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Learning and Connecting (East Coast Tour - Part 3)

Learning and Connecting

by Wayne Hsiung

(This is the third in a multi-part series about DxE's East Coast Speaking Tour. Read all the blog posts from the tour here.)

Wandering through a dark castle filled with piles of seeming rubble. Arguing with a secretly wealthy man who donates almost all of his money to help others, still lives with his mother, and refuses to wear shoes. And being inspired by the enthusiastic support of a few animal rights celebrities… but, even more importantly, the humble and good-hearted souls who comprise the animal rights movement in the Northeast.

Things could hardly get better.

But first, an apology. I meant to post short updates to the blog on a near-daily basis. But various problems and projects have gotten in the way. So blogging time has been hard to come by. The craziest moments, however, are hopefully behind us. So I hope to catch up a bit, now.  Let’s start with some early reflections.

Boston

We flew in on the red eye, and neither Ronnie or I got much, if any sleep. This was unfortunate because our first two meetings were with two of the smartest and most impressive people we’ll meet on the trip.

First up was my friend Alice, an enterprising Harvard Law School student who, after training to play the viola at conservatory, switched to a legal career and was as successful as a paralegal and law school applicant as she was as a musician. Alice is part of an incredibly smart and provocative group of young climate activists at Harvard who are pushing the school to divest from fossil fuels. And, in many ways, their campaign is not unlike DxE’s. For one, the ultimate end goal is social normative, rather than economic. There is a recognition that even Harvard, for all its seeming economic might, is just a flea compared to the fossil fuel industry. So the goal in the divestment campaign is not to deny Big Oil Harvard’s dollars but rather its intellectual, social, and moral credibility.

The thinking goes something like this: if we can convince the Harvards of the world to be so ashamed of fossil fuels that they will no longer invest, it could create a cultural cascade that spreads through our entire society. Alice and her colleagues are using Harvard -- sterling reputation and all -- as a lens through which we can understand the bigger problem: catastrophic damage to our climate. And as I talked to Alice about the Harvard campaign, I could not help but think of Chipotle.

We talked a lot about the similarities in strategy. The divestment campaign, like DxE, has many autonomous groups around the country working toward the same objective. Like DxE, it has pushed traditionally passive activists into bolder and more disruptive action. (A Harvard student was arrested during a civil disobedience for the first time in recent history.) Like DxE, it is focused on creating cascades of social and moral influence. There will be much to learn and share in the weeks and months to come, and I’m hoping that I can stay in touch with Alice as she and her group continue working hard to save our planet.

That evening, we had our second gathering with Jeff Kaufman, our host for the evening. Jeff is a prominent figure in a movement called Effective Altruism (EA). Spawned from the work of Peter Singer, especially his famous call to combat global poverty, Famine, Affluence, and Morality (which has become such a significant paper that it has its own acronym -- FAM), EAs use evidence to determine the most effective methods to make the world a better place. While many EAs I had discussed of late have fanciful (and I think non-falsifiable) beliefs about so-called x-risk -- risks to the existence of the human race, or life itself (everything from evil artificial intelligence to nanotech triggered grey goo) -- there has been increasing attention given to animal rights within the EA community.

Jeff, as a prominent blogger, community leader, and role model for EAs everywhere, has had an influential voice in trying to understand the most effective tactics for animal advocacy. But strangely, he’s not himself an animal advocate.

“I’m interested for methodogical reasons,” he told me. “I want to promote good thinking on these issues.”

And good thinking, Jeff suggests, has been in short supply.

This is not a problem unique to animal rights. Indeed, even in Jeff’s priority cause -- alleviating global poverty -- there is shockingly little evidence suggesting that our collective solutions have had much positive effect. But animal rights seems unhinged from the broader literature on development. Insights and concepts that are part of the common parlance in development -- e.g. the importance of institutions, the difficulty of social prediction, the power of inertia, the necessity for skepticism -- are still missing in our discussions of animal advocacy. Jeff is helping us change that with provocative posts like this one: Pay other people to go vegetarian for you?

No shoes. No worries. 

No shoes. No worries. 

This comes despite the fact that he views animals as morally insignificant. And yes, he eats animals. To some, this might be reason to condemn Jeff as a monstrous and selfish person. But this can’t possibly be right. By any objective standard, Jeff and his wonderful wife Julia are among the most selfless people in the world. Jeff, a high paid engineer at Google’s Boston office, donates 50% of his income to charity, still lives with his mother, father, and two sisters, and is famous for often refusing to wear shoes. Julia, in turn, matches Jeff's donation rate, and is a social worker who has written beautifully about our obligations to the poor… about how many of the things that we take for granted as belonging to us are, in fact, granted to us only by the hands of fate.

Words that she shared with Jeff, many years ago, have resonated with me strongly since I first read them on Jeff's blog. 

It's easy for me to buy a milkshake at Bev's if I'm in Carytown. But if I were living in Bolivia and that two or three dollars could help my little sister pay school fees, would I still buy the milkshake? Of course not. At the end of the year that two dollars goes to Save the Children instead. The hardest thing is remembering the kids in Bolivia when I'm in Carytown. It always makes me feel like yelling or crying when my roommate tries to talk me into going with her to the ballet or opera, because I don't know how to explain to her that the money for that ticket isn't really mine—it should really belong to someone who needs it, and I have to give it to them.

This sort of compassion is uncanny -- and is exactly the sort of sentiment we need more of in the world. But the cause of animals, to many people, remains sadly remote. Jeff doubts the consciousness of animals. Julia, in turn, recently posted her worries that a too-aggressive form of veganism -- the dominant framing for animal rights -- is necessarily exclusionary and classist. We spoke into the late hours of the night on these and other issues. And while I could sense increasing sympathy for what we at DxE (and the animal rights movement generally) are trying to accomplish, there was no epiphany moment.

Instead, I went to bed with two important lessons. First, to make any headway, we need to make a real place for ourselves in the modern Left. Even among the most passionate do-gooders in the world -- indeed, perhaps especially among such people -- animal rights is a cause that is, at best, not understood, and, at worst, openly derided as ridiculous, trivial, or even oppressive. There is not a single strategy for us to change that perception, but, as I have suggested previously, (1) increasing our message strength and confidence and (2) our movement’s diversity are key.

Second, though -- and this is just as important -- Jeff and Julia are examples of why we must proceed with humility. Though neither is particularly interested in animals, they are fiercely devoted to making the world a better place -- and have made far greater commitments than the vast majority of the social justice community. In short, far from being bad people, they are two of our planet’s best people.

Of course, doing one good, or even great, deed does not excuse other bad ones. And I would never suggest that we should back down from our belief that every animal has the right to be free from harm. After all, it is one of the basic ideas of this tour that our movement needs to inspire the strength to say what it truly means: that every bite of meat is an act of discriminatory violence.

But we should not, and cannot, go about our work with a sense of superiority, entitlement, or (worst of all) power over those around us. Far from it, especially when our message itself is confrontational, it is important for us to proceed with humility and even generosity towards others. Let’s speak honestly and directly when we feel our animal brethren’s lives and bodies are being disrespected, physically torn to pieces right before our eyes. But let’s come to that position from a place of love and nonviolence.

If you’ve had a confrontation about speciesism, offer to buy someone a meal afterwards. Acknowledge areas where your interlocutor may, in fact, be better than you (as both Jeff and Julia are, in so many different dimensions). And above all, don’t give up hope.

Perhaps by far the most inspiring aspect of our tour after all, is how, in city after city, the idea of animal liberation is bubbling up to the surface. It’s still largely unnoticed by the mainstream. It needs time and nurturing to develop. But it is an idea that has been independently discovered by communities, cities, and even entire nations. And when progressives all over the world are converging on the same basic set of beliefs, it is a powerful sign that the writing is on the wall. That is reason, not just for hope, but confidence. The world is changing faster than we think. 

 

"You're too militant," the broken record plays.

"You're too militant," the broken record plays. (by Kelly)

Men tried to shame Emmeline Pankhurst into less confrontational approaches, but she recognized anything short of her "militancy" as acquiescence that allowed the suffragette's cause to remain unaddressed. Who does history remember, her, or the ladies who politely asked men to hear their voices while those men made patronizing jokes about them?

When the Greensboro Four defiantly sat at the "Whites Only" counter of the cafeteria, a black waitress said to them, "Fellows like you make our race look bad." But who got that cafeteria desegregated? Who sprung up a movement of civil disobediences that forced the issue of white supremacist tyranny onto the front page of newspapers everywhere and into the public discussion that is necessary for public change?

The activists with ACT UP who disrupted the mass at a homophobic cathedral were condemned by other members of the LGBT community for being “disrespectful” and “militant” (with the negative connotations that term only has for those inclined to give oppressive authorities the subservience they demand). Who brought the gay rights movement to where it is today? Do we really believe it wasn't the people who took the risk of pushing open that closet door and slamming it in the faces of the heterosexists holding it down on them?*

Enough with the "you're too militant" nonsense. People have said it every time, and every time they've been wrong. The oppressors have always tried to use that "warning" (that the rebel's message won't be received if they aren't nice and quiet??) to subdue the allies of the oppressed, and too many allies let it deter them from doing exactly what it turned out they should have. Look at history. Confrontation needs to happen. Dramatizing the issue is what gets people moving. Maybe you personally do not feel comfortable raising your voice for the silenced and if so, I hope we can empower you to choose justice over comfort, but if not, and if you will insist that some forms and levels of accommodation are important (though I question how influenced that position is by both risk-aversiveness and speciesism), then fine, if that's how it is that's how it is. But stop trying to gag those who push harder, unless you can demonstrate that major social upheaval has ever happened through saying nothing but "please." We're just trying to make our cousins' voices heard. Stop helping the oppressors silence the oppressed.

*I'm going to point out here both that the above-ground disruptions that DxE does are hardly "militant" given the reaches activism can go to, and, more significantly, we humans are not even in the oppressed class of the animal liberation fight - opening that door, sitting at that counter and leading that march are actions of essentially no risk for us (and look like nothing at all next to what the animals will go through if we don't take these "risks"), with (as we can gather from the history of direct action) huge potential gains for nonhumans.

DxE West Coast Action Tour - Part One: Sacramento

DxE West Coast Action Tour - Part One: Sacramento

by Ronnie Rose

DxE is embarking on a journey across the West Coast on a three-week-long speaking and action tour. Starting in the San Francisco Bay Area, we are taking the tour up north, through California, Oregon, Washington and Canada, before heading back south to finish at the National Animal Rights Conference in Los Angeles. At each stop, we will be giving a short presentation and engage with local activists, with an aim at strengthening bonds between, and building an empowered network within, the animal rights community. The days following the presentation, we will be collectively planning and executing actions at places of violence.

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The first stop of the tour took us to Sacramento, CA, where we were hosted by Adrienne Ramirez, one of the most diligent and hardworking activists I know. When I first told Adrienne about the tour, all she needed to know were the dates, and everything else she took from there! She went around looking for the perfect spot for the presentation, set up event pages on the internet, persistently promoted, and drew a great crowd.

DSC_0138.JPG

The first night we all met at the conference room Adrienne secured, and gave our presentation to a roomful of dedicated activists, both experienced and new. After the talk, everyone in the crowd asked incisive questions, full of personal stories and intellectual insight, which led to a fruitful discussion. By the end of the night, I could already sense a newfound camaraderie, deeper commitment and hope to where the movement was headed.

On the second day, we met back up at the same space, joined by some new faces that hadn’t been around the night before. Some of the folks there had participated in DxE demos in the past—as part of the monthly actions for the It’s Not Food, It’s Violence campaign — but there were also others who had never done any type of disruption before. This was their first encounter with DxE’s approach to activism. Though nervous, they also felt the need to break out of their comfort zones and bring the stories of the animals into the very places where they have been most ignored.

The first action we planned led us to an upscale restaurant, replete with references to the “humane” treatment of the animals, while simultaneously offering “veal” dishes. We entered the restaurant calmly and confidently, with over 20 activists, and held placards stating, “It’s Not Food, It’s Violence.” Three activists—Adrienne, Angel, and Linda—all held beautiful images of our nonhuman kin and took turns telling passionate stories about the devastating torment these sensitive beings have to endure, as well as painting an alternative vision—a world of species equality, a world of liberation. 

We then took our demonstration outside, to bring these stories to the surrounding, and very curious, people. After some time, we made our way to another upscale restaurant a few blocks away, where the bodies of animals were proudly served.

On our way over, we noticed that the Sacramento police had been called and started following us. This isn’t such an abnormal response, but what happened after truly was. As our demo commenced, police began swarming in droves, with lights flashing, from all different directions. They ended up blocking the street with their vehicles, which looked like a scene out of a bank heist movie. 

However, nothing happened. With a good liaison, they stayed at bay, and we finished our protest while they stuck around to observe.

We couldn’t possibly have been happier with the wonderful turnout for both days in Sacramento. Adrienne and the crew set a very high bar for the rest of the tour that might be hard for other cities to beat! If the passion of the Sacramento animal rights community is any indication of future success, I have total faith that total liberation will become a reality. 

Chipotle's Spokespeople Demonstrate that the Company Does Not Care About Animals Even a Little

Chipotle's Spokespeople Demonstrate that the Company Does Not Care About Animals Even a Little (by Kelly)

At Chipotle's last two "Cultivate" festivals in San Francisco, their keynote speakers have been extremely dismissive of our criticism of the company's humanewashing, in an effort to downplay the violence they profit on.

After our disruption of a cooking demonstration at the festival last year, Culinary Manager Nate Appleman said, “We’re mixing the chicken and the pork… I love all animals the same, so I want to use both of them!” Appleman has also made it clear that “humane” rhetoric is just about selling the product, saying, “You put tripe in a bowl and tell them it’s from a humanely raised cow, and they’re going to eat it.”

And at the Cultivate festival we disrupted just a few weeks ago, Chef Graham Elliot played “Meat is Murder” as he walked on stage (before we even made our presence known), and when we demonstrated, he joked about foie gras, in an effort to mock the animals and dismiss their oppression. And you can see in the image above that he's behind Brian, pretending to be like a campy killer from a horror movie, making a joke not only of our comparison between violence against nonhumans and humans alike, of all violence.

They source from animals exploited in the same awful conditions as every other fast-food chain, and they get more sales and substantial premiums from their "humane" rhetoric. Their CEO has literally promised that Chipotle will never exploit animals, when the vast majority of the company's money is made from products that include using animals without their consent (and in crying protest of that violent use). If that doesn't already define "humanewashing" for us, the way their spokespeople are so incredibly dismissive of concern for violence against animals should make it abundantly clear that the company's claims of caring about animals are utterly superficial.

Chipotle is not animal-friendly. Chipotle a leader in the oppression of our nonhuman kin. We have to make it clear to the world that discriminating against, using, and killing other animals is not a positive thing to feel good about.

Empty the Tanks - How Corporate Spin Reframes Captivity

Dispelling SeaWorld's corporate spin with events such as Empty the Tanks is key to the push for genuine change. 

Dispelling SeaWorld's corporate spin with events such as Empty the Tanks is key to the push for genuine change. 

Empty the Tanks - How Corporate Spin Reframes Captivity

by Wayne Hsiung

SeaWorld and other marine animal prisons enslave and abuse animals. It is a truth that was aptly demonstrated by the movie Blackfish, and that activists will unite to say on May 24, at the Empty the Tanks Worldwide day of action. In the Bay Area, the tireless defender of marine animals and Taiji Cove Guardian, Lisa Robles, is taking the lead in taking on Six Flags (with support from the newly formed Citizens for an Animal-Free Six Flags). In San Diego, the remarkable activist and DxE organizer Ellen Ericksen is expecting 1000 to protest SeaWorld. And hundreds more activists all over the world will be converging at marine animal prisons behind a simple message: animals are not ours to use.

But if you listen to the industry, they are doing great things for animals. SeaWorld, for example, glows about how it is "leading the way" in animal rescue and rehab and shares inspiring stores of saving baby dolphins from drowning in the tangle of a fishing net. They even went so far as to hire Bindi Irwin, daughter of the famous conservationist, as their Youth Ambassador. 

What is an animal activist to do? 

The first thing to note is that SeaWorld's motivations -- indeed, its legal obligation -- is to make profit for its shareholders. Whatever actions it takes are for that purpose, and, since the company has a fundamental financial interest in marine animal captivity, whatever "rescue and release" programs it involves itself in must, as a matter of legal requirement, serve their abusive reason for existence: profiting off of animals in captivity. 

The second is that SeaWorld's response is identical to virtually every other corporation challenged for animal abuse. "But we take care of animals!" Animal welfare is, in fact, a centuries-long tradition, and deft corporations always try to reframe criticism of their industry into praise for animal welfare. But the animal welfare dialogue, even if a sign of progress, is not enough. As we have seen in our own campaign against humane meat (where sales have often doubled after corporations begin to use humane marketing), the rhetoric of welfare is often used, not to encourage genuine and long-term improvements even in animal welfare (much less liberation), but to encourage greater public and consumer support for the practice at issue. We cannot allow ourselves to be duped by this marketing spin. 

The third is that if we don't provide a compelling response, SeaWorld's corporate spin will succeed. The history of animal industry is replete with examples of industry deftly diverting public outrage into meaningless reforms. Dwight D. Eisenhower said in 1958 that, if you went by mail alone, you'd think the entire country were only concerned about humane slaughter. But in the decades since, animal killing has not only increased, but the horrific cruelty of slaughter has continued unabated. The reason? Inertia. The status quo has a natural gravitational force that makes incremental progress hard to sustain. 

So while the protest on May 24 is an inspiring and powerful event -- one that we should do everything we can to support -- let's not forget that the story doesn't end with one day of action. If we want every tank to be empty, and every animal to be free, we have to recognize corporate spin, devise a compelling response, and continue our challenge to even the existence of these abusive industries. 

There is no such thing as a "good" way to hold animals captive. And if we can maintain the integrity of that message, we will see our vision become a reality. 

(Video) A Memorial for Animals Appears (DxE Bay Area - April)

Gone but not Forgotten

by Ronnie Rose

This is for those who are gone. For those whose cries were drowned out in the dark night, whose terror and screams are stuck inside the slaughterhouse walls. The endless pain that you have suffered, the lonely days you stared at the cold walls of your prison, without any hope—this is for you. 

These words won't bring you back, nor will they fix what has been done to you. Your body has been abused, your feelings have been ignored, your dreams of freedom have been shattered...

But what these words do is carry the truth—and that can never be forgotten. Every animal who has been cut-up and treated as no more than a meal by companies like Chipotle, did not want this fate. Each moment they were prodded, kicked, forced into a crate, or loaded onto a truck—they wondered to themselves: Why is this happening to me? When will it end?

That is why we are here: to tell Chipotle and to tell the world your story. We are here because we know that your lives have meaning. We know that your desires to love, to play under the open skies, to live in the comfort of a community—are real. And even though your time here was brief, it will not be forgotten. We will NOT let it be forgotten!

We will not forget! We will NEVER forget! It's not food, it's violence!

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. 

(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. 

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.