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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.

What if Everything We Think We Know about Social Change Is Wrong?

What if Everything We Think We Know about Social Change Is Wrong? (VIDEO)

by Brian Burns

Despite the explosive growth of grassroots movements in recent years ( #BlackLivesMatter, Occupy Wall Street, the Arab Spring, to name a few) and their extraordinary effects - in the last case, literally toppling governments - many in the animal rights movement ardently oppose protests of any kind. Citing dubious studies or anecdotal evidence, three assumptions have come to dominate modern thinking on animal advocacy:

  1. Change individuals. Focus on creating vegans one by one.
  2. Change behavior. Peoples' behavioral and economic choices, especially their dietary ones, should be the main goal of advocacy, not their beliefs.
  3. Be nice. In order to effectively create these changes, we should not provoke or disrupt, but rather lead by example and appeal to peoples' already-held beliefs.

But what if everything we think we know about social change... is wrong? In a recent talk at Northwestern Law School where he was previously a professor, DxE organizer Wayne Hsiung presented the work of some of the greatest thinkers in behavioral economics, sociology, and social justice to present a very different model of social change. Citing mathematical sociologist Duncan Watts on network science and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. on the power of nonviolent direct action, Wayne outlines why DxE's approach differs from the mainstream:

  1. Create activists. Activists, unlike isolated vegans, unite to form powerful coalitions to broadcast the message of animal rights, and in turn inspire more activists in cascades for change. Case study: Duncan Watts' experiments with online networks.
  2. Change beliefs, especially social norms. "Morality is higher than economics," in the words of economics Nobel laureate Robert Fogel, and peoples' beliefs have powerful effects on their behavior, and the beahvior of others. Case study: Robert Fogel's analysis showing that antebellum slavery was challenged and defeated by a powerful political movement in spite of its growing economic power.
  3. Challenge and provoke. Protest disrupts violent routines, demonstrates activists' determination, and broadens the circle of debate. Case study: the work of Cornell sociologist political scientist Sidney Tarrow, who says that protest is "the strongest weapon of social movements".

In the second half of the presentation, I explain how DxE puts these insights into action in our flagship campaign, It's Not Food, It's Violence. Each result has a practical analogue that DxE puts into practice.

  1. Build a network for activism. We create strong, empowered communities for animal rights. This includes DxE Connections (a peer to peer activist support network) DxE Meetups (weekly meetings where community members share experiences, skills, and insight), and an international support network (including a new organizer mentorship program) for communities around the world to unite for animals.
  2. Challenge ideas. We focus on changing culture and social norms by challenging deep seated beliefs about speciesism and the humane myth - ideas often lost in meatless-mondays gradualism.
  3. Take nonviolent direct action. We go inside the very places where animals' bodies are mutilated and sold, and deliver the strong message that the animals deserved. While difficult and subject to ridicule, the evidence is clear that provocation is powerful.

All this information is presented with much more detail (and even some humor!) in the talk hosted by Northwestern Law and sponsored by Vegan Chicago. Give it a watch!

Why Race Matters (especially for Animal Rights Activists)

Why Race Matters (especially for animal activists)

Working against racism is not just the right thing to do. As a world-renowned scholar points out, it's the only way our movement will grow, both at home and abroad. 

By Wayne Hsiung

Will Kymlicka

Will Kymlicka

Will Kymlicka is one of the most influential philosophers of our time. His work on multiculturalism and human rights has spawned dozens of books by distinguished scholars in the field, and it has influenced an entire generation of human rights practitioners. A professor at one of Canada's most prestigious universities, he is also far from being a "radical anti-racism activist."

And yet Kymlicka, along with his co-author Sue Donaldson, has an important critique of our movement. We are, in both our shocking lack of diversity and our demonization of non-white/Western peoples and practices, shooting ourselves in the foot. 

In both of these ways – the broader public’s targeting of ‘cruel’ minority practices and the AR movement’s promoting of a vegan lifestyle – contemporary animal politics is often seen not just as presupposing a privileged white perspective, but also as reaffirming or relegitimating those racial privileges, treating white perspectives as normative while ignoring the extent to which those perspectives are made possible by the oppression of others. Animal advocacy, in short, is seen as performing whiteness....

There is arguably no greater sin on the Left in North America today than performing whiteness, and progressive organizations will avoid associating with any cause that they suspect will be accused of doing so. Mainstream feminist, gay, disability or anti-poverty groups have faced their own accusations of performing whiteness, and have undergone wrenching internal debates to include racial minorities in their work. Having created what are often still fragile alliances with racial minorities, they are reluctant to embrace any cause that might jeopardize those links.

I share his words because my appeal to PETA yesterday was not a critique of one organization or campaign. It was a call for us to rethink basic assumptions about our movement. Should we be targeting "others" in distant communities or cultures, or pushing harder to change the practices of our own friends, families, and communities? Should we be glorifying rich Western celebrities, or empowering marginalized voices -- voices from communities who, like animals, have also suffered from violence -- to be ambassadors for trans-species justice? Should we frame our movement as a Western consumer lifestyle movement (in a world where billions still struggle in extreme poverty), or as a global movement to stop violence against the most oppressed beings on this planet? Should we be performing whiteness -- privileging white, Western perspectives over those of oppressed peoples (and animals) all over the world -- or should we be fighting for justice -- showing the ties between all forms of discriminatory violence and, by doing so, connecting the cause of animals to historic movements for human rights?

These are all big picture questions that extend far beyond a single campaign. And we must answer them well because, as Kymlicka powerfully argues, not only do these questions determine our attempts to build global solidarity... they build a foundation (or, if answered poorly, a non-foundation) for our movement's growth here at home. 

Check out the full article here. It's a must-read. 

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.

Interview with John Sanbonmatsu, Associate Professor of Philosophy at Worcester Polytechnic Institute

Interview with John Sanbonmatsu, Associate Professor of Philosophy at Worcester Polytechnic Institute

By Saryta Rodriguez


SR: First of all, thank you so much for taking the time to speak with Direct Action Everywhere.

JS:  Thanks for asking me. 

John Sanbonmatsu

John Sanbonmatsu

SR: In your book, The Postmodern Prince: Critical Theory, Left Strategy and the Making of a New Political Subject, you discuss the philosophical and social transition from prioritizing the development of a “common language of politics” (as advocated by Marx, Engels and others) to the current “deconstruction of discourse” prevailing in various social movements today—including the AR movement. 

Would you care to elaborate on how such deconstruction challenges the progress of the AR movement, from your perspective?

JS:  The problem is not so much deconstruction, as such, but what became known as the "postmodern turn" in scholarship in the humanities under the influence of French poststructuralist philosophers like Lyotard, Derrida, Foucault, Lacan, Deleuze and Guattari, and so on.   There are insights to be gotten out of some of these theorists (though some more than others).  The trouble is, poststructuralism is an exceedingly poor basis for formulating a substantive politics of any kind.  First, because poststructuralists want to distance themselves from humanism and Marxism, they are positively averse to normativity.  That is, they equivocate on important values, particularly in the realm of ethics, e.g. eschewing language of liberation or oppression (because their theory of language and power essentially implicates all of us in complex discourses rather than in responsibilities).

Postmodernist critical animal studies scholars insist that we all have “blood on our hands”—which is both true and beside the point, because such statements obscure the sociological dimensions of power, i.e. which groups have more of it than others, and why.  Some such theorists even warn us not to use the language of “animal rights” at all—objecting, on recondite theoretical grounds, that in talking about “rights” we end up reproducing “humanism” and the repressive apparatus of the State.  Others, like Donna Haraway, essentially defend the instrumental domination, use and killing of other animals. (Incidentally, Haraway has been invited to give the keynote address at animal studies conferences, where she has attacked vegans and veganism.)

In addition to this fuzziness or equivocation around values, poststructuralism occludes social phenomena, muddying the waters of theory by imposing abstract metaphysical concepts on empirical reality—e.g., “biopolitics,” “cyborgs,” “hybrids,” “memes,” “differance,” “actants,” “bodies that matter,” etc.  These terms bear about them the aura of de nouveau, the New, “the cool.”  They shine and have the allure of newly minted knowledge commodities—discursive coinage that bestows upon its bearer an aura of respectability and sophistication, within an economic structure of scarcity within the university system: scarce jobs, and even scarcer intellectual courage.

The responsibility of theory is in fact not to complicate our understanding of the world—which is already complicated and confusing enough—but to simplify it, to make it easier to grasp its essential or underlying features.  Theory should not make the world more complicated than it already is. 

Read full response here. 

SR: It’s no secret that ours is a movement wrought with semantic differences, with objections flying left and right to this or that term (as one also often encounters in discussions of gender and sexual orientation).  Do you see any potential benefit or value to semantic hairsplitting within the AR movement? Or is it a mere distraction, a waste of time?

JS:  If you mean the debate between welfarism and liberationism, I think that that debate, that distinction, does matter—and all the more so today, when the "humane meat" movement has taken over so much of the welfare wing of the movement.  I also think that arguments over tactics, particularly the problem of violence, are worth having.  That said, there's no doubt that we need to find a way to engage in debates without falling into ad hominem attacks and becoming so obsessed with definitions that we lose sight of what matters—other animals.  There are outsized egos in our movement, particular male egos; and as a consequence there is also a great deal of aggression in some of these debates (I have to cop to this one myself). 

One of the false dilemmas currently being bandied about is the old chestnut that reform and revolution are at odds with one another; but the question is how to go about seeking reforms of the current system without compromising our long-term goal of abolition.  What is key is that our campaigns chip away at the foundations of speciesism as a system and the only way that can happen is to show how single-issue reforms or campaigns are expressions of a deeper liberationist framework, rather than not from a welfarist one.  But welfarism and reformism are not the same.  One can consistently hold the position that Seaworld should be shut down, say, without along the way contrasting its immoral policies to so-called "better run" marine parks.  (There is an excellent Master's thesis on this, by the way, by Elizabeth Smith, a recent graduate of the Brock University animal studies program.)  Whatever we do, we always have to be challenging the core ideology of speciesism. 

SR:  Thank you for that insight.  I agree that this distinction is valuable; however, do you have any thoughts on other common semantic arguments in the AR movement, such as whether or not it's "okay" to employ the term vegan? I know a lot of activists have mixed feelings about whether using this term in particular is positive, negative, or neutral/inconsequential.

JS:  The word “vegan” is rather unavoidable, I think—at least in the context of eating.  At the same time, “veganism” is often a weak substitute or placeholder for the broader theme of animal liberation or animal rights.  “Veganism,” as you know, is associated in many people’s minds with one’s food preferences, even one’s “lifestyle.” Being vegan is seen as akin to being gluten intolerant, diabetic, or merely a finicky eater (as in, “Oh, I forgot—you’re vegan!  Where should we go where you can find something to eat?”). 

More radical or political “vegans,” of course, view veganism more broadly than this, encompassing a variety of other animal rights concerns with that term; but even to me, it is unclear why being a “vegan” as such should commit me to a public stance against vivisection, aquariums, or habitat destruction.  To answer your question, then, I would say that the animal rights movement would be wise to emphasize concepts of universal citizenship—as Sue Donaldson and Will Kymlicka, the authors of Zoopolis, have argued—or otherwise develop a language and movement of general emancipation—one that takes the emphasis away from “diet.” 

Some years ago, I coined the term “metahumanism” to describe an ideology and praxis of universal freedom for humans and nonhumans: a democratic, feminist, socialist praxis that would include animal liberation at its center.  Apparently, though, it was a non-starter; so someone else should think of a way of representing our project to the broader public!  It needs to be clear to people that what is at stake is not simply a set of eating guidelines, but a total critique of society—of a way of life that has become inimical to life.

SR: Much of your work centers on the notion of critical theory: applying knowledge of social sciences to assess and critique society and culture.  Many readers may have encountered this term in Sociology 101 courses; but what insight does critical theory lend to AR activism today? Would you say it is being implemented efficiently, relative to its use in past social justice movements?

JS:  What makes critical theory "critical" is that it sets out from a point of view of social critique—a rejection of the dominant values and institutions of our culture (in this case, the rejection of speciesism as a mode of producing human life).  The purpose of critical theory is twofold.  At minimum, first, its function is to give us a clearer sense of what the "problem" actually is.  This is crucial.  How can we form campaigns, tactics or strategies, to solve a social problem without first understanding it?  For example, some animal rights activists seem to think that convincing people to become vegan will end animal agriculture; but the main force driving our exploitation of nonhuman beings today is capitalism as a world system. Evidently, then, changing people's dietary habits, while important, is not going to be enough.  Buying vegan burgers, for instance, may actually be reinforcing the system of speciesism because, in many cases, it profits the very same companies who are marketing meat products, such as Whole Foods.  So what may at first appear to be an unproblematic intervention may in reality subtly strengthen the system as a whole.  Hence the role of the intellectual (whether the astute grassroots activist or the professional sociologist or philosopher)—which is, first of all, to acquaint us with the facts—becomes crucial. 

But "facts" are fluid, cultural, and semiotic:  they include our use of language, representations of animals in literature and media, the political economies of the meat system, and so on. And they cannot be stumbled across by accident.  We have to be out looking for them, using the tools of theory.

In addition to illuminating the nature of the problem (or rather, problems, because speciesism is merely one key spoke on a giant wheel of interconnected systems of oppression and violence), critical theory can also help us think strategically about social change, by identifying points of weakness or contradiction in the current system. The history of critical theory actually succeeding at this is not terrible encouraging.  Marx and Engels were brilliant at diagnosing the contradictions of capitalism, but not very good at theorizing revolution.  (Most of the revolutions of the 20th century occurred in peasant-based societies, not highly industrialized ones, and most of them ended up being steeped in blood, before dissolving altogether.)  That said, at its best, critical theory can serve as a kind of compass, or as "map-making.” Even if the "map" we have is incomplete and in constant need of revision, it's better than not having any sense of direction at all.

SR: One of the primary goals of Direct Action Everywhere is to dispel the Humane Myth: the notion that there is a kind, “humane” way to enslave and ultimately murder a sentient being.  We understand this is also of the utmost importance to you; care to tell us why?

JS:  It is clear that the meat system is in crisis.  This could be an occasion for radical change.  As a species, we could seize this opportunity to embark on a new form of human life: one that would not be organized around the perpetual sexual reproduction and mass murder of billions of our biological kin.  Instead, we find sectors of the capitalist economy working very hard to prevent this from happening.  The system is doing everything it can to protect itself, by creating the illusion that one can "care" about animals while still wanting them to die violently at our own hands. Unfortunately, the strategy has been succeeding.

The reason why has to do with speciesism's "mode of legitimation," or characteristic way of defending itself as an idea and social practice.  Speciesism rests on a single pillar—the idea that human beings are superior to all of the other beings on earth, and that this superiority grants us a natural right to make use of the other beings however we like (a notion I have called "human species right").  As an ideology, this mode of legitimation obviously doesn't work quite as well as it once did.  The animal rights movement has raised consciousness about the brutal realities of animal agriculture.  Meanwhile, the global warming crisis has heightened awareness of the ecologically unsustainable nature of factory farming.  In other words, "meat" as an idea—or perhaps I should say as an ideal (as the preferred way for human beings to get their sustenance)—has become unstable, in direct proportion to the deepening of the ecological and moral contradictions at the heart of the system.  As a consequence, the animal industrial complex, as Kim Stallwood and others have called it, needs to be legitimated or justified in novel ways. 

Enter Michael Pollan and critics like him, who are essentially stabilizing the meat economy by telling consumers that they can have their meat and their consciences too. As we all know, middle class, mostly white consumers are buying into the "humane" myth.  Unfortunately, their strategy has been succeeding remarkably well, thanks to the pro-meat intelligentsia and the organic farming movement.  (I'm told that even the new Cowspiracy film focuses narrowly on the question of ecological sustainability, and entirely circumvents the real problem with animal agriculture, which is that it is mass violence and wholly unjust.)  Ironically, but perhaps by design, the new consumption regime is helping to stabilize factory farming, by reinforcing the bedrock ideological principle of speciesism, which is that the lives of other animals are without any intrinsic value—which means that we can exterminate billions of them without having to suffer any moral pangs.  Buying "pasture-raised" beef or organic eggs is like casting a vote for perpetual human dominion.

SR: What barriers have you encountered, or do you perhaps foresee, with respect to confronting the Humane Myth? How might it have become so thoroughly embedded in our culture that even those who label themselves “animal-lovers” or “anti-cruelty” nevertheless remain under its sway? I know this is a loaded question; but any insights or opinions you might have on the matter would be most appreciated.

JS:  Well, it already is embedded, I'm afraid.  There are probably two main reasons for it.  First, people are "interpellated" or conditioned by their culture to think selfishly and in terms of their own material comforts.  Consumer capitalism fragments society, isolates us as individuals, and leads us away from collective moral and spiritual reflection.  No one wants to reflect seriously on the meaning of their lives, let alone to soberly face their complicity in what amount to crimes and atrocities.  Eating animal products is convenient and aesthetically pleasing for many, which primes people to want to dismiss animal rights activists as lunatics or extremists. 

French philosopher, playwright, novelist, political activist, biographer, and literary critic Jean-Paul Sartre.

French philosopher, playwright, novelist, political activist, biographer, and literary critic Jean-Paul Sartre.

Second, and relatedly, we human beings often exist in a state of what the philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre called "bad faith."  That is, we continually make excuses for behavior we know is not really justified, deep down, so that we won't have to take responsibility for the choices we make as free beings.  This is why, when meat-eaters are challenged to reexamine their beliefs by vegetarians or vegans, they spontaneously invent the same fallacious arguments that everyone else does:  "plants are alive, too," "as long as we treat the animals respectfully, it's okay to harvest them," "lions eat gazelles, so it must be okay for us to eat animals," and so on.  We simply don't want to acknowledge what we are doing.   There is even anecdotal evidence in the news media that many former vegetarians are eating meat again, now that animals are supposedly being raised "sustainably" and "ethically."  Of course, such individuals probably never really cared about the animals, deep down, anyway:  they perhaps became vegetarians or vegans to demonstrate to themselves and others that they were progressive-minded, that they were properly concerned about "the environment" or what have you.  Bad faith, through and through.

None of us in the animal rights movement are innocent of bad faith, either.  There are plenty of vegans who think they are ethically pure, even though they consume products that are made with sweatshop labor in Asia, or indirectly cause animal suffering and death.  We can't entirely escape bad faith.  The question Sartre posed is how we might live more "authentically," by being vigilant to our propensity to escape our freedom.  All that we can do as activists is to point out the contradictions and hypocrisies in people's attitudes toward the other beings, and to show them what is really happening.

SR: In a letter to Aaron Gross of Farm Forward, you made a brilliant case against the Humane Myth while defending previous comments comparing the meat industry to the Holocaust.  This comparison is almost as common as it is controversial; but I admired your ability to dissect the issue. How did he respond? Was the interaction ultimately constructive, from your perspective?

JS:  The letter I wrote, which was published on Robert Grillo's Free From Harm website, was my response to an email Aaron sent to me after I contacted Farm Forward and told them what I thought of their morally repugnant work. Gross never responded to my critique; not a single word—even though Robert invited him to write a reply for the website.  Frankly, I don't see how he could have replied.  He must know, deep down, that I and others are right about this—that Farm Forward and other groups are colluding with evil.

In terms of the comparison between our treatment of animals to the Shoah or Nazi extermination of European Jewry and Roma, there are simply too many similarities to ignore.  At the same time, we should take care to note that our treatment of animals resembles genocide as such, slavery as such.  It isn't just the Holocaust that we should be talking about, but slavery in the ancient world and in the Americas, the Rape of Nanking by the Japanese, and so on. 

SR:  Critical theorists are captivated by the nature, meaning, and significance of power. How do you think the discourse and practice of animal agriculture—particularly "humane" meat—influence the pervasive power imbalance between humans and non-humans? How is that power imbalance related to other systems of power, and how might we most effectively challenge it? 

JS:  Unfortunately, the problem of "power" has largely disappeared in critical theory, thanks to the outsized influence of Michel Foucault and other poststructuralists, who drew attention away from classical conceptions of power as ideological hegemony to focus on "micro" power—power dwelling exclusively in the interstices of discourse, language, the comportment of our bodies, and so on.  This is not to say that Foucault and others didn't make a contribution to our understanding of power, because they did; however, with the exception of Marxists, a few remaining radical feminists, many sociologists, and some critical race theorists, theorists have otherwise ceased to be interested in power as a relational concept—as the dominance of one group over another.  Symptomatically, Judith Butler, the poststructuralist feminist, has essentially removed the term "patriarchy" from the lexicon of feminism, making it very difficult, as a consequence, to "name" the problem of male domination.

In terms of "humane meat," as I said, the entire discourse reinvigorates speciesism as a mode of domination, by providing ideological cover for the underlying principle of domination and violence, which it utterly fails to examine.  In this sense, the sustainable meat and locavore movements can be seen as a rearguard action by the intelligentsia and Western middle class to secure their right to appropriate the bodies of other beings, in the face of the animal rights critique.

You ask how this system of dominance is related to others, and how to challenge it.  Many fine scholars have shown the ways that speciesism reinforces and is reinforced by other systems of power and inequality, including capitalism, patriarchy, racism, and so on.  The only thing I would say as a caveat to such analyses is that we shouldn't succumb to the metaphysical presumption that all systems of oppression are equal in strategic or political significance, even though we must agree that they are all of equal moral importance.  In my opinion, capitalism and patriarchy pose the two greatest challenges to animal liberation today:  capitalism because it drives animal exploitation economically, ideologically and politically ("politically" insofar as the state is effectively controlled by big business); and male dominance because it propagates a value structure of objectification, domination, and violence.  Militarized masculinity and misogyny are also at fault—think of the recent "Gamer Gate" controversy—because patriarchy is antithetical to the development of an ethic of care, one that would place compassion toward other beings at its center.

SR: Your work also refers to intersectionality: the study of the intersections of various forms of oppression and abuse. This is paramount to Direct Action Everywhere, as we often host lectures and discussions about the relationships between speciesism, racism and sexism.  However, while opponents to any of these systems should naturally oppose the others, many do not.  How might we build bridges between groups who share the AR passion for justice and equality, but who may themselves persist in engaging in speciesist behavior?

JS:  I think that what DxE is doing to bring these issues together is admirable and important and timely.  I don't have a solution to this important problem, however, other than to say that we who constitute the left-wing sector of the AR movement need to keep showing up at protests and conferences of the political Left to insist that our voices and those of the animals be heard.  I think sometimes of the efforts of feminists within the US antiwar movement in the late 1960s, who tried to introduce questions of women's equality to the movement but were initially greeted by their male comrades with rape jokes.  The women eventually won!  However, the problem for the AR movement is that, unlike feminism, which spoke on behalf of one of the most sizable human constituencies there is—women as a class—we in the AR movement represent only a tiny sliver of the human population.  So unless we press our points and become something of a nuisance, we will continue to be ignored by the wider Left.  The challenge is to be insistent and unbending, without, however, lapsing into self-righteous indignation and shaming behaviors, which historically have been poisonous to building and sustaining large-scale social movements.

SR:  Aside from encouraging one anti-hatred group, such as a group of feminists, to live a more non-human-friendly lifestyle (by illustrating that “bovine women” are raped repeatedly to promote pregnancy and, in turn, milk production, for instance), how might animal liberationists—who ultimately fight for the freedom and equality of all species, including homo sapiens—effectively support and embrace other movements without jeopardizing our own? As an AR advocate, is taking a firm public stance on sexism, racism or any other –ism too risky?

JS:  I'm very ambivalent, actually, about the strategy of asking feminists to take animal rights seriously by emphasizing milk production and pregnancy, i.e. the oppression of their "sisters."  Gender is simply a meaningless concept when applied to nonhuman beings—a human projection.  As Carol Adams, Josephine Donovan, and other ecofeminists have shown, speciesist discourse often "animalizes" women and correspondingly depicts farm animals like cows and chickens as "feminine."  Our job is to deconstruct this fraudulent way of conceiving of gender and power, not to subtly reinforce it by suggesting that a cow is a "woman," which is absurd.  It is certainly true that women who choose to give birth, who have had that experience, may more keenly appreciate the heart-wrenching cruelty involved in, say, tearing a newborn calf away from his mother's side and throwing him into a veal crate; but many women don't have children, and don't want to.  And we musn't forget that many of the most outspoken proponents of killing animals in the carno-locavore movement are women—many of them, like Barbara Kingsolver, with children of their own.  In fact, the so-called "femivore" discourse of meat deploys "maternal" metaphors of "caring" for infant animals—before killing them!  So emphasizing the supposed natural solidarity between women and animals seems like a mistake to me.  Moreover, men are just as capable of empathizing with cows and calves as women are, and half of the victims of animal agriculture (not to mention scientific experiments, zoos, etc.) are male animals.

To the substance of your question, though, I always go back to Martin Luther King, Jr.'s point that "Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere."  The reason we have to support the movement for gender equality for women and members of the LGBTQ is not simply that animal liberationism ultimately depends to some degree on human social liberation—which it does—but because it is the right thing to do.  How we do that will always be complicated and difficult, and I don't have anything to add to what DxE and a few others are already doing.

SR:  In your opinion, how should AR groups navigate the waters of being inclusive and welcoming while remaining committed to ending oppression? For instance, what is to be done with a potential AR advocate who wants to work with an AR coalition, but makes plain that he or she is sexist or racist? Should such individuals be excluded entirely, or might they still be of some value to the movement?

JS:  This is a certainly tough question.  The Left, including feminism, has historically had a very hard time building sustainable movement cultures, in part because of our tendency as human beings to want everyone to see the world as we do.  On the one hand, if we're serious about so-called "intersectionality"—or universal justice, which is how I would prefer to describe it—then we obviously want to build a movement that is as "prefigurative" as possible. We want to build, here and now in our movement, in a concrete way, a mini-version of the idealized society of the future that we are striving towards.  However, human beings are imperfect, and always will be.  No matter how sure I am that I'm right and you're wrong, I need to acknowledge my capacity for error and poor judgment.  So we need to approach our activism with a generous dose of humility and humor.  This means being vigilant to self-righteousness, to "purges" of those who waver from an intellectual or political orthodoxy, to public shaming of those who disagree with us, whom we perceive as possessing "less evolved" opinions or attitudes than we do. 

This isn't to say that we should ignore sexism, racism, ableism, homophobia, etc., within our movement.  The question, rather, is how do we confront them?  When someone makes a sexist remark, say—and inevitably somebody will, because none of us are innocent of these structures—do we jump on them and tell them to leave the room, or even the movement?  Or do we firmly but respectfully tell them how we feel about their remark, and explain why we think it's inappropriate or damaging? 

I don't think the question should ever be whether this or that person has "some value to the movement," which strikes me as an instrumental conception of other persons.  Rather, the question is whether the individual can be "reached" or not.  Some people don't play well with others, and they aren't able or willing to change.  If someone within an organization, therefore, is disruptive, or repeatedly saying hurtful or ignorant things, and isn't open to an honest dialogue about their attitudes, then clearly they don't belong there.  But that's different from turning on a well-meaning white person, say, who enters a movement naively, without having been asked before to reflect on his or her race privilege, and faulting them for not already having a graduate-level comprehension of racism.  I do think it's possible to have these difficult conversations, so long as it's handled compassionately and in as non-judgmental a fashion as possible.  All this said, I should say that we need to have to have a zero tolerance policy for people who actually commit sexual assaults or other improprieties (so-called "predatorial" heterosexual men), or who are obstinately racist, etc.

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

JS:  To be honest, my involvement in DxE is peripheral, besides these interviews and my participation in a single action at a Chipotle's here in the Boston area.  But I am very sympathetic, obviously, to DxE and what it is trying to achieve. 

SR:  Thank you so much for your time, John.  Before we sign off, is there any remaining advice you’d like to offer to Direct Action Everywhere and other AR coalitions around the world?

JS:  I think the only piece of advice I can give as an "armchair general" (take what I say, therefore, with some skepticism), is that direct action is a tactic, not a strategy, and it should only be used to leverage specific objectives.  I agree with Kim Stallwood that the AR movement globally has been a disappointment in any number of ways, and that we need to get smarter, politically, about how we go about translating an ethical campaign into a political one.  Protesting is not enough, and it can even be counterproductive if it is not done the right way and is not calculated to broaden the movement and push things forward.  The challenge we all face, emotionally and even "existentially," is how to keep advocating radical social change in the face of a pervasive and deep-seated global culture of terrible violence.  We want just to just get out there and "do something;" but we have to think very carefully about what to do, and we have to be careful not to further isolate the movement. 

This is why I am against the use of violence in our movement, or even using violent language.  Quite apart from the ethical contradiction of using violence against animals (i.e. human animals) to protect animals, it's clear that the general human population is not ready to sympathize with violence or even property destruction--for example, arson and the like.  Some theorists have compared destructive, anonymous forms of direct action to the actions of Resistance fighters in France and other occupied areas of Europe under the Nazis.  But that analogy fails, it seems to me, because in the Nazi case, most members of the occupied population sympathized with the saboteurs already.  Also, there was an "outside" to the occupation (the Allied forces trying to defeat Germany), whereas today, by contrast, the vast majority of people are either indifferent to animal rights or hostile to the movement.  In our context, militant tactics that involve property destruction or threats to researchers will probably backfire.  For this reason, I support nonviolent campaigns like Open Rescue, Animal Equality, DxE, and others which have embraced the nonviolent tradition—which is the harder but surer path to follow.

SR:  One last question: What is your spirit animal?

JS:  I am not familiar with the term; but, if pressed, I'd say that my spirit animal is my 12-year-old son.

Why the HRC study of former vegetarians is wrong

Why the HRC study of former vegetarians is wrong

by Wayne Hsiung

What do gunshots and retroviruses have to do with a recent study on vegan messaging? 

What do gunshots and retroviruses have to do with a recent study on vegan messaging? 

The Humane Research Council released a study a few days ago claiming to show, among other things, that meat reduction is a more effective strategy than veganism. The first and most important point to make is that this is an example of what social scientists call a "reductionist" approach. Looking through the lens of individual consumers, as the brilliant sociologist Duncan Watts has instructed us, is like trying to understand forest fires by examining individual sparks or individual trees. The properties of the ecosystem as a whole -- in particular, the existence of highly flammable and connected kindling -- are what cause forest fires, so looking at the characteristics of individual components of the ecosystem simply won't provide any answers. Similarly, the changes activists are seeking to cause involve the interactions between many individuals -- moderated through network variables such as social norms and legal rules -- and looking at individual motivations will simply lead us down the wrong path. The best research on systemic change, in turn, shows us that, instead of focusing on individual-level vegan outcomes, we should be trying to build empowered networks of activists. We have to, in short, build up the kindling. 

But there are also two very important technical limitations that should give us pause in giving any weight to the conclusions drawn from the study. I'll try to describe both problems in layman's terms. 

1. The study is "sampling on the dependent variable."

HRC claims to test how various messages (i.e. various "treatments") affect the success of veg*n advocacy. But, importantly, they only look at people who were successfully converted, rather than all people exposed to a message. This is what scientists call "sampling on the dependent variable," and it statistically distorts the study in a fundamental way. 

A comparison may be helpful here. Say, for example, I were comparing the lethality of AIDS (a slow progressing disease), on the one hand, and gun shots (a fast progressing "disease"), on the other, but I only looked at people who died or nearly died as a result of each "treatment" rather than the entire universe of people who are exposed to AIDS or a gunshot. I might erroneously conclude that AIDS is much more dangerous than gun shots because all the people who have a near-death experience with gun shots seem to recover (naturally, because they are otherwise healthy people) while those who have a near-death experience with AIDS seem to continue on to death. But that ignores the fact that there are plenty of people with AIDS who never even get to the point of a near death experience because we have so many drugs to control the disease. It's essentially a treatable chronic condition in the West. We would have basically said, "Oh my gosh, AIDS is so deadly!" but only because we've ignored all the people who get AIDS, but never reach the point where they're on the precipice of death. 

Looking at only people who were successfully converted to veganism "slowly" is similar to looking at only people who have a deadly experience with AIDS. *Of course* it will look like the treatment at issue is powerful because, well, you're only looking at people for whom it's had a powerful effect, while ignoring the many others (millions others, in both cases) for whom it's had no effect. (For those interested in a numerical example, see the bottom of this blog post.) 

2. The study doesn't test causality. 

The HRC study is essentially a series of self-reported correlations. Any professional scientist will tell you that there are an infinite number of models to fit any particular set of data. For example, say I wake up, then I see the sun rise. Did I cause the sun to rise? Did the sun wake me up ahead of time because it wanted to show me its bright colors? Was there a magical elf who wanted to tell a story of me waking up, then the sun rising, who caused both to happen? Or was the correlation entirely random? 

You cannot distinguish between any of these theories with correlations. The correlations are still interesting, as they do limit the sorts of causal theories you should test. (For example, if I see the sun rises every morning after I get up, I should probably not test a theory that predicts the sun only rises in the evening when I go to sleep.) But the best way to look at these results -- and the way any professional economist would look at them -- is that this provides some raw data upon which we can actually perform some interesting experiments. For example, one could try to perform an instrumental variable analysis that would replicate the effects of a randomized controlled trial (the gold standard in empirical science) if we could find a variable that's correlated with the independent but not dependent variable. I don't know what that instrumental variable might be, however, as the data is not yet open to the public. It also doesn't solve the former problem -- sampling on the dependent variable -- so my hopes are fairly slim.

Upshot? Great effort. But it's probably best for social science to be performed by professional social scientists at research institutions. Frankly, even most of that research is spurious. (One of my former advisers used to tell me that only 1 out of 20 articles in even the best journals actually had any result to trust.) It's unreasonable to think we can do any better, as a movement, with our limited funds and expertise. 

Numerical Example (Note that this is hypothetical and used only to illustrate the problem) 

- 100 people exposed to "go fast" message
- 100 people exposed to "go slow" message

- 50 people converted with "go fast"
- 5 people converted with "go slow"

Relapse after one month
- 15 people relapse after going fast
- 1 person relapses after going slow. 

HRC-equivalent analysis:
- We looked at the 55 people who are current or former vegetarians, and we found that 15 out of the 16 who relapsed within a month, i.e. 94%, transitioned to veg*ism quickly. This shows us that people are going too fast and that we have to change our message to "go slow." 

Correct analysis: 
- We looked at 200 people who were exposed to two different messages: go fast and go slow. The go fast message appeared to be 1000% more effective than go slow. However, relapse occurred very quickly, and those who changed under the "go fast" treatment appeared to relapse at slightly faster rates (30% compared to 20% relapse within a month) than those who changed under "go slow." This could be because the go fast message was less robust. It also could be because those who change quickly in one direction, i.e. towards veg*ism, also change quickly in the other direction. The overwhelming number of former vegetarians who transitioned to vegetarianism quickly, in turn, could simply indicate that the "go fast" message is much more effective than "go slow." Further analysis is warranted to make any definitive conclusions. 

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.


Low-Hanging Fruit: Political Appropriation of AR Sentiments

Low-Hanging Fruit: Political Appropriation of AR Sentiments

By Saryta Rodriguez


It's no secret that politicians– like magazine editors, TV producers and others whose careers hinge almost entirely on The Now– love to claim the "it" issue of the day as their own.  People caring about the environment?  I'll plant a tree on camera.  People worried about obesity? I'll run a 5K and give a brief interview afterwards, sweaty and winded.  That sort of thing.  We've all seen it, and it isn't new.

While in the past I have laughed at and mocked such desperate attempts to win public favor, I now find myself mired in a complex internal struggle as a result of them. Why? Because the issue of the day is human treatment of nonhuman animals.  Politicians are now taking seemingly positive steps to end certain forms of cruelty to animals; and as an animal-lover, an end to any form of animal cruelty is naturally a cause for celebration to me.  I struggle because while I appreciate these measures, I understand all too well that these politicos are simply grasping at low-hanging fruit.  They latch on to less pervasive forms of animal abuse and launch legislative attacks against them to avoid having to confront the Big Picture--having to develop and implement any significant structural changes to how our society eats, dresses, builds, learns, or is entertained.

Waiting for customers on Monday at Grand Army Plaza, near Central Park. A bill would ban horse-drawn carriages by mid-2016. Kirsten Luce for  The New York Times

Waiting for customers on Monday at Grand Army Plaza, near Central Park. A bill would ban horse-drawn carriages by mid-2016. Kirsten Luce for The New York Times

For instance, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio promised during his campaign to ban horse-drawn carriages from use in the city, and earlier this week the New York Times reported that he is making good on that promise. As a long-time New Yorker, I was delighted to hear this. Many of my visits to Central Park– particularly the area around Columbus Circle– have been marred by images of depressed-looking horses lined up in rows, often standing in their own feces; wearing blinders that rendered them unable to see fully in any direction; surrounded by noise, fast-moving vehicles and photo-flashing tourists.

As much as it relieves me to hear that soon, no horse will have to endure such suffering in New York City again, I cannot shake the mental image I have of Columbus Circle. This image includes not only rows of depressed horses (and people and food carts and traffic lights and statues...) but also features as a backdrop the Time Warner Center: home of both the meat- and dairy-serving restaurant Landmarc and humanewashing giant Whole Foods.  While the horses outside are being, to an extent, liberated, just behind them is a building in which other sentient beings are being dishonored, their corpses sold and served.  Does de Blasio intend to do anything about that? I doubt it.

Pigs shown in the gestation building at Grandview Farms in Eldridge, Iowa, on August 9, 2012. Stephen Mally for  The New York Times

Pigs shown in the gestation building at Grandview Farms in Eldridge, Iowa, on August 9, 2012. Stephen Mally for The New York Times

Also in the news this week was New Jersey Governor Chris Christie's veto of a bill to ban the use of gestation crates in his state. In this case, the politico in question is actually voting against animals for the sake of his numbers.  The reporting itself, independent of the governor's decision, perpetuates the Humane Myth in that by focusing on gestation crates– crates in which pregnant pigs are kept in isolation– it reinforces the presumption that non-pregnant pigs must live in superior conditions. The sad reality is that the vast majority of pigs raised for slaughter experience isolation, overcrowding to the point of immobility, or some combination of the two.

The article about Christie linked above admits, "Passage of the bill would actually have little impact." Unfortunately, the reasons cited are trite (one reason being that there simply aren't that many pigs in New Jersey in the first place). The bill would have little impact anywhere; ultimately, whether they are pregnant or not, farmed pigs are murdered. Male pigs, who have never had to face the gestation crate, are habitually subjected to castration– as piglets, and without the use of anaesthesia or painkillers.

While I am grateful for any measure that is taken to protect animals, I often worry that this focus on low-hanging fruit will only delay that which is truly necessary: a complete overhaul of our speciesist industrial complexes.

DxE Bay Area organizer Brian Burns says of such single-issue campaigns:

Personally, I think that animal liberation will not come about instantaneously in the legal sphere, and incremental progress is necessary. 

The real question is whether or not the AR movement's messaging for that short-term progress interferes with our long-term goal. These single-issue campaigns can be done in a way that not just doesn't interfere with general animal liberation, but actually opens people's eyes to the broader issue. 

I think a great example of reform that does not hinder us in our long journey is the chimp personhood case going on right now in New York with the Nonhuman Rights Project. It has a clear and very tangible goal, but is challenging fundamental notions of what it means to be a person in our society, and is setting serious precedent for other animals...

While the best campaigns for incremental reform challenge fundamental notions in our collective consciousness, it also goes the other way. The minds of lawyers, judges, and juries are all influenced by the cultural soup in which they exist. Consequently, the kind of work DxE is doing which very much focuses on cultural norms rather than legal ones is vital to making incremental reforms possible.

I'm inclined to agree with him.  These single-issue campaigns are useful in that they spark dialogue regarding the lives of animals; what remains, then, is to sustain said dialogue even after the minor victory at hand has been won. Banning horse-drawn carriages cannot be the end of AR talk in Columbus Circle; the matter of gestation crates cannot serve as the apex of discussion of the plight of pigs.  We must continually draw connections between these issues, reinforcing similarities across victims and circumstances alike.  Setting a higher cultural standard will inevitably induce more and more single issues to come to the fore, reigniting the flames of social progress over and over again.

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.