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Create. Connect. Inspire. (East Coast Tour - Part 1)

Final hugs with the two girls. 

Create. Connect. Inspire. 

by Wayne Hsiung

(This is the first in a multi-part series about DxE's East Coast Speaking Tour. Follow the tour on facebook here.) 

It’s been over 12 years since I last left home on a trip longer than a few days. More than 14 since I had a proper vacation. So it is with some trepidation that I leave the Bay Area today. Lisa and Natalie, my two special, and special-needs, girls are constantly on my mind. And a potentially-dangerous family health situation continues to draw my attention home. I’ll have to call in to a few hospital meetings with an oncologist at Stanford from a couple thousand miles away. (And even as I write this, I tremble at the bad news this man may bring.) 

My co-organizer Ronnie, ready for the red eye flight. 

But I’m also excited. In 15 years as an animal rights activist, I've never done something like a speaking tour. For many years I never thought that my voice mattered enough that anyone would want to hear what I have to say. And it always seemed an imposition to ask anyone for an opportunity to speak when my words had not been expressly invited. It has taken years -- decades, really, with the support of incredible mentors in academia, law, and (above all) activism -- to train in myself the confidence to speak even when my words might be unwelcome. 

And that is, perhaps, the first theme of the tour. That we must collectively steel ourselves to speak even when our words are unwelcome.  That we must resist the conspiracy of silence by saying plainly that atrocities are occurring right in front of our eyes.

That is, to me, the most important message of the inspiring speech by Lauren Gazzola, SHAC7 defendant, that we posted to our site yesterday. From the earliest days of human civilization, dissent has been the time-tested tool for social change... the original and most powerful form of direct action. From Socrates in the Greek Agora, to Martin Luther with his 95 theses, to Mohamed Bouazizi with his burning words of rage, the power of the word has always overcome the power of the sword. And that is our movement's mission today: to inspire a powerful wave of nonviolent dissent that will overcome even our mightiest foes.

But, of course, much of the speaking tour will not be unwelcome. And that is the second theme as we fly East: that even a radical animal rights story, if told well, can be embraced by people from all walks of life. Half of the groups that will be sponsoring us on the tour will be non-animal rights groups -- from the Students for Sustainable Investment (part of the 350.org divestment campaign) at Harvard to the Asian students alliance at Northwestern.  People routinely tell us that the world will turn away if we say things too strongly, too directly, too honestly. But DxE’s successes over the past year prove this is not true. In fact, it is our weakness  -- and not our confidence and strength -- that has led our movement astray.

This is not to say that animal rights will face no opposition. There undoubtedly will be opposition, particularly when our movement begins to show its confidence and strength, and we can expect that opposition to be fierce. What it does show, however, is that even in the face of fierce opposition -- indeed, especially in the face of fierce opposition -- we can and will find strong allies. Love for animals lies latent in people all over the world. The animals of this earth are simply waiting for that love to be realized into a powerful movement for change.

And so we set out today, and every day, to do that. And that brings us to the third and most important theme of the tour: that, to effect real and permanent change, to follow in the footsteps of successful movements, we have three essential objectives: To create activists. To connect them with allies across the globe. And to inspire those networks -- through mutual support and community -- to stronger words and actions against violence and prejudice .

Create. Connect. Inspire. In my conversations with Ronnie, as we prepped for this tour, those three words rang most strongly in our minds. We hope that they will continue to ring throughout the movement. The incredible people who have joined the DxE network, both within the Bay Area and beyond...  the beautiful networks and relationships that those people have made... and the inspiring words that have flowered, in cities as far flung as Istanbul and Chennai, on behalf of the same message: It's not food. It's violence. We depend on all three of these to fuel our movement for change. We depend on every one of you. And it is with every DxE activist in our minds that we fly, with hope in our hearts, to spread our message of change. 

My skin may be brown, but I'm still American. The sign says so! 

Every day, before I go to sleep, I remind myself that, not so far away, there is a child suffering unimaginable terrors. I think of a little girl huddling in darkness, pressed up against thousands of her tortured sisters, trapped in a pile of feces that has enveloped her foot in an unyielding vice of pain, moaning silently but with no one to hear her cries. I think of her, and it nearly breaks me. It reminds me that whatever problems I face in life, they are trivial compared to what my animal brethren are facing in concentration camps just a few miles away.

But I also remind myself that there is hope for this world. You give me that hope. We give each other that hope. And it is with hope and gratitude, above all, that we take our message East. Thank you to everyone who is part of the DxE network, and more broadly, part of the community of social justice. It is only with your tireless efforts that we will finally dispel the nightmare of the cage and the blade, and replace it with a world where the cages are gone, the blades are put down... and the innocent child from our nightmares will finally be safe and happy and free. 

There's bravery and kindness everywhere...

The world often seems a sad and terrifying place for those who are weak and different. But as our next day of action approaches, let's not forget: there is bravery and kindness everywhere. Our mission is to empower those brave, kind souls so that their voices resonate across the globe. 

We will no longer hide

Linda, a powerhouse animal rights activist at 70 years young, speaks for the animals inside a high end restaurant in Sacramento. 

Linda, a powerhouse animal rights activist at 70 years young, speaks for the animals inside a high end restaurant in Sacramento. 

We will no longer hide

by Wayne Hsiung

I have a confession. I made it a rule over 10 years ago to stop watching animal cruelty videos. They scare me. They haunt me. And they bring me crashing down in despair. 

From an early age, I was obsessed with animals. I would make friends with squirrels and birds in the forest. I religiously read ZooBooks and everything else I could get my hands on about animals. And to this day, the best and happiest day of my life was the day when my parents finally allowed me and my sister to adopt a dog -- my first real friend of any species -- into our home. 

So when I see videos of animals being hurt, it's as if someone is hurting my dearest friends. Not just hurting them. Degrading them. Abusing them. Brutalizing them. Torturing them. And then even eating them. The scenes are so bad that it's hard to believe they are even happening. And for those of us who love, and have been loved by, animals..... when we see these scenes it's as if the entire world has turned into a nightmare. 

I was speaking to my friend Lisa recently as to what motivates us to activism. (DxE will be meeting about this next week.) And above all, for me, it is this deep feeling that something has gone deeply wrong with our society. We have seen what is happening to our friends. And it fills us with a sense of injustice that overwhelms every other feeling in our body. We see these images, these videos, and we hear their terrifying cries. "I'm filled with this sense that I've never seen anything so wrong in my life," Lisa told me. And that deep wrongfulness burns us to our very bone. 

The problem, of course, is that a fire can only burn for so long. And I stopped watching animal cruelty videos because I could see my hope fading, my cynicism growing, and my hatred for the world growing day by day. (Perhaps screening myself from such videos is part of the reason why I've stuck around for 15 years.) So it was only begrudgingly that I have begun to watch these videos again in order to make the DxE campaign videos that we hope will continue to mobilize people all over the world to action for animals. 

But there is something different this time around. I don't drown in despair when I watch, despite the fact that I have now seen more such videos in three months (heck, three days) than I had watched in the ten years prior. And the reason is... you. My despair over the nightmarish suffering of our kindred sensitive beings is met with a just as powerful collective resolve: that we will no longer hide how we feel, run to the bathroom with our tears, or make small talk in the face of catastrophic atrocities.

I see someone like my friend Linda, a 70 year old activist in Sacramento who looks half her age, speaking confidently and strongly on behalf of our brutalized friends ("This sweet mommy pig does not want to be on your dinner plate. She deserves to live!") in a place of opulence and violence, and I begin to see a path out of this nightmarish world. The nightmare still rages, to be sure, but by recognizing, and connecting with, the legions of activists ready to confront that nightmare with strong words and action, we need not fall victim to despair. We can look at the nightmare straight in the eye and say to ourselves, and to the world, "Your last days are near. We will no longer hide. And my friends will soon be safe and happy and free." 

A Journey to DxE

A Journey to DxE 

by Wilson Wong

I’ve grown a lot the past year – but the thing that makes me the most proud is that I grew together with fellow activists, committed to fighting injustice against all species.

When Caroline and I, the main organizers of UBC (University of British Columbia) Activists for Animals, first started running our club last year – we were both remarkably conservative.  We were isolated as animal rights activists in our own lives. I was an engineering student who had grown accustomed to the daily mockings of my veganism from classmates (intended to be friendly, but exhausting nonetheless). Caroline was similarly isolated as a 2nd year math major, and like me, did not have many personal connections with people who didn’t immediately scoff at the word ‘speciesism’. One of my first memories of Caroline was when she told me that her favourite outreach method was ‘food activism’ – cooking delicious vegan food for others in an effort to dispel the myth that vegan food is bland and unexciting. She justified this preference by pointing out that this outreach method was safe, and had minimal risk of confrontation.

At our first meeting, we discussed seriously the prospect of changing our name UBC Activists for Animals to something more ‘conservative’. Caroline argued that the word ‘activists’ may scare off people, and may reinforce the negative stereotype of animal advocates being angry, irrational mobs of emotion. I agreed.

A few weeks later, a mysterious fellow Asian animal activist (there aren’t that many) named Wayne Hsiung messaged me on Facebook. He asked if I would be willing to run a demo for DxE’s It’s Not Food, It’s Violence campaign – meant to challenge the hypocrisy in the food industry’s messaging -- notably  Chipotle’s Food with Integrity propaganda -- by dismantling the idea that killing someone who doesn’t want to die can ever be humane.

At that point, I had never even attended a demo – and now this mysterious man from the internet is asking me to run something that (in my mind) could possibly get me deported (I am not Canadian). This had elements of everything my Asian mother warned me to look out for. Despite that, I politely told Wayne I would consult the rest of my group. Perhaps it was the fact that DxE’s messaging was so raw and uncompromising, or perhaps it was because I saw myself in the diversity of DxE’s activists (albeit a lot more timid)– I wasn’t sure, but their voices struck, and stuck with me.

When I brought this up with the UBC Activist for Animals – there was a lot of skepticism and even more questions. Why Chipotle? Didn’t Chipotle offer vegan options? Would such aggressive protesting be effective, or would it hurt our movement? What are the odds we’d be legally implicated?

After a lot of discussion, we ultimately decided to do a demo in solidarity. However as we were new, and frankly scared, we decided not to hold an in-store disruption. Wayne assured us that we should only do what everyone collectively was comfortable in doing. Our first demo went well, and without any drama.

In the months following, our demos got more radical. We became more aggressive, more willing to speak honestly and more willing to disrupt social expectations of appropriate conduct – not just during demos, but within our personal lives too. This came about as a result of two things:

1.       Greater confidence gained from participating in demos, as well as support from the seasoned Vancouver Animal Defense League activists (a local, highly active animal rights group)

2.       Increasing knowledge of DxE philosophy, and the rationale and research behind the in-store disruptions

Despite our demos being ‘aggressive’ in-store disruptions aimed at the ‘controversial’ issue of animals used as food (as opposed to more socially palatable campaigns against fur or foie gras), we were fairly successful at attracting new activists to our demos – something I’m proud of. Other things I am proud of: being open and non-hierarchical and so conducive to feedback (something the ever-perceptive Alissa Raye has excelled at); being extremely well supported by existing animal rights groups in Vancouver (especially from VADL and Liberation BC); and lastly- I’m proud of the community of empowered, truly passionate activists we created.

Less than a year ago, these people who stand shoulder to shoulder with me at demos were barely acquaintances – and today I am travelling down with 5 of them to attend a DxE forum to connect with strangers we had only ever chatted with online (another thing my mother definitely warned me against).

I’ve expressed a lot of pride in this post. But even my immense pride for what we’ve built is nothing when stacked beside the infecting, ever-swelling hope I’ve gained working beside passionate, uncompromising people who are as hungry for change as I am.

How Two Nobel Prize Winners (and one Iron Giant) Shaped DxE

PALS (Phoenix Animal Liberation Squad) interviews Wayne Hsiung on the Origins of DxE, Creative Disruption, and How Two Nobel Prize Winners (and one Iron Giant) Shaped the DxE Model

by DxE

PALS organizer Saryta Rodriguez is writing a book about the animal rights movement. But she recently published a sneak preview of an interview about DxE.

In the interview, Saryta explores the origins of DxE, the importance of "disrupting business as usual", and the influence of two Nobel Laureates in establishing DxE's model of activism. 

Here's an excerpt: 

SR: What inspired you to start this particular coalition? Why not just join any of the many pre-existing animal liberation organizations out there? What did you hope to bring to the table that others perhaps do not?

WH: There are a million animal groups out there; but what makes us different is primarily that we are squarely focused on movement building. Most animal rights groups attempt to shift particular actors (whether corporate or state) or the public. While we don’t neglect those objectives, we also are keenly aware of the importance of building a stronger and more robust movement to effect real change. I was influenced in this by my studies of intervention into human rights causes. It turns out that most attempts to fix problems have little to no effect. The reason, as Nobel Prize winner Douglass North found, is that institutions—particularly “soft” institutions, such as culture and trust—are the ultimate cause of (and solution for) most social ills.

Check out the full interview here

When a Hero Joins You

Activists in Australia with the message: It's not Food. It's Violence. Photo courtesy of Patty Mark and  Animal Liberation Victoria .

Activists in Australia with the message: It's not Food. It's Violence. Photo courtesy of Patty Mark and Animal Liberation Victoria.

When a Hero Joins You

by Wayne Hsiung

It's odd and a little awkward when one of your inspirations as an activist joins a campaign you are an organizer for. Part of me thinks that we should all just step out of the way and let Patty Mark run the show! 

But this is how movements grow. We see the horrors, and we crawl into a dark corner to cry. We pick ourselves up, wipe away the tears, and decide to take action: "No more tears. No more shame. No more lies, and no more pain. It's time to take a stand." We find guides and teachers, who show us tactics, strategy -- and, perhaps most important, ideas -- that we can... that we MUST.... spread far and wide. And if our movement is as strong as I know it to be, we see those ideas blossom even in the most unexpected of places. 

Patty Mark performing an open rescue. 

Patty Mark performing an open rescue. 

Patty has been a guide and inspiration to DxE, from afar, in more ways than one. And her words are well worth heeding

I left the United States in 1973 and traveled the world with my Australian husband. It was during this time, and especially during the past 30 years, that I have been stepping across the line that humans draw to separate us from other animals. I routinely enter the barren and dismal world we give to farmed animals. I hear their screams and witness their fear and suffering in hundreds of places including slaughterhouses, industrialized farms, darkened sheds, open paddocks, feedlots and inside transport trucks/ships on four continents. There is nothing humane on their side of the line. [emphasis added]

It's not about how we 'care for' or treat the billions of animals we mass produce to keep in line, it's about erasing the line altogether. Humans are incredible animals, but we can also be a very selfish species--we so often put ourselves first. We can and must open our minds and hearts. Promoting and/or consuming animal products deepens the rut that is grinding down our humanity, our health and the future of the planet.

Help us step across the line that separates human from non-human animals, and erase it all together. Dog or cat, human or rat, we are all equal. We love our mothers. We miss our friends. And we are desperate when we are alone or in pain.

And we all have the basic right to be free from violence. 

Thank you ALV and Patty. And thank you to all the activists all over the world who fight for the rights of animals. It is because of you that, some day soon, our animal friends, who have for millennia lived in downtrodden communities that lie underneath -- broken down and brutalized by misguided traditions and bloodthirsty corporations -- finally see the light and freedom that they have always deserved. 

RGB Vegan Interviews Ronnie Rose on DxE's Origins, the Dangers of Corporate "Values Integration," and Advice for New Vegans

Ronnie (on the right) at a recent It's not Food, It's Violence demonstration. 

Ronnie (on the right) at a recent It's not Food, It's Violence demonstration. 

Ronnie Rose on RGB Vegan

by DxE

Ronnie Rose, co-founding organizer of DxE, is not a name you'll necessarily know. But he did the remarkable video work that launched DxE into the world, with a splash, in early 2013. And it was conversations with Ronnie that shaped, and created the momentum for, the formation of our grassroots network. 

Since that time, Ronnie has been, in many ways, the theoretical voice of DxE. You might have read his powerful piece, The Soul of the Animal Rights Movement is Up for Grabs, or heard about DxE's graphic images study, which we commissioned in part because of a relationship Ronnie struck up with the brilliant political scientist Tim Pachirat. But in more ways than one, Ronnie has continued to be a key contributor to not just DxE's growth but, perhaps even more important, its anti-speciesist integrity. Ronnie has helped us maintain our strong commitment to animal liberation -- in our words, in our practices, and (especially) in our tactics and strategy. 

Ronnie recently had the opportunity to give a wonderful talk about the It's not Food, It's Violence campaign with our Phoenix chapter, PALS. And afterwards, one of the attendees, Joshua at RGB Vegan, was so impressed that he interviewed him for his podcast. In the interview, you'll hear about: 

- DxE's founding story
- the sinister marketing strategy -- "values integration" -- used by Chipotle and other humane washers to twist popular values in favor of eating animals
- some simple advice for new vegans. 

Check it out, and make sure you subscribe to RGB Vegan on iTunes

Proud

Proud

by Wayne Hsiung

 

They say pride is a bad thing, a sin. But as I reviewed the video from our last day of action, and saw so many brave voices speaking strongly for the animals, it's the feeling that I could not repress, that I could not stop from bursting out of my heart. And I won't apologize for it. 

When I was a young college student choosing between graduate schools, I remembered reading the words of a Nobel Prize Winner named Bob Solow. He was a US soldier fighting the Nazis in World War II, and a revolutionary thinker in the field of macroeconomics. And while every other economics department pitched itself by focusing on impact ("our professors have this many Nobel Prizes and that many members of the National Academy of the Sciences"), status ("you will find the smartest students and most NSF Fellows at our program"), or career path ("post-graduate placement options are better than any other school on the market"), Bob Solow and MIT were different. 

Bob made two simple points. The first was that your life has to be important. We have only one life to live, and you have to believe in what you do. The second is that your life has to be surrounded by people you believe in, a real community of people who support one another even in the face of external criticism or internal conflict. There were only two times in Bob's life that he felt he had both. One was as a captain in the US army, leading the charge into Europe with a rag tag team of young people who were freeing the world from tyranny. The other, he said, was as a young professor of economics at MIT -- where a team of liberal economists had formed up to resist the conservative tide from the freshwater schools in the Midwest. 

Economics graduate school turned out to be not the right place for me. (I've written a bit about why in a prior blog post.) But those words from Bob Solow have resonated with me over the years. And while there are so many things to be proud of, with the incredible team of people we have at DxE, the thing that I am most proud of, that I cannot stop bragging about, is the sense of common mission we have in fighting against what Prof. John Sanbonmatsu rightly called an atrocity, and the profound goodness, love, and integrity of our diverse community of activists all over the world. Everything from a teenage kid giving a resounding speakout in Philadelphia, to the relentless intelligence of our new organizers in Copenhagen, I just cannot stop myself from feeling an overwhelming sense of pride in our mission, and in our community. 

The Soul of the Animal Rights Movement is Up For Grabs

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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.

(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