Viewing entries tagged

First-Ever DxE Demo in Mexico City

First-Ever DxE Demo in Mexico City

By Saryta Rodriguez and Juan Carlos Fraga


En Julio 2015, la primera demostración de DXE en la Ciudad de México se llevo a cabo. Al enterarse de esta emocionante noticia, me acerqué a la activista con sede en México - Ciudad Juan Carlos Fraga para más detalles. Este fue un evento verdaderamente inspirador, y es un placer para mí compartir puntos de vista de Juan Carlos con ustedes. Disfrute! (Y muchisimas gracias, Juan Carlos!)

In July 2015, the first-ever DxE demo in Mexico City took place. Upon hearing this exciting news, I reached out to Mexico-City-based activist Juan Carlos Fraga for details. This was a truly inspiring event, and it is my pleasure to share Juan Carlos’s insights with you. Enjoy! (And many thanks, Juan Carlos!)

SR: Dondes estaban? (Where were you?)

JC: La acción se llevo a cabo en el centro de la ciudad en una calle en la que hay mucha gente y hay más de 10 restaurantes de comida rápida que venden cuerpos de animales como comida. Logramos hacer la acción en 12 lugares en algunos desde afuera y en otros entrando, estos lugares eran KFC, Mc Donalds, Burger King, Pizzas Hut, Carl's Junior y otros menos conocidos.

The action took place in the city’s center, on a street where there are many people, as well as over ten fast-food restaurants that sell animals’ bodies as food. We ultimately performed the action in 12 locations— some outside and some inside. These places included a KFC, a McDonalds, a Burger King, a Pizza Hut, a Carl's Junior and other lesser-known restaurant chains.

Left to right: Sujeto X, Jelly Mizery, Pako, Nut, Laura, Nelly, Perla, Marce, Fany, Kitty, and two more amazing activists!

Left to right: Sujeto X, Jelly Mizery, Pako, Nut, Laura, Nelly, Perla, Marce, Fany, Kitty, and two more amazing activists!

SR: Cuantos gentes llegaron para participar? (How many people showed up to participate?)

JC: Esperabamos ser menos, pero fuimos muchos— un poco más de 30 personas!

We expected to be few, but wound up being many— just over 30 people!

SR: ¿Cómo la gente viendo reaccionan? Aggresivo? Simpático? Confundido? (How did the people watching react? Aggresively? Sympathetically? Confusedly?)

JC: Algunas personas nos ignoraron e hicieron como que no nos escuchaban, pero fue muy buena la experiencia en un restaurant muy pequeño con solo 4 mesas en el que al terminar, las personas se quedaron muy pensativas y nos aplaudían cuando nos fuimos. En un Burger King, cuando el personal de seguridad intentaba sacarnos una señora les dijo que no nos sacaran que nos dejaran terminar. Lo que fue una experiencia muy buena, y además la señora logró que el policía dejará de molestarnos y nos dejara terminar el speech por lo que, en general, la actitud de la gente fue muy buena, ya que nuestra actitud hacia ellos en todo momento también lo fue. Esperamos haber dejado un mensaje que no olvidarán y que ojalá tomen en cuenta la siguiente vez que van a comer.

Some people ignored us and acted as though they were not listening to us, but we had a great experience in a very small restaurant with only 4 tables in which, at the end, people were very thoughtful and applauded us as we left. In a Burger King, when security personnel tried to kick us out, a lady told them not to do so and to let us finish. It was a very good experience, and the lady also convinced the police stop bothering us and let us finish our speech. So, in general, the attitude of the people was very good, and our attitude towards them at all times was also. We hope to have left a message they will not forget and will hopefully take into account the next time they go to eat.

SR: ¿Qué dijeron la gente que hablaron por los animales? (What did the people who gave speak-outs say?)

Read speak outs here.

SR: Comos te sentiste durante el evento? (How did you feel during the event?)

JC: Al principio me daba un poco de miedo sobre lo que podría hacer el personal de seguridad con nosotros, pero después de que lo hicimos por primera vez fue más fácil. Cometimos muchos errores que seguramente en las siguientes acciones iremos corrigiendo, muchos errores en el speak out pero cada vez los estaremos diciendo mejor!

At first I was a little scared about what security might do to us, but after the first disruption it was easier. We made many mistakes that we will surely correct in future demonstrations, many errors in the speak-out but each time we said it, it got better and better! 

Left to right: Laura, Juan Carlos, Nut, Mimi, Nelly, Kitty

Left to right: Laura, Juan Carlos, Nut, Mimi, Nelly, Kitty

SR: ¿Hay algo más que te gustaría compartir con nosotros acerca de su experiencia? (Is there anything else you’d like to share with us about your experience?)

JC: Me encanta DxE, y también me encanta el compromiso de cada uno de los activistas que he conocido. Me encanta el compromiso de Kitty. Sin ella, y sin el apoyo de Wotko Tristan, ninguna de las acciones que hemos echo habría sido posible. Otros activistas como Chris Van Breen y Priya Sawhney han sido una gran inspiración para nosotros y para quienes quieren unirse a DxE en México D.F. Me encanta también la comunidad que DxE promueve sin importar que tan lejos estemos o nuestras diferencias, siempre y cuando creamos en la justicia y en los derechos para todos los animales. Quiero conocerlos a todos!

I love DxE, and I love the commitment of every one of the activists that I have met in it. I love Kitty’s [Kitty Jones’s] commitment. Without her, and without the support of Wotko Cristan, none of the actions we did would have been posible. Other activists such as Chris Van Breen and Priya Sawhney have been a huge inspiration to us and and for those who want to join DxE Mexico City. I also love the community that DxE promotes: No matter how far apart we are, or how different we are, as long as we believe in justice and rights for all animals. I would like to get to know all of them!

A DxE Convert

A DxE Convert

By Leslie Goldberg


I really didn’t know what to make of the DxE video I was watching: Animal rights activists marching into restaurants and yelling their heads off about animals who wanted to live and how “meat” isn’t food, it’s violence. The activist/troublemakers usually held AR signs and stony expressions. The restaurant customers looked amused, embarrassed or annoyed. The staff? Angry, then frazzled.

As an animal rights activist myself, generally of the polite variety, I was intrigued, but also intimidated— especially when I’d see a DxE video of someone going into a restaurant alone and starting to shout. I said to myself, I COULD NEVER DO THAT. My husband said, “YOU’D BETTER NOT DO THAT.”

I live close to a Nations Giant Hamburgers, a KFC, a Jack ’n’ the Box and a Burger King – so many opportunities, I thought. But no, I can’t. I just can’t.

Weeks passed and still I kept wondering about DxE. I’d check out the notices on Facebook for Direction Action Everywhere Meetups, held on Saturday mornings at the DxE House in Oakland.

The DxE House. I had a picture in my mind – White frame house, falling apart, in a rough part of Oakland. My imaginary house was kind of modeled after the left-wing nut Symbionese Liberation Army (SLA) “safe house” in San Francisco, where fugitive Patty Hearst was hiding, hoping to evade arrest for a bank robbery in which she’d participated. In my fantasy DxE House, unsavory characters hung out on the steps in the front or inside in a sort of trashed-out living room with stained and broken-down couches.

No way, no how would I go there. The ‘60s are over and these days, troublesome animal rights activists end up in federal prison.

Still, something nagged at me. I asked around. Pretty much everyone said, DxE? No, they’re making things worse for our cause. We need to be good vegan examples instead.

Then I emailed one of the most sensible, logical, respectable and respected vegans I know. She’s been around for a long time. She’s an author, a public speaker and volunteers helping homeless people: “What do you think about DxE?” I wrote.

“I love DxE,” she wrote back. “It seems like they’re the only ones talking about the ‘humane meat’ thing.”


I told my husband I was going to the DxE Meetup in Oakland and if he wanted to come too, that would be awesome. He gave in.

We went.

Arriving at a sleek, modern high rise in Jack London Square, with some kind of yuppified fitness place on the ground floor next door, I thought, This can’t be right. Where are my scary dudes hanging around outside? The unmarked cop cars? Marijuana smoke wafting through the air?

The DxE house is, I’m kind of sorry to say, an appallingly normal apartment. That morning it was filled with 25 or so UC-Berkeley-student types visiting with each other, having coffee and doughnuts. (Yes, they have chocolate and coconut.) Somebody was grinding away on a Vita-Mix, making smoothies. There was no vague smell of pot or last night’s beer in the air. Instead, there was laughter. Wholesome laughter.

Two dogs— an old, old black one, Natalie, and a light brown pit with a crooked tail, Lisa— were wandering around. Supposedly two cats live there, too, but I didn’t see them.

I found out that each DxE Meetup usually consists of watching an inspirational protest video and doing a “community-building” exercise. The exercise can be as low-key as people pairing up to introduce themselves or as structured as the whole group holding a long pole (horizontally) with two fingers and trying, in unison, to slowly lower it to the floor. (It helps to close your eyes and concentrate, otherwise the thing flies way up in the air.)

After that, three volunteers give five-minute presentations. I liked it. I had fun. I met people. I learned stuff. My husband liked it, too.

At my first DxE meeting back in April, I was told there would be a protest in San Francisco the following week and asked, would I go? Before I gave myself a chance to get scared, I said yes. The “Would (I) go?” question sounded to me like “are you a person who walks the walk or just talks the talk?” (I know, I know, I have an over-developed sense of responsibility, as well as an over-developed sense of pride.)

I showed up, and I survived the protest. Not just survived— I was inspired by the experience, and by the other activists. I felt empowered. I’ve since participated in many more protests. I think I’m up to 18 now.

I was probably born to be an activist. I grew up in the South at a time when the Civil Rights Movement was taking off. My father was an activist Episcopal priest and took significant risks both to himself and to our family by speaking out against segregation in our small town of Stuttgart, Arkansas.

Having lived through the Viet Nam War, I understand in my bones the necessity of protest when there is injustice. I also understand that you don’t necessarily see immediate success or progress by protesting. Drawing attention and kicking up a fuss matters. Unfortunately, I think it’s the only thing that makes people realize you’re serious.

But one cannot be serious all the time. (Yes, even while animals are suffering.)

One DxE member said to me, “We think the Meetups are just as important as the protests, maybe even more important. We’ve got to build our community.”

So today, I skipped the restaurant protest and just went to the Meetup. The community- building exercise was this game involving numbers on a white board. Since numbers, especially mystery sequences of numbers, generally scare me, I pretended to be interested and stayed quiet.

The three presentations were: “How to Be in the World” by Margaret, “DxE Women’s Liberation Group” by Maryam, and “How I Became an Activist”.

Margaret, a relative newcomer to DxE, shared her conundrum with the group. She has four friends who get together for a monthly brunch at a non-vegan restaurant. One of the friends never misses a chance to order bacon. Recently this same friend wrote a FB post about the “joy” of eating animals, including the innards of lambs. Margaret commented online that she felt sad for the lamb. The next thing she knew, felt attacked by the bacon-eater, who demanded to know why she would write such a thing.

The next presentation was a pitch for DxE’s women’s group, where women animal rights activists gather once a month for a potluck and to socialize. The final presentation was a story about a long family tradition of both activism and vegetarianism.

After the presentations, the floor was opened for questions and discussion. Mostly we brainstormed Margaret’s difficulty. I thought she should just make a request of the brunchers to have the meal at a vegan place. Other people thought Margaret should visit with the problem friend one-on-one and explain why it’s painful for her to have to watch people consuming animal products. Others shared their experiences with their animal-eating friends and family.

No solution was reached, but it seemed like everyone felt better just having had a chance to talk about what it’s like being a vegan in a non-vegan world. There was a sense of commonality and an awareness that pretty much all vegans have to deal with the same stuff.  

I liked the idea that just getting together is as important as protesting and that having coffee and a doughnut with a newcomer can be a lot more useful and productive than arguing anonymously on Facebook.

As we left the apartment, my step felt a little lighter. “That was fun, huh?” I said to my husband.

We walked past the gym, where people were swinging kettleballs, their T-shirts soaked in sweat. They were doing something good for themselves, I thought. And going to the DxE meetup? That’s a two-fer: good for me and good for the animals. (Hey, I can go to the gym later in the afternoon.) 


Leslie Robinson Goldberg is a former writer for the San Francisco Examiner and is the creator of the blog Vicious Vegan. She was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize for her investigative series on San Francisco’s 911 system. She taught journalism at San Francisco State University and at City College of San Francisco. Her book of humorous drawings, The Sex Lives of Cats, is now available. She lives in El Cerrito, CA with her husband, Michael Goldberg.

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. 


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.


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. 



DxE Connections

DxE Connections

By Julianne Perry

What’s it like to be a vegan? If we’re honest… it’s lonely. We live among the others but choke on violent images everywhere we turn. Seeing what others do not can make us feel isolated.

This last year, I decided to do something about it. I decided to speak out for the animals. Showing up to DxE’s biggest action ever, I was surrounded by vegans, the very people who should comprise my community. And yet, at a protest of 150, I didn’t have a single friend – I felt alone, unmotivated to ever return.