film him, he became irate.

“Turn that camera off!” he screamed. Priya ignored him.

The man then proceeded to shout at virtually everyone around him that he wanted the camera off. He yelled at passers-by, who scurried away from him. He yelled at the building security guard, who had until that point been quite hostile toward the protest. He even went inside the Chipotle and yelled at store employees, apparently failing to realize that Chipotle management would have no control over…. protesters.

And so he came back outside and proceeded to scream his head off at Priya. But Priya continued to quietly record the man. And before we knew it, he charged her head first, tackling her and throwing her against the plate glass wall of the Chipotle as he fought to get his hands on her iPhone.

I had been talking to a group of 3 passers-by about Chipotle’s humanewashing when it happened. But out of the corner of my eye, I saw that the incident was about to escalate. And when things went bad, I was immediately ready to rush forward, as one of the individuals at our protest who was designated to nonviolently defend our protesters. I pulled the man off of Priya, and did my best to secure her iPhone, which the man had seized from her hand.

“You can’t do this, friend,” I repeatedly said.

But he was in no mood to listen, so after a brief tussle, he threw the phone at me, shattering it when it hit the ground. As I reached down to pick the phone up, he slugged me in the face. He then ran off down the street.

Astonishingly, the first person to run up to me was the Chipotle security guard.

“You want me to go after the guy?” he asked.

“No, no. It’s all right,” I replied.

For the rest of the protest, the security guard, who had been aggressively harassing us and demanding that we leave, became our defender, patrolling back and forth along the protest line with a watchful eye on any potentially violent passers-by. “Is everyone ok?” he asked.

Our adversary became our protector.

Priya, who was unscathed from the incident other than a shattered phone, went right back to protesting. As for me, other than a fat lip and a little blood, I was good to go. I walked back to the three people I had been talking to before the incident and said, “Where were we again?” Mouths agape, they listened even more intently than they had before.

While crisis poses three serious challenges to our network, it also offers 3 important opportunities.

There have recently been far more serious incidents of violence, misconduct, and even betrayal in the DxE network. Activists have been attacked, deceived, and harassed by employees or the police (and, more distressingly, by one another). At moments like these, it’s important to step back and ask, as we asked after the Chipotle incident last May, “How do we handle a crisis?” While crisis poses three serious challenges to our network, it also offers 3 important opportunities.  Let’s break things down.

Challenge #1: Keeping activists safe.

Whether violence at a protest, or misconduct by a member of the community, crisis threatens to cause immediate harm. The first challenge we face, therefore, is to protect those who have been, or will be, victimized. At DxE, we recommend that all chapters have activists trained to be legal observers/representatives, lawyers in place in case something goes wrong, and nonviolence-trained “defenders” in the unlikely event that a protest becomes dangerous. (It's important to point out that, out of hundreds of protests across the world, only a tiny handful, significantly less than 1%, have resulted in violence.) We also have a conflict resolution team, including two members designated to receive misconduct concerns, to immediately intervene in the event a conflict between community members takes a downturn.

The truth is that no matter how good your culture and policies are, crisis will still erupt. When our activists in Southern California were attacked (twice in the past two months), all of them were following standard protocol that we at DxE have been using for over two years without incident. When one of our organizers admitted to a serious breach of trust, even those closest to him were stunned by the confession. In such cases, all we can do is move quickly to ensure that those who are harmed are immediately given support and defense.

Challenge #2: Maintaining confidence in the network.

Crisis also threatens a network’s culture and integrity. As grassroots activists, we rely entirely on the faith that activists hold in the network, and one another, to sustain our commitments. When activists feel unsafe, uncomfortable, or distrustful, we lose our movement’s most important asset: confidence. The key to maintaining this confidence, in turn, is integrity and transparency.

At DxE, we focus on integrity by asking all of our organizers to sign a strong statement of values. These values, along with a clear conflict resolution process, help us ensure that our public faces and voices maintain the honesty, responsibility, empathy, and humility -- the integrity --  that are so key to maintaining confidence within a network.  

We further insist on transparency in all our decisions. Every week, we check in with our community members and ask them for critical feedback at our DxE Meetup. We do the same on an international basis on monthly strategy calls. We open ourselves up to private feedback. And when we become aware of conflict, we do our best to directly and openly address it (while respecting privacy concerns), rather than let it fester in rumor and innuendo.

Challenge #3: Mitigating conflict.

Crisis, because it involves pain and emotional intensity, often leads to conflict even among once close allies. Because we are vulnerable in a moment of crisis, we look for support from our community and friends. And if they do not respond as we would like them to respond, the hurt caused can be both significant and difficult to overcome. Disagreement quickly becomes perceived betrayal.

Did my friends respond swiftly enough? Did they respond strongly enough? Could they have done something to prevent the crisis from happening? These questions naturally go through our heads. And the discord sown by such thoughts can be fatal to a movement.

Jacob Ferguson was an informant who incited his fellow activists... then turned them over to the FBI. 

Worse yet, crisis is a moment of opportunism for those who seek to bring a network or movement down. The classic example is infiltrators. Whether on the payroll of a corporation or the government, a few rumors by a well-positioned activist can send a conflict spiraling out of control. (One of Cointelpro’s specialties in the 1960s was sexual innuendo, e.g. claiming that various activists were gay, which was seen as a mark of shame in that time period.) Others may use crisis to defend or deflect from their own behavior. It’s notable that, in recent controversies involving sexual misconduct, many of the loudest voices condemning other activists have been those who have something to hide, e.g. prior histories of misconduct. (We know this because community members have privately raised concerns about some of the most ostentatious critics.) Finally, even the most well-intentioned activists can sometimes devolve into hatefulness when caught up in a fit of righteous indignation. The New York Times wrote a wonderful piece on this phenomenon just a few days ago, When the Cyber Bully is You.

Some of the greatest activists in history have noted that their movements rose or fell largely on the basis of their ability, not to confront the oppressor, but to productively resolve conflict. (King’s famous Letter from a Birmingham Jail was a response to an attack, not by opponents of civil rights, but allies in the anti-racist struggle!) The beauty of grassroots movements -- their ability to scale up by attracting ordinary people from all walks of life-- becomes their curse when the lack of centralized authority allows conflict to rage throughout the network. Instead of focusing on collective action against systems of oppression, activists devote their time and energy to trying to destroy one another, whether due to real or perceived slights. A large nonprofit, of course, can simply fire discontented employees and force everyone else to get back to work. Grassroots movements have no such power.

So how do we prevent in-fighting from destroying us? There are at least three important mechanisms we use at DxE. First, we focus on creating a culture of nonviolent communication and restorative (rather than retributive) justice. Instead of assigning blame and “calling out,” we focus on restoring harm and “calling in.” No matter how terrible the transgression, we always offer to sit down and talk. Second, we ask our organizers to use private dispute resolution, pursuant to pre-agreed polices, as a first step in managing any conflict. When they deviate from this, we ask them to look to the values they’ve agreed to, and ask them whether they’ve lived up to those values. Third and finally, we always emphasize our shared purpose. The truth is that some conflict cannot be resolved. Whenever you bring together a large group of people, many will have tactical, strategic, or even ethical disagreements that endure despite our best efforts. Learning to live with conflict, by emphasizing shared purpose and opportunities for collaboration despite conflict, is key to effective organizing in the grassroots. (Sometimes, this means stepping apart from one another and working in parallel, rather than as part of the same network or team.)

Rising up to these three challenges -- keeping activists safe, maintaining confidence, and mitigating conflict -- is absolutely crucial to a movement’s vitality. But while the work we do to overcome these challenges can often seem frustrating, depressing, or pointless, it’s important to also see that crisis can also provide opportunities that, in the long term, benefit a movement’s strength and growth.  

Opportunity #1: Crisis teaches us.

One of the most famous mantras of the startup world is that you have to fail to succeed. The idea is quite simple -- that the only way to avoid mistakes is to avoid doing anything at all. The key, then, is whether you learn from a mistake. Indeed, some of the greatest success stories in history, e.g. Steve Jobs and Apple Computer (which was brought to its knees in the 1990s by Microsoft before being revitalized in the 2000s with the iPod and iPhone) were grounded in terrible mistakes.

Crisis presents a powerful teaching moment for us, both individually and collectively. Our attention is paid to an issue. We can look back through time and ask if we could have done anything better. And we have the energy and willpower to change our practices and policies. The physical attacks on activists, for example, have induced us at DxE to make knowing your rights and security culture a more prominent and accessible part of our activist resource database. We’ve made concerted efforts to develop a network of volunteer lawyers across the country. Sexual harassment in the network, in turn, has caused us to put together a clear and visible process for handling sexual misconduct. We’re also offering training and resources for both women and men in handling such difficult situations. Perhaps most importantly, crisis offers a moment for all of us, individually and as communities, to reflect on our own behavior. In the long term, the learning from these moments will help us build a stronger movement.

Opportunity #2: Crisis tests us.

When I was a child, I played basketball on a five foot hoop across the street. While scoring was incredibly easy, it also provided no challenge -- and no proof that I was actually any good as a basketball player. (It turns out I wasn’t any good. I never made the basketball team.)

In times of difficulty, it’s important to remember this. If we don’t face challenges, then we won’t have any opportunity to prove that we can rise to the challenge. This is important not just for the learning function a challenge provides, but because it builds our internal confidence and our external credibility. After recent incidents with violence and police misconduct, for example, my hope is that our activists in Southern California and Tucson feel even more confidence in our ability to swiftly provide support in the event that something goes wrong. Similarly, Priya, who took the lead in handling recent sexual misconduct within the network, has heard countless encouraging stories from women who feel empowered by the fact that DxE took action when we learned of sexual misconduct. While crisis hurts in the short run, then, it also presents an opportunity to test our mettle, and bolster our confidence and credibility, if we can rise to the challenge.  

Remember, if movement building were easy, it would have already been done!

Opportunity #3: Crisis ties us in bonds of solidarity.

Journalist Sebastian Junger, who has reported on war zones across the world, makes a startling observation that individuals who go through horrendous episodes of violence (leading to depression, anxiety and PTSD) often enthusiastically return to the war zone even in the face of debilitating fears. The reason? The shared experience of facing crisis together creates powerful bonds of solidarity. Individuals who have experienced war together feel compelled and even inspired to return, because they care so much for their team that they are prepared to risk their own lives to support their friends.

The attack on DxE activists in Southern California helped us build our confidence, perseverance, and solidarity. 

This is, in fact, one of the most powerful mechanisms of nonviolent direct action. Enduring a difficult situation with fellow activists ties us together in a way that less challenging activism simply does not accomplish. When we collectively speak in difficult social environments, we feel we’ve accomplished something that we would not have been able to do on our own. That empowers us, and our community. And, in a movement that suffers from astonishing rates of burnout, this is a powerful and important effect.

The support shown for Abraham (the gay person of color who was assaulted with homophobic slurs and targeted by the police)  in the wake of the physical violence in Southern California has been absolutely inspiring. We’ve united against a common adversary -- animal abusers -- and offered our moral, physical, and economic support for activists who have been wrongly targeted in a time of crisis. These ties will hold us together as we face even more difficult challenges in the future. And while the road is bumpy -- and some may even drop out on the way there -- taking the difficult road together will ultimately make all of us stronger and more committed to the movement, to the animals, and, yes, to one another.

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The first time I was attacked a protest about a decade ago (by a police officer, no less), I was shaken to the core. I was at a one-person demonstration on a cold Chicago street, outside of a fur store. And when my face was shoved down onto the cement, I could hardly even believe what had just happened. When I sat in an isolated jail cell afterwards, nursing my scratches and wounds, I could hardly hold myself back from breaking down into tears. I was uncertain about what I would be charged with, stunned by the seeming corruption in the police department, and hopeless about the prospect of continuing as an activist in the face of overwhelming odds.

When I was slugged in the face last year at Chipotle, however, things could not have been any more different. Both Priya and I received immense support and comfort, not just from fellow activists at the demonstration but from the entire DxE network. We talked openly within the community about what we could do to prevent such a future occurrence, or at least ensure that those attacked would be prepared in the face of violence. And instead of pointing fingers at one another -- “Why did you incite him?” or “Why didn’t you move to help more quickly?” -- we focused on our shared purpose, even as we discussed what steps each of us could have taken to ensure that such an incident would not repeat itself.

In the long run, getting slugged in the face in May 2014 became one of the most positive experiences of my activist history.

The Chinese word for crisis shares a common character — ji or 机 — with the Chinese word for opportunity.

This is a more general principle. The Chinese word for crisis shares a common character -- ji or -- with the Chinese word for opportunity. And there is truth to this ancient parallel. If we can rise up to the challenges of crisis, and see them as opportunities to teach us, to test us, and to create ties of solidarity, we can transform even the most painful moments into opportunities to learn, grow, and flourish. 

The Backlash Effect: How to Transform Violence into Justice

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The Backlash Effect: How to Transform Violence into Justice

Nonviolent direct action induces annoyance, hatred, and violence by our opponents. Here are 3 keys to channeling the backlash into progress for social justice. 

by Wayne Hsiung

Nicholas is not an obvious “social justice warrior.” He’s a Star Wars geek with a minimal social media profile. He’s soft-spoken and refuses any sort of attention. At protests or parties, you’ll almost always find him hovering somewhere in the background -- usually with a camera. And when he joined the DxE Southwest Speaking Tour last fall, he was commonly mistaken, even by other DxE actvists, as “some random tech guy.” You might not know, then, that Nick is one of the most high-impact activists In DxE’s network.

And yet that is exactly what he is.

Video of the attack in Palm Springs. 

When this unassuming Star Wars geek was viciously assaulted by Omar Haddedou, a manager of the high-end, foie-gras-serving restaurant Le Vallauris. Mr. Haddedou was so enraged by the protest that he rampaged through the activists with a large wooden club, menacing a pregnant woman and children. Nick, Abraham, and many others jumped forward to defend the activists, but Nick’s face and camera took the brunt of the attack. The latter did not survive. But the remarkable thing is that, even as his face was being clubbed, Nick directly confronted the violence with camera in hand. He did not run. He did not strike back. He did not even curse. He calmly continued recording, while literally being beaten in the face, and even followed the man as he walked back into the building after the attack.

You can see in the video that the other protesters are stunned. They stare at Nick’s face, bruised by the assault, and wonder what to do next. But Nick simply says, “I’m ok,” and continues filming the demo. And the protest goes on.

In so many ways, Nick -- quiet, unassuming, geeky Nick -- perfectly distilled what DxE is all about: strength in nonviolence.

But the media uproar after the attack illustrates another important phenomenon in the history of social justice: the backlash effect. And understanding how this crucial effect works, and how we can deploy it, is vital to strategic use of nonviolence -- and the growth of our movement. But let’s step back for some historical context.

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In 1954, in one of the most radical decisions in the Supreme Court’s history, Chief Justice Earl Warren held in Brown v. Board of Education that segregation in public schools was unconstitutional. What the public often remembers as a resounding victory for civil rights, however, was actually a barely-noticeable hiccup in an engine of racial oppression. Harvard historian Michael Klarman writes that the decision’s “direct impact on school desegregation was limited.” State governments in both the North and the South, it turns out, had no interest in actually upholding the ruling. The public was similarly dismissive, as the case had little to no impact on swaying popular opinion against the hateful system known as Jim Crow. Even communities of color seemed indifferent to Brown. Indeed, it was not until almost a decade later that the mass uprising we call the Civil Rights Movement finally succeeded in capturing the public imagination with Martin Luther King Jr’s March on Washington.

But then was Brown just a waste of time? In fact, historians now believe that Brown was a crucial point in the struggle for racial equality. But Brown is not seen as important because it did anything to directly alleviate racism, or build support for an anti-racist movement. Rather, Brown worked because it triggered a massive and violent reaction by the South -- a backlash. This backlash provoked and polarized the issue of racial discrimination, made the tiny handful of nonviolent activists appear as heroes, and forced fence-sitters across the country to finally take a stand on civil rights. And when so forced, the public eventually sided with the nonviolent protesters fighting for equality over the violent racists assaulting those same protesters with batons, fire hoses, and police dogs.

Attention to economic inequality was repeatedly triggered by incidents of violence against protesters. 

The backlash effect of Brown, it turns out, is not a historical anomaly. Backlash has been vital to the growth of virtually every important movement for social justice. The violent reactions against Emmeline Pankhurt’s disruptions of Parliament and other important political institutions were crucial to the global movement for women’s suffrage. (Pankhurt’s bravery earned her a place as one of Time Magazine’s 100 most important people of the 20th century.) LGBTQ liberation was utterly stalled until police beatings during the Stonewall Riots finally put issue onto the table. (The number of gay groups nationwide increased from 50 to 2500 within two years of the riot.) And most recently, Occupy Wall Street’s sudden and massive growth was triggered almost entirely by brutal clashes with the police

It’s not surprising, then, that important moments in DxE’s growth have been triggered by clashes. Our first viral video, which inspired copycat actions in 6 cities, involved an over-the-top hostile response by the employees at a Sprouts grocery store. Our first notable press hit was triggered by a disruption of the film American Meat at Stanford that induced a violent and angry response by the audience (including one audience member shrieking, “You’re about to face some violence!”). And the #DisruptSpeciesism videos that exploded last fall were catalyzed by an initial speakout by Priya that contrasted her calm strength and confidence with the restaurant’s violent response.

The recent clash involving Nick, then, is simply the latest example of the power of the backlash effect to provoke attention and mobilize support. The resulting press coverage, which has been universally positive, has exposed hundreds of thousands of people to the debate over animal rights. We have received dozens of comments, emails, and messages from new activists asking how they can get involved with the #ItsNotFoodItsViolence campaign.

There are three important strategic points to make, however, if we are to channel the energy created by the backlash effect into progress.

First, nonviolence is key. Gandhi believed in refusing to back down in the face of violence (nonviolence, he said, is very different from cowardice), but he believed just as strongly in refusing to strike back. And a century of historical analysis and social scientific research supports Gandhi’s approach. Cornell’s Sidney Tarrow identifies nonviolent disruption as “the strongest weapon of social movements” because it provokes attention, broadens the circle of debate, and serves as inspiring evidence of determination. It allows movements with limited resources to leverage small initial support to create massive impacts. More recently, political scientist Erica Chenowith’s work on civil resistance, noted by the American Political Science Association as the most important research published in 2012, shows why nonviolent disruption has been so effective.  When disruption diminishes into so-called “contained” activism (i.e. working for reforms within the system), it loses its ability to provoke or inspire. When it devolves into violence, it loses public support, depresses activist participation, and gives both corporations and government the cover they need to violently suppress a movement before it can take hold. Nonviolent direct action is the sweet spot that fosters a movement’s strength and growth.  

The fact that Nick and the other activists did not strike back, then, was absolutely vital to maintaining not just the moral but the strategic high ground. We probably would not have been able to share the video with the press, after all, if Nick had fought back, as we would have to worry about Nick also facing criminal charges for assault.

Nonviolence asks us to confront, not avoid, injustice and violence. 

Second, true nonviolence requires us to confront, not avoid, injustice and violence. Many people confuse nonviolence with the mere avoidance of violence. But this is the opposite of what nonviolent direct action asks of us. Powerful movements from antislavery in the United States (William Lloyd Garrison burning the US Constitution in the face of a mob of Bostonians threatening to lynch him) to the pro-democracy movement in China (the Unknown Protester, who charged in front of a column of tanks in Tiananmen Square) have encouraged activists to aggressively seek out and challenge, not avoid, violence. To confront violence with the power of protest. To place our own comfort, safety, and even lives at stake to protect those who cannot protect themselves. 

Nick did not run from the conflict. Far from it, you see him rushing up to defend his fellow activists when the initial tussle beings. And he continues to film and follow the violent man, even as he is being battered across the face. Other activists at the demo, notably Abraham Santamaria and Missy Freeland, similarly jumped forward to protect Nick when the violent man turns his ire on the camera. This is the sort of bravery, confidence, and strength we must find in ourselves if we are going to change a violent system.   

Third, the energy created by nonviolence and backlash must be channeled into community to create long-term change. Martin Luther King, Jr. emphasized that nonviolent direct action was the product not of individual fortitude but the “Beloved Community.” One of the founders of ACT UP (the groundbreaking LGBTQ advocacy and AIDS awareness network), whom I have had extensive personal discussions with, emphasized to me that the provocative demonstrations that drove progress on LGBTQ rights would not have been possible without a burgeoning community of gay community centers. The community offered activists legal, financial, and moral support as they took greater risks to confront prejudice and hate. And movement scholars across many disciplines have shown the crucial importance of social ties in motivating widespread participation in movements for change. Nonviolent direct action -- and, specifically, the backlash effect -- is the generator that creates energy, but community is the battery that stores that energy to perform the hard work of social change over the long term. 

Nick (along with his fellow organizers in the Inland Empire) has done an incredible job of building not just a movement for protest, but a community for activists to rest, reminisce, and recharge in the days after a difficult action. In fact, just one day after the attack, Nick and the other Inland Empire activists had a wonderful potluck that I had the pleasure to briefly Skype into. I could see the friendship and camaraderie that was spreading through the community. This is not only good for sustaining activism. It’s good for Nick, who needs our support to see that the struggles and obstacles he faces -- including, in this case, violence -- are worth it. 

The community at DxE - Inland Empire. 

And our movement will surely face more obstacles and struggles. With powerful corporations, institutions, and traditions beginning to recognize the threat posed by the animal rights movement, tension is inevitable. But as King himself said, “[W]e who engage in nonviolent direct action are not the creators of tension. We merely bring to the surface the hidden tension that is already alive.” Facing this tension is a necessary element to our movement’s progress and growth. But we can find solace in the fact that modern movements for justice have not required the same sacrifices that were made by activists 200 years ago. It took a violent war that decimated an entire nation to end antebellum slavery, but the LGBTQ liberation movement and Occupy Wall Street surged forward with comparatively little loss of life. Perhaps our society has learned lessons from 200 years of struggle… most importantly, that progress requires agitation.

We should take on the challenge of nonviolence, then, with pride. Violent responses are a measure of the work that needs to be done -- a measure of the widespread apathy and even hostility toward the cause of animal rights. But they are also an opportunity for us to prove our moral strength. If we can maintain the moral/strategic high ground, confront rather than avoid violence, and tap into the power of community to fuel our movement’s inspiration and growth, we can transform brutal attacks like the Palm Springs incident into forces for justice.

And when we have an entire movement which has steeled itself, as Nick did, to take nonviolent direct action -- to bring to the surface the hidden tension that is already alive -- we will change the world. 

How The New York Times’ Exposé of the Meat Research Center is Deceiving Readers… and Hurting Animals

How The New York Times’ Exposé of the Meat Research Center is Deceiving Readers… and Hurting Animals

The Times condemned the abandonment of a lamb in the pasture but failed to point out the millions of other baby animals are killed, mutilated, and forcibly taken from their mothers as standard practice in the industry. 

The Times condemned the abandonment of a lamb in the pasture but failed to point out the millions of other baby animals are killed, mutilated, and forcibly taken from their mothers as standard practice in the industry. 

DxE’s lead investigator explains how the Times’ grossly misleading reporting reinforces three myths about animal agriculture.

by Wayne Hsiung

Yesterday, The New York Times published an article about a little known government program in Nebraska -- the Meat Animal Research Center --  with horrifying stories of abuse, including baby animals starved or crushed, animals subjected to genital mutilation, and countless other animals suffering from diseases such as mastitis. The article quickly became one of the most shared on the Times’ site, and the world collectively gasped at the animal cruelty exposed by the Times.

So why did I -- as someone who has spent the better part of 15 years fighting for the animals we use for food often at the very places where they are being held captive or killed -- find myself shaking my head, laughing, or even crying out in outrage while reading the piece? It was not just because the article (and its Pulitzer Prize winning author Michael Moss) demonstrated a startling ignorance of animal agriculture, though that ignorance was aptly shown.  No, I found myself reacting so negatively because the article’s focus on an obscure research center served to mask the far more insidious systemic problem: namely, that violence against animals is everywhere, including at the Times’ favorite grocer (and advertiser) Whole Foods. Indeed, the Times’ shockingly sloppy reporting on the issue propagates three dangerous myths.

Myth #1: Premature death is an unusual problem in animal agriculture. Slaughter, in turn, is humane and well regulated.

The Times writes that its investigation has shown that animals at the Meat Research Center are “subjected to illness, pain and premature death.” It uses a number of powerful stories to illustrate this point -- including a little lamb who was sick and left to starve in a grassy field -- and mentions that “calves have been dying at high rates since 1984, and the easy care lambs for 10 years.” In contrast, the Times writes, “[t]he center’s parent agency, the Agriculture Department, strictly polices the treatment of animals at slaughterhouses and private laboratories.” The reader is left with the impression that, if not for the insidious Meat Research Center, animals would have the opportunity to live their lives out peacefully! (Indeed, even at the Center, it appears the problem of “premature death” has only existed since 1984.)

Left unspoken: all animals in the agricultural system are victims of “premature death.” Chickens are killed at six weeks. Pigs at six months. Cows at 1.5 years. Hens such as Mei Hua, who we rescued from an egg farm, are killed at around 2 years. In all cases, the animals are still juveniles when their lives are ended -- both chronologically and in terms of physical and psychological characteristics. Moreover, the “strict” policing of slaughterhouses that the Times article describes is in fact an industry-run charade. Nearly two thirds of slaughterhouses systematically fail to properly stun animals, leaving them screaming in pain and terror as their bodies are torn to pieces on the slaughter line. And the minimal requirements of the Humane Slaughter Act -- which does not cover poultry -- are hardly even enforced. Investigators have relayed stories of showing up at facilities they are legally obligated to inspect… and simply being refused access to the facility. This is the natural result, of course, when the Department of Agriculture is a revolving door for industry executives.

Contrary to the Times' reporting, stories of distressed animals left to die -- such as Mei Hua pictured here -- are routine in all of animal agriculture. 

None of this even begins to address the millions of animals who die from starvation, disease, or sheer neglect even before they get to slaughter. Anyone who (unlike the Times reporters) had actually been to an animal farm would recognize this, as the “premature death” toll is quite apparent from the corpses littered everywhere on the premises. The hen we rescued from a Whole Foods farm, Mei Hua, would have been another such victim if we had not arrived on the scene and rushed her to emergency medical care.

Myth #2: Mutilation, confinement, and other abusive practices are unusual in animal production.

The Times similarly recounts horrific stories of abuse at the Meat Research Center, including disease, mutilation, and confinement.  “A single, treatable malady — mastitis, a painful infection of the udder — has killed more than 625,” the writer explains. “[P]regnant ewes were injected with so much of the male hormone testosterone that it began to deform their babies’ genitals, making urination difficult… An animal manager, Devin M. Gandy, complained in 2012 that swine were kept in pens so small, 4 feet by 4 feet, that they appeared to violate basic rules on animal care.” Perhaps the most terrifying example of abuse is the story of a “young cow, a teenager” who was tied down and subjected to repeated sexual assault by “six bulls.”

The Times, once again, makes it seem as if all of these practices are unusual forms of abuse. (After all, there would be no “story” otherwise.) In fact, the exact practices condemned by the Times are routine practices in animal agriculture, including on so-called humane farms. For example:

-          While the author condemns the death of 625 cows from mastitis (a painful infection of the udders caused by overmilking), out of 580,000 animals housed by the facility since 1985, hundreds of thousands of dairy cows die from the exact condition every year, including on “humane farms.” Indeed, the annual death/cull rate from the condition -- which some reports have found to be as high as one third of the entire herd annually -- is so high that all dairy cows (even those who have no immediate medical emergency) are slaughtered at around five years. Their bodies are too broken for them to go on. 

-          The Times expresses horror at “deformed genitals” but fails to acknowledge that male pigs and cows go through genital mutilation -- castration without anesthetic -- as routine practice on all farms. Once again, this is allowed by every “humane” certification standard, including Certified Humane, GAP, and Animal Welfare Approved, which have all been enthusiastically recommended by the Times’ writers in prior articles. 

-          The Times decries the extreme confinement of pigs at the research center but fails to point out that Whole Foods supplier Niman Ranch, which loves to brag about how its pigs are raised “outdoors or in deeply-bedded pens,” permits animals to be raised in as little as one third of the space (5 square feet compared to 16 square feet) allotted for the pigs by the research center. (Imagine a 200 pound man living his entire life in a bathtub. This is the reality of Whole Foods' "humane" farms.) 

Graphic footage of recto-vaginal assault, which millions of cows suffer through on farms across the world. 

-          Finally, while the Times recounts with horror the story of a “teenager” who is subjected to repeated sexual assault, it completely ignores the fact that recto-vaginal assault, in which a man violently inserts his arm into a young cow's anus and vagina simultaneously, is the standard method of insemination for all 9 million dairy cows in this country. You can see for yourself (WARNING: GRAPHIC LINK) the fear and pain this practice causes the animals. (The farmer in the video, which was industry-produced, himself acknowledges the fear the animal feels as she is about to be violated.) 

If even more horrific practices are standard practice for the entire industry, why is the Times focusing its ire on an obscure research center that no one has ever heard of?

Well, that brings us to the next myth:

Myth #3: Industry is making rapid progress in improving animal welfare.

I previously noted that the Times has a dual interest in promoting the myth of humane animal agriculture. First, it knows what its readers want to hear. In the increasingly polarized, audience-driven world of news media (Fox News, etc.), this creates a strong incentive to distort facts to serve the readers’ pre-existing worldview. None of the Times’ readers want to hear about the cruelty inherent to eating animals, so the Times ignores it completely. Second, the Times has a massive financial stake in maintaining advertising from the fastest-growing and most media savvy corporations in the world, i.e. humanewashers such as Chipotle and Whole Foods.

It should come as little surprise to those of us who have observed the Times’ shameful reporting on animal issues, then, that it bends over backwards to defend the prominent name brands of animal agriculture:

Last January, Tyson Foods told its suppliers to start using pain medicine when they castrate or remove the tails of pigs, and to stop putting pigs in pens so small they cannot move. Whole Foods and some other supermarkets are refusing to buy fresh meat from sources that do not meet their standards for animal welfare.

Sounds great, right? Except there are some disturbing holes. The reference to Tyson, for example, fails to point out that the letter sent to suppliers (a direct response to an undercover video showcasing horrific abuse of pigs) did not impose any actual requirements. It merely “encouraged” and “supported” such changes, which, of course, the entire industry has been doing for the past 10,000 years. (When was the last time an industry rep admitted that he supported abuse?) Whole Foods, in turn, is described as “refusing to buy” from sources that fail to meet their standards, but the Times fails to point out that 93% of the funding for the “independent” Global Animal Partnership -- the source of Whole Foods’ standards -- is, you guessed it, provided by Whole Foods itself. The one and only time Whole Foods’ standards have actually been independently scrutinized -- by DxE’s recent investigation -- exposed the moral and factual fraud embedded in Whole Foods’ entire humane meat mythology. And yet, far from “refusing to buy,” the company doubled down on its supplier, a farm run by a man who has publicly stated that he does not believe in the existence of “happy chickens.”

Images from the research center, such as the above, show far better conditions than even so-called "humane" farms. So why does the Times make the abuses within seem like unusual cruelties? 

Indeed, by any objective measure, the Meat Research Center is doing far better than the Tysons and Whole Foods of the world. For example, while the institute is condemned for having insufficient veterinary staff for the 30,000 or so animals on site, animals in agricultural facilities never receive any veterinary care at all. Moreover, while the institute absolutely is involved in shameful neglect of animals -- abandoning some to die from predator attacks or inclement weather -- the green pastures at the center are light years better than the images we took from a “certified humane” Whole Foods farm, where the animals were cramped in such filthy, disease-ridden conditions that we had to hold our breath every time we went in. And while the Times rightly accuses the institute of emphasizing profit over pain -- citing internal documents where pain is mentioned 2 times and profit over 100 --- the mere acknowledgment that animals are feeling creatures is better than the Whole Foods farmer who disturbingly believes that chickens cannot feel pain at all.

What, exactly, is going on? Why would the Times ignore the mountain for the molehill?

There are three possible explanations. .

The first and most charitable explanation is that the reporter and editors are simply ignorant. While the Times is the gold standard for journalism, our recent experience with the Times shows that its reporters are surprisingly sloppy -- misquoting, making clear factual errors, and otherwise stumbling in the face of press deadlines.

The second explanation is the one that I offered previously: that the Times is bowing to financial pressure and incentives. It’s worth noting that this bias need not be insidious or even intentional. Ample psychological research shows that people go out of their way to believe things that serve their self interest. So, for example, if a Whole Foods CEO were to make a call to the Times’ publisher, explaining why allegations against the company were false, the publisher would be inclined to believe his story. After all, millions of dollars might be at stake in this belief. In contrast, the Meat Research Center is an obscure institute that has no advertising dollars. Indeed, attacking the “unnatural” practices at the center will very likely push people to seek out “natural” alternatives at Whole Foods and Chipotle -- the Times’ partners in crime.

Given the stranglehold of industry and tradition over public dialogue, independent media is vital to creating a more honest look at animal industry. 

The third and most likely explanation, however, is the most terrifying. Perhaps the reporter did actually make a good faith effort at due diligence. And perhaps the Times isn't unduly influenced by financial pressure. Instead, perhaps they have so normalized the violence against animals in agriculture that they can’t even see it as violence. The distinctive feature of this investigation, after all, is not the violence -- far more gruesome practices are routine in animal farming -- but rather that it’s occurring in the context of “experiments.” Follow-up coverage of the Times’ story (see, e.g., here and here) seems to also emphasize this point. The logical and moral distinction between torturing animals for science, on the one hand, or gustatory pleasure, on the other, is of course completely arbitrary. But even the typical New York Times reporter (or reader) may not be willing to acknowledge this, since it might implicate their own behavior.

What's the moral of the story? The Times' incredible efforts to ignore or even disguise violence that's happening right in front of their eyes shows us that we can’t just show people the violence. (They’ve already seen it, and are quick to dismiss it so long as it’s “normal.”) We have to make our own media, and craft our own stories -- through facebook, youtube, twitter, and every other platform we have -- in a way that interprets the violence as, well, violence. We have to empower critical voices with less bias and more knowledge, such as James McWilliams’ The Daily Pitchfork. And above all, instead of relying on Big Media alone, we have to inspire people on the ground to be change agents in their own communities. Big Media will eventually come around, but only if we force the issue onto the table and point out the absurdities in the entire system. And that is precisely why we at DxE take nonviolent direct action

Did The New York Times Cover Up Whole Foods's Fraud?

Did The New York Times Cover Up Whole Foods's Fraud?

by Wayne Hsiung

Basic failures in the Times's coverage of DxE's investigation -- including fabricated quotes -- should lead us to question reliance on Big Media. 

When deciding where to pitch our investigation, we faced a question: do we go with Big Media publications that have a history of defending Whole Foods, and extensive ties with the company? Or do we shoot for a smaller outlet that might be more sympathetic to our message? Our press advisors resoundingly recommended the former route, as the reach and prestige of a flagship outlet such as The New York Times would be a huge victory for our network -- and for the message that we are trying to get out.

But there were a number of problems with the Times’s coverage by Sabrina Tavernise and Stephanie Strom, which prominent food writer James McWilliams described as "deeply skewed," that deserve a response. Indeed, there was a basic failure of the journalistic process, including refusal to consider incriminating documents, blatant misquotes, and massive over-representation of industry perspectives, that should remind us that, while Big Media gives us an opening, it’s up to us to deliver a truthful message.

The Times made, or amplified, flatly false factual statements, and used fabricated quotes to do so.

The industry’s main contention is that the video is not representative of the general conditions in the farm -- and, by extension, other humane suppliers. Steve Mahrt, for example, claims in the article that only “three chickens” were found in distress. The Times quotes Marht on this approvingly, linking within the quote (something I have never seen before in over 20 years reading the Times) to a propaganda video (link now dead) from the farm showing fraudulently idyllic conditions.

Mr. Mahrt said the video produced by Direct Action Everywhere “isn’t anywhere indicative of our operation — they had to go through 15 barns off and on over a year to find three chickens they could use to make their point in this video.”

The Times then moves on to me for a response.

For his part, Mr. Hsiung said Direct Action Everywhere had found dozens of chickens in poor condition but had highlighted only a few in the video.

The reader is left to puzzle. If we found dozens of hens in poor condition, why did we highlight “only a few” in the video? Our work -- and the challenge to Whole Foods -- is immediately discredited.

Contrary to the Times's reporting, the first few seconds of our video demonstrate dozens of hens in crowded, filthy conditions. 

Of course, if you’ve seen our video, you’re probably laughing. Indeed, this was the incredulous reaction of a (conservative, non-animal-loving) professor of law at the University of Chicago I shared the coverage with: The New York Times’s focus on the issue was ridiculous given that far more than three animals are shown in the video’s first 30 seconds. Moreover, we provided the Times with dozens of photos of sick and distressed animals, and documents from the farm itself proving that far more animals were dying every single day. (I suppose in the Times’s world, a brutal death is not a “poor condition?”)

But here’s the problem: the article didn’t initially link to the video (or even provide a photo). Brian Burns and I badgered the Times all day, but it wasn’t until almost a full day after the article was posted -- and all the viewers had already passed through the site -- that the link was finally included in the article.

That’s right. In coverage of an investigatory video exposing animal cruelty, the Times refused to post the video of the investigation, but did post (embedded within a direct quote) the response video by a known industry shill.

What in heaven’s name is going on?

It gets worse, though. Suppose the Times just felt the need to quote “both sides” and made an inadvertent error in failing to include the video initially. At least they gave us a chance to respond, right? And I got the chance to explain our video?

Wrong. Because the quote attributed to me -- that we highlighted only a few hens in the video -- was fabricated. Indeed, the Times sent me that exact statement, asking if it was accurate, and I rejected it. I wrote in response:

We personally witnessed hundreds of animals in extreme distress over the course of the investigation. (By implication, thousands more were similarly afflicted.) And all of the animals were suffering from the crowding and poor conditions inside the facility, even if they were not suffering from an immediate medical emergency. 

The reporter wrote back “thanks wayne” as if to confirm the correction… but somehow the original misquote -- saying that we highlighted “only a few” -- ended up in the final article. Unbelievable.

Another line of reasoning used by industry to argue that our footage was not representative was that the footage was not from the “organic” barns. But as anyone who has a passing understanding of industry certification would know -- and as we explained to the Times -- organic has nothing to do with certified humane status, and no welfare requirements beyond giving animals “access” to the outdoors. Michael Pollan (who unlike the Times called our investigation a “black eye” for industry) has pointed out that “access” can be something as simple as a tiny window through which the animals never even pass. And in this case, the farm had a permanent exemption to even this trivial requirement because of the alleged threat of avian flu. In short, the organic designation has no relevance to any of the abusive conditions we found. We further pointed out to the Times that there was absolutely no external distinction drawn between organic and non-organic barns, and that we visited most of the barns on the facility -- and drew footage from virtually all of our visits for the video. The Times failed to include any of this in their story.

The Times never bothered to check whether the eggs were being marketed as "certified humane." 

Finally, industry claimed that the barn at issue was not the one that was “certified humane.” Here, the Times’s failure was most astonishing. Because the industry rep herself -- Adele Douglass -- conceded that the certification had lapsed and no audit had actually been performed (due to staffing issues). But the Times not only accepted Douglass’s line of reasoning without question, despite its transparent absurdity (For heaven’s sake, how can they complain that it was “a different barn” when they hadn’t even done an audit?), but failed to point out that the products continued to be sold as “certified humane.” All it would have taken to verify this was a 5 minute trip to Whole Foods. But it was 5 minutes that the Times simply could not afford (perhaps literally, as I’ll discuss below) when it comes to questioning their -- and their readers’ -- favorite grocery giant.

The Times failed to scrutinize any claims made by Whole Foods. Indeed, it barely mentioned the company at all.

Whole Foods, by all measures, is the biggest player in this drama. In revenue, it is probably thousands of times larger than even the massive Petaluma Farms entity, and its brand and reputation -- and not some unknown farmer or standard -- are what drive people to consume “humane” animal products. Fortune Magazine has said that Whole Foods, not Petaluma Farms or Certified Humane, is taking over America.

Yet the article completely ignores Whole Foods -- making the company seem like an incidental buyer of the farm’s eggs (along with Organic Valley) -- and utterly fails to scrutinize any of the marketing claims (“Raised with Care,” “Cage Free,” and “Certified Humane”) that fill Whole Foods’s stores. Instead, the only treatment given the company in the article is this:

"Other than doing some personal research and going online to see what different certification labels require, it gets tricky for consumers — and for us, too,” said A. C. Gallo, president and chief operating officer of Whole Foods.
Whole Foods, which also sells Petaluma’s Rock Island, Uncle Eddie’s and Judy’s brands, has just begun giving suppliers its own set of required humane standards for laying hens. As part of that process, a Whole Foods executive toured Petaluma Farms in February, but did not see anything resembling what was shown in the video, Mr. Gallo said.

When I saw this, I could hardly believe what I was reading. The Times, which bashed our investigation’s accuracy (ignoring supporting documentation -- and their own eyes -- in the process), simply accepted Whole Foods’ statement that it was “tricky” to determine what various certifications mean and quickly moved on to explain that the company was beginning to move to “its own” standard for laying hens. Problem resolved!

As someone who worked as reporter myself for almost 10 years, including at CNN’s DC bureau, I can say this was a basic failure of journalistic integrity. Additional questions should have been asked. When did the Whole Foods executive visit the farm? What expertise do they have in assessing hen welfare? Was the visit announced or not announced? Heck, did the “executive” even go into a barn? (In my experience representing executives at Fortune 500 companies as a corporate lawyer, not too many would be comfortable sifting through the filth of a farm.)

The Times understandably hit us with a barrage of skeptical questions -- all of which were adequately answered (even if our answers and evidence were ignored) -- but did not even bother asking Whole Foods a single one.

Worse yet, even if Whole Foods simply was suffering from confusion over the “tricky” situation, as its own president admitted to the Times, what basis does the company then have for saying so confidently that its animals are raised with compassion and care? The Times’s story frames the “tricky” certification standards as a problem for Whole Foods but fails to point out that Whole Foods is the 800 pound gorilla driving the entire “humane certification” enterprise, making farmers like Mahrt fearfully quiver in the process. Whole Foods’s failure in this single instance should have been an opening for the Times to question the grocer -- and the entire industry’s -- reputation for rigorous standards, transparency, and ethical behavior. Instead, the piece was a clever defense of the industry -- deflecting concerns to a single player (Mahrt) and ignoring the systemic concern.

We made this point to the Times reporters over and over and over again. And yet not even a word of it was mentioned in the article, which brings us to the final problem.

The Times ignored our voice, and literally gave over 10 times more play to the industry voices despite the fact that our investigation triggered this coverage.

You would think that, in coverage of an investigation of cruelty, the Times would want to include something from, well, the actual investigators. But not only did the Times refuse to post our video, they also, despite many hours of interviews and communication over a month-long period, failed to quote us at all, beyond a four word slogan (“five steps of cruelty”). In contrast, they included over a hundred words from industry (and, once again, links embedded into the direct quotes to purportedly justify industry claims!). Indeed, the disproportionate coverage of industry perspectives makes the piece read less like investigative reporting and more like a press release from industry. What the heck is going on?

My best guess is that the Times did not like what we had to say. We emphasized throughout our investigation that our findings problematized the entire notion that animals could be “ethically used.” (“You’re not going to succeed at that,” the reporter said to me. I wondered what basis she had for interjecting that opinion into what should have been an objective interview.) We made absolutely clear that our investigation targeted the “best of the best” -- a farm that was certified by a standard supported by The Humane Society of the United States -- to show that this was not a problem of a single farm, or even a single grocer, but an entire system. But the Times flatly failed to make that connection, perhaps to protect is liberal, urban, meat-eating readers from the harsh truth of even so-called humane agriculture: It’s not food. It’s violence.

But there is a more cynical interpretation of these events. Subscription revenues have dropped in the past decade, with the onset of the internet revolution, and even flagship papers such as the Times are forced to rely on advertising to survive. The Times, which reported a $9 million loss last quarter, needs Whole Foods’s advertising dollars. We know Whole Foods is spending an unknown amount of its $20 million Values Matter advertising campaign with the Times. (The Times’s upper-middle-class readers are exactly the folks Whole Foods is targeting with their ads.) We know that even half of that advertising budget -- small by Whole Foods’s standards -- would transform the Times’ third quarter loss to a gain.  We know the Times, like other traditional media outlets, is in a fight to the death for financial survival. Is it surprising, then, that the Times ultimately takes the grocery giant’s side?

Never mind that we documented to the Times, using federal tax records, that 93% of the Whole Foods supposedly “independent” standards are funded by the company itself. Never mind that Whole Foods, unlike us, has a clear incentive to lie to the public -- and no regulatory apparatus to stop them in their lies. Never mind that Direct Action Everywhere is filled with people who have devoted their lives to public service -- not profit -- and have studied, worked at, and published at some of the most credible research institutions on the planet, including Berkeley, the University of Chicago, and MIT.

All of that doesn’t matter in the desperate struggle to defend Whole Foods.

But the real victim here is not just the Times’s advertising revenues. It’s journalistic integrity, public consciousness, and above all, the animals’ lives.

 

 

Why Farm Country Hates Whole Foods (Radio Interview)

Why Farm Country Hates Whole Foods (Radio Interview)

By Wayne Hsiung

The imaging on Whole Foods's cartons shows green pastures. Google Earth reveals the truth: a massive industrial facility. Note the huge latrine pit in the top left (and compare it in size to the semi trucks in the bottom right). 

We went on a radio show in Sonoma County (home of the Whole Foods farm) expecting hostility... but instead got incredible support. The Press Democrat of Santa Rosa, the paper local to the farm, also gave us surprisingly good front-page treatment. What exactly is going on? 

One way to explain it is that press in farm country has less of an interest in defending Whole Foods. The company makes its money in the urban metropolises of the world -- not rural, farm country -- and it spends most of its advertising dollars there, too. That may affect coverage in urban areas. James McWilliams recently took the New York Times to task, for example, for its biased coverage of our investigation. (I'll give my take on that blowup in a future blog post.) One can't help but wonder: How much is the Times's coverage being influenced by Whole Foods's just-announced $20 million advertising campaign

The other key point here is that the press in farm country already knows what our investigation reveals: the company is a fraud. When you drive through farm country, and see the massive industrial sheds instead of the idyllic mythology that Whole Foods portrays to the public, it's impossible to fall for the company's lies. My friend Jon Spear pointed out one vivid example -- the horrible smell of excrement that fills the air near a so-called "cage-free," "organic," "certified humane" facility. Indeed, the very facility we investigated has a latrine pit that is probably larger than a few football fields, and the smell from it is stiflingly bad. (Even the latrine pit, however, cannot compare to the smell from inside one of these facilities. As our videographer pointed out, it's so bad that we wore breathing masks... and still had trouble breathing.) 

There are two lessons to be taken from this. First, don't underestimate farm country. Those who are direct witnesses to the horrendous violence (including environmental violence) done by industrial agriculture are often the first to decry corporate lies. Second, concern over abuse of animals truly is everywhere. Steve Jaxon was as concerned with violence against animals (you hear him audibly gasp a few times as I'm describing what's happening to animals) as he was with corporate fraud. And he is channeling exactly what his listeners feel. Indeed, that is his job. And his reaction to our investigation should give us hope for the world.