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Interview with Baltimore-Based Animal Liberationist Brenda Sanders

Interview with Baltimore-Based Animal Liberationist Brenda Sanders

By Saryta Rodriguez


Recently, I had the honor of speaking with Brenda Sanders, an amazing activist based in Baltimore, MD.  Brenda runs a successful vegan mentoring program called Vegan Living and works with Open Cages Alliance.  Below, she shares her extremely valuable insights on race challenges in the AR community as well as details about the incredible work she's doing.  Thank you so much, Brenda!


SR:  Thank you so much for taking the time to talk to DxE.

BNS: Thanks, Saryta.

SR:  Please share with us how you two first became involved in the Animal Liberation Movement.  Were you inspired by a particular event or person in your life, or in the liberationist community?

Brenda Sanders.

Brenda Sanders.

BNS: A few years ago I realized that I was starting to feel a connection with animals. It was a strange experience for me, since I had never thought much about animals prior to that. I was suddenly seeing them as individuals and becoming concerned about the way humans were choosing to treat them. When I tried to express these thoughts to other people they laughed. So I began looking for like-minded people and I was fortunate enough to stumble across Open the Cages Alliance, an organization with a strong animal liberation message.

SR:  While some claim that we are living in a “post-racial” society, recent court cases regarding police brutality coupled with the dominant faces of many social movements tell a different story.  Animal liberation is one such movement, perceived by many to be a “white people thing.”

How has being POCs (persons of color) impacted your experiences as animal liberationists?

BNS: It’s interesting because as an African-American, I’m extremely motivated to educate other African-Americans about the horrible exploitation animals are experiencing at the hands of humans. The problem is that I’ve been witnessing so much racial bias within the Animal Liberation movement that I’ve found that I’m sometimes reluctant to even associate myself with the movement – especially in my outreach to marginalized communities.

SR:  What advice might you offer to other liberationist POCs who may be struggling to gain acceptance of their values in their racial communities, or who would like to encourage other POCs to join the movement?

BNS: That’s a really tough question, one that I struggle with everyday. I think I would say, “Blaze Your Own Path.” It’s possible to be a part of a movement while not embodying every single thing that movement represents. Yes, there is a lot of racism, sexism and classism within the Animal Liberation movement but that doesn’t make the work of freeing animals from human tyranny any less important.

SR:  What might recent instances of nonviolent direct action that have occurred as a result of the Michael Brown and Eric Garner decisions teach us about the intersectionality of racism and speciesism?  To what extent do you think liberationists should be cautious in drawing parallels between the two, and how might such parallels be illustrated most effectively?

BNS: The marches and demonstrations that have been sweeping across the country - and the world - in response to the Michael Brown and Eric Garner decisions show us that people from different ethnic backgrounds, economic statuses, age groups, and cultural identities can all come together to speak out against inequality. There is no more effective way to create change in the world than for people from all walks of life to speak as one voice to demand justice. It’s important that animal liberationists make the connections between the oppression of animals and all other systems of oppression but animal liberationists have to be careful not to appropriate other people’s struggle for justice merely for the purpose of highlighting animal suffering. Making a sincere effort to reach out and ally themselves to others who are engaged in similar struggles would be a great first step.

SR: I understand you are heavily involved with the Open Cages Alliance (OTCA). Can you please tell us a bit about this organization and how you came to be involved with it?

BNS: As I mentioned before, I found Open the Cages Alliance in my search for others who were working to stop the exploitation of animals – and I’m so glad I did! OTCA’s strong message of animal liberation combined with the drive to connect these issues with other social justice issues was exactly what I was looking for. I started out as a volunteer in 2013 and have since stepped up as one of the directors of the organization.

SR:  How is the Open Cages Alliance organized, and what are some of its short-term and long-term goals?

BNS: Open the Cages Alliance is an all-volunteer organization run at this time by three women who are dedicated to animal liberation and raising awareness of the connection between the different systems of oppression. One of our goals is to educate the public about the systemic exploitation of non-human animals while offering everyday alternatives to these oppressive actions. We also work to build coalitions with other social justice activists, including those activists in Baltimore involved in the Blacklivesmatter movement.

SR:  Please tell us about one of your favorite actions, lectures or other events in which you’ve taken part since joining the alliance.

BNS: One of my favorite actions with Open the Cages Alliance was the lecture and discussion we conducted on the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act in conjunction with the Week of Action Against the AETA. It was so rewarding to engage in a discussion with other activists about the implications of this legislation and how we can affectively move forward with our activism in spite of the pushback from the animal exploitation industries.

SR:  You are also an active member of a vegan mentoring program. What is the program called, and what are some of the core values that you and other mentors impart to its mentees?

BNS: The Vegan Living Program is a yearly five-week-long vegan educational program run by Open the Cages Alliance. The purpose of this program is to teach people the ins and outs of the vegan lifestyle, including an understanding of what veganism actually is (a lifestyle that avoids the exploitation of animals) and how veganism can benefit our personal health, the animals we share the planet with and the planet itself.

SR: How does the Vegan Living Program impart the liberationist message, beyond promoting a vegan lifestyle?

BNS: The Open the Cages Alliance directors are, first and foremost, animal liberationists. The total liberation of animals from human tyranny is the foundation that our activism is built on and our programming ALWAYS reflects that. We see the vegan lifestyle as one of the vehicles through which animal liberation can be actualized, therefore we feel perfectly comfortable promoting veganism. We do, however, understand that veganism is only a small step towards bringing an end to all forms of exploitation and oppression.

SR:  How do you ensure, or at least increase the likelihood, that mentees remain committed to animal liberation after they have completed the program? Do you often engage in follow-up conversations or activities with former mentees?

BNS: The purpose of the program is to educate and inspire. Once Vegan Living Program participants know why it’s wrong to exploit animals and what a lifestyle free of exploitation looks like, we stay engaged with program participants through the numerous protests, demonstrations and events that we have throughout the year. Many of our former vegan pledges come back to serve as vegan coaches in the VLP, participate in our demonstrations and stay actively engaged in the vegan community that we’re growing here in Baltimore.

SR: Please tell our readers a bit about your involvement with DxE.

BNS: I first became aware of DxE when I heard about the campaign against Chipotle’s “humane meat” marketing. I was inspired to get involved in that campaign because I was so disgusted at Chipotle’s attempts to woo more customers with deceptive marketing. After Wayne and Ronnie visited Baltimore in August 2014 for the East Coast tour, I was motivated to keep the momentum going with the disruptions and began organizing with other people in Baltimore to do regular disruptions.

SR:  Thank you so much, again for sharing your insights and experiences with us!

One last question: What is your spirit animal?

A short-tailed hawk wearing a quizzical expression.

A short-tailed hawk wearing a quizzical expression.

BNS: If I had a spirit animal it would be the hawk because of it’s superb vision and ability to follow through once it sets out on a course of action.

On the Shoulders of Giants

On the Shoulders of Giants

by Wayne Hsiung

Patty Mark and Animal Liberation Victoria performing an open rescue. 

During the past 30 years, I have been stepping across the line that humans draw to separate us from other animals. I hear their screams and witness their fear and suffering in hundreds of places, including slaughterhouses, industrialized farms, darkened sheds, open paddocks, feedlots and inside transport trucks/ships on four continents. There was nothing humane on their side of the line.

- Patty Mark, Founder, Animal Liberation Victoria

I don’t remember when I first read about open rescue and Patty Mark. From the first story I heard, I knew she was on to something powerful.

But the events of the past ten years the rise of animal welfare, the decline in US grassroots activism, the industry’s push for ag-gag laws across the country, and above all, the skyrocketing growth of so-called “humane” animal farms have changed what was just an effective tactic into an absolute necessity for our movement. The corporations that have the most to lose also have the most to hide, and they have put incredible effort into preventing us from getting a (gruesome) window into their world. Fear of scrutiny from animal activists has made jobs at so-called humane farms some of the hardest minimum-wage jobs to get in the world. (If you don’t meet demographic expectations and have a connection to a current employee, you can forget about it.) Farms are generally in remote areas of the country, far from the urban foodies who ravenously buy their “humane” products.  

Open investigation and rescue undermine the industry’s strongest weapons– ignorance and complacency– and bring the horrendous oppression of animals to the fore. Undercover investigations that take millions of dollars and many years of trial and error with concealed cameras can suddenly be undertaken by anyone with a big heart and a smart phone. And most importantly, instead of the nameless hordes we typically see in investigatory footage, with open rescue activists can narrow their focus down to the individual and tell stories of not just horror and violence, but of happiness and liberation.

There are two crucial points here. First, the work that we do is built on the shoulders of giants. We never could have undertaken this project without inspiration from legendary figures in the movement, such as Patty Mark. Her example provided not just the motivation, but the strategic blueprint for what was done.

Second, nonviolent direct action in all its forms is a product of empowered communities, not courageous individuals.  I know this from personal experience. Inspired by Patty, I too have walked in places of violence for nearly ten years; but one quickly realizes that footage alone can only take one so far. Without a community behind you, the story you tell will quickly wither away. Worse yet, with no support or attention, you and your friends may be punished severely for your acts.

The difference this time around is… you. We have you to inspire us. To support us. And most importantly, to share the story of these animals to the world. There will be much more to come in the coming weeks. The multinational giant that lies at the heart of this empire of lies will be exposed. You’ll meet some of the beautiful girls who made it out of this corporation’s engine of violence alive; but, above all, what we want you to take from this is that direct action is everywhere. It’s in the difficult personal conversation you have with a close friend about how much it hurts you and the animals when he eats meat. It’s in the gentle tears of a grandmother who, remembering her beloved dog, weeps after seeing a frightened cow with the same look she remembers on her long-lost companion. It’s in the powerful waves of nonviolent protest that have animated social justice movements for hundreds of years. And it’s in the act of civil disobedience when someone decides, with a community’s support, to rescue a terrified animal from sickness and pain.

To bridge the violent line that we have set between humans and our fellow animals the speciesist divide will require the work of giants. And while the giants we know and love are important Patty Mark, for example, has changed the face of our movement the giants we don’t recognize are even more important. They are the giants that we build together. Patty would be the first to say that her work and the open rescue movement would not have been possible without the support of countless ordinary people across the world. The same is true of the work we do. We stand on the shoulders of giants; but the giants who matter most cannot be slain by a single swing of a blade. They are the giants that are born from a people who are no longer willing to be bystanders to violence and oppression. They are the giants that start with you. 

Three Emotional Approaches

Three Emotional Approaches

By Saryta Rodriguez

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

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

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

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

The Dobby Approach: Have some free cookies and magazines!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The recording included the real-life sounds of:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What D.E.A.F Taught Us About DxE's Create, Connect, Inspire Model

What D.E.A.F Taught Us About DxE's Create, Connect, Inspire Model 

By Missy Freeland 

Sometimes when we seek to inspire others, we end up being inspired instead. While on our journey to teach others, we end up being reminded of the importance of our own model (create, connect, and inspire). We learn why it’s so absolutely essential not only to create activists but also to connect activists, who will in turn inspire others in their communities to take action in profound ways.

During our presentation in Los Angeles, individuals from a group-- Deaf Empowerment for Animal Freedom (D.E.A.F)-- attended our presentation and participated in an action. Priya, Lola, and myself had the opportunity to get to know Roy Abueg, Christine Garcia, Gabriel Lindeman, and Nancy Prudehomme, all of whom communicate in complex visual spatial language and have dedicated themselves to fighting for the animals through advocacy in American Sign Language.

Roy shared his experiences as deaf person and emphasized the importance of the intersections between struggles of the deaf community and animal rights. Roy talked about the hardships faced by the deaf community: “Growing up, we were forced to speak.” The practice of teaching deaf people to communicate by the use of speech and lip-reading rather than sign language is oralism-- an active form of discrimination.  

The group also spoke about the rejection it faced within the animal rights community when trying to get involved: “[W]e care for animals, but they don’t want to include us.” Hearing these words almost brought tears to our eyes. 

Here is this dedicated group who has been seeking a space within the movement to help them mobilize their own community for the animals; and in twenty years, they have received no support. Despite the rejection it has faced from within the movement, its persistence is hard to overlook. The group's passion and enthusiasm for collaboration with other groups remains strong.

We cannot focus enough on the importance of supporting activists who are already working within their communities to create change. Having D.E.A.F present at our event was not only illustrative of what DxE’s Create, Connect, and Inspire model is all about but also a personal inspiration to me.

The Deeply Divided Los Angeles AR Scene

By Lola Kay 

Monday, October 13, 2014

I am an organizer with DxE LA, and I have shown only support in other people’s/groups’ methods of activism: leafleting, petitioning, business front protests, marches, home demos, online and phone campaigns. Whether I felt they were effective or not, I came out in support because that’s what we do. We back each other up; we stand beside other activists in a display of both solidarity and strength. I supported others regardless of their continuous bashing of our actions (despite the success of our campaigns, as evidenced by Chipotle’s slowing growth and recent press received via Glenn Beck, among other notable achievements). I believe that, especially within the deeply divided Los Angeles A.R. scene, demonstrations of unity are paramount to the progression of the movement as a whole. 

Among opposition, there are those who respectfully criticize and promote constructive dialogue; and there are those who engage in full-blown attacks riddled with name-calling, personal insults, labeling, ageism, fabrication, and so forth. Whether it’s done to draw attention to themselves or to divide the already divided movement is anyone’s guess; unfortunately, whatever the motive, this negative communication only harms those on whom we should all be focusing: non-human animals.

I have seen all sorts of claims about Direct Action Everywhere from a few people with the mentality that “If you don’t do as I say, then you are [wrong; dumb; evil; mentally unstable; “young” (perhaps meaning stupid or naive?); a loner with no friends, family or purpose in life; crazy; lazy; attention-seeking; an armchair philosopher…].”

The list goes on.

This is said about activists of all ages and all ethnic, educational and professional backgrounds. Many of those included in these insults are mothers, fathers and grandparents. We are as diverse as they come, and we are all united by our belief that animals are individuals who have the right to live without human exploitation. We believe that we can achieve animal liberation through forcing the issue of animal exploitation into the mainstream—by repositioning animal liberation as a moral imperative and not a mere diet or lifestyle choice. We believe that nonviolent direct action is necessary to achieve this goal, as it has been the epicenter of all past successful social movements. To date, activists in 66 cities and 17 countries share the same vision.

What follows are some false claims I have seen made publically regarding Direct Action Everywhere’s campaigns:

Myth: DxE only protests Chipotle. Chipotle said it will never exploit animals. Therefore, Chipotle good, DxE evil.

DxE has protested a wide variety of venues at which violence is normalized. Chipotle is the fastest-growing animal killer in the US, with over 95% of its revenue coming from the sale of cooked corpses.  The company openly mocks not only its nonhuman victims but also its customers:

“You put a tripe in a bowl and tell them it’s from a humanely raised cow, and they’re going to eat it.” —Chipotle’s Culinary Manager Nate Appleman, to The New York Times.

Myth: DxE activists go into restaurants and scream at workers and customers. 

We don’t scream at workers; they are not our targets. We empathize with the overworked, underpaid laborers, who are simply trying to support their families. We also do not yell at customers; we actually do not address anyone individually while inside. We hand out leaflets prior to and following the speak-out with which most of our demonstrations begin, so that people can understand why we are there. We simply deliver a message on behalf of those who are killed, and refrain from behaving with hostility or aggression at all times—even when, say, an employee grabs one of us by the arm or attempts to lift one of us off of his/her feet.

Myth: DxE’s Chipotle campaign is about protesting vegan options.

That is completely off base as DxE Chipotle campaign is focused on humane washing, not their vegan options. Chipotle cleverly sells their humane slaughter lie to customers who eat animals and also managed to get many A.R. people to applaud their ‘kind killing’.  But how does one humanely kill someone who doesn’t want to die?

This critique stems primarily from one LA-based man who considers vegan outreach to be the only way to enact change. He has criticized people who do not engage in organized vegan outreach events as “lazy” and “not caring.” He even criticized those who came out to court in support of Indy, a dog who was severely burned, for not coming to vegan outreach events.

For someone who calls us angry—although I believe we have every right to be angry about the fact that billions of innocent victims are being murdered for no other crime but being born non-human— this man actually physically threatened several male supporters of DxE and even one female. (At least he doesn’t discriminate based on gender…)He caused an enormous rift at the recent Global March for Elephants and Rhinos due to his aggressive behavior towards other marchers. And he has instilled in many of his supporters an active fear in participating in other groups’ protests.

The same critic is currently attacking a young kid who is struggling with a fair amount of turmoil in his life. Instead of offering words of encouragement, this self-proclaimed “street soldier” has publicly torn into him. DxE members do not discriminate against others who might be dealing with a struggle; we care about all animals, human and non-human alike, and it is a shame to see a grown man bullying someone who is already dealing with so much. We believe community is about support and encouragement; not bullying. 

DxE has attempted to clarify its position a number of times on critical social media threads, such as Facebook attacks; but all pro-DxE comments would be unashamedly deleted in order to preserve the untrue claims, in attempts to damage the network’s image.

Notwithstanding all of this, many of DxE’s organizers have repeatedly extended an olive branch.  

Anyone who would like to learn more so they can develop an informed opinion of DxE, please refer to our website, this blog and, accessible via the website, Direct Action Everywhere’s Five Organizing Principles.

Until Every Animal Is Free!

Three Steps to Building a Diverse Movement

Our movement's lack of diversity is one of its great stumbling blocks in achieving broad acceptance. Here are three easy steps we can each take to solve that problem. 

Our movement's lack of diversity is one of its great stumbling blocks in achieving broad acceptance. Here are three easy steps we can each take to solve that problem. 

Three Steps to Building a Diverse Movement

by Wayne Hsiung

I posted earlier today on how inspired I was, as a Chinese person, to see so many Chinese faces at the Global March for Elephants and Rhinos this past weekend. And the march organizers did a fantastic job of not just seeking out feedback, but modifying the march message and tone to reflect concerns from the Chinese community. But in raw numbers, we are still far short of where we need to be in order to achieve real success. 

One third of the population of San Francisco is Asian, and 52% of the population is of color. While there were some amazing faces of color speaking for the march, including the lead organizer Rosemary Alles (who is Sri Lankan), the march was still perhaps 90% white.

Direct Action Everywhere and Animal Liberationists of Color (ALOC) are on a mission to change these dynamics. As distinguished scholars have noted, we have to represent the world if we are going to change the world. But we need help from you to do that. So here are three steps that are important for all of us to take if we want to build a stronger and more diverse movement. 

1. Acknowledge the gap.

We can't start addressing the diversity problem until we're willing to acknowledge that it exists, and discuss ways to solve it. A diversity policy is a great first step, as is building a culture that encourages underrepresented communities to participate. 

2. Seek buy-in and feedback.

Actively encourage people from under-represented communities to have significant roles in your campaign, listen to what they have to say (they'll have different and important perspectives, based on their unique experiences in life), and empower them to become activists in both their local communities and in the broader movement. 

3. Don't be evil.

Don't play on stereotypes (whether explicit or implicit). Don't target under-represented communities for protest without buy-in from that community. Don't lash out when someone from a community of color raises a concern about possible racism. And support efforts to shift our movement's resources and attention away from "foreign" and "minority" contributions to the problem, and back to domestic and majority contributions. (E.g. the US remains the world's largest animal killer and, historically, the world's largest contributor to the destruction of habitat for non-human animals.) 

Three easy steps to enhancing diversity. Three easy steps to building a stronger and more inclusive movement.  Three easy steps to help us down the path to liberation. 

Fertile Ground (East Coast Tour - Part 5)

Fertile Ground

by Wayne Hsiung

(This is the fifth post in a multi-part series about DxE's East Coast Speaking Tour. Read all the blog posts from the tour here.)

Ronnie and I are waiting at the airport to head home, after a whirlwind 18 day tour of 6 cities. We have met some of the smartest and most enthusiastic activists in the animal rights world -- and beyond. We have been challenged, at times, but we have also received incredible support. And we have spread the idea of a beautiful network for change -- create, connect, inspire -- to dozens of the most committed activists on the East Coast.

But as we return to the Bay Area, one idea is stuck in my mind: the importance of community.

Wherever the animal rights movement is strong, community forms the fertile ground upon which activists can develop and grow.

Sherrie speaking up for animals. 

Sherrie speaking up for animals. 

This was perhaps most personified by Sherrie in Providence. Sherrie is an indigenous woman who is embedded in radical environmental and feminist activist communities. She has participated in civil disobedience and has a fierceness that is obvious to anyone who spends a moment talking to her. She believes passionately -- powerfully -- in making the world a better place. And yet she has a warm and welcoming touch that is hard to believe until you see it in action. A woman 40 years older than her -- and not even vegetarian -- confides in her, tearfully, after watching our video, as if Sherrie is a decades old friend. An activist from Connecticut, Anthony, comes to stay and do activism with her, and feels as comfortable as if they were siblings. And the environmental network Sherrie has become a part of -- Fighting Against Natural Gas -- has inspired commitments from activists across the world, including the rural, front-line communities most affected by environmental devastation. The personal touch makes a world of difference. Offering to make someone food. Giving so generously that it seems that her home is yours. And listening with such engagement that she makes your words take on a power that you never knew they had. Sherrie is the sort of person, I think, upon whom great communities are built -- and through those communities, great activist networks.

There were many other people we met in Providence who inspired us to be more empathic, more gracious, and more brave. Nick, Sherrie’s partner, was featured in a recent article in the Providence paper, as an unexpected leader in a radical movement for change, and has a heart as big as Sherrie’s. And it gives me great optimism for what they can build. Providence has a unique blend of heart, and will, and mind.

Boston activists disrupt a space of violence. 

Boston activists disrupt a space of violence. 

In Boston, we met a small group of committed activists, including Laura (who leads many of the demonstrations in her city) and Robert, who were just starting to think about the importance of movement building to achieving our ultimate ends. Others, including Elizabeth and Marcia, were excited by the prospect of joining the DxE Network -- and a blooming international community. A city filled with transients -- students move in and out all the time -- is a hard one to build a sustaining community. But I can see leaders stepping forward and solidifying a city with great potential for animals.

In New York City, the folks at New York Farm Animal Save have formed a vibrant community around weekly vigils for farm animals. Robert Jensen, one of our main organizers in the region, is a computer engineer with a humble demeanor and a heart of gold. When a homeless man came to ask us for food, Robert leapt forward to help him -- and even gave him guidance and support in his struggles with substance abuse. Miriam, Tony, Tomoko, Shafali, and others -- all dedicated activists who try to help every animal rights group in the region, no matter the campaign, were equally good hearted and supportive, sharing food, advice, and sometimes just kind words of support, to ensure that everyone who came to our talk, demo, and even social gatherings felt welcomed into the local animal rights community. Finally, Dana, who was DxE’s initial organizer on the It’s not Food, It’s Violence campaign, came out to join us despite the incredible pressure of a new job, an imminent move across the country (to San Diego -- hello Ellen Ericksen!), and an important exam just a few days later.

New York City had a great turnout, thanks to both the NY Farm Animal Save crew, and the SALDF at NYU Law. 

New York City had a great turnout, thanks to both the NY Farm Animal Save crew, and the SALDF at NYU Law. 

Even more surprisingly, to me, some prominent names in the vegan world -- the imposing Jamison Scala (whose incredible facebook page always gets hundreds of likes per post) and the fiery Eddie Lama (hero of the documentary, The Witness) -- came to both our talk and the demo the next day. And a brilliant young law student at NYU, Jay Shooster -- who sponsored our talk -- joined a DxE demo for the first time, showing that there are supporters of nonviolent direct action for animals even in the halls of power and prestige. In total, we had over two dozen people perform an in-store disruption. Their words were so moving and powerful and unified that my voice broke, and I was brought to tears. I know that the momentum they are building will only grow.

Philly was perhaps the most surprising city. I had been told, prior to arriving, that the city of brotherly love did not have the most vibrant of vegan/AR communities. But we were met immediately by my old friends Rachel and Tim. Rachel is a math professor at the prestigious Swarthmore College, where they’ve made a beautiful home for themselves in a forested suburban community just 25 minutes from Philly. She (and Tim by extension) was key to my development as an activist -- and person -- since I really did not have a close friendship circle before meeting Rachel in Chicago and starting a small local vegan board game circle that ended up spiraling in all sorts of unexpected directions  -- from karaoke to cooking competitions to ultimate frisbee. And yet while the Philly community was small, there were still passionate voices that joined us for our talk and demo.

George, a veteran Earth Firster, drove all the way from Redding, PA to see our talk and join our demo. An animal liberationist in the 1990s, he had since dropped out of the movement due to its failures in developing leaders in the grassroots. Too often, George said, animal rights activists were both rudderless and directionless. Activists were not given the opportunities they need to grow. And the movement’s vitality was sapped as a result.

George is someone that animal rights movement needs to learn from. In addition to decades of experience as an environmental activist, and a rural background so different from many young activists today, he has an appreciation for the importance of new ideas and people that makes him unusual among veteran activists. Too often, those of us who have been at this for a long time become wedded to particular ideas, strategies, and even people. We close ourselves off to new paths, and the movement loses as a result. But notwithstanding George’s extensive received wisdom, he came out to a talk by a new group that he had never heard of. And he took a lead role in our resulting action -- speaking strongly for animals, in a movement that he had so long ago moved away from, as ineffective and obsolete.

DC, I previously blogged about -- in particular, our wonderful stay with Farm Sanctuary’s Bruce Friedrich. But just as important as Bruce, Dawn Moncrief, and the other big names we had the honor to speak to while in town, there were also some new faces who inspired us. In particular, Katherine, the sister of one of our most dedicated and intelligent activists in the Bay Area (Lisa), came out to her first demonstration, ever… and spoke out at an in-store disruption. While the grassroots community in DC does not seem strong, we hope we can continue to provide Kat and others the support they need from afar. As I emphasized to Kat, it is often the small acts of dissent, by brave people who do NOT have as much support as they should, who rouse the public into action on an issue that has long been forgotten.

And finally, there is Baltimore. There is so much more that should be written and said about our stay in Baltimore than can be done in a single blog post. Suffice it to say, we had conversations that truly blew our minds. I learned about the struggles of an inspiring leader fighting for animals in urban communities, the struggles of a convicted felon making the connections between human and non-human captivity, and the insights of a veteran feminist and LGBTQ rights activist on the perils of corporatization, and the vital importance of calling out human abuse of animals for what it is -- not just a minor cruelty, not just institutional discrimination, but a violent and domineering form of human supremacy -- that shook my thinking to its core. But on these last few subjects, I will have to say more later. For now, we have to board a plane.

But even as we leave, our connections -- and the international community we are building -- will remain. Thank you to all the activists we met. Thank you for your generosity, your open-mindedness, your passion, and your integrity.

Next stop? Chicago. The city that made me the activist I am today. 

Cultivating Relationships and Building a Strong Movement

Cultivating Relationships and Building a Strong Movement 

by Priya Sawhney


Movement building is the most promising tool we activists have in order to achieve our goals. Strong movements need strong leaders, and strong leaders come into being when ordinary people with high character dedicate themselves to doing good. In Direct Action Everywhere’s growing network, we have had the opportunity to work with some of these dedicated leaders who have the vision of creating a strong movement, a movement that will ultimately lead to Animal Liberation.

Last weekend, activists with DxE in Southern California-- Missy Freeland, Nicholas Shaw-mcminn, and Lola Kay visited us. Besides the glowing warmth and high energy they bring, Missy, Nick, and Lola all came with stories to share and a curiosity with which to listen and learn. In my first conversation with Missy and Nick—a loving couple who work together in running a small property management business—I told them, “You both have such a strong work ethic.” They must work to do right by their clients who are often undermined by others in the business.

In a very short time period, Missy and Nick have started to build a promising community in their hometown of Riverside, California. “We have to make people feel welcome. Building a strong community is the most important aspect of activism,” Nick told me.” During a busy weekend with many newcomers, I saw Nick and Missy welcome people into a home where they themselves were supposed to be guests. Their welcoming spirits inspired me to become a better community member myself.

Besides being a dear friend of mine, Lola Kay is someone whose perseverance and resilience have personally encouraged me to move past difficult situations and carry on in organizing protests and speaking up for the animals. No matter how difficult the situation may be, Lola always has the faith, confidence, and humility required to move past challenges and troubles we are bound to come across. Lola has come across many hurdles while organizing in L.A. However, she has always dealt with situations constructively.

The most inspiring part about Lola, Nick, and Missy’s visit was seeing their enthusiasm and willingness for doing actions. On their way back home, three of them stopped by a grocery store and did a disruption at its dairy aisle, accepting the #disruptspeciesism challenge. For the first time, both Missy and Lola had their banners ripped from them, but they maintained their composure, shared their truth, and left.

The power of creating a global network of Animal Rights Activists is strongest when we can learn from one another, exchange feedback, share ideas, collaborate on how to problem solve, and inspire one another. Perhaps most importantly, the way we can most benefit from cultivating such relationships is when we can inspire and remind one another that, though the path to creating a strong movement may be tough at times, it’s absolutely worth it to push harder and keep moving forward. 

DxE West Coast Action Tour - Part Two // Salem and Portland

DxE West Coast Action Tour

Part Two // Salem and Portland

by Ronnie Rose


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

Read part one here.


We headed North from Sacramento and drove toward the thick, picturesque pines of the Pacific Northwest. We passed through wide valleys of tall mountains, where the air felt fresh, and saw translucent and crisp rivers rolling across the earth’s bed. The visceral impact of the sights and sounds and smells encouraged our journey.

Salem was our second stop on the tour. This isn’t a city you necessarily think of when you conjure up the state of Oregon. As my friend who helped organize this part of the tour said, most people view Salem as the halfway point between Eugene and Portland, and consequently, don’t consider stopping. Yet places like Salem are exactly the areas that DxE hopes to rouse and inspire—places where calls for the recognition of animal rights are an uncommon encounter. Needless to say, doing activism without a community to stand with you is tough. The activist who helped us organize a demo in Salem was grateful for us coming through, and we were equally grateful to them for hosting us.

Only a short distance from Salem was our third stop, Portland. We had coordinated this part of the tour so that we could pick up our friend Darren Chang, who would join us in presentations and actions at a few locations up north. Darren is a core organizer of DxE’s demos in Vancouver, Canada, and also organizes with a myriad of other groups. He had come down to Portland to speak at the Resistance Ecology conference with Rising Tide Vancouver on the issue of indigenous solidarity. At the conference, Darren and his team discussed the role and steps that settlers can take while organizing as allies with indigenous communities.

We had planned a few demos while in Portland, but had difficulties finding a location to speak at. Yet within two days of our arrival, we came into contact with an activist named Katie, who eagerly sought out and organized a wonderful location for us to present at. Katie, who is an intelligent and passionate activist, also had similar struggles organizing in Portland. Though she had been born and raised in this city, and active for quite a while, she explained that in a place regularly touted as a vegan’s haven, it was difficult to inspire people to come out to demos. Katie hoped that our presentation and actions would provide a spark of motivation, for her and for others, to build up a consistent and active community.

This part of the tour reminded me why we were on the road, and more broadly, why we started DxE: we are here to build a movement. Sometimes it starts small, but we are here to connect people, to inspire people, and to take activism from the fringes of society and bring it into the hearts and minds of the public, so that the debate for animals’ rights can no longer be ignored. This is just the start.

We will no longer hide

Linda, a powerhouse animal rights activist at 70 years young, speaks for the animals inside a high end restaurant in Sacramento. 

Linda, a powerhouse animal rights activist at 70 years young, speaks for the animals inside a high end restaurant in Sacramento. 

We will no longer hide

by Wayne Hsiung

I have a confession. I made it a rule over 10 years ago to stop watching animal cruelty videos. They scare me. They haunt me. And they bring me crashing down in despair. 

From an early age, I was obsessed with animals. I would make friends with squirrels and birds in the forest. I religiously read ZooBooks and everything else I could get my hands on about animals. And to this day, the best and happiest day of my life was the day when my parents finally allowed me and my sister to adopt a dog -- my first real friend of any species -- into our home. 

So when I see videos of animals being hurt, it's as if someone is hurting my dearest friends. Not just hurting them. Degrading them. Abusing them. Brutalizing them. Torturing them. And then even eating them. The scenes are so bad that it's hard to believe they are even happening. And for those of us who love, and have been loved by, animals..... when we see these scenes it's as if the entire world has turned into a nightmare. 

I was speaking to my friend Lisa recently as to what motivates us to activism. (DxE will be meeting about this next week.) And above all, for me, it is this deep feeling that something has gone deeply wrong with our society. We have seen what is happening to our friends. And it fills us with a sense of injustice that overwhelms every other feeling in our body. We see these images, these videos, and we hear their terrifying cries. "I'm filled with this sense that I've never seen anything so wrong in my life," Lisa told me. And that deep wrongfulness burns us to our very bone. 

The problem, of course, is that a fire can only burn for so long. And I stopped watching animal cruelty videos because I could see my hope fading, my cynicism growing, and my hatred for the world growing day by day. (Perhaps screening myself from such videos is part of the reason why I've stuck around for 15 years.) So it was only begrudgingly that I have begun to watch these videos again in order to make the DxE campaign videos that we hope will continue to mobilize people all over the world to action for animals. 

But there is something different this time around. I don't drown in despair when I watch, despite the fact that I have now seen more such videos in three months (heck, three days) than I had watched in the ten years prior. And the reason is... you. My despair over the nightmarish suffering of our kindred sensitive beings is met with a just as powerful collective resolve: that we will no longer hide how we feel, run to the bathroom with our tears, or make small talk in the face of catastrophic atrocities.

I see someone like my friend Linda, a 70 year old activist in Sacramento who looks half her age, speaking confidently and strongly on behalf of our brutalized friends ("This sweet mommy pig does not want to be on your dinner plate. She deserves to live!") in a place of opulence and violence, and I begin to see a path out of this nightmarish world. The nightmare still rages, to be sure, but by recognizing, and connecting with, the legions of activists ready to confront that nightmare with strong words and action, we need not fall victim to despair. We can look at the nightmare straight in the eye and say to ourselves, and to the world, "Your last days are near. We will no longer hide. And my friends will soon be safe and happy and free."