His story reminds me of my first experience with direct action around ten years ago. My friend Josh, a quiet and brilliant computer science student who was active in the University of Chicago Vegan Society, revealed to me that he had served a year in New York prison for activism he did on the SHAC campaign. (The principal offense: throwing a brick through a window.) I was stunned. How could someone I know be an ex-con and felon? How could someone I know have done something so rash, and so crazy? Up until that point, I had always taken what I now consider a dishonest approach to activism. "People aren't ready for the truth," I told myself. "So I have to convince them in little bites. These ideas are seen as radical, so even if they're true, it's best to leave them unspoken in public. Small steps work best."
But the shock of meeting Josh triggered thinking. Someone I knew well -- someone in my personal circle -- was so outraged by animal abuse that he was willing to sacrifice his own freedom to push for change. A movement that I had always conceived of as a consumer marketing problem that would take thousands of years to succeed, suddenly began to seem like something different: an immediate movement for liberation. (Years later, I read about the same shift that happened when William Lloyd Garrison and Frederick Douglass jolted the then moribund antislavery movement into exponential growth. While historians call them abolitionists, they had a different name for themselves: immediatists, because they were not afraid to demand the immediate emancipation of slaves, no matter how crazy it sounded to the world.)
Josh unintentionally posed a personal challenge. I had decided years ago that my life would be devoted to helping animals. I was a sad and lonely boy growing up, and animals -- especially my dog -- had been my one lifeline to a happier world. There was nothing more important to me in the world than saving those who I considered (and still consider) my close friends... my sisters and brothers... my saviors from a life of desolation and rage... to save these perfect and innocent beings from unspeakable torment and violence. But how devoted was I, really, when I could not even say the words "animal liberation" in public? How could I honestly say that I was affirming the notion that all animals are equal, when I was not acting against animal abuse with the same urgency and directness and honesty that I would act, or ask others to act, to save my sister, my cousin, or even my dog?
The lesson I learned was an important one, both for me personally and for the movement. Sometimes, a jolt is necessary. Because without a jolt, complacency reigns. And as Martin Luther King, Jr. once said, "Nonviolent direct action seeks to create such a crisis and foster such a tension that a community which has constantly refused to negotiate is forced to confront the issue."
Let's jolt the system together, my friends. And start making real and permanent change.
Note: the original article described Jude as a former slaughterhouse worker. In fact, while Jude worked on the slaughter of pasture-raised animals, he did not work in a slaughterhouse.