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"An Opiate to the Conscience": Welfarism as a Step to Animal Liberation?

"An opiate to the conscience": welfarism as a step to animal liberation?

By Brian Burns

The American Colonization Society said that its moderate message, which sought to bring slaveowners and abolitionists closer together, would  eventually  lead to the end of legal slavery in the US. Why do modern historians say the opposite?

The American Colonization Society said that its moderate message, which sought to bring slaveowners and abolitionists closer together, would eventually lead to the end of legal slavery in the US. Why do modern historians say the opposite?

Advocates of welfarism often claim that while the “humane” use and murder of animals is not the end goal, advocating for welfare reforms while not challenging the notion of animals as property will make the public more sympathetic to animal rights, and thus move us towards animal liberation. Whole Foods CEO and self-professed “ethical vegan” John Mackey, for example, unapologetically frames Whole Foods as a groundbreaking progress-maker for both animals and public consciousness in response to an open letter by James McWilliams calling for the company to stop selling meat.

Is this correct? Is there historical evidence showing that a moderate message which appeals to those in the “middle of the aisle” will eventually push them closer to one end? To examine this question, I discussed trends in the antislavery movement in the US from the mid-1810s through the 1830s as part of a DxE open meeting on welfarism . Most of the information presented was gathered from Paul Goodman’s book, Of One Blood.

“An Opiate to the Conscience” - The American Colonization Society of the Early 1800s

From the early 1800s, the antislavery movement in the United States was dominated by a large, government-backed group called the American Colonization Society (ACS). As Paul Goodman writes, “The most important function of the ACS was to ensure sectional harmony by offering a platform sufficiently broad and vague on which both slaveholders and nonslaveholders, professed abolitionists and anti-abolitionists, North and South, could stand” (Goodman, 18). Despite its stated purpose - to improve the welfare of slaves in the South and convince their masters to free them to an ACS-created colony in West Africa, “the ACS renounced any intention of interfering with slavery in the United States. (Goodman, 16).” In fact, the society was extremely hostile towards those agitating against slaveowners: “It insisted that any agitation that placed masters under moral scrutiny or political pressure or questioned their Christian benevolence would chill the inclination to manumit … Nor must one ever speak too harshly of slavery itself, the suffering of the victims and the cruelty of the master, lest slavery become a moral issue for public discussion” (Goodman, 18-19). 

The American Colonization Society, far from pushing the public towards abolitionism, reduced both Southern and Northern tension surrounding the issue of slavery. From our talk on the psychology of welfarism, we know that discomfort and cognitive dissonance are essential to motivate people to change their deep-set beliefs - and the ACS was extremely efficient at reducing both of them. Goodman writes, “In the North, apathy and indifference toward slavery were the toughest barriers… For most, until abolitionist agitation pricked their consciences, [slavery] was a distant abstraction” (Goodman, 124). Despite the organization’s widespread popularity both in the South and North and consensus at the time that it was pushing towards abolition, the resolution of tension and feel-good consciousness created by the society were, according to Fogel and many others, some of the “toughest barriers” towards the end of legal human slavery in the US. 

The Importance of Agitation

By “abolitionist agitation,” Goodman refers to the explosion of grassroots antislavery activism in the 1830s. Sparked by activists who felt silenced by the ACS (many of whom were former members of the society), independent chapters of self-styled “immediatists” began to pop up around the country, learning from each other via long letters and word of mouth. The action taken by these activists was radical and dangerous: William Lloyd Garrison’s public burning of the US constitution, which he called a “covenant with death”, almost left him dead after a lynch mob attempted to murder him (ironically he was saved by the police, who seized him and threw him in jail for his protest). Goodman writes that “Abolitionism grew, by contrast [to the ACS], in the teeth of elite hostility, intense popular prejudice, and physical violence, and it required an exceptional organizational and ideological commitment.” 

Despite these obstacles, however, the radical abolitionist movement was extremely successful, growing from four to 1348 independent chapters in just six years - a 34,000% increase in activism (Goodman, 124). This exceptional growth coupled with a strong message and provocative activism had extreme influence on public dialogue and political action on slavery, pushing public tension to ultimately to the brink of the Civil War. And as the antislavery societies rose across the US, the ACS was put on the defense, eventually discredited as a racist organization opposing rather than acting for progress.

What Can We Learn? 

Despite its profound power, agitation can be extraordinarily difficult as social animals. The nice, middle-of-the-road approach is often much more appealing, and often may seem to be the more effective way to enact change, since it does not elicit backlash. No surprise then, that companies such as Whole Foods have capitalized on its appeal to consumers by offering the same products of violence - meat, dairy, and eggs - sold in a more “compassionate” way. 

Unfortunately, the appeal of “moderatism” is precisely the reason behind its failure; in order to motivate people to reconsider their deep-set beliefs, one has to make them uncomfortable by presenting very different alternatives, and disrupting routine to force attention to these alternatives. Sometimes, seeking to reform the periphery of the system without attacking its root is the best way to ensure it survives and thrives. Such was the case in the American antislavery movement in the early 1800s, and such may be the case in the animal rights movement today.

What Ringling Bros. Can Teach Us About Protest (Hint: It Works)

Ringling Bros. today announced the phasing out of its elephant shows. What can this tell us about effecting corporate change?

Ringling Bros. today announced the phasing out of its elephant shows. What can this tell us about effecting corporate change?

Nonviolent protest has an astounding track record of success. Recent movements such as #BlackLivesMatter, Occupy Wall Street, and the Arab Spring have used protest to force discussion when previously there was silence, pressure politicians into passing legislation, and even topple governments. Moreovoer, the renowned political scientist Erica Chenoweth has shown that movements only need 1-2% of the population participating to effect massive and systemic change.

But despite this overwhelming evidence, some say that protest does not have a place in the animal rights movement. Emphasizing the sheer scale of violence against animals, the entire human race’s complicity in this violence, or the currently low support for animal liberation in the public, some decry protesting as woefully ineffective.  In the "three-year-old theory" of corporate behavior, the movement is too weak, and corporations so capricious, that activists must run their campaigns as if they were dealing with an antsy toddler: speak slowly and kindly, since if you stop being nice you risk inciting a temper tantrum. In face of consensus that corporate progress is forced by "fear and loathing", some fear the only option is through voluntary coaxing of corporations.

The good news? They’re wrong, and evidence abounds. Just today, Ringling Bros. announced the phasing out of using elephants in their circuses, self-admittedly due to animal rights protests. SeaWorld stock is worth half of what it was a year ago, and is attempting desperately to placate its outraged customers while silencing protesters. Finally, Whole Foods has announced the development of previously absent egg-laying standards in its GAP animal welfare program, in light of DxE’s investigation and open rescue of one of its largest Certified Humane egg suppliers. Protests, not pleading, have seemed to work.

Of course, none of this is close to enough for animals. Ringling Bros. will continue to exploit horses, tigers, and lions among other living creatures, SeaWorld is far from dead yet, and Whole Foods still profits in the billions by killing fellow earthlings. Moreover, changing companies is only a small part of the path we must take towards animal liberation - much more important than incremental institutional changes are fundamental shifts in social norms about animals, which is the main focus of DxE's activism. 

But even with this in mind, these moves by are indicators of a growing and powerful social movement for animals. They also serve as evidence that protest is effective - even, and perhaps especially, in the animal rights movement. And finally, they refute the popular "three-year-old" theory of corporate behavior. We know that protest works, and a growing, international movement is putting that knowledge to practice. Join us this March in saying what animals, not corporations, would like to hear.

Activism and Anxiety

Activism and Anxiety

By Erika Jensen


Erika Jensen speaking boldly for the animals in spite of her anxiety.

Erika Jensen speaking boldly for the animals in spite of her anxiety.

One constant in my life is anxiety. For as long as I can remember, I have struggled with this invisible monster. My childhood environment was not a healthy one, and for a long time I was ashamed of the things I went through and the anxiety they created in me; but not anymore.

I never really had the support I needed to believe I was good enough or capable of accomplishing anything. I grew up in a home in which I didn’t always feel comfortable or safe. I was talked down to, ignored and forgotten at times, often mocked, and made to feel like everything was my fault and that there was something wrong with me. I endured both physical and emotional abuse in my home, and sexual abuse outside of it. It took me a very long time to even begin the process of attempting to love and accept myself. Fortunately, despite a lot of negatives, I was able to take everything I felt and turn it into something positive. Because I knew what it was like to suffer, I was always full of compassion for others, and I never wanted anyone else to suffer. That desire and passion in me to stop the suffering of others was a big part of why I was able to survive and to stay strong.

When I describe my anxiety, I tend to call it debilitating. It affects every aspect of my life. What are everyday tasks for others might as well be climbing Mt. Everest for me. Even just writing this, my heart is racing, my palms are sweaty, and all I can think is, “Am I good enough to write this? Would my words even help anyone? Isn’t there someone more qualified to do this? Will people question my anxiety because of the things I have been able to accomplish?” I can’t seem to ever escape my own mind’s endless questioning and self-doubt. The physical symptoms, while different depending on the situation and the level of anxiety felt, are just as unpleasant. They typically manifest themselves as a racing heart, sweating, shaking, breathing rapidly, feeling weak, chest pain, nausea, and a general out-of-control sensation that is hard to put into words.

I experience all of those things before a DxE action. I am also stuck in my head wondering, “Is this it? Will this be the time I fail?” When I am out there speaking for the animals, I am not doing it because I love speaking in front of people, talking to people I don’t know, or having any sort of attention on me (all things that cause a great deal of panic in me), but because the stakes are too high not to speak. Every moment counts; every moment could potentially make a difference.

I have done so many things in the last few months that are completely out of my comfort zone. Traveling alone, participating in public disruptions at restaurants, several solo speak outs—including a half-hour of just speaking by myself in front of Whole Foods—among others.

There are two specific moments that stick out in my memory— moments in which it became clear to me that I was going to start my own DxE chapter in Cleveland. One mid-November evening in 2014, after a trip to Chicago to meet its amazing DxE team, I walked into two very different restaurants in my neighborhood. One was an upscale Italian restaurant, and the other was a bar/grill. I spoke out at both—my very first (and second) time doing it. My voice came out loud and coherent—which, to be honest, surprised me, as I am very soft spoken and don’t typically articulate very well.

DxE Cleveland's first action, January 10, 2015.

DxE Cleveland's first action, January 10, 2015.

The second moment was in early December 2014, when I participated in another disruption with the amazing Chicago folks. We needed to go upstairs to Trader Joe’s on a different floor, but there was only an elevator and no stairs to be seen. Part of my anxiety is that I have a lot of different phobias, a big one being elevators. I will walk up twenty flights of stairs if necessary before ever getting on one. So, in situations like this, normally I would panic and search for stairs while unintentionally inconveniencing everyone with me; instead, I told myself to just get on because I had to go fight for the animals—and I did.

Author Erika Jensen.

Author Erika Jensen.

To this day, it’s rare that I feel comfortable in my own skin or believe that I am capable of doing anything. It is a work in progress; but I'm speaking up for those who need my voice, and that is the one and only reason for everything I am doing. I am not thinking about myself when I speak for the animals; I am only thinking about them and their suffering.

Can you imagine what we could accomplish if people would stop thinking about themselves?

There is one, and only one, reason to do what we do; and if you are focused on that, all the other stuff just isn’t important. Suddenly you become this person doing all of these things you never thought in a million years that you would be doing. I feel like, if this is something I can do, then it is something anyone can do. I’ve realized that being an activist— being their voice—is someone I’m meant to be.

How PETA’s Chinese “Dog Leather” Campaign Hurts Dogs (and Other Animals)

An investigation of the dog leather trade in China showed horrifying abuse. But did it help dogs?

An investigation of the dog leather trade in China showed horrifying abuse. But did it help dogs?

How PETA’s CHINESE “Dog Leather” Campaign Hurts Dogs (and Other Animals)

The dog leather campaign fails the animals in three ways: by promoting racism, by promoting speciesism, and by promoting inaction in the face of violence. Here's what we can do to change that. 

By Wayne Hsiung

[Note: a friend who used to work at PETA wrote to me expressing concern that this post would inevitably be perceived as an attack on PETA and its supporters, and that I should therefore move the below words to the top of the post. I think this is good advice -- particularly since the issues I am discussing in this article extend far beyond a single organization or campaign. You can read a more in-depth account of the problem in a three-part series here. Anyways, here are the words: 

This is not an attack on PETA. Some of my hardest working and most dedicated friends work at PETA. And PETA’s founder, Ingrid Newkirk, lives a Spartan lifestyle, devotes every waking moment to animals, and has shown true genius in understanding the crucial role of disruption and provocation in building movements. PETA is also one of the only nonprofits that has consistently shown support for grassroots activists. Rather, this is a heartfelt request for us to collectively do better...

I'd also like to emphasize that I don't think there was necessarily any intentional racism on the part of PETA employees. The issues set out here, in fact, are cultural and systemic in origin. And I know many PETA employees who are fiercely devoted to the right of every animal -- human or non-human -- to be free from discrimination or violence. But anyways, on to the blog post... ]

I’m crying, furious, and filled with a near-unbearable feeling of shame. Because, once again, my people are killing dogs.

PETA unveiled a horrifying investigation of “dog leather” in China yesterday. And the video is devastating. A little brown dog, shaking in terror, is dragged out of a filthy, dark room. She backs up against a wall and looks up in fear, as if to beg the man who is dragging her, “Please, sir, don’t hurt me. What did I do to you?” But he ignores her entreaties, lifts up a huge wooden club, and begins to smash her head with horrifying ferocity. The little dog cries out. But she is small, weak, and defenseless. Her brutalizer is massive, strong, and armed. All she can do is shriek in terror as he bludgeons her head over and over and over again. Soon she collapses to the ground. Two men cut the little dog’s throat and throw her into a huge bucket of water, where numerous corpses have already been tossed. They don’t seem to bother with determining whether she’s actually dead, so she may very well have drowned in a pool of her own blood.

Little Lisa. 

Little Lisa. 

The narrator tells us that many of these dogs are stolen from their families on the city streets. I can’t help but wonder… what if this were my little Lisa? What is the difference between the little brown dog I am seeing on the screen and the one I hug every night before I go to bed? The comparison is almost unbelievable. Just a glimpse into that nightmare brings my world crashing to the ground. Lisa, the light of my life, my favorite person, my happy child in a world so often filled with desolation, sadness, and pain…. Lisa, dragged to such a hellish and violent place? Impossible.

But it is possible, as the PETA investigation shows. Someone just like my little girl -- just as innocent, just as loving, and just as deserving of safety, happiness, and freedom -- is being brutalized at this very moment. 

So why am I disgusted… with the campaign?

1. The campaign plays on racism to draw support, and undermines our attempts to inspire Chinese activists to take action.

The PETA video, like so many other campaigns against Chinese practices, relies on an American-sounding narrator describing horrible abuses by the Chinese. It has the feel of a nature documentary, with dirty, violent, animalistic Asians contrasted with the calm, compassionate, English-speaking narrator.   

The video’s headline is the “Chinese Dog Leather industry.” Yet when was the last time an investigation of farms in the United States targeted Americans by decrying the “Brutal American Pig Flesh Industry?” 

The campaign decries the lack of animal welfare laws in China. Yet the US’s animal welfare laws are toothless and filled with exceptions advocated by industry, e.g. the wholesale removal of all birds from the requirements of the Humane Slaughter Act.

One of the thousands of dogs rescued from slaughter by grassroots activists in China. 

And the campaign fails to include a positive Asian face to counter-balance the horrible acts of cruelty. Yet the video ignores the fact that, as a product of PETA-Asia, Chinese activists almost certainly played a role in this investigation. Or the fact that recent grassroots mobilizations have inspired countless Chinese to travel great distances to block trucks delivering dogs to meat factories -- at significant personal risk in a nation where civil disobedience is often met with violent oppression. The movement has saved thousands of dogs from slaughter through these courageous acts of nonviolent direct action. When did we last see any similar action taken in the United States for the millions of dogs killed in experiments or “shelters” including, distressingly, many thousands killed by PETA itself? Those Chinese, it seems, could attack “barbaric Americans” (and “barbaric animal activists”) for their heartlessness, cruelty, and cowardice toward dogs.

All of that, however, is ignored. And with such a biased framing, it’s no surprise that the public’s reaction to the video is filled with hate against the Chinese. One of the top comments (approved by over 200 others) is as simple as it is antagonistic: “I hate China.” Many people state that they will boycott the entire nation for the faults of a few.  “[E]veryone should boycott chink made goods!” As usual, the strangest attacks are made by those who decry the Chinese as “not human”: “The more I learn about China the more I have come to believe that culture is for the most part not civilized - in fact, not even human at all,” says one. “Disgusting China. Filled with monsters, not humans,” says another. Why is being “non-human” used as an insult among advocates for non-human animal rights?

Perhaps most troubling are the many comments endorsing racial violence. Someone replies by advocating a nuclear attack: “China is the worst country in the world… nuclear bomb please!” Another commenter suggests replacing the dogs with Chinese: “lets have some chinamen hats… made from their mean slant eyed mother fuckers skins!” It’s enough to make even a fairly well-adjusted Chinese person, such as myself, a little shaken. What are the people on the streets of America actually thinking about the Chinese? What are they actually thinking about me?

You might reject this as paranoia, but discrimination is part of our historical experience as Chinese. We remember that a shocking 68% of Americans express unapologetically negative sentiments towards us, including a recently-viral, profanity-laced anti-Chinese rant in SF. We remember that Vincent Chin, blamed for the declining auto industry, was brutally bludgeoned to death for the crime of being born different. (The men who murdered him did not receive any jail time.) We remember that ludicrous rumors involving our integrity and loyalty continue to be spread even by the flagship “progressive” media outlets of our day, such as The New York Times or ABC. And we remember that far more Asians have been killed by the US government in the past 50 years than the people of any other continent. And we are understandably concerned.

Campaigns such as PETA’s, which incite terrifyingly-violent rhetoric, contribute to this fear. And perhaps the worst part of all is that the animals -- including those poor dogs in rural China -- are being undermined in the process. Because we know that, to effect change, we have to start in local communities. This is not just ethical but effective; sociological research shows us that our ability to impact those outside of our local communities is weak. We have to find Chinese supporters if we want to save the animals of China. We have to inspire people of all nations and continents, and all cultures and creeds, to solve the global problem of animal exploitation.

We have to represent the world to change the world.

At Direct Action Everywhere, we avoid ethnic targeting for exactly this reason. There are countless Chinese who have cried just as many tears, and felt just as much anger, over the murder of dogs and other animals. There are Chinese people risking their lives to help animals in need. There’s a Chinese kid out there -- who has faced despair, bullying and violence himself -- who is just as desperate as any one of us to save that little brown dog in the video. To reject these potential allies would be a disservice to the movement. To allow a Chinese kid with a big heart for animals to be subjected to racist threats is an incredible betrayal to the animals we represent. We simply have to do better.

2. The campaign is speciesist, i.e. it privileges dogs over other animals, and thereby reinforces the notion that human beings can arbitrarily decide which animals matter.

But what of public support? The dog leather campaign has mobilized a truly astounding level of public attention and outrage. In less than one day, PETA’s video has been watched by nearly a million people and shared by over 50,000. Many say that focusing on industries such as dog leather, marginal though they may be, is strategic because it is the “low hanging fruit” -- easy to garner opposition to, and just as easy to destroy.  

This confuses the basic function of the activist. We are not here to be popular. We are not here to cater to existing views. We are here to challenge and change those views. And focusing thoughtlessly on a single species, based on human perceptions of special worth, reinforces the species prejudice that feeds the entire system of animal abuse.

Shooting stink bombs at foreigners may give Westerners self-satisfaction. But does it help whales? 

Shooting stink bombs at foreigners may give Westerners self-satisfaction. But does it help whales? 

Anti-whaling campaigns are perhaps the greatest example of this. As the Japanese activist Tetsuhiko Endo points out, with a global budget of $25 million, anti-whaling NGOs (most notably, Sea Shepherd) are nearly as large as the entire whaling industry, which has annual revenues of $31 million. Yet whaling levels are twice as high as they were in 1990. Over that same time period, violence against other animals has continued its rapid increase in the very countries that have been most heavily targeted by anti-whaling campaigns, including Norway and Japan.

There is irresistible logic to this. When I was a child and first learned that dogs were being killed for food in China, I was horrified. I screamed and cried and begged my parents to stop my friends from being murdered. But they quickly dismissed my concerns as performing whiteness. “Americans do the same. Don’t you love bacon and baloney?”

As I child, I rejected this comparison. But in my adulthood, I now recognize that my parents were right. If we are going to break the species frontier, and grant rights to certain animals, there is no logical reason to stop with a single species. And if we are going to deny rights to one species, on the basis of their non-human status, who are we to object to the abuse of other animals?

The Japanese, Chinese, and others can see this logic as well, and immediately dismiss our single issue campaigns as hypocrisy, or worse yet, cultural imperialism. Local Asian activists who otherwise might be supportive of our efforts, in turn, are dissuaded from joining the movement for fear of being decried as hypocritical race traitors. The losers in all of this? Cultural understanding. Movement solidarity. And above all, the animals.

Don’t get me wrong. I am a huge dog lover. They were my entry into the world of animal rights. I am therefore the first person to say that dogs can be a window into the bigger picture of animal rights. However, to effectively serve as such a window, we have to give the public -- and indeed, animal activists, too -- a gateway into anti-speciesism. We have to hammer home the notion that concern for dogs without similar concern for animals killed by Westerners is both racist and speciesist. We have to have the courage to push our dog-loving, whale-loving, orangutan-loving friends to move beyond the low-hanging fruit -- marginal campaigns that the public is already willing to offer token support to (since they’re not involved in the abuse at issue anyways) -- and toward the root of the problem: the mentality of human supremacy. A mentality that people in our own neighborhoods are complicit in, most obviously, in who (not what, but who) we choose to eat. 

{Note: To PETA’s credit, the video does mention cows specifically. And the petition asks viewers to pledge to boycott all leather, not just the tiny amount of leather from dogs. But the campaign otherwise makes the abuse of dogs in China the subject of special ire, e.g. by emphasizing in bold type, “There's no easy way to tell whose skin you're really in.” But why does it matter whose skin you’re in, as long as it’s someone else’s skin?]

3. The campaign asks too little from us, when we have so much more to give

We need not travel great distances to find horrific abuse of animals. It's happening right next door. 

Perhaps the most troubling aspect of the campaign, however, is that it asks so little of the online activists who rush to support it. The action page has two options: donate or sign a petition. But what in heaven’s name does this do for the dogs who are being brutally murdered across the world? (The deeper and more troubling critique -- that the campaign uses horrible abuse of animals as a fundraising device while seemingly making no effort to actually help the animals abused -- will be developed in a future blog post. The danger of the “animal abuse industrial complex” is one of the primary reasons behind DxE’s soon-to-be-announced Open Rescue Network.)

I have walked in places of violence for nearly 10 years, and I can tell you that animal abuse is everywhere, and easy to find. We need not cross a gigantic ocean to find men doing horrible things to animals. We can fix the log in our own eye before picking at the speck in our neighbor’s. But to do that, we have to take action.

And the “we” in that statement is important. We need each other to succeed. We need to be organized, ambitious, and unified. The greatest movements in history have always been products of collective grassroots mobilization. While they have elevated figureheads to speak for them, their power has stemmed from their ability to inspire ordinary people to come together in waves of nonviolent direct action. To be the change they want to see in the world.

Single-issue campaigns that demonize foreigners do the opposite of this. They offer Westerners a pat on the back for their own moral beliefs and behaviors, and give us license to return to “normalcy.” But this sort of self-satisfied clicktivism is the opposite of what we should be shooting for, if we are seeking real and permanent change for animals. And it’s so far short of what we can achieve. We don’t have to settle for being cogs in a nonprofit machine. We don’t have to relegate our activism to being mere names and emails in a donor database or registry. We can save our animal friends, and, with the right support and community, we can do it now.

Undercover investigations, particularly of foreign practices, are, too often, a form of moral voyeurism. We watch. We shake our heads. Sometimes, we even condemn. But we never act. This failure to act, however, is as big of a problem as the violence itself. Peter Singer is known as the author of Animal Liberation, the father of the animal rights movement. But he made his name as a philosopher with another idea: namely, that the suffering of the oppressed is the result of both acts and omissions.

If you came across a child collapsed in a pond, what would you do?

The point is best illustrated by a simple example. Suppose a man walks by a little girl playing in a pond. He notices the child holds a quarter in her hand, and decides to strangle her to take the quarter.

Now let’s consider another man. He also walks by a child playing in a pond, but sees that the child has bumped her head and fallen unconscious in the water. She will drown if he does not step into the water and take her out. But he thinks to himself, “Washing my pants will cost at least 25 cents. That’s too much to ask” And so he leaves the child to drown.

Singer makes the quite sound point that there is no moral difference between these two men. In both cases, they have chosen 25 cents -- and their own self-interest -- over the fundamental rights of someone in need.

This example shows that the responsibility for suffering lies in the hands of both those who commit affirmative acts of violence, and those who sit quietly while that act of violence is being committed. Those who elevate privilege, comfort, and popularity over the terrors of the oppressed. Yet, too often, our campaigns ask for only that: to be mere bystanders to violence. We have to do better. We want to do better. We can do better. But to do that, we have to completely rethink what it means to fight for animal rights. We have to envision, not a consumer marketing campaign fed by flash-in-the-pan single-issue campaigns, but a global community of activists fighting with every ounce of their energy for the animals who have so little power to fight for themselves.

We do this at DxE. When we look at our campaigns, and measure our progress, we ask ourselves: have we built something that will survive? Have we built institutions, norms, and community? Have we created empowered networks of animal rights activism?

Summing Up

Let’s make no mistake. I would never express solidarity with those Chinese engaging in violent acts against innocent animals. What they are doing is truly an atrocity, and one that justifies immediate action to end. But the same industries, practices, and traditions that allow certain Chinese to terrorize dogs with impunity also oppress the Chinese people themselves. The government’s failure to act to protect animals, for example, is logically connected to its failure to protect human rights. This is a nation, after all, where hundreds of millions languish under the weight of one-party rule.

This is also not an attack on PETA. Some of my hardest working and most dedicated friends work at PETA. And PETA’s founder Ingrid Newkirk, though justifiably criticized, lives a spartan lifestyle, devotes every waking moment to animals, and has shown true genius in understanding the crucial role of disruption and provocation in building movements. PETA is also one of the only nonprofits that has consistently shown support for grassroots activists.

At DxE, we focus on building campaigns that are robust over the long haul. Join our next day of action on January 11.

Rather, this is a heartfelt request for us to collectively do better in three important ways. First, we need to start focusing on the big picture back home, rather than pick on secondary issues or marginal communities. We can’t afford to lose allies in the largest nation in the world, a nation with the fastest-growing animal abusing industries. Second, we need to start taking animal equality seriously -- in our campaigns, in our actions, and even in our words. We can’t rely on speciesist messaging if our goal is to end species prejudice. Third, while the temptation to wallow in clicktivism is strong, we have to ask more of ourselves than signing an online petition. We have to remember that that little brown dog is not just a pixel on a screen, or an unfortunate story in a land far away. She is a window to the desperation, terror, and suffering of animals who are imprisoned right next door. And we have to take nonviolent direct action to ensure that their lives are not forgotten.

Motion to Introduce Bullhook Ban Passes After Seven-Hour Wait

Motion to Introduce Bullhook Ban Passes After Seven-Hour Wait

By Saryta Rodriguez


I attended my first city council meeting as an Oakland resident last night (December 9th). It was a session of farewells, discussion of nonviolent direct action, a 1,000-person demonstration, an accusation of illegality, and a hard-won victory for circus elephants.  It was also the longest meeting I had ever attended, breaking my previous record of five hours (with a break) and still in session when I left roughly seven hours after it started at 5:30pm.

The session began with something of an Oakland Government Oscar Night. This turned out to be both soon-to-be-former Mayor Jean Quan’s and Council President Patricia Kernighan’s last meeting, while retiring Director of Emergency Services and Homeland Security at Oakland Fire Department Renee Domingo was honored for her twenty-five years of service to the City of Oakland.  Volunteer leaders of Council District 2, including Oakland Chinatown Chamber of Commerce Foundation President and unofficial “Mayor of Chinatown” Carl Chan, were also recognized.

Left to right: Mayor Jean Quan, City Council President Patricia Kernighan, Director of Emergency Services and Homeland Security Renee Domingo, and unofficial Mayor of Chinatown Carl Chan.

Left to right: Mayor Jean Quan, City Council President Patricia Kernighan, Director of Emergency Services and Homeland Security Renee Domingo, and unofficial Mayor of Chinatown Carl Chan.

Councilwoman Desley Brooks.

Councilwoman Desley Brooks.

Finally, it was time to address the issues.  The first item was the Ferguson Resolution, a motion “Calling for Changes to be Filed and Recognizing Our Collective Responsibility to Advance Racial Equity.” Councilwoman Desley Brooks did not mince words on the subject: “Racism is alive and well in Oakland.”  She spoke brilliantly on the importance of nonviolent direct action, and reminded us that the work of Dr. Martin Luther King and others is far from over.

Speaking specifically of the actions that led to BART service disruptions on November 28th of this year, Councilwoman Brooks offered the following words of wisdom:

Sometimes civil disobedience is uncomfortable, and sometimes it is inconvenient; but it is still NECESSARY.

While the passage of this resolution was critical, it was far less controversial than the bullhook debate that would follow hours later.  Almost all of the fifteen citizens who spoke prior to the vote spoke in favor of the resolution, with only one citizen stating his objection on the grounds that so many black people have been killed right here in Oakland without the parties responsible being held accountable in any way that any resolution passed by our city council should include them as well—not just the Michael Brown case. This battle was swiftly and unsurprisingly won; but there is still a long way to go with respect to rebuilding trust between the police and the community, as events unfolding later in the evening would demonstrate.

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   Bullhooks are used not only to inflict pain upon elephants but also to instill fear. Circus-raised elephants are taught as babies that the bullhook means pain.  Never forgetting this early trauma, elephants are controlled during training sessions via use of the bullhook and on stage via fear of it.  S  ome testified last night that handlers keep bullhooks up their sleeves during performances, hidden from the public but in view of the elephant— a constant reminder of the consequences of disobedience.

Bullhooks are used not only to inflict pain upon elephants but also to instill fear. Circus-raised elephants are taught as babies that the bullhook means pain.  Never forgetting this early trauma, elephants are controlled during training sessions via use of the bullhook and on stage via fear of it.  Some testified last night that handlers keep bullhooks up their sleeves during performances, hidden from the public but in view of the elephant— a constant reminder of the consequences of disobedience.

Initially, the bullhook ban was the first non-consent item on the meeting’s agenda. The items were quickly reordered, however, after it was determined that an overwhelming 110 people had signed up to speak their piece about the bullhook ban.

Discussion of the bullhook ban was delayed until roughly 10pm.  Right from the start, it was evident that this was not to be a traditional meeting.  Citizens who have signed up to do so are typically given roughly one minute each to speak at city council meetings.  At last night's meeting, the discussion of bullhooks instead began with a formal ten-minute presentation by those in favor of the ban—which had been approved prior to the session by Councilman Noel Gallo, one of the two who brought the issue to the fore (the other being Councilman Dan Kalb); but of which no one thought to request the prior approval of President Kernighan.

In her momentary absence from the chamber, a video began, showing Ringling Brothers employees abusing elephants with bullhooks in 2009.

Needless to say, Madam President was not pleased.

Councilman Kalb (left) and Councilman Gallo (right), being sworn in.

Councilman Kalb (left) and Councilman Gallo (right), being sworn in.

Councilman Larry Reid.

Councilman Larry Reid.

Roughly an hour into the discussion, it was announced that a group of protesters estimated at about 1,000 were gathered on the steps of City Hall, demonstrating against the Michael Brown and Eric Garner decisions.  Council members debated as to whether or not to shut down the meeting; while Councilman Larry Reid maintained that there were public safety issues to consider, and that the protesters should not be allowed into council chambers as to do so would create a fire hazard, Councilwomen Brooks and Lynette McElhaney insisted that not only should the session continue but that it was the council’s sworn duty to admit all citizens to the public meeting. 

As it turned out, the protesters stayed outside—though one citizen previously at the meeting rushed back into the chambers, having stepped outside to check out the action, and declared:

Councilwoman Lynette McElhaney.

Councilwoman Lynette McElhaney.

“Point of order: The doors are locked and people can’t get in.  If this meeting continues, it is hereby illegal under the Brown Act.”

The doors were then unlocked—at least at the side entrance.

The meeting continued.  Predictably, several concerned citizens spoke about the threat this ban posed to their jobs—seemingly unaware that it was neither City Council nor the citizens of Oakland but rather Feld Entertainment, Ringling Brothers’s parent company, who threatened their jobs (and, consequential, their access to health care).  The ban, mind you, had nothing whatsoever to do with banning circuses from Oakland or even banning the use of elephants in circuses in Oakland; it simply sought to ban the use of an abusive, dangerous instrument in the training of elephants.

Councilman Kalb was compelled to remind the chamber of this fact after testimony from the opposition repeatedly framed the argument as one of “humans vs. animals,” implying that job losses would immediately and inevitably result from the bullhook ban and that, consequently, anyone voting in favor of the elephants tonight would inherently be voting against humanity.

Sensing that the situation was about to get bloody, Councilwoman Rebecca Kaplan—who had charmingly announced at the start of the meeting that she was wearing a sports cap in celebration of the Warriors’ recent victory over the Lakers—proposed a compromise: following the lead of Los Angeles and other cities, she proposed that the ban be passed but that it not go into effect until September 2017.  The compromise replaced the original motion to institute a ban effective immediately.

Councilwoman Rebecca Kaplan.

Councilwoman Rebecca Kaplan.

Elephant trainers on both sides of the debate spoke, some insisting on calling the bullhook a “guide” and claiming that they used it regularly and humanely, while others revealed that they had been training elephants for over a decade without the use of bullhooks. Feld Entertainment’s threat to stop bringing circuses and other shows under its umbrella, such as Disney on Ice, to Oakland was the company’s way of bullying City Council in the same way that it bullies elephants—implying that there is no choice in the matter, and that if it doesn’t get what it wants, anyone standing in the way will suffer.

The numbers bandied about surrounding the issue were equally absurd.  Everything from $200,000 to $700,000 to $1.4 million was cited as possible losses to our city without Feld’s patronage; yet not one of the three people who spat out these numbers was able to explain concretely how they had arrived as such a number.  One woman, who supported the $700,000 estimate, said she came to this conclusion by considering that some people who go to circuses might stay at Oakland’s hotels or use Oakland’s gas stations.  When was the last time anyone you know took a trip to a city in which they knew no one, and therefore were obligated to stay in a hotel, just to see the circus? Or filled a car with gas strictly for that purpose?

After nearly two hours of debate, Councilwoman Kaplan’s amendment to the ban was passed.  Aside from this single-issue victory, however hard-won, I have to say that perhaps the most inspiring part of the meeting for me was hearing Mayor Quan’s words prior to casting her vote in favor of the ban:

Honestly, I am certain that the day will soon come when we will see a ban on elephants being used in circuses altogether; but we made some moves tonight, and with this ban we will keep moving forward.

Here we arrive at the heart of the matter—total animal liberation.  Coming on the heels of my December 5, 2014 article, Low-Hanging Fruit,” the timing of her words could not have been better for me.  While banning circuses was not the issue of the evening, it was evident that many of the Oakland residents present would support such a ban; but there needs to be a starting point, a nexus.  Oakland has now joined Los Angeles and other cities in adopting a bullhook ban; it is my sincere hope that soon, Oakland will join Mexico City, Bolivia, Peru, Greece, and the many others who have banned the use of wild animals in circuses altogether.

The next city council meeting, at which the proposed ban will be finalized, with take place January 6, 2015.  I strongly encourage liberationist Oakland residents to attend.


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. 

What's Stopping You From Speaking Out?


What's Stopping You From Speaking Out? 

By Laura Bellefontaine 



"The moral evils of a flesh diet are not less marked than are the physical ills. Flesh food is injurious to health, and whatever affect the body has a corresponding effect on the mind and the soul. Think of the cruelty to animals that meat eating involves, and its effect on those who inflict and those who behold it. How it destroys the tenderness with which we should regard these creatures of God!" - The Ministry of Healing [Pg 314-316].

Direct Action Everywhere's protest in Salt Lake City, Utah. Protesting against the "humane" advertising slogan placed on meats at various upscale grocery stores. Exactly what is their definition of humane slaughter?

Direct Action Everywhere's protest in Salt Lake City, Utah. Protesting against the "humane" advertising slogan placed on meats at various upscale grocery stores. Exactly what is their definition of humane slaughter?

Direct Action Everywhere’s (DxE's) mission, stated simply, is to create peace for all earthly beings. The recipe for social change is fairly simple: Create activists, Connect activists and Inspire activists. Priya Sawhney, DxE’s community organizer, states, “Committing ourselves to making the world a better place is one step in finding deep peace within ourselves, but more importantly, a step closer in creating a peaceful world for all inhabitants of this planet.” The people involved with DxE convey the passion they feel about animals. However, many people argue that DxE’s approach is harsh and preachy. Nobody likes a preachy vegan. Right? Well, except for the animals. Instead of judgment, read this article and admire their convictions and commitment. Avoid the social stigma that to be assertive is pushy.

Protest in Salt Lake City, Utah

Protest in Salt Lake City, Utah

Some vegans try hard to keep the conversations light, to avoid the social shame that animal right activists have stamped upon their foreheads. Are vegans preachy? Where does the negative association of the word “preach” come from? Since millions attend churches, one would assume people enjoy hearing a sermon derived upon various religious notions and beliefs. When I asked Priya whether protesting produced any benefits, she answered, “In his letter from a Birmingham Jail, Martin Luther King Jr. said, 'Nonviolent direct action seeks to create such a crisis and foster such a tension that a community which has constantly refused to negotiate is forced to confront the issue. It seeks so to dramatize the issue that it can no longer be ignored.' The world needs emerging leaders who display an outspoken understanding of the cruelty taking place. Indeed, if outspoken activists did not campaign for social justice throughout history, would slavery still exist today? Furthermore, what is your definition of slavery? Is it only confined to human-beings or rather all innocent beings?"

Protest in Salt Lake City, Utah. "This is a somebody, not a something!"

Protest in Salt Lake City, Utah. "This is a somebody, not a something!"

I was moved, as I began to understand why people choose to protest. These activists protest despite the public opposition. They continue to speak against the injustice being done to animals. Do they not deserve a voice? Do they not have an equal right to be safe, happy, and free? Is this not honorable? DxE hopes for change focusing on farm animals, noting that violence is not food. This campaign directly impacts Ching Farm Sanctuary. These organizers and protesters help give a voice to the animals that reside on our farm; animals that society sees as food. If you wouldn't harm a cat, why are other animals so different? Animals big and small, they all deserve a voice. They all deserve love and compassion. What’s stopping you from speaking out?

Post action activist dinner with some awesome people.

Post action activist dinner with some awesome people.

Tell Their Stories

Tell Their Stories

By Saryta Rodriguez


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What stories will you tell?


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

by Wayne Hsiung

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

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

In one word: disruption. 

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

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

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

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

"But it makes us look extreme and crazy!"

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

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

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

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

Direct Action is a Value, not just a Tactic

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

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

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

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

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

Dramatize the Issue

Dramatize the Issue (by Kelly)

UPDATE: Glenn Beck personally spent twelve minutes on his talk show talking about the disruption (hatefully, in perfect human supremacist fashion, though with an interesting acknowledgement of how he was taught speciesism).

I have adopted three little girls. One is a dog. Two are chickens. All are family.

You know how that is. Heck, most of America knows how that is where their dog or cat is concerned. The trouble is, we've learned to be so speciesist that we have a hard time seeing a chicken for the social, gentle, loving, clever little girl she is, because we're taught that only animals like "dog" and "cat" are "friend" but other animals like "cow" and "chicken" are called "food" instead -- without ever bothering to listen to what that animal has to say about it, when she cries out in a very clear call for help before a human kills her for his pleasure.

Well, last weekend, with other liberationists at my back, I went into a space that normalizes violence against animals who are not named "human" or "dog" or "cat" and I told the people there (and the people to view the video on the Internet) the story of one of my little girls.

Today it was widely publicized through a conservative web publication, namely by bullies eager to demonstrate their human supremacism, in tandem with threats of violence ("get between me and cooked meat, and i'll show you some violence" and "go away, woman, before we barbeque you") as well as a dash of misogyny ("sorry, but I don't trust females with little boy haircuts" and "crazed woman"), of course. (The publication's Facebook post is here.)

Other leftists, take note: If Glenn Beck's camp hates us this much, we're probably doing something extremely progressive. Leftist politics have everything to do with not treating others badly just because we can -- being against discrimination and violence is core to our position. And it's quite apparently antithetical to theirs, which is why they hate the threat of empathy that we embody. They believe that violence is a joke.

And to the #FirstWorldProblems comment, while I personally have that privilege, it is not hard to find animal rights activists and ethical vegans and anti-speciesist sentiment in any human society, and no actually, the hashtag doesn't justify dismissing the issue and the voices of those who are crying out for help just because they aren't humans. All oppression has the same ideological roots, we can't just fix the "human" problems first and then move on to the other animals. And we certainly shouldn't continue actively harming other animals just because other human animals are still being oppressed, there is no logic to that, unless it's okay to beat and rape and kill me because there are still men who experience oppression at the hands of some other logic of domination and they're just that much more important than me. And we should not judge that one person's suffering is more important than the suffering of any one or one billion others just because that person occupies a privileged class that the others do not.

The #FirstWorldProblems hashtag is used by people complaining about something that happened to them that they acknowledge is trivial. Nothing has happened to me. I have the privileges of being a human in a human supremacist society. The grievance here is from someone who is crying out for help as she desperately tries to escape being murdered. (And currently humans are not listening to her -- rather, we're silencing her -- so I am trying to use my voice to make space for hers.) That's not a triviality. She wants to live, she wants freedom, she wants to be loved, just like you and I and our dog friends. Really, the Blaze article itself should be hastagged #humanproblems, because it's just humans complaining about other humans trying to stop them from engaging in gratuitous acts of violence that they only can participate in because they are humans in a human supremacist society.

Basically all the other comments I've seen are straw humans and attempts at diversion and other obvious fallacies or just plain trolling.

While the speciesist hate speech in the comments may be enraging and disheartening, it is important to remember that confrontations like these and the others we do function to force the issue onto the table. And clearly, people are talking about it, it's not a non-issue that they're dismissing anymore. Instead, they're feeling pressure and retaliating. The animal rights movement is growing and everyone can see that happening.

(I'd like to note too that we should consider it an indication that our message is strong when the opposition themselves reiterates in our terms our attitude that Snow is a "somebody" rather than a something.)

As activists who engage in nonviolent direct action like the activists of the anti-oppression movements before us, we are here to get the dialogue moving, to get the animals' voices on the tables beside their bodies. And it's working. We're here to polarize the debate so people have to take a side and fight for it, and look at how the human supremacists are letting their colours show -- the animals' opponents are making it very clear that they are just violent, oppressive, hateful bullies who aren't particularly interested in empathy, rational conversation, or new ways of thinking. They're very actively and proudly in favor of hurting defenseless animals who just want to live, and they're aggressive towards humans who peacefully speak of a world without cruelty to animals. They're bullies, to the nonhumans and to their human allies. Seriously, whether you read our history books or just watch the movies we make, I think we are all equipped to determine who the bad guy in this story is.

No, this won't be easy. What movement against violent oppression ever was?

Yes, there is hope. Oh, so much of it. Why?

"Nonviolent direct action seeks to create such a crisis and foster such a tension that a community which has constantly refused to negotiate is forced to confront the issue. It seeks so to dramatize the issue that it can no longer be ignored." (Martin Luther King, Jr, Letter From a Birmingham Jail)

They're not exactly ignoring it.

(PS: The original video is on Facebook and YouTube.)