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Chipotle

Why DxE Brings the Message Inside

Why DxE Brings the Message Inside

by Wayne Hsiung

There has been an unusual sight over the past few months in fast food chains around the country and (increasingly) around the world. Animal rights activists, with DxE and otherwise, are taking their message inside the places that serve animals' mutilated bodies.  Why?

Speaking out while others are eating, while not illegal, is a violation of one of our most important social traditions: breaking bread. When we sit down to eat, we seek nourishment, and comfort, and peace. We bond with those who are around us, and set aside our differences. Michael Pollan, among others, has written about the importance of “table fellowship” and how socially uncomfortable and alienated he felt in his brief spell of vegetarianism.  Pollan’s solution? Don’t just give up on saying anything about the ethical problems with eating animals; give up the vegetarianism, too!

The mainstream animal rights movement has, until this point, mostly accepted Pollan’s framing of the issue by admonishing us for speaking honestly about eating animals… while animals are being eaten. And there are superficially plausible reasons for this. The sociology that Pollan discusses -- the importance of eating to social cohesion and identity -- is undisputed. Food restrictions have been used for thousands of years as tools of oppression and exclusion.  Many religious traditions would forbid even the presence of those who handled foods that were deemed “unclean.”  And there is an undercurrent of intolerance, and even outright racism, to many of the criticisms of foreign food practices.  In a free society, diverse eating practices -- like diversity in our other basic needs such as autonomy or physical intimacy -- should be not just tolerated but positively encouraged. As Chipotle emphasizes, vegans and carnivores (including, apparently, multinational corporations) must… unite!

DxE activists around the world taking the message of animal liberation inside the spaces that profit off their exploitation. 

But is there something missing in Pollan’s beautiful story? Why are activists all over the world breaking this ancient tradition, and speaking out in defiance of “table fellowship”?

Disrupting Business as Usual

The first reason is that dissent is vital to achieving social change, and that dissent is only effective if it is powerful, confident, and yes, even (morally) disruptive. One of the ironies about the conventional discourse in animal rights is that it’s so far removed from the debate among those who actually study social change. There, the question is what form of confrontation -- violence or nonviolence -- is more effective. (At last year’s Farm Sanctuary hoe down in Orland, it was not surprising to me to see that the only social scientist among the panelists -- the brilliant political scientist Timothy Pachirat -- embraced the necessity of direct action to effecting social change.) But in animal rights, our allegiance to decorum and Pollan’s “table fellowship” leaves us paralyzed, and we are not supportive of, and even outright hostile towards, honest and heartfelt dissent. “Don’t say that here,” we say to ourselves. “People are eating!”

This is a huge problem if our goal is to make a world good, not for vegans, but for animals. Pioneering feminist, political consultant, and Rhodes Scholar Naomi Wolf commented on this recently after spending a year studying the history of dissent and protest in America. Activists through our republic’s history have achieved their demands only when they were not afraid to “disrupt business as usual.” Wolf notes that demonstrations today have become so bureaucratized, institutionalized, and integrated into the fabric of ordinary life that they don’t serve this disruptive function any longer. They don’t convey to the public that “all is not well.”  

One example of this. At our last SF protest on the It’s not Food, It’s Violence campaign, a San Francisco police sergeant politely approached me, in front of the closed Chipotle, and asked, “Does anyone want to get arrested?” The notion behind this was that civil disobedience has become so domesticated that the police tolerate and even encourage it, and want to assist activists in making it happen! Protest, when so cleanly integrated into the status quo, becomes mere theater, and the inspiring demonstrations of the 1960s are transformed, in Wolf’s words, into a bizarre Disney-land fantasy.

It is precisely because speaking out when others are eating is a disruption of conventional social norms, then, that it is such an important and powerful tool for social change. Passersby, customers, and even multinational corporations can easily dismiss and write us off, if we do not push our message in the places where it is most unwelcome. But when we transform a space where violence has been normalized into a space of dissent, we can jolt, not just individual people, but our entire society into change. And because we have now expressed that our cause is important enough to violate a powerful social norm, we leave a mark in people. “Wow, what the heck was that! They’re so outraged by something that they felt the need to come into the store to register their complaint.”  

Creating Viral Stories

Going inside a restaurant, and breaking the rules of Pollan’s table fellowship, does not just convey a stronger and more confident message, however. It also feeds a cycle of viral storytelling that has been vital to every movement’s growth.

There are too many examples of this from previous social movements to even count. But here are a few that come to mind. The first four students to perform a nonviolent sit in were met with hostility even by fellow people of color. “Fellows like you make our race look bad.” But though controversial, their story took off… and eventually triggered a massive wave of sit-ins around the country. The pioneering feminist Emmeline Pankhurst was widely criticized for her astonishing acts of defiance, including arson and vandalism on the British Parliament, against a patriarchal society that denied her the right to vote. But strangely, for all the hatred against her, people could not stop talking about her and her campaigns. Finally, and more recently, a seemingly ordinary Tunisian fruit vendor, in defiance of social norms, doused himself with gasoline in front of the governor’s mansion and burned himself alive. People said he was “crazy.” But his small act of defiance, triggered a movement, the Arab Spring, that changed the face of the world.

Conflict and controversy, in short, feed a campaign cycle. “Young people distribute information calmly about economic inequality” would never have reached even a college newspaper. “Protesters Occupy Wall Street!”, in contrast, took over the New York Times.

Direct Action Everywhere’s own growth is an example of this phenomenon. Despite being a grassroots network with no resources and only a handful of founding Bay Area members, we have seen explosive growth over the past few months In part because we have been willing to tread where other groups refuse to go, figuratively and otherwise. We have been willing to breach the traditional rules of table fellowship and confront animal abuse in the space where it’s most regularly and obviously glorified. Love or hate us, that helps us get our issue on the table, and in a strong and uncompromising way that sets our movement up for long term growth and success.

Empowered Networks

The third and perhaps most important reason to go inside, in violation of the rules of table fellowship, is that it gives our activists, and other activists who watch our demonstrations, the inspiration to speak more strongly in their personal lives.  It offers support for others who can now say,  “Well, if they can speak out inside of a restaurant, then surely I can offer a few words to my friends!”

As social animals, we humans are heavily influenced by the behavior of our peers. And this as true of activists as it is of other people. So when we see a movement comprised entirely of passive action, we become passive ourselves. When we have a movement that socializes its adherents to “not make too much of a fuss about this,” then we will be inclined towards complying with the social norms of the day. And worse yet, as the groundbreaking psychologist John Jost has shown, subconscious biases will allow us to rationalize this sort of accommodation as good for the world.  

Going into stores, rather than merely standing outside, is a way for us to send a jolt of electricity through our own movement. So many individual activists have shared with me the empowering effects of demonstrating in places where they had previously been scared to demonstrate, of speaking in places where they had been previously been scared to speak. And there have been powerful empirical demonstrations of this effect, even for viewpoints and movements that have little substance behind them, e.g. the Tea Party.  Speaking loudly and proudly in defiance of social convention, it turns out, inspires others to do the same. And that, perhaps more than anything else, is why we encourage our activists to step outside of their comfort zones,  past the boundaries of tradition and the table fellowship, and into the stores that our selling the dead bodies of our friends.

Summing up

One of Direct Action Everywhere’s biggest supporters in the Bay Area, the wonderful Diane, does not look like a radical activist. She does not talk like one either. Soft-spoken and always polite, there is a kindness and calmness that runs off of her like water. And yet Diane has come with us into places of violence for the past 6 months, and, more recently, has even begun to lead the charge by seizing the megaphone and leading our chants: “One struggle, one fight! Human freedom, animal rights!”

Something Diane wrote, many months ago when she first began to participate in DxE’s events, has resonated powerfully with me over the past few months. I don’t remember the exact phrasing, but the words were something like this: “Change begins when you push yourself out of your comfort zone.” Those words wonderfully summarize my thoughts on the matter. We simply have to push boundaries -- indeed, create a movement that pushes boundaries -- if we want to see change.

Diane's story shows the power of pushing boundaries in making change. 

For Diane, that has meant regular participation in our demonstrations and an increasingly vocal role -- and breaking the rules of Pollan's "table fellowship." 

We want you to do the same. Because it’s only with your support that we can overcome the inertia of the table fellowship -- and finally bring direct action for animals everywhere. 

San Francisco Chipotle Closes in Face of Animal Rights Protests

Protesters in San Francisco stood in the rain, in front of a closed Chipotle, to protest the industry's violence and lies. 

Protesters in San Francisco stood in the rain, in front of a closed Chipotle, to protest the industry's violence and lies. 

San Francisco Chipotle Closes in Face of Animal Rights Protests

Activists Say Fast Food Chain, Though Vegan Friendly, Disguises Brutal Violence Against Animals

San Francisco, Saturday, March 29, 2014 – Today, Chipotle Mexican Grill closed a San Francisco restaurant in response to protests by animal rights activists.  Demonstrators with Direct Action Everywhere (DxE) arrived at the Chipotle at 121 4th Street in San Francisco to protest against the restaurant, surprised to find it closed.  A police officer informed the activists that the restaurant had closed for the afternoon in order to avoid their demonstration, and it remained closed and empty of customers for the duration of DxE’s two-hour protest.  Since October, DxE has held monthly protests against Chipotle as part of the group’s “It’s not Food, It’s Violence” campaign.  The activists say that, despite Chipotle’s marketing itself as a purveyor of humane and “responsibly raised” meat and dairy, animal agriculture – including inevitable slaughter – is inherently violent.  The monthly international demonstrations have now reached 29 cities in 8 countries.

Video from last month's day of action, in which nearly 20 cities participated. Stay tuned for our March action! 

“You’ve heard of white washing,” said DxE organizer Saryta Rodriguez. “Well Chipotle is engaged in humane washing. The company is trying to market killing as humane, but there is no escaping the reality that slitting an animal's throat is violent.  At bottom, Chipotle’s marketing amounts to moral fraud.”  

Despite being widely praised for its simple and elegant product line, industry-leading business methods, and brand new vegan option, Chipotle has faced recent challenges over its corporate practices, including its failure to provide sustainability reports and its controversial use of so-called “humane” marketing.  Today, protesters brought images of animals rescued from slaughter to the restaurant and, in a choreographed display, shared the animals’ stories with the public.

In the United States alone, approximately 10 billion animals (not including fish and other sea animals) are killed annually to be eaten. Animals who are killed for their flesh endure intense psychological and physical trauma, and undercover investigations have found that they are routinely eviscerated while still conscious.

Direct Action Everywhere is a network of animal rights activists working to challenge speciesism throughout society.  We use creative protest to challenge the use of animals for food, clothing, experimentation, and entertainment.  Visit Direct Action Everywhere on facebook and at 
http://directactioneverywhere.com/.  Follow us on Twitter @DxEverywhere.

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(International Video and Gallery) Love is Action

We say that we love animals. Seventy percent of us have an animal companion. Nearly three out of four say that we should “eliminate all forms of animal cruelty.”  And two thirds say that an animal’s right to live free of suffering is just as important as a human being’s. But while the number of animal lovers has grown, so too has the number of animals being killed and abused. Our growing love for animals has come, strangely, with an increasing tide of violence.

Why? We are told – by our community, our culture, and by corporate marketing departments -- that we can “love” animals… while eating their mutilated bodies.  Massive corporations such as Chipotle  explain to the public that their animals are treated with respect and decency. They say that they are “pro-animal,” and that they raise their animals responsibly. Their website and videos are filled with happy animals in sunlit grassy fields.  They’re so good to the animals, in fact, that animal lovers (even animal activists) feel compelled to support them!

But this is not a true “love.” Chipotle is perhaps the fastest-growing animal killer in the world and the third largest publicly-traded restaurant company. They deliberately use words such as “natural” and “raised with care” because they know that such words have no legal significance. (Even meat industry publications have pointed out that Chipotle sources from abusive “factory farms.”) More than any other company, Chipotle has preyed on the public’s most admirable feelings–kindness, compassion, and love – and twisted them to serve its engine of violence. 

It’s time for that to change. In February 2014, activists with DxE put love into action. 

Why Are Animal Rights Activists Protesting a Veg-friendly Chain?

Activists in San Francisco protesting Chipotle. 

Why Are Animal Rights Activists Protesting a Veg-friendly Chain? 

by Wayne Hsiung

(Repost with permission from an article last week at BeyondChron. )

San Francisco is a city of animal lovers. It was one of the first cities in the nation, along with progressive bastions such as Boulder, Berkeley, and Amherst, to legally recast “pet owners” as “guardians.” Dogs now outnumber human children in the city. And it was the birthplace of the no-kill movement in animal shelters.

It’s not surprising, therefore, that vegetarian eating is a big part of the city’s culture. Even fast food chains that cater to the Bay Area are starting to move in an animal-friendly direction. That is exactly what happened two weeks ago, when Chipotle announced the introduction of a vegan option. Chipotle, the third largest publicly traded restaurant company, has experienced explosive growth in recent years that outpaces even industry behemoths such as its former owner McDonald’s. Introduction of its vegan “sofritas” therefore portends a significant expansion in options for animal-friendly eating.

So why are Bay Area animal rights activists protesting the chain?

That is the issue taken up by a Salon article asked last week in a scathing review of the company’s marketing and practices. And, as a Bay Area organizer for the grassroots animal rights network Direct Action Everywhere, which is leading the international “It’s not Food, It’s Violence” campaign against Chipotle, it is a question that I am well-equipped to answer.

VIOLENT LIES.  

Chipotle is one of the leaders in what animal rights activists describe as “humane washing” – attempts to disguise the brutal reality of animal agriculture as “humane,” “responsible,” or even “compassionate.” The company’s website, for example, is littered with beautiful pictures of happy animals in green pastures (often baby animals to maximize the cuteness factor). It distinguishes its animals products from competitors’ with the marketing moniker “Responsibly Raised”–and charges a hefty premium for the distinction. And its CEO Steve Ells made a public promise to “run our business in a way that doesn’t exploit animals.”  

Yet even meat industry publications have noted that the company sources from factory farms, where animals often go insane from confinement in dark, terrifying cages. The company uses marketing language – such as “natural” – that has no regulatory significance. And, as the pig farmer Bob Comis has pointed out, standard practices at even “humane farms” involve brutal mistreatment of animals. It is because of these discrepancies that consumer fraud attorneys, with no connection to the animal rights movement, have filed class action litigation to challenge Chipotle’s deceptive practices.

But the problem with humane washing is even more fundamental than a mislabeled burrito. Because the basic question our campaign asks is not whether we have been duped by a single company… but, rather, whether we, as an animal loving society, have been duped by an entire industry that wants us to believe its violent lies. After all, even McDonald’s now trumpets its commitment to animal welfare. And nearly three out of four people believe that we should “eliminate all forms of animal cruelty.” But how can we say we love animals, and that we oppose cruelty against them, when we are cutting their throats (in necessarily violent and frightening fashion) for our financial or gustatory benefit?

Chipotle’s fraud, in other words, is problematic, first and foremost, because it reinforces the violent lie that our dominant industries and culture are already telling us: that animals are merely things for us to (responsibly) use, kill, and eat.  But, as the New York Times columnist and one-time food critic Frank Bruni recently discussed, there is increasing understanding, both morally and scientifically, that animals are beings who deserve the same respect and dignity we demand for ourselves.

FEAR AND LOATHING.

Still, many even within the animal rights movement question the strategy behind focusing on a “good” company such as Chipotle. “Aren’t they at least getting a conversation started? Their CEO promised to be kind to animals. And don’t forget they have a vegan option!”

But praising corporations as a strategy for social change is doomed for failure. Using the example of electoral politics, the prominent social justice activist Randy Shaw (founder and director of the Tenderloin Housing Clinic) explains that activsts must make powerful interests fear the consequences of breaking promises. From Shaw’s The Activist’s Handbook (2013):

“[A]ctivists often view elected officials as allies without their having done anything to earn the moniker. Politicians need only agree to take certain positions in the future to earn the support of many progressive organizations. This makes strategic sense for politicians but not for advocates of social change…. Adopting a ‘fear and loathing’ approach toward elected officials, particularly self-identified progressives, is essential for achieving social change. Activists most focus on results, not promises; they must pursue their agenda, not the politician’s.”

What is true of politicians is even more true of profit-seeking corporations, whether in housing, banking, or food. They do not have our movement’s agenda at heart. And, as Shaw points out, it takes pressure – not just praise – to ensure that progress is achieved and sustained. Moreover, corporations such as Chipotle, whose brand and profits are so heavily linked to progressive issues, are precisely the ones that should be pressured because they seek to appeal to (and therefore profit from) the progressive market. They, and not their more oblivious competitors, are the parties most likely to take action in response to pressure.

In short, even supposing that some of Chipotle’s actions are indications of real progress, a strong campaign is the best way to ensure that those baby steps are sustained.

EMPOWERED NETWORKS.

The third and perhaps most important reason for our campaign against Chipotle, however, is that it presents an opportunity to create an empowered network against animal abuse. It takes on industry’s strongest argument, and one of its biggest and most popular players… with the confidence that it can win. This change in strategy – focusing on the industry’s strongest arguments and biggest players—is absolutely vital because, despite widespread sympathy for animals and compelling arguments by the most distinguished scholars of our age, the animal rights movement has made little progress in recent decades. Activists too often feel the need to appeal to flawed conventional wisdoms and accommodate to a false neutrality, even to achieve the most toothless reforms.

Why Chipotle? This infographic sets out the reasons. 

In this regard, the animal rights movement is not unique.   Paul Krugman has written for years about how conventional discourse on fiscal austerity has been deluded by popular acceptance that so-called “Very Serious People” (such as the deficit hawks of the Simpson-Bowles Commission) must have merit to their views—no matter the lack of evidence. Concerted action against climate change has been stalled by the public’s acceptance of false neutrality on the causes of climate change, and activists’ unwillingness to push back hard against this narrative. What these examples show us is that, to achieve success, social movements cannot concede to a problematic conventional wisdom; they must challenge it and attack the monolithic institutions that hold it up.

The Very Serious People of the animal rights movement – even seemingly radical organizations such as PETA – believe that we cannot push the animals’ agenda with the strength, confidence, and honesty that the issue deserves. They believe that we have to compromise with conventional understandings of animals – and offer support for even the most deceptive and violent multinational corporations – in order to be heard. But, as with the debate on fiscal austerity and climate change, this is a false compromise that inhibits growth of a truly empowered network.

Chipotle, in other words, is a platform for us to test, strengthen, and expand our movement’s message. When a movement is confident in the need for fundamental change, there is no need to apologize, or accommodate, or beg for the smallest of concessions from supposedly good corporations. Successful movements – such as Occupy Wall Street or the Arab Spring – assert themselves confidently even against the most powerful opponents.

Animal lovers are, in fact, everywhere. The trick, as with so many other progressive issues, is to politically realize the public’s latent sympathy into an empowered network for change. And that is exactly what we plan to do with the “It’s not Food, It’s Violence” campaign – take on our most powerful and wealthy opponents, have confidence in the integrity of our message, and have faith that the arc of the moral universe will bend toward justice. 

Pork Network: "We love Chipotle, and you should too!"

Pork Network: "We love Chipotle, and you should too!" 

by Wayne Hsiung

 

The Pork Network, the "business leader" of the pig killing industry, condemns DxE's campaign in a recent editorial and calls the piece BeyondChron published on our campaign a "savage screed." The Pork Network editorial discusses the supposedly humane conditions at Chipotle's farms, the CEO's "widely recognized.... pledge to 'run our business in a way that doesn’t exploit animals' ", and even the famed vegan option. And it concludes that, rather than protesting, the animal rights movement ought to be supporting "one of the acknowledged leaders in the humane husbandry movement."

What the Pork Network does not realize, however is that the grassroots animal rights movement does not take advice on effective activism... from, well, the Pork Network. And while animal killing industries (particularly the big players) are falling over themselves to get a piece of Chipotle's explosive profit, the grassroots movement is not so easily duped or corrupted. 

The greatest irony of the piece? The Pork Network understands our campaign's approach and objectives quite clearly.

There’s no “promise” in “compromise.” [The DxE activists are saying] [e]ither go all the way and abolish the entire business of animal husbandry, or don’t come around seeking activist approval.

For once, the people at the Pork Network may have gotten something right. The industry should not "come around seeking activist approval." Because we will never approve of an industry that kills even a single one of our non-human brethren. 

Join our campaign on March 29

Chipotle Infographic

Kelly just put together this infographic for our It's Not Food, It's Violence campaign. Please share!

The Soul of the Animal Rights Movement is Up For Grabs

Screen shot 2014-03-06 at 12.25.42 AM.png

The Soul of the Animal Rights Movement is Up For Grabs

by Ronnie Rose

 

This past weekend activists with DxE met (virtually) with philosophy professor and critical theorist John Sanbonmatsu to discuss animal rights, the importance of building an inclusive community, and why we—as a movement—must organize against the myth of “humane” animal enslavement and killing. Sanbonmatsu is a leading intellectual figure on issues such as animal liberation and speciesism, the political Left’s broad refusal to acknowledge the oppression and rights of other animals (Sanbonmatsu’s speech begins at the 6 minute mark), and the connections between fascism and “humane meat” discourse. Over the course of our conversation, we found strong connections between our campaign against Chipotle and Sanbonmatsu’s groundbreaking work. Most importantly, both show how the humane myth has been used to hold up the entire edifice of animal exploitation, and threaten our movement’s very soul.

Our campaign against Chipotle, “It’s Not Food. It’s Violence,” often receives bewildered stares and sometimes outright hostility from people within the animal rights movement, as they bend over backwards to defend a multi-billion dollar corporation that brutally kills tens of millions of animals every year. Why, it is asked, do we target a company that is “trying to do the right thing?” Why, they question, would we want to topple a food corporation that at least “cares about animals?” To put it simply: neither of these statements represents Chipotle’s actual motivations. Chipotle uses “humane” and “responsibly raised” rhetoric to make a massive profit by encouraging people to pay more—and feel good about—eating animals. This profit, in turn, allows the company and broader culture to enslave and kill even more individuals.

In the face of such criticism, I asked John Sanbonmatsu why he has written so often and fiercely against the notion of “humane meat,” instead of focusing on what some people consider the more egregious and widespread forms of cruelty, like factory farming. He explained how, right now, we are at an important historical juncture: “In recent years . . . meat has for the first time in history lost its self-evident status as a necessary and natural good.” Throughout the history of civilization, violence against other animals has been justified through a variety of myths, which turned the violence into something natural and normal. It has not been until recently, largely through the work of committed animal rights activists, that these justifications have started to crumble. The way we treat other animals finally has revealed itself for what it always has been: not just violence, Sanbonmatsu explained, but atrocity. No one can now credibly defend factory farming. The immorality of it is all too apparent. So in order to justify the continued enslavement and killing of animals, the culture has to seek other ways to rationalize atrocity.

Sanbonmatsu explained that we are now at a crucial stage in history where our culture is forced to confront these issues; yet, the dominant mainstream response (undoubtedly propelled by companies like Chipotle) has shifted away from the central question of, should we be using and killing other animals? To, how “kindly” can we use and kill them? This perversely ignores the fact that, like us, non-human animals have a desire and fundamental right to live—regardless of how “humanely raised” they were before someone slits their throat. The idea of “humanely raised meat,” Sanbonmatsu continued, has become the prevailing justification for eating animals among the middle and upper classes, which has resulted in profoundly disturbing and inconsistent behaviors. For example, companies, like Chipotle, can claim with a straight face to treat the animals they are enslaving, sexually exploiting, and murdering “with dignity and respect.” Moreover, the problem with using “humane treatment” as the moral standard to end someone’s life, is that in the US, 99 percent of animals killed for their flesh come from factory farms.  Therefore, Sanbonmatsu astutely observed, “humane meat” discourse is not only used to justify the meager 1 percent of non-factory farm animal exploitation, but in fact is used to prop up the entire system of animal agriculture itself. Without the deceptive, dominant discourse surrounding “humane” killing, the cultural practice of consuming animals would have few places to retreat before starting to collapse. “Humane meat” is the wobbly linchpin holding together the whole system of “meat.”  

Chipotle’s masterful marketing is deeply attuned to this prevailing attitude, and is actively invested in maintaining the animals-as-food-objects status quo, rather than treating them as individuals to be respected. The company’s only true commitment is not to “cultivating a better world,” but to perpetually increasing the stock prices for its shareholders—at any moral cost.

The upshot is that the soul of the animal rights movement is up for grabs. Are we going to let it be hijacked and stolen from us by mega-corporations like Chipotle, that only want to see more animals killed to fatten their executives’ pockets? Companies that are fighting so desperately to keep the current system of mass murder in place and stable? Or are we—from the grassroots—going to seize this crucial moment in our history, stopping the death machine on its destructive course, and open up the path to a beautiful and compassionate world? I choose the latter and hope you will too.

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. 

When Distance Distracts Us

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When Distance Distracts Us (by Kelly & Glenn)

What if the animals being denied their right to life by Chipotle's hands were actually killed right behind the counter, instead of out of sight somewhere far away? The violence is the same. The injustice is the same.

Would we happily order our Sofritas burrito with a smile, or would we stop the violence?

Think about that for a second.

If someone were enacting violence against a defenseless animal right in front of you, would you do everything in your power to stop them? Of course you would. Even people who eat animals would. And you would try to stop that murderer even if they handed you a tofu burrito with one hand while they slit a pig's throat with the other. You certainly wouldn't happily take the tofu burrito and remain silent about the injustice happening right in front of you. So why behave any differently when the violence is removed and you're only faced with its results?

Love Chipotle's Vegan Option? Then You Should Love Our Campaign

Chipotle announces today in Fast Company a nationwide expansion of the sofritas option, despite paltry sales. What this shows us is what we said all along: Violent corporate empires don't need to be coddled and praised. They need to be confronted with their violence and their lies.

Chipotle announces today in Fast Company a nationwide expansion of the sofritas option, despite paltry sales. What this shows us is what we said all along: Violent corporate empires don't need to be coddled and praised. They need to be confronted with their violence and their lies.

Love the Vegan Option? Then You Should Love Our Campaign

by Wayne Hsiung

Fast Company reports today that Chipotle's vegan option -- sofritas -- is now going nationwide. This is the first ever menu addition in Chipotle's history, as the company has prided itself on a simple, elegant menu. And the addition comes despite paltry sales: less than 3% even in the locations targeted as especially suitable for the introduction. 

I've previously blogged about how vegan options are mostly irrelevant to the animal rights movement's success, and might even serve as a significant obstacle, if framed in a way that reinforces the traditional "personal choice" narrative of veganism.  But even if you disagree, what the sofritas introduction shows us is that our 6 month old protest campaign has had exactly the effect that we predicted all along. It has solidified the company's commitment to the vegan option. 

Why? It's quite simple. As the pioneering social justice activist Randy Shaw writes in his wonderful book, The Activist's Handbook (Berkeley Press) , we cannot smile our way to success. With powerful people and institutions who have no intrinsic interest in helping our movement, we have to use a strategy that Shaw calls "Fear and Loathing." We have to show these powerful institutions that we are not afraid to criticize them when they fall short of their rhetoric because if they feel there is no cost to betraying us, companies like Chipotle will do so in a heart beat. 

In fact, that is exactly what Chipotle did in 2010. It introduced vegan Gardein in a few restaurants, watched as the positive press (and endless praise from animal rights groups) came in, then quietly threw away the vegan option when the press and public stopped paying attention. A few activist groups who had previously praised Chipotle gave the slightest bit of a whimper in protest. But it didn't matter because the news cycle, in both mainstream and social media, had already passed (and activist groups did now want to admit defeat to their fundraisers). So Chipotle had its (bloody) cake, and ate it too. The animal rights groups got to claim a victory (without having to actually ensure that the "victory" was sustained). And everyone was happy... Except, of course, the animals who continued to scream in terror at Chipotle's massively growing engine of violence. 

We can't allow ourselves to be duped by these corporate shenanigans again. Chipotle is not an ally to the animals. It is the third largest publicly traded restaurant company in the world, and a corporate empire that has a legal duty to focus single-mindedly on maximizing profits. To effect real and permanent change, we have to show companies such as Chipotle that half measures are not enough, that they will face continuing pressure to do the right thing, and that if they want to claim the mantle of "integrity," "love," and "compassion", they will have activists watching them to ensure that their behaviors match their rhetoric (and calling them out the moment they fail). This is exactly what Shaw calls Fear and Loathing. If you want to be successful as a social justice activist, you have to show powerful institutions that there is a cost if they betray or lie to you. 

Activists in Vancouver pointing out the obvious. And yet so many have fallen under Chipotle's marketing spell. 

Unlike the Gardein fiasco of 2010, that is exactly what we did, this time around, and lo and behold, the vegan option has stuck around. 

But that is not the end of the story. Because Chipotle continues with its brilliant manipulation of our movement. As I discussed last weekend in our most recent open meeting -- Chipotle's Seven Deadly Sins --  Chipotle has followed the exact divide-and-conquer strategy (bribe the opportunists; persuade the moderates; attack the radicals) that was set out by a meat industry PR firm two decades ago. And the very Chipotle executive who is interviewed by Fast Company, about the wondrous vegan option at Chipotle, was also quoted in the New York Times (in a moment of inadvertent honesty) as saying, "You put tripe in a bowl and tell them it’s from a humanely raised cow, and they’re going to eat it." 

When a corporation is this blatant and obvious in trying to manipulate and deceive, not just the public but our movement... when it is going out of its way to mock the exact rhetoric it is using, and to the flagship newspaper of our times... how can our movement possibly continue to believe these lies? How can our movement continue to support one of the largest and fastest growing animal killers in the world? And yet our movement does support Chipotle, with many of the most prominent voices not only aggressively defending Chipotle's empire -- but going out of their way to attack and undermine a grassroots campaign to protect animals from Chipotle's violence.

There are many complicated answers to the question of why our movement has fallen under Chipotle's spell. Some answers (corporate bribery) are darker than others (earnest faith, however misplaced, in the good intentions of a multinational empire). But the reasons are irrelevant. The question is what we do, going forward. And what our protest campaign has shown is that we can not only speak truth to power -- even in the face of withering criticism and hate by Chipotle's corrupt or misguided defenders -- but we can inspire activists all over the world to join us.