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A Space in our Movement for Unsafe Spaces

A Space in our Movement for Unsafe Spaces 

by Priya Sawhney


There is so much value in making animal-eaters feel absurd. You are eating a child, a mother, a sister, a brother. You need to be told that you are doing something wrong, something immoral, and it's my duty to tell you that. There is so much necessity for honesty and confrontation in this movement.

I've been way too comfortable lately. My Animal Liberation family understands me--they get it when I am frustrated about family members eating animals at home. They get it when my co-workers are making snide remarks at work. We respect each other’s sensitivities to these situations because we all share the same values. This safe space we've created for ourselves is so helpful, almost too helpful. We have created a community of activists, of people who understand the importance of justice and equality towards everyone, especially non-human animals. It's such a relief knowing that even if I feel alone and isolated amongst co-workers and family members, I can come back to my family of activists, who will concur with my views. I find such solace coming home to a group of people who share a vision of Animal Liberation.

So why am I presenting this as a problem?

I am presenting this as a problem because as important as safe spaces are, there is so much need for us to be present and active in unsafe spaces.

Unsafe spaces provide a platform to disrupt social norms:

Oppression communicates itself through the use of language. The language of speciesism is what allows speciesism to flourish. So when you hear animal eaters talk about animals as objects (i.e: "eating meat" or "wearing leather"), you remind them that they are eating and wearing a "someone" not a "something." They may laugh at you, but your voice will have made this issue that much more serious, that much more relevant, and that much more important.

Unsafe spaces as a platform for motivation

"I can't believe we still live in a world where people think of non-human animals as things," is the harsh reality I am confronted with every time I am eating lunch with my co-workers or family members. Exploitation of non-human animals is not some abstraction. It's happening every minute, every hour, every day in front of us. Speciesism isn't just something which we talk about. We see it every day, and our society is infected by it.

Unsafe spaces as a platform to find change in the most uncommon faces

We used to be animal-eaters. We are activists today. Just yesterday, unexpectedly, a much older co-worker came up to me and told me about how our talk about Animal Liberation inspired him to call in to NPR and share his dog's story with Jeffrey Mason. This is not exactly someone who I expect to be sympathetic to the animal rights message, but he found something about what I was saying compelling enough to think further about Animal Liberation.

We grow when we interject our perspective in spaces where our voices are usually marginalized. We incite change when we disrupt the otherwise normalized violence in spaces which are not expecting us to speak up. Most importantly, we remind ourselves why we are here when we risk our social standing to speak up for those who have been silenced for way too long.

Social Change is a Sticky Staircase

Social Change is a Sticky Staircase (and Other Reflections on the Chipotle Campaign)

by Wayne Hsiung

Activists at a recent Chipotle protest in San Francisco. 

We set out the case for the Chipotle campaign in a recent talk: Chipotle's Seven Deadly Sins. But for those of you who want to dig a little deeper, here is a Q&A with some information about our campaign's strategy and goals. Enjoy! 


What do you think of efforts to increase humane treatment of animals and increase vegan options, as compared to an overall strategy for achieving animal liberation?

Incremental reforms are necessary, but they should be sustainable and part of a long term movement strategy. Unfortunately, that's often not the case. Consider the Humane Slaughter Act of 1958. The Act, which is far more ambitious in scale and scope than any animal welfare legislation considered by Congress since, was passed with widespread public support, so much that President Eisenhower is reported to have said, "If I went by mail, I'd think no one was interested in anything but humane slaughter." But, without a broader liberation movement behind it, the Act has had little effect in stopping violence against animals. Violations of the HSA are routine, inspectors often feel powerless to enforce it, and there has been a massive increase in animal abuse since its passage.

The difficulty is that the world we face, as animal advocates, is like a sticky staircase rather than a slippery slope. Incremental reforms are easily reversed or ignored -- the strands of the sticky staircase pull you back to the last step -- because prevailing norms and structures undermine a reform's continued relevance. Whenever we consider a reform, we have to ask ourselves two questions:

  1. Is this reform sustainable in a speciesist world (or, instead, does it depend on institutions and actors -- such as the USDA or Chipotle -- that have an interest in undermining our movement's momentum)?
  2. Does this reform help build a movement for animals that will foster new progress (or, instead, does it pacify outrage about animal abuse and lead to institutional backsliding)?

When we ask these two questions, I think we'll find that conventional efforts to improve treatment and increase vegan options are problematic precisely because they lack any strategic long-term mooring. The two efforts, incremental reform and long-term strategy, must go hand in hand for either to be effective.


What is your response to Chipotle's claim that the company shares some "common ground with your group"?

The classic distinction between direct action and other forms of activism is the distinction between confrontation and compromise. As advocates of nonviolent direct action for animals, we have to be vigilant about compromising our values to the status quo. We have to, as William Lloyd Garrison put it, be as "harsh as truth and as uncompromising as justice." The truth is there is little common ground between animal advocates and a multinational corporation that murders millions of animals. We want the world to someday see animal abuse as equivalent to human abuse, and we can only do that by calling out corporations such as Chipotle for what they truly are: engines of violence.


What is your response to those who say that animal rights activists should not protest companies like Chipotle because it is making an effort and has vegan options--in short, that activists should protest the bad/worse companies and that Chipotle is better?

The first response to this question is that Chipotle is not a better company. Indeed, that is exactly the point of the campaign! Chipotle is the third largest publicly traded restaurant company in the world. It is increasing its violence against animals faster than virtually any other corporation on the planet. And it profits immensely off of claims of humane treatment. For example, it instantly doubled its sales of carnitas after it switched to a supposedly "natural" supplier, and began marketing its meat as "responsibly raised." 

But as industry reports, mainstream media, and even independent class action lawyers have found, Chipotle's marketing claims are a fraud. In fact, brutally violent acts such as debeaking and castration are standard practice in "natural" or "humane" farming. The company still sources from so-called factory farms, which drive animals insane from confinement. And, most importantly, killing can never be a "responsible" or "humane" act. Killing is not a kindness; it's horrific and brutal violence. 

When you look at Chipotle's cultural impact (i.e. its effect on memes), the picture gets even worse. Chipotle is leading the world in spreading pro-meat propaganda -- financing a documentary called American Meat, putting up billboards that simply say "MEAT MEAT MEAT", and hosting huge festivals with hundreds of thousands of attendees who hear about how we can cultivate a better world by killing animals. Fifty years of research in psychology and social change has shown us that ideas matter. And Chipotle, perhaps more than any other company, is laying the ideological foundation for the mass murder of animals. In short, even if all of the marketing claims were true -- and they're not -- that would not make Chipotle a "good corporation." It would still make Chipotle one of the worst.

The second response to this question goes to a fundamental question as to what the animal rights movement is about: is it about helping vegans perpetuate a consumer lifestyle? Or is it a social justice movement focused on stopping violence against animals? If the latter, the vegan options at Chipotle are irrelevant. Chipotle is one of the largest and fastest growing animal killers in the world, regardless of whether it has vegan or humane options. Indeed, if the so-called humane options are offered as part of the prevailing "What we eat is a personal choice" narrative, then those options can actively undermine our momentum. Instead of being inspired to protest companies like Chipotle, potential activists and allies are pacified by the vegan bribe. "You choose meat. I choose tofu," they say to themselves. Left unspoken, however, is the stolen choice of the individual whose body was violently and involuntarily taken to sustain that compromise.

There is a long history of corporate interests attempting to co-opt a movement with false concessions, and it is often the companies that engage in moral posturing (the Enrons and BPs of the world) that have the most to hide. We can't allow our movement to be co-opted or deceived by cheap marketing tricks. If all it takes to convince us to put down our signs and our bullhorns is a cheap vegan burrito, then our movement will never muster the mettle it needs to succeed. But the momentum behind our campaign, in a very short period of time, tells me that our movement does have what it takes. We're tired of apologizing and compromising and begging for even the most meaningless reforms. We're ready to speak and act directly for what we believe: the right of every animal, human or non-human, to live a life free from violence.

Third and finally, it's important to note that campaigns are not collaborations. They are adversarial in nature. You would not stop to praise your opponent in an election campaign, the moment you scored a political point. Neither would you back down in an important lawsuit , simply because your opponent made a minor concession or change. There is this quite admirable notion in the progressive left that all activism (indeed, all politics) should be done with a friendly face. But this has little basis in the science or history of social change. Indeed, it is contradicted by the example of successful animal rights movements such as Israel's, which has jolted an entire nation and tripled the population of vegans in merely one year. To succeed, we have to be, not meek and accommodating, but strong, confident, and unrelenting in pursuit of our goals. (Bill McKibben makes a similar point about climate change activism. The plague of the climate change movement is that it has never, until now, had an enemy.) 

Corporations are not sensitive souls that need constant praise to continue on the right path. They are ruthless, profit maximizing engines that are legally obligated to focus only on shareholder returns. To sustain any concessions -- and even more importantly, to sustain public dialogue -- we have to keep their feet to the fire. Indeed, if you are concerned about the vegan option, then our campaign is perhaps the best way to ensure that it stays on the menu


Some people say that protesting against companies like Chipotle -- i.e. companies who have embraced humane treatment of animals and offer vegan options -- will confuse the public.  What is your response?

The truth is that our entire movement's message is too often confused. We say that we believe in animal rights, but we are not confident enough to say that we believe in a world where every animal -- even those that are traditionally ignored such as farm animals -- is safe and happy and free. We yell and scream when defending one species that is cute and cuddly, but smile and apologize when advocating for another species that is even more brutally abused. And, too often, we compromise our mission and our values for the sake of temporary and superficial victories.

The irony is that, if we stick to our basic values, the message is powerfully clear. "It's not food. It's violence." That's not a difficult message to appreciate. And in the context of human oppression, no one would argue that being opposed, for example, to Apple's sweatshops is "confusing" because Apple also sometimes sources from non-sweatshop conditions. (In fact, Apple is one of the most responsible corporations on ethical sourcing.) Doing one good deed, for manipulative marketing reasons, does not absolve a company from responsibility for doing many other bad ones.

In short, the confusion over the Chipotle campaign is a product of our lack of presence and confidence. But if we can develop a real presence in progressive politics -- by saying clearly and strongly and constantly that violence is wrong, period -- the message of our movement suddenly becomes very clear. Indeed, inspiring that dialogue within our movement is one of the most important (albeit unstated) objectives of our campaign. As a movement, let's take on our opponent's strongest case and still be confident that we can win. Let's be absolutely clear about what we believe: that violence against animals is always wrong.


Are you calling for people to boycott Chipotle?  Why or why not?

Boycotts are a tactic and not a value, and they are a tactic that is only effective when you have sufficient support to either affect a company's bottom line, or trigger public dialogue.

We did some preliminary estimates that suggested that, even in a best case scenario, a boycott would affect less than 0.05% of the company's revenue. There are simply too few animal rights activists to make any dent, via boycott, on a company this big. And while passively deciding not to buy from a store can be a meaningful symbolic action (I personally do not eat at Chipotle, or any other restaurant that serves dead animals, for this reason), it's a small part of what makes a great campaign great. As a tactic, it lacks the emotional impact, drama, and energy of a truly inspirational campaign. 

So I would much prefer that supporters speak or act against the company. Organize a protest. Tell your friends about humane washing. Or even just mention to the manager that you're an aggrieved customer, if and when you buy a burrito. Staining the company's reputation in the public sphere -- through creative and nonviolent protest -- can affect not just the tiny handful of activist consumers but the millions of non-animal rights activists who shop at Chipotle all over the world and, more importantly, trigger a much-needed dialogue on the status of non-human animals. 

(Video) Why Protesting Chipotle Might Be the Most Important Thing in Animal Rights

Why Protesting Chipotle Might Be the Most Important Thing in Animal Rights

by Wayne Hsiung

Prominent voices in the movement have attacked our nonviolent campaign as an "assault" and talked about how they love Chipotle so much that they want to give the CEO a hug. But this is precisely why the "It's not Food, It's Violence" campaign is so important. It dispels the illusion conjured up by a violent corporate empire (now the third largest publicly traded restaurant company in the world), and replaces it with a bold vision of a better and more truthful world. 

Check out the video to learn about:  

  • The numerous, bald-faced lies told by Chipotle about their "love" and "respect" for animals -- lies that have led to scrutiny even by consumer activist lawyers with no connections to the animal rights movement
  • How a public relations firm that was responsible for the defense of Big Tobacco set out the insidious plan of action being used by Chipotle and its ilk to divide our movement. 
  • How Chipotle performed the exact same trick ("We love animals! Check out our Gardein burrito!") on our movement in 2010, by offering a vegan option to gain wonderful press, only to drop the option the moment the "warm glow" dissipated
  • The centrality of the "Food with Integrity" marketing to Chipotle's explosive growth
  • How the campaign, if successful, would be roughly equivalent to ten years of operation by the most effective vegan advocacy groups in the world, even under the most conservative statistical assumptions.
Chipotle's ads are brilliant. But the company forgot an important disclaimer. 

Chipotle's ads are brilliant. But the company forgot an important disclaimer. 

There's so much more to say, especially about the path forward. But if you're wondering, "Why Chipotle?", take a look. And please share with a friend! 

Slides here

Voices: Mathias Madsen (Denmark) on the Humane Myth, Boycotting Veganism, and Marius the Giraffe

Mathias speaking out against the Humane Myth in Denmark. It's not food. It's violence. 

Mathias speaking out against the Humane Myth in Denmark. It's not food. It's violence. 

Today marks the first in a series of interviews that we are calling Voices from the Movement. Some will be famous names with global influence and reach. Others will be less well known activists who, while not as prominent, have made a big difference in their local communities. Many of the voices featured in our interview series will be from grassroots activists who have been inspired to participate in DxE's campaigns, but we'll also feature activists from other organizations with completely different (and even conflicting) perspectives. By doing so, we hope to both improve our own understanding of social change and build bridges with activists all over the world. 

Mathias Madsen, our first interviewee, is a sociology student, animal rights activist, and resident of Copenhagen. He is also an organizer on our "It's not Food, It's Violence" campaign. First exposed to Direct Action Everywhere while on an academic visit to Arizona State University, Mathias has since become an organizer of grassroots protests in his native Denmark. 

Mathias sat down to talk with us about the state of animal rights in Denmark, the prominence of the Humane Myth, and the recent scandal involving Marius the Giraffe. 

Tell us about how you got involved in Animal Rights Activism. When did you make the transition to becoming an activist? Who were the influential figures? What were the influential books, movies, or other media?

 I went vegan in 2010 after travelling the States for a month with a couple of friends while reading “Eating Animals” by Jonathan Safran Foer. I think for about a year, I was just a vegan consumer, and I had not really heard of the term speciesism. But my consciousness was expanding and at some point my mother told me about a new Danish organization, Go Vegan, that she had encountered on Facebook (by then both of my parents had followed in my footsteps and gone vegan, which I am very proud of). It was the founders of Go Vegan who introduced me to the concept of speciesism and the framing of animal rights as an issue of social justice. I think I’ve only recently started to really identify myself as an activist.  

What is the current environment in Denmark around Animal Rights? Is there a prominent activist community?

Denmark is a small country. On one hand there is definitely a growing vegan community, but most people are not yet engaged in organized activism. The largest animal rights organization in Denmark, Anima, corresponds more or less to PETA. However, they are way more abolitionist as they never advocate welfarism or contribute to the reproduction of The Humane Myth. They have successfully campaigned against fur for many years leading among other things to a ban on fox fur farms in Denmark. The last couple of years several groups and organizations promoting veganism have sprung up, and a strong network has been built across the country. This is very inspiring to be a part of but I believe there is a need for more people to advocate animal liberation and not just veganism. 

You recently visited Phoenix, and got in touch with the Phoenix chapter of DxE – the Phoenix Animal Liberation Squad (PALS). What brought you to Phoenix? How did you connect with PALS? Tell us about your experiences (best and worst moments; any funny stories; etc.).

Mathias (on the far left) with DxE in Phoenix, protesting Chipotle. 

I am studying sociology at University of Copenhagen, and I had the opportunity to spend one semester at Arizona State University. This was a good experience but it was connecting with PALS that really made Fall 2013 a special time for me. By coincidence I met a guy from PALS at a bicycle/dinner-event, and he invited me to join PALS on a trip to the Ironwood Pig Sanctuary. I spent a magical afternoon in the middle of the Arizona desert meeting the potbellied residents and their loving caretakers who are working so hard giving hundreds of pigs a good life. After that trip I joined PALS in several protests. It fascinates me how I was able to show up out of nowhere and form very special friendships with other activists over a short period of time. There is so much love and passion within this movement we are part of. My ultimate experience with PALS was a spontaneous road trip to San Diego just one week before I was leaving home. We did three Chipotle actions in one afternoon and I had the pleasure of meeting Ellen Ericksen, a truly inspirational figure to all Animal Rights activists.   


What inspired you to take part in Direct Action Everywhere’s “It’s not Food, It’s Violence” campaign?

I came to participate in the campaign through PALS. Participating in actions and protests in Phoenix and San Diego radically changed my perspective on the Animal Rights movement and which strategies we must use to achieve animal liberation. Before I came to Arizona, I guess I believed in vegan education. One of the members of PALS introduced me to the article “Boycott Veganism”, and it really made me see how veganism as a concept can and has derailed the Animal Rights movement from the course that was set in the 80s: the course of animal liberation. We need to get back to framing this movement as a social justice movement and we need speak for the victims of human violence and oppression. When we talk about veganism we talk about ourselves, our consumption, our lifestyles, and about how environmental degradation and climate change poses dangers to us. When the time came for me to return to Denmark, I made a promise to myself and all the animals we are fighting for that I would bring direct action to Denmark.


Do you see the same “humane” marketing in Denmark that we see with corporations such as Chipotle in the US? How has the movement responded, if at all?

I do not think any “humane” marketing in Denmark or anywhere else gets close to being as outrageous, deceiving and manipulative as Chipotle’s. But The Humane Myth is definitely alive and well here. Recently a Danish chain of supermarkets announced that it would no longer sell eggs from caged hens. Upon this announcement, another chain, Irma – that we have chosen as a target for direct action – pointed out that they themselves had not sold eggs from caged hens for many years. So “animal welfare” is definitely a competitive factor among those who profit on exploitation of other animals. Unfortunately the industry is not alone in promoting The Humane Myth. An organization with the absurd name “Protection of the Animals” is cooperating with the industry negotiating standards for the exploitation of animals and giving selected “products” their stamp of approval. This Christmas they made a consumer’s guide rating the welfare of “Christmas ducks” from one to five stars! To some extent there is unwillingness in the Danish AR-movement to attack welfarism based on the – mistaken – idea that even small “improvements” are steps in the right direction. But we are some who are pulling in the other direction with great conviction. 


Copenhagen activists protest the Humane Myth. 

We saw some really inspiring footage of you and two other activists charging into a grocery store to take a stand against violence (and the humane myth). Tell us about your January action.

I am glad you found it inspiring. This was our first direct action and though I had participated in actions in the States, I had not yet been the one who led one. So honestly, I was pretty nervous but the action was a success. We got quite an angry response from the store manager and one cocky customer, but everyone else were listening (in awe). We recently did one more action and we are now looking forward to February 22nd. Hopefully more activists will join us then.

How did people in the Denmark activist community respond, if at all. Have actions like this been done in the past?

I think this kind of activism is new in Denmark. Our long history is not really one of revolutions and we do not have the same culture of protesting as you have in the States. Most of the response from the community has been positive but there is a tendency of skepticism towards the direct approach. There is a lot of “peace, love and understanding”-vibes in the community and many people strongly believe in vegan education.

There has been a recent scandal involving the Copenhagen Zoo. A young giraffe named Marius was killed by the zoo because his genes were deemed unfit for breeding. Tell us about what has been happening in that story, from the perspective of a resident of Copenhagen?

The killing of Marius really got a lot of attention but actually - and to my surprise - I've heard as much about it from activists in the States, referring to media coverage outside of Denmark, as I've heard through Danish media. The reactions from Danish Citizens have been mixed. On one hand thousands of people signed a petition against the killing. On the other hand a lot of voices in the debate have come to the defense of Copenhagen Zoo. These people are either echoing the explanations and arguments of Copenhagen Zoo or they are, rightly, pointing to the fact that so many other animals are being killed every day, tragically using this as an argument that it was not at all wrong to kill Marius

.How has the local animal rights movement responded, if at all? What lessons do you think our society (and we as activists) can learn from the Marius episode?

Marius the giraffe has triggered more concern in the States than in Denmark, but local activists are hoping to change that. 

We have not responded enough, I must admit. The animal rights organisation that did respond is not one I knew of before this event and as far as I can see they are not really advocating Animal Liberation as much as "animal welfare". The activists I work with and I are currently discussing how to best make use of the momentum and attention that the fate of Marius has brought to the question of the relation between humans and other animals. As a friend of mine states, it is important to recognize the empathy a lot of people showed towards this one imprisoned giraffe and appeal to these people to take a stand against all violence towards all animals in every institution of exploitation. The lesson learned is that a lot of people who are not yet vegans do have the capacities to realize that violence against other animals is wrong, we just need to reach them and make them connect the dots. Another lesson learned is that there is some will to mobilize and speak up among ordinary citizens when they see something that is not ok.


A big part of what we are trying to achieve, with DxE, is to create a movement of activists who are empowered to take a stronger, more confident stand against animal abuse. How did you feel in the aftermath of your protest? Why did you feel that going into the store was important?

I did feel shaken by the aggressive and ridiculing attitudes that our message was met with by a few persons, but at the same time I felt empowered. Mentally, it takes some energy to put yourself up to and do direct action but it really does strengthen your confidence. At the end of the day it brings you great satisfaction to speak the truth and – if only for a minute – denying people their denial.


How have you evolved as an activist, over the years, in tactics and in ideology?

As already mentioned, my ideas of what works in the struggle for animal liberation has changed quite recently and I am now convinced that direct action is necessary. Also, I think becoming involved with AR-activism has made me more aware of other struggles for social justice and freedom. Oppression is everywhere, and human freedom goes hand in hand with animal liberation.


Do you have any heroes or role models as an activist? 

Steve Best has said: “Don’t tie yourself to a philosophy, don’t tie yourself to a dogma. Not any philosophy, not any dogma, not any figure, not any person, not Gandhi, not King, not anybody…” I think this is a good message. It is great to have inspirational figures within a movement but I do not think it is a good idea to idolize anyone like it is happening with for instance Gary Yourofsky (whose passion and work I do admire a lot). It is important that we think for ourselves and that we believe in our own power of judgment and our own abilities to create change.


How do you see the Animal Rights Movement changing in the next few years, either in Denmark or internationally?

I hope to see more direct action in the spirit of Direct Action Everywhere and 269life both in Denmark and the rest of the world. I hope to see activists uniting on a global level and coordinating our actions in the fight for justice. Change is happening. Our courage is growing and our hopes are rising.   



What William Lloyd Garrison Would Say About Chipotle


When I think about how aggressively we should confront prejudices within our own movement, I know that I -- like most people -- tend toward compromise. "People don't change immediately," I tell myself. "And these are the good people in a world where so few people care about our cause." 

Then I'm hit with the startling historical example -- and phenomenal statistical success -- of William Lloyd Garrison. I blogged about the Garrison-Lundy debate a few days ago. But one cannot appreciate the intensity of the conflict until one reads Garrison's own words

I should oppose this Society [the ACS], even were its doctrines harmless. It imperatively and effectually seals the lips of a vast number of influential and pious men, who, for fear of giving offence to those slaveholders with whom they associate, and thereby leading to a dissolution of the compact, dare not expose the flagrant enormities of the system of slavery, nor denounce the crime of holding human beings in bondage. They dare not lead to the onset against the forces of tyranny; and if they shrink from the conflict, how shall the victory be won? I do not mean to aver, that, in their sermons, or addresses, or private conversations, they never allude to the subject of slavery; for they do so frequently, or at least every Fourth of July. But my complaint is, that they content themselves with representing slavery as an evil,—a misfortune,—a calamity which has been entailed upon us by former generations,—and not as an individual CRIME, embracing in its folds robbery, cruelty, oppression and piracy.

They do not identify the criminals; they make no direct, pungent, earnest appeal to the consciences of men-stealers; by consenting to walk arm-in-arm with them, they virtually agree to abstain from all offensive remarks, and to aim entirely at the expulsion of the free people of color; their lugubrious exclamations, and solemn animadversions, and reproachful reflections, are altogether indefinite; they 'go about, and about, and all the way round to nothing;' they generalize, they shoot into the air, they do not disturb the repose nor wound the complacency of the sinner; 'they have put no difference between the holy and profane, neither have they shewed difference between the unclean and the clean.' Thus has free inquiry been suppressed, and a universal fear created, and the tongue of the boldest silenced, and the sleep of death fastened upon the nation. 'Truth has fallen in the streets, and equity cannot enter.' The plague is raging with unwonted fatality; but no cordon sanitaire is established—no adequate remedy sought. The tide of moral death is constantly rising and widening; but no efforts are made to stay its desolating career. The fire of God's indignation is kindling against us, and thick darkness covers the heavens, and the hour of retribution is at hand; but we are obstinate in our transgression, we refuse to repent, we impiously throw the burden of our guilt upon our predecessors, we affect resignation to our unfortunate lot, we descant upon the mysterious dispensations of Providence, and we deem ourselves objects of God's compassion rather than of his displeasure!

Were the American Colonization Society bending its energies directly to the immediate abolition of slavery; seeking to enlighten and consolidate public opinion, on this momentous subject; faithfully exposing the awful guilt of the owners of slaves; manfully contending for the bestowal of equal rights upon our free colored population in this their native land; assiduously endeavoring to uproot the prejudices of society; and holding no fellowship with oppressors; my opposition to it would cease. It might continue, without censure, to bestow its charities upon such as spontaneously desire to remove to Africa, whether animated by religious considerations, or the hope of bettering their temporal condition. But, alas! its governing spirit and purpose are of an opposite character.

I've never wanted to be a trouble maker. And yet, Garrison's example shows that there are times when one has to take a strong stand -- even if that means attacking (implicitly or otherwise) those we see as allies. Garrison did not wait for the rest of his movement to "get it." He stood strongly for slave liberation and equality, in the face of a movement that sought to compromise with slaveholders, even when this meant trampling on former friends and allies. 

Garrison's path was not necessarily the best one. And my intuition is that there are better ways to push our movement toward greater confidence, strength, and integrity. Our campaign against Chipotle, for example, pushes a frontier issue -- humane meat -- but our intent is certainly not to attack any other animal rights group. However, maintaining a strong message, without stepping on toes or hurting feelings, is a delicate path. And all we can do is try -- and recognize that the criticism and conflict we fight through is worth it because, in the long run, it will make our movement brighter and stronger. 

Garrison was not afraid to step on toes and lose friends. We have to have that same confidence, even in the face of internal movement criticism, if we are going to match Garrison's astonishing success. 


How a Debate Between Two Friends Reshaped a Movement


In a recent online discussion, a former high level staff member at a prominent national animal rights organization suggested that "Chipotle going out of business= bad for animals. We should be supporting and encouraging them, not protesting them. I want to meet the CEO so I can give him a hug." This is a common view in the modern animal rights movement. If we don't praise people for tiny baby steps, even when they're still engaging in horrifically bad behavior, then how do we make progress? (In this case, the sentiment apparently extends even to massive multinational corporations. Corporations, by some accounts, are people too.) But while this debate ties our movement into intellectual knots -- liberationists v. welfarists, radicals v. conservatives -- it shouldn't. Because it's not a new debate. Indeed, it's a debate that has been held in every liberation movement. And in every past movement, the radicals have won. 

Consider, for example, the movement most similar to our own: antislavery. In the early stages of the antislavery movement, around the year 1830, there was a debate between two friends: Benjamin Lundy and William Lloyd Garrison. Lundy, a gentle and compassionate man, believed that one ought to educate slaveholders to free their slaves, one by one, and provide positive encouragement every step of the way. The dominant “antislavery” organization of the day – the now-infamous ACS – agreed with this approach. The problem of slavery, they thought, was the lack of realistic options. Options for products. (“We have to move our economy away from production that relies on slavery!”) Options for labor. (“Let’s expand the pool of free labor!”) And options for placing the slaves once they were freed. (“We need somewhere to send all these colored people; let’s make a colony in Africa!”)  Give slaveholders options, Lundy and the ACS believed, and slowly, the system will disappear.   

Garrison, a fiery activist and orator, fundamentally disagreed. He believed that slavery was a basic injustice, regardless of what supposed "efforts" slaveholders made to improve their victims’ lives. He believed that the public could be won over with an honest message of liberation and equality. He believed that the question of slavery was not one of “options” for the oppressor but of “justice” for the oppressed. The goal of the liberationist, in Garrison's mind, was not to appease slaveholders with more and better options (and by doing so, reinforce the notion that the life of the slave was subject to the whims of his master) but to re-frame the debate on behalf of the oppressed... to protest slavery and slaveholders regardless of what "options" were offered. Ironically, taking such a strong and honest position, Garrison believed, was the only way to ensure that even incremental reforms could be sustained. 

There are two important points we should make about the Garrison-Lundy debate. 

1. Psychological research shows that tradition and conformity push people in the direction of greater accommodation of brutal institutions, even when such accommodation is unjustified. Those who have studied violent systems of discrimination are struck by how even good people can shrug their shoulders in the face of the worst atrocities in history. The leading scholar of prejudice – John Jost at NYU – has shown that the dampening of moral outrage is key to maintaining systems of injustice.  When we think about how we respond to atrocities against animals, we should always ask ourselves, am I really looking at this in an unbiased way, focused on effecting change for the victims? Or are my message and tactics and even my most basic emotional responses biased by the corrupt institutions that surround me (including marketing by corporations such as Chipotle)? We are, in so many ways, naturally inclined to be Benjamin Lundy. 

2. The data is out on the Garrison/Lundy debate, and Garrison was right. Garrison’s confident and inspirational message led to an exponential surge in the antislavery movement – a 45000% increase (yes, 45000%) in the number of antislavery societies in less than 10 years, according to numbers tabulated by historian Paul Goodman. Nobel Prize winner Robert Fogel notes, moreover, that this incredible growth occurred despite the fact that slavery was becoming even more indispensable to the economic structure of antebellum America. Slavery, Fogel shows, was upended not by economic options but by moral and political pressure: "There is such a thing as morality, and morality is higher than economics." In short, though we are naturally inclined to be Benjamin Lundy, what social movements need, more than anything else, is people like William Lloyd Garrison. 

That's not an easy thing to do. The human mind usually thinks incrementally. It is limited by habit and tradition. And revolutionary leaps in our basic understanding of the world are few and far between. That is precisely why the Garrisonian perspective -- revolutionary and radical though it may have seemed -- was so vital. It set out a new framing, a new anchoring point, a new vision of the way the world ought to be. But its importance was matched by its difficulty. Garrison was attacked, ostracized, and even imprisoned for his uncompromising views. 

The Chipotle campaign, similarly, was never intended to be an easy one. Neither was it intended to be noncontroversial. Martin Luther King Jr. believed that direct action forces out the prejudices in a community. He believed that it polarizes the debate, and forces the public to take a stand. And, in an important sense, that is the ultimate goal of our campaign: to push our society to take a stand. To push our movement to take a stand. Because if even the animal rights movement can't muster up the confidence to stand against the largest animal killers in the world, who can? 

So ask yourself, where will you stand? When we look back on these days, will we say that we stood with one of the largest and fastest growing animal killers in the world... a $16 billion corporation that enslaves millions every year; that is being called the "New Model" for fast food; and that, in an unending parade of violence that is hard to even imagine, slits the throat of frightened and shrieking child, after frightened and shrieking child, over and over again, all while portraying these brutal acts of violence as integrity, love, and kindness? Or will we stand with a grassroots movement --- simple, honest, and confident --  that seeks to stop the violence, that portrays corporations such as Chipotle for what they actually are -- engines of brutality -- and that protects that desperate child from a horrific and bloody fate? 

We must choose wisely. Because the allies we choose will determine the fate of billions. 

Chipotle’s Seven Deadly Sins – What You Don’t Know about this Scarecrow May Kill You


Chipotle’s Seven Deadly Sins – What You Don’t Know about this Scarecrow May Kill You

(Note: see a talk on this subject here.

Why protest Chipotle? We often get this question. On the face, Chipotle seems like a “good corporation.” They’re at least starting a conversation about animal welfare, right? And heck, they’re offering us a vegan burrito! But there are seven deadly sins, behind the glitzy marketing, that make Chipotle perhaps the most important target in the animal rights movement.

1. It’s one of the largest and fastest-growing animal killers in the world. It’s a $16 billion company -- the third largest publicly-traded restaurant company in the world -- and has grown by 1000% (yes, one thousand percent) in the past five years. If you’re concerned about animals being killed for food, this is where all the action is. Even just slowing Chipotle's growth by a few percentage points would imply tens of millions fewer animals slaughtered in its engine of violence. 

2. It’s lying to the public.  Its corporate motto is “Food with Integrity,” and it deliberately uses terms such as “natural” and “responsibly raised” that have no regulatory significance. It shows the world happy animals in sunlit fields. Yet even cattle industry publications point out that Chipotle sources from brutal, gruesome factory farms.

The  Chipotle Scarecrow : innocent look but deadly core. 

The Chipotle Scarecrow: innocent look but deadly core. 

3. It’s a leader in pro-meat propaganda.There was American Meat back in Feburary, which was described by the Village Voice as “exemplifying the history of meat production in the U.S., especially its innovations, by arguing that the industry is essential to the sustainability of our civilization.” There's the Cultivate festival, which is Chipotle's attempt to show the world that we can cultivate a better world by killing animals. More recently, they started putting up billboards that simply say "MEAT MEAT MEAT." (They're not afraid to lay it on hard, apparently.) 

4. It tries to buy off activists… and often succeeds. Despite its massive pro-meat propaganda machine, Chipotle has somehow earned supporters within the animal rights movement. It's an invasion of movement snatchers. And we can't let them succeed. Because if they do, they will have bought out our movement's greatest strengths: our integrity and our soul. 

.5. It has the most progressive and animal-friendly customers… and it preys on their ethical instincts. Chipotle's Culinary Manager Nate Appleman, in a moment of accidental honesty to the New York Times: “You put tripe in a bowl and tell them it’s from a humanely raised cow, and they’re going to eat it.”

They forgot to point out the  violence . 

They forgot to point out the violence

6. It makes killing animals more profitable. The average Big Mac costs $3.50 and hardly makes McDonald's a dime. Chipotle, in contrasts, charges almost $8 a burrito -- and makes a huge killing off the premium

7. It’s framing the debate as one of "food choice." But it's not food. It's violence. And it's violence that has to stop. 

We'll discuss these seven factors -- and perhaps just as important, what we can do to stop their dangerous impact --  in our open meeting on February 16

Love is Action

Love is Action

As a nation, we say that we love animals. It's time to put that love to the test. 

Chipotle: Broken Promises and Blurred Lines

Chipotle: Broken Promises and Blurred Lines

In Santa Cruz, a large and angry-looking manager waiting at the door interrogated customers to ask if they were planning to buy a burrito, and pushed them out if they said, "No." (We still went in and managed to get him to take a copy of the open letter.) In San Francisco, the store locked its doors in anticipation of our protest, excluding demonstrators and customers alike. (Our activists entered anyways when a customer opened the door from inside.) All this fuss, over an open letter to the company!  Why?

Well, we got our answer this morning, with a gleaming front page headline on the New York Times:  “Chipotle Blurs Lines With a Satirical Series About Industrial Farming.”

Reflections on Consumer Boycotts

Reflections on Consumer Boycotts

A question that has come up recently is whether one can participate in our campaigns while continuing to shop at Chipotle -- which, after all, is one of the few fast food chains that provides a vegan option. We'll be offering a more detailed analysis later, but here are some preliminary reflections.