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Three Emotional Approaches

Three Emotional Approaches

By Saryta Rodriguez

The extent to which emotionality is effective and appropriate in nonviolent direct actions is a subject of many heated debates within the animal liberation community.  Conventional wisdom has long held the position that as activists, in order to be taken seriously and not to offend our audience to the extent that it will no longer heed our words, we must control our negative emotions when engaging in nonviolent direct action and only demonstrate those emotions which are positive and welcoming.  However, pioneering research in the social sciences tells us quite a different story, indicating that there is not only a place for negative emotions in the animal liberation movement but that negative emotions are of the utmost importance if we hope to truly enact change in the world.

Here, I would like to focus on three prominent emotions and the results they stand to yield in the animal liberation movement: happiness, anger, and sadness.

The beloved house elf, Dobby, from the  Harry Potter  series.

The beloved house elf, Dobby, from the Harry Potter series.

The Dobby Approach: Have some free cookies and magazines!

On November 10, 2014, Direct Action Everywhere organizers Wayne Hsiung and Brian Burns gave a talk at the University of California at Berkeley entitled, “What if Everything We Think We Know about Social Change is Wrong?”  Early in this lecture, Wayne shared his experience as a student at the University of Chicago engaging in vegan outreach, years prior to moving to the Bay Area and founding Direct Action Everywhere.

Wayne began by sharing with us what he referred to as the “1-2% story”—a popular myth perpetuated within animal advocacy groups claiming that for all of the people to whom such groups reach out with the vegan message, 1-2% of these people will adopt a vegan way of life.  As his experience—and doubtlessly those of many other activists as well—illustrates, this is simply not the case.  Over the course of three years at the University of Chicago, Wayne and others offered free vegan cookies and magazines about veganism on campus to anyone willing to watch the gruesome five-minute documentary entitled “Meet Your Meat.”  Based on the sheer volume of cookies and magazines distributed over this time, hundreds of students should have gone vegan over that three-year period; however, when Wayne’s group reached out to people via email in the weeks following each campaign asking if they had committed to the vegan lifestyle, the group was met with…silence.

Understandably, Wayne asked the question: Where are all the missing vegans?

He and his group acted according to conventional wisdom.  They were not aggressive.  They were not disruptive.  Their demeanor was polite, and their offerings were 100% free of charge.  Still, the numbers simply did not add up.  Why?

One explanation I can readily offer is that, when it comes to free food, college kids will do just about anything.  I am confident, though disappointed, that many of the students who consented to watching “Meet Your Meat” couldn’t have cared less about animal liberation, and simply preferred to give five minutes of their time in exchange for food than money—which, for college kids, seems perpetually to be in short supply.  The combination of a minimal budget and a growing appetite often compels students to engage in all kinds of campus activities without really absorbing the intended messages of said activities.

Another explanation is that those who may have been truly moved by the video lacked the necessary community support with which to maintain their commitment to an admittedly challenging new way of life.  After watching the video, they were sent back into the world from which they had come—a world of parties, midterm exams, spring break, etc.  They were no longer compelled to engage in dialogues about animal liberation; and, as time wore on, their initial passion for the subject waned.

Finally, while watching this video may have opened many eyes to the atrocities committed by the meat and dairy industries, neither it nor the vegan literature dispensed after viewing it provided any instruction as to how to put an end to this once and for all.  The message delivered here was not one of true animal liberation—empowering activists to take the message to the streets—but one of simply, “Go Vegan”—i.e., change your personal lifestyle so that you can feel better about yourself, knowing that you personally are not participating in animal cruelty, while the rest of the world around you continues to do so, uninterrupted.

Brian later shared with us his personal experience as a member of this broken model: the “Go Vegan” model.  As a self-proclaimed math nerd, he was very antisocial in his youth and preferred reading math textbooks to socializing and engaging in dialogue.  The “Go Vegan” approach worked on him personally, as it had on Wayne (as well as myself); he saw something, read something, was repulsed, and radically changed his lifestyle.  However, what he saw and read did not empower him to enact any form of social change.  He continued to be isolated for a long time, living an animal-friendly lifestyle without encouraging others to do so.  It wasn’t until he encountered a strong liberationist community—Direct Action Everywhere— that he became increasingly comfortable discussing his views and the reasons behind them in public.  He is now a passionate and engaging speaker, giving talks not only to members of the DxE community but also at major universities such as UC Berkeley.

Conventional wisdom teaches us that what I’m calling The Dobby Approach (inspired by an image of Dobby from the Harry Potter series that Wayne included on a slide about vegan outreach) is the most effective way to save animals.  Wayne’s experience at U-Chicago, Brian’s experience as a young vegan and my own experience of having been vegan for many years prior to becoming an activist illustrate that this model simply doesn’t work.  Yes, it changes individual minds; but the goal of our movement is not to create individual vegans but to create communities of activists who can support each other (thus ensuring that people stay committed to the cause and don’t abandon it) while spreading the message, inspiring a domino effect.

The Angry Approach: I’m so angry I made a sign!

Conventional wisdom offers us one, and only one, counterpoint to the Dobby Approach: that of the Radical Angry Vegan.  The general consensus among mainstream animal advocate communities is that “Being aggressive, disruptive or confrontational makes us look crazy and unreasonable, and can only hurt our movement.  It damages our credibility while offending the very people we hope to reach!”

Bert Klandermans (a professor of Applied Social Psychology at the VU-University of Amsterdam), Jacquelien van Stekelenburg (head of the Department of Sociology at the VU-University of Amsterdam), and Jojanneke van der Toorn (an assistant professor of Social and Organizational Psychology at Leiden University) assert in their article, “Embeddedness and Identity: How Immigrants Turn Grievances into Action” that:

“It is not enough to assess that one is treated unfairly; it is also important to have an affective reaction–specifically anger–to translate that assessment into action.”

Their argument is based on the understanding that it is negative emotions—most commonly, feelings of outrage and offense—that motivate people to engage in direct action.  Think about this in the context of your own life.  How often do you take the time to write positive reviews on Yelp after going to a good restaurant or store? How does that number compare to the number of times you have rushed to your computer to rant after an infuriating experience at such an establishment?

When someone says something with which you agree on social media, you may take the split-second required to “Like” the comment; but in all likelihood, you will not compose a lengthy reply.  By contrast, when someone says something with which you strongly disagree via these same mediums, you may feel compelled to compose a long, aggressive reply in which you rip apart the offending statement point by point, citing multiple examples to the contrary and including links to articles and videos that support your position.

While I understand and value the insights provided by the above team of Dutch social scientists, I have to admit that my personal experience as an animal activist simply does not correlate with these findings.  Ample individuals have told me that, while they care immensely about non-human animals and want to contribute to the cause, they shy away from it specifically because they have been confronted in the past by the stereotypical Radical Angry Vegan.  Their personal, negative experience with this one Radical Angry Vegan has since led them to the misconception that all animal liberationists are angry, judgmental, vicious people—not the kind, compassionate individuals we often claim to be.

So, how do we reconcile these findings?  We know that, statistically, the Dobby Approach doesn’t work; and while we know that there is some value to being open about our anger concerning the atrocities committed against non-humans, I for one am not fully convinced that The Angry Approach is the best way to inspire social change of this magnitude.  Might there be a third option?

The Somber Approach: The slaughter of non-humans is a true tragedy, and we must mourn the victims while advocating for the end of non-human massacre.

DxE's October 2014 International Day of Action:  Ghosts in the Machine , Berkeley Bowl, Berkeley, CA. Photo by Pax Ahimsa Gethen.

DxE's October 2014 International Day of Action: Ghosts in the Machine, Berkeley Bowl, Berkeley, CA. Photo by Pax Ahimsa Gethen.

My two favorite Direct Action Everywhere International Days of Action in 2014 so far have been Silenced Voices (July 2014) and Ghosts in the Machine (October 2014).  For our Silenced Voices demonstration, we entered restaurants around the world where meat and dairy are served (in the US and some other countries, the focus was on Chipotle; in countries where Chipotle has little or no presence, DxE branches visited establishments such as McDonald’s and Burger King), with recordings on our phones, laptops and other electronic devices.  Entering in silence, we then coordinated the start of our recordings, so that they would all play simultaneously and increase in volume as time wore on.

The recording included the real-life sounds of:

  • A hen crying for her life as she was turned upside-down and her throat was slit.
  • A piglet being castrated.
  • A cow having her horns seared off with a hot iron.
  • A pig, squealing, surrounded by the corpses of his friends and relatives, moments before being murdered with a stun gun.

The sounds first played individually, for about 20-30 seconds each; then, for about a minute, all of the sounds played at once.  Following this, one activist at each location gave a brief speech explaining to consumers what they had just heard, and imploring them to no longer support such atrocities.

At the Bay Area demonstration that I attended, for the first time since I moved to the Bay Area in March and started engaging in direct action here, not a single customer antagonized us.  Also for the first time (to the best of my knowledge) since my arrival in the Bay, one customer was so moved by our demonstration that she stopped eating and began to cry.

For our Ghosts in the Machine demonstration, we targeted grocery stores around the world (Bay Area activists engaged at Berkeley Bowl’s larger location).  We entered the grocery stores in funeral attire, carrying a black, cardboard coffin.  We then placed the body of a victim of violence—in the case of Berkeley Bowl, the corpse of a hen—into the casket and held a memorial service for her, as well as all of the victims on display in the meat and seafood counters behind us.  Various activists delivered brief eulogies for the departed, and we solemnly exited the store in an organized funeral procession.  (We regrettably had to place the body of the hen near the door as we exited, so as not to be criminalized as thieves.)

While the employees at the meat counter behind us were incredibly hostile and aggressive throughout our demonstration, the customers were not.  Whereas at past demonstrations customers have violently pushed past us, varying in vocalization from muttering insults under their breath to shouting into our faces or ears, in this case I felt that a path was cleared for us as we left.  I did not find myself having to squeeze around anyone; and in briefly glancing at some of the faces around me both during the memorial service and upon our exit, the majority of the faces I encountered wore expressions of genuine interest and even sadness—rarely hostility, and perhaps only once amusement.

What these demonstrations have taught me is that, more effective than the Dobby Approach and the Angry Approach combined, is the Somber Approach: Focusing on the tragedy being inflicted upon the victims, rather than trying to sway the public via cheerful consumerism or condemning the choices of those who simply don’t understand what they’re doing (yet).  Both Silenced Voices and Ghosts in the Machine, perhaps more evidently than any other demonstration DxE organized in 2014, truly focused one hundred percent on the victims—not on us, and not on commercial veganism.  These demonstrations forced people to view the bodies on display in a new light: not as dinner options but as corpses of individuals who neither wanted to nor deserved to die.  Victims whose only crime was to be born of a species other than homo sapiens.  I am convinced that the spectators at these two demonstrations were considerably more moved, and thought about what they had seen for a significantly longer amount of time, than the spectators at any of our other demonstrations—many of which include chanting on street corners, which some perceive as aggressive and hostile.

This is not to say we should not be disruptive; in both of these demonstrations, as with all DxE demonstrations, we did disrupt the status quo.  Disruption and confrontation are paramount to our success.  We cannot let business go on as usual. We cannot allow people to continue ignoring the problem; but these two demonstrations in particular illustrate how to be both disruptive and confrontational without perpetuating the stereotype of the Radical Angry Vegan.

On a more personal level, all movement-building aside, these types of demonstrations resonate most powerfully within me.  I am not nearly as angry with meat- and dairy-consumers as I am pitying of them, for I strongly believe that these industries hurt humans almost as much as they hurt non-humans.  When I think about these industries, my gut reaction is not one of rage but one of overwhelming sadness.  So, in my case, it is far more emotionally authentic to engage in a funeral procession or to encourage folks to hear the voices of the victims crying out in pain than it is to shout from the rooftops, “GO TO HELL, MEAT-EATERS!” 

In closing, I should note that the Somber Approach is not without anger; but rather than the Radical Angry Vegan brand of anger that lashes out at people and makes them uncomfortable, this anger serves as fuel for enacting positive social change (and, yes, still makes people uncomfortable—but for different reasons).  The anger bubbles beneath the surface and pushes us as activists forward, just as an instigating comment on the Internet fuels us to write a reply—sometimes aggressively and offensively (Radical Angry Vegan-style) but, in some cases, in an intelligent and well-thought-out manner (Constructive Anger-style).  Thus, this model does not directly contradict our Dutch social scientists so much as it pushes their declaration one step further, distinguishing between constructive and destructive modes of anger.

Not all responses or actions fueled by anger are themselves angry, and what the Somber Approach enables us to do is put our anger to good use while maintaining one-hundred-percent focus on the victim.  The kind of anger inherent in the Somber Approach does not create an Us vs. Them dynamic—that is, us wonderful, perfect vegans versus the heinous and immoral Everybody Else—but rather emphasizes the Us with Them dynamic: we humans standing boldly before our fallen non-human brothers and sisters, unabashedly mourning them in the same way that many Americans would mourn their dogs and cats at home.

I believe that, ultimately, we are all most effective when we remain true to ourselves; and the Somber Approach is what rings most true to me.

Is there a place in animal rights for a kid from China? - Part III: The Path Forward

Racist fear-mongering over the "Yellow Peril" has driven public perceptions of Asia for almost 200 years, yet very few acknowledge harboring bias against Asians. 

Is there a place in animal rights for a kid from China?  
Part III: The Path Forward

by Wayne Hsiung

(Check out Part I and Part II of this series.)

One of the most striking things about the hateful anti-Chinese rant that went viral last week is that it was, surprisingly…. not racist. Yes, the speaker derided Chinese people for being loud, dirty, and disgusting. Yes, she mocked our most heartfelt and earnest practices, e.g. our commitment to giving our children educational opportunities denied to prior generations. And yes, she screamed profanities at us for failing to assimilate and insisted that we had a duty to become more “American.” But it wasn’t racist because, you see, the tour guide emphasized that she’s “not racist.” 

Too often, thoughtful discussions about race within the animal rights movement are met with a similar dismissal. “It’s for the animals,” we say. “It’s not about race.” Even more troubling, however, is when dismissal turns into outright hostility – even among the people within our movement who wear their anti-racist credentials like a badge of honor. Indeed, at DxE our earnest attempts to start constructive dialogue on race have often been met by untrammeled hatred and anger.

In the first part of this series, I set out the concept of performing whiteness: the elevation of white, Western perspectives, practices, and people over other communities across the world. In the second part, I showed how the problem of performing whiteness has undermined the struggles of both Asians and animals. Today, I want to move away from problems and toward solutions. But as the infamous tour guide’s declaration shows (“I want you all to know that I’m not racist.”), solutions are not easy to come by. They require us to dig deep, think hard, and reflect on our beliefs and behavior in ways that may make us uncomfortable or even angry. But if we can meet the challenge, it will make us better people and activists. So let’s take that journey together.  

Representing the World

I ended my last post with a question: Am I betraying my own heritage, culture and people… betraying my own non-whiteness…. by fighting for animal rights?

Before I answer that question, though, I want to explain why it’s important. In prior posts, I showed how performing whiteness has undermined our ability to gain real traction in communities of color. And this, alone, is a significant fact. After all, perhaps 85% of the people on this planet are people of color. And the most rapidly growing animal killing industries are in India and China, where the people have not, historically, eaten much meat. We cannot change the world, in short, if we are only changing the white world.

But one might say, “People from developing countries can’t be won over at this point. There are too many struggles these people face, and they don’t have time for animal rights. Let’s focus on the low-hanging fruit.”

And there is some truth to this claim. Our ability to change foreign peoples is quite limited… but not because animal rights can’t take hold in a poor country. After all, the main objectives of animal liberation, contrary to conventional wisdom, are not economically privileged. My own parents, who grew up on a quasi vegan diet due to poverty, are one example. But more generally, animal agriculture comprises a tiny portion of the global economy, and is hardly a growth industry. (By my calculation, the value of all the animals on farms in this country is just 1.7% of the US federal budget.) Education (especially of women), technology, and institutions, not resource-and-labor-intensive agriculture, are key to development in the third world.

The reason we struggle to recruit foreign peoples, then, has nothing to do with material deprivation and everything to do with… friendship. That’s the conclusion of a new strand of research that has burgeoned in the past 10 years, network science. And what network science has taught us is this: When it comes to social change, we are affected first and foremost by our immediate peers. Government and public health professionals have struggled for half a century, for example, to determine what drives people to stop smoking, but smoking rates have remained stuck at the same 20% of the adult population.  We’ve tried education, taxes, and replacement products galore. But what social scientists have found is that a single intervention beats pretty much any other in causing even the most stubborn smokers to quit: the smoking norms of one’s friends. If a smoker’s spouse stops smoking, and begins to condemn the practice, an astonishing 67% of people will follow by quitting themselves. And if a single friend stops smoking, the figure is 34%.

Spreading influence through peer networks, in short, is the Holy Grail of social change. And yet this is exactly where we have little capacity when we attempt to change a foreign practice or community. Yet, because of our unspoken commitment to performing whiteness, our most popular and passionate campaigns focus on these areas. In short, we engage in campaigns against foreign practices and communities because they are foreign, and not because they are effective.

We should not be surprised, then, when those campaigns fail. Take the white-led campaign to end whaling in Japan. The Japanese activist Tetsuhiko Endo writes that “the international whaling industry makes no more than $31 million a year while major anti-whaling NGOs spend around $25 million. What have whales gotten out of all this anti-whaling money? Hunting rates that are twice as high as they were in 1990.”

What’s the problem? Well, the campaign has made no traction whatsoever in Japan. Endo writes that “for many Japanese, citing whaling as a source of 'national heritage’ is another way of saying ‘I’m not going to let some fat, aggressive White man tell me what I can and cannot eat.’… [I]f the scales were reversed, and it was the Japanese… who were slandering us for eating, say, tuna, most people would feel the same way.” And without the support of the Japanese – without local activists working with us – it is the whales who ultimately lose.

A recent pro-vivisection rally in Southern California had far more diversity than the typical animal rights protest. That has to change. 

But anti-colonial sentiments are not confined to the issue of whale slaughter. (For the record, notwithstanding its often racist messaging, I admire the folks at Sea Shepherd, including Paul Watson, and have had many friends serve on their ships.) Virtually every campaign of ethnic targeting creates the same us v. them dynamics. Whether it's dog meat images that portray "uncivilized" Chinese taking advantage of men's best friend. Primate trapping videos where "barbaric" Cambodians kidnap primate children from their mothers. Or even fur protests that make unusual and derisive emphasis on Asia as the region of origin. All of these campaigns play into racial animosity, shape the way people of color view our movement, and create situations in which a poor kid from China can’t work for animals without feeling like a traitor to his own people. Who wants to side with the bullying white man, after all, against his own family?  The entire movement for animal rights, in short, is discredited within communities of color by anti-foreigner campaigns. 

The problem goes even further than this, however, because performing whiteness does damage within white communities as well. The unusual focus on "minority" issues, and by privileged white folks who know almost nothing of the communities they are targeting, creates a public perception that the animal rights movement is frivolous. The province of bored and entitled white people who have too much money and time on their hands. Country club activism. Not a true social justice movement. Maybe even, dare we say it, a little racist -- which, at least when it is finally acknowledged, is the cardinal sin of the Left. 

Indeed, the distinguished scholars I cited at the start of this series – Donaldson and Kymlicka  – identify performing whiteness as perhaps the single largest stumbling block in our movement’s growth. How can anyone – even white people – take this movement seriously when it’s so inconsistently, incoherently, and arbitrarily attacking foreigners, people of color, and marginal practices while ignoring far larger and worse atrocities occurring in our own neighborhoods?

In short, changing our movement’s race dynamics is vitally important for two reasons. First, we have to represent the world if we are going to change the world because local activists on the ground – with specific knowledge, experience, relationships, and credibility – are the key to real and permanent change. Second, our diversity gives us strength even in the West. It shows that our ideas have been independently discovered by people from all nations and continents, from all cultures and creeds – and therefore gives those ideas global credibility. It shows that we are not just a bunch of bored, privileged, and judgmental white people, but rather an urgent, heartfelt, and international movement to give voice to the animals whose voices have been so heartlessly silenced.

It shows, in short, that our message can change the world.

Easier Said than Done

So if performing whiteness hurts us both at home and abroad, if it stops Chinese people such as me (and countless others) from finding a place in our movement, why don’t we just fix the problem?

The first difficulty is the same one we face as animal rights advocates: failure to take the victim's perspective. Many of the powerful people in the animal rights movement, because they lack the experience of being mocked, bullied, or even violently attacked for their race, simply don’t appreciate the existence of the problem. Like animal eaters, they ignore the victim’s perspective.

The most recent national animal rights conference, for example, included panels on the intersections between animal rights and many other social justice causes (environmentalism, feminism, class issues, etc.). But despite having virtually no faces of color, and being filled with campaigns (including the keynote speaker Paul Watson) targeting foreigners and people of color, there was not a word about race in the original program. It took an aggressive behind-the-scenes effort by DxE (with a few supporters within the conference’s organizing group at FARM) to get a small workshop addressing diversity and racism – a workshop that ended up being heavily attended by people of color and whites alike. Still, though we tried our best, we failed to get even a simple statement in support of racial diversity into the conference’s program.

The irony is that this would be a disappointing outcome even in the corporate world. Following Nobel-winning economist Gary Becker – who first pointed out that racism simply doesn’t pay half a century ago – large corporations have spent the past few decades trying to create a more inclusive racial environment. Support for racial diversity is now standard practice in corporate missions and codes of ethics. And the largest corporations in the world trumpet their diversity efforts, e.g. Coca Cola, McDonald’s, and Exxon.

Corporations such as Exxon take racial diversity and cultural awareness more seriously than the animal rights movement. 

The grassroots animal rights movement needs to push the powerful people in animal rights to give diversity the same attention. We have to do at least as well as Exxon. The good sign is that key organizers of the conference at FARM and other leaders in the national animal rights movement appear to be taking heed. For example, the coordinators of Animal Liberationists of Color have been promised that there will be a serious attempt to address racial diversity and targeting at AR2015. (Simultaneously, many prominent voices, including Matt Ball and Gary Francione, have pushed our movement away from relatively marginal "minority" practices and towards majority practices in the West.) 

But powerful people are not enough. We also need to challenge culture – the widespread and unspoken assumptions (e.g. that dog-meat is a crime but chicken-meat just a faux pas) that affect all of us, and not just people in power. And that leads us to the second difficulty: the natural human tendency to lash out at criticism. This tendency is particularly stark in activist circles because our movements are filled with passionate people whose self-image is linked to social justice and ethical rectitude.

And, again, DxE has experienced this problem firsthand. In one of our earliest trips down to Southern California in March 2013, I raised what I hoped would be constructive suggestions with a grassroots group called Empty Cages Los Angeles (which subsequently spawned another group called The Bunny Alliance). ECLA was protesting Chinese airlines and the Asian primate trade, and I talked to them about the importance of including Chinese voices in the campaign. But when I made what I thought was a relatively uncontroversial statement – that all Chinese people in this country have had the experience of walking into a white room and feeling immediately undermined and excluded – I was met with a shockingly hostile response.

“You have to acknowledge your privilege as an Asian person. You all have assimilated in a way that other people of color have not.”

This was my first introduction to the concept of Asian privilege, which Bill O’Reilly, among others, is fond of. I disagreed respectfully.

“I think that’s a little bit of a myth. There is no such thing as a model minority – all people of color face discrimination – and Asians, far from assimilating, are actually seen as perpetual foreigners.”

“But you have to admit that, demographically, Asians have more social and economic power,” another person chimed in.

The tense conversation that followed was bizarre. Even in conservative Indiana, where people of color were widely derided, I had never been told that Asians had too much power. The idea seemed utterly absurd to me. After all, Asians are hardly even seen, much less given power. But I’ve subsequently learned that it’s a “thing” in California to hold resentment against Asian people because, despite the overwhelming evidence of continuing discrimination, many feel that we have too many slots at elite universities. Never mind that we’re paid less for equal work, that our children are physically beaten in American schools (the same schools that we supposedly “control”), or that the slots at elite universities, for us, rarely result in elite positions post-graduation.

There’s another layer to this, however, in the context of animal rights. Scholars of racism have shown that the mere act of setting one group against another, in an adversarial setting, generates resentment and prejudice against the “other.” The movement’s overwhelming whiteness and unusual focus on Asian practices, therefore, not only reflect but also actively worsen our discriminatory feelings against Asians. The vicious cycle of antagonistic race relations is fed by white campaigns against Asians even if race is not expressly invoked.

Given both the evidence of widespread discrimination and my personal experiences as a victim of racist violence, I was shocked by the discussion of “Asian privilege.” But I dropped the conversation. One of the things you quickly realize as a person of color is that talking too much about race, especially to a white audience, often has bad results. I privately wondered, though, whether the activists leading the campaign against the Asian primate trade were developing unconscious prejudices against Asians. When you have one race on one side, and the other race on the other, it’s hard to avoid.

A few months later, when I saw a video of an office disruption at a Chinese airline in which a group of mostly white activists streamed into an office and screamed “Leave Town” at the Chinese people inside, my heart almost stopped. As someone who has had exactly those words screamed into my face, my body’s fight-or-flight response was triggered. My first thought was to send an angry email to the organizers. But after sleeping on it, I felt that the issue could not be pushed too aggressively. It was early in DxE’s history -- indeed, before DxE even officially existed -- and we were trying to build alliances rather than create enemies. So after sending a polite message suggesting that the campaign could be re-framed, and asking the organizers to try to put forth more Chinese voices in support of the campaign, I dropped the issue. These were, after all, systemic issues, and it made no sense to pick on one particular campaign.

If only things were so easy. The consequence of the comments I made about the targeting of Asians was a hostile response the likes of which I have never seen in my 15 years as an activist. A horde of activists lashed out at us for "racism" against whites. And prominent white supporters of the campaigns that I privately criticized, including Amy Love (Empty Cages LA), Jordan Act (The Bunny Alliance), and Jake Conroy (SHAC7 defendant), took it upon themselves to engage in a 1.5 year campaign of racial one-upsmanship and character assassination (including referring to me as “disgusting,” barring me from demonstrations when I offered to join as an olive branch, and mocking DxE activists at every opportunity in social media) that I can only compare to the hatred that I felt growing up in Indiana. Mutual friends have relayed to me that the supporters of the Asian campaigns took it upon themselves to show to the world that they are not, in fact, racist – and to “destroy DxE” for daring to suggest otherwise. Virtually every week another strange rumor or allegation comes out, and unlike many expressions of social media hostility (which are inevitable as our platform grows), the campaign appears to be organized and has actively interfered with our work, including nearly causing a Seattle speaking event to be cancelled because of my alleged connections with racists and white supremacists.

Among the many false allegations against DxE: 

Attempts to build better racial understanding are often met with violent opposition, such as this post on the author's Facebook page. But unapologetic racists are a small part of the problem. 

Rumor: DxE took money from the wife of a white supremacist, and Wayne has close ties to such groups. (Amy Love, Jordan Act, Jake Conroy)

Truth: If it sounds absurd – after all, DxE is organized primarily by people of color – it probably is. In fact, we hardly know the woman at issue, a close friend of Amy’s named Melissa who lives in Southern California, and Melissa ironically blocked all of us after the rumor came out because she thought we were the source. DxE did not even exist as a fundraising entity when we met her briefly in August 2013.

Rumor: DxE has silenced and excluded people of color. (Jake Conroy)

Truth: We had some unfortunate conflict between two community members – one Jewish, and one Persian – but did our best to hear out the genuine concerns about racism raised by both sides and still welcome all parties to the conflict to our events.

Rumor: DxE refuses to work with other groups, is exclusive, and divides the animal rights community. (Jake Conroy)

Truth: We’ve worked with and promoted IDA, Animal Place, Animal Liberation Victoria, and countless other groups across the world. Even the leaders within the movement whom we most disagree with, e.g. Bruce Friedrich, seem pretty ok with our approach to conflict.

Rumor: DxE doesn't have a real concern for anti-racism because some of its members have shown support for anti-Asian campaigns. They are just hypocrites. (Jake Conroy)

Truth: This one is also a little hard to take seriously, given the number of Asian people in our organizing group. (Do we really have to defend our authentic interest in not having our own families murdered?) But it’s true that many of us – including yours truly – have attended demonstrations addressing Asian practices. What our critics fail to understand, though, is that DxE does not operate as they do. When we see a problem, we try to show solidarity with other campaigns and reshape them from within. (And we often succeed.) We don’t immediately set out to destroy those who are different from, or disagree with, us.

Rumor: Wayne is a member of the Illuminati, or a mole for Chipotle/the CIA. (Anonymous Portland activist, as conveyed to one of our organizers)

Truth: Sigh. 

One of hardest things about these rumors is that the source of many of them, Jake Conroy, is a long-time activist whom I respect immensely. But Jake has been a big and vocal supporter of two campaigns that DxE has politely (and privately) questioned: against the Asian primate trade, and against the Japanese whale/dolphin slaughter. A well-known and extremely intelligent activist, and someone whom I share many close friends with, Jake was one of the first people I reached out to when I moved to the Bay Area. He’s a genuine hero to many in the animal rights movement, and justifiably so, as he served 4 years in prison for his work on the SHAC campaign.

But Jake is also, to be blunt, very uninformed when it comes to race. In private conversations with both myself and a co-organizer (Priya Sawhney, an immigrant from India who has shared powerful stories of racial oppression with mainstream media), Jake has indicated that he feels discussions of anti-Asian sentiment and racial diversity in the animal rights movement are, in his exact words, “playing the race card.” Campaigns targeting Asians, he has instructed us, are not about race. Case closed.

In multiple meetings in which we've attempted to address the issue, I haven’t seen in Jake any interest in trying to understand others’ perspectives, to understand what it feels like to live your entire life wishing you had another person’s face and skin, and to have the people who have always been placed above you screaming at you with frightening levels of hostility. Moreover, while privately condemning us for “playing the race card,” Jake has gone out of his way to attack DxE publicly for supposed failings of intersectionality and for silencing people of color. That’s right. The same person who threatens and attacks us for playing the race card also alleges that we are silencing people of color.

We know that Jake and his allies have specifically reached out to people of color to try to mobilize them against DxE. When I wrote to Jake privately raising a concern about campaigns against the Asian primate trade, instead of considering whether there might be some legitimacy to my concerns, his group’s immediate response was to write to a Chinese person to seek out token support. How do I know? The Chinese person they wrote to was a friend of mine who immediately forwarded along the message back to me, with a puzzled comment, “What the heck is all of this about?” I could only shake my head.

We further know that they have attempted to torpedo DxE events by reaching out to folks working with us and spreading rumors about our supposedly racist connections (even after repeatedly ensuring us in person that the bad behavior would stop). Non-DxE activists in Seattle and Vancouver, among other places, have written to us warning us that there are people within the movement seeking to destroy DxE -- and having some success at doing so. 

Faced with criticisms of their own practices, a group of primarily white activists threatened to "out" three DxE members -- all women of color -- for participation in a Taiji slaughter campaign. 

And we finally know that all of this appears to have been started with a simple conversation about being Asian in America. Jake recently wrote to me and Priya dismissing our concerns about racism against Asians and warning us that, if we continued on this path,  “things are going to get messy.” He then sent a photo of Priya and two other DxE members, Danielle and Damayanti -- all people of color, incidentally – at a Taiji slaughter protest under a banner that said “Shame on Japan." 

Both Priya and I perceived this as a threat, and surprise, surprise, the photo was posted publicly by Jake’s roommate the next day on Facebook, along with a comment condemning racism within the movement. The irony of singling out the only three people of color at a huge Taiji demonstration for racism would be funny… if it weren’t also so incredibly hurtful and false. In fact, what the photo (which was taken long before DxE even existed) leaves out is that all three women got into a dispute with the organizer (who provided most of the signs) about anti-Japanese messaging at the protest, and attempted to hand out information targeting Western abuses of animals, as well. 

The important point, however, is not in the specifics. The important point is that this entire episode reveals how deeply problematic and shallow our race politics often are -- even, and perhaps especially, among those who are nominally interested in anti-racism. Are we a movement that will start taking race seriously, and address concerns about race with open-mindedness and integrity? Or are we a movement that sees race politics as some sort of game of hot potato that can be tossed back and forth in a competition of racial one-upsmanship?

The former approach offers us a path forward. The latter perspective will only continue the disturbing trend of performing whiteness.

I believe that our movement can do better. We can have serious and constructive discussions about race that do not devolve into hateful personal attacks and rumors. We can build bridges even where there are serious disagreements about strategy. And we can start making a movement for everyone – not just the white folks who have traditionally dominated our ranks. But it starts with a willingness to engage in dialogue. So Jake, Amy, Jordan, I will ask you again, instead of attacking people in DxE with rumors in the wind, let’s sit down and talk instead? The animals – and all the other oppressed peoples of this earth – deserve at least that much.

The Bigotry Within

What the past few decades have taught me is that the bigotry that lies within is the most dangerous to making true progress for the oppressed. Those who actively attack animals or people of color openly and publicly, e.g. Glenn Beck, are not much of a concern. The attention – and bad reputation – they give to discriminatory beliefs is wonderful fodder for our movements. The more troubling thing is when people who insist they are not speciesist or racist – the animal-lover who raves about the humane meat at Chipotle, or the avowed “anti-racist” who actively engages in racist campaigning – support these violently oppressive systems… and then just as violently attempt to destroy those who raise a serious and heartfelt concern.

Progress on these issues requires us to address the bigotry within our movements – and not just without. And that is a painful process. I know this because I went through the process myself. For most of my life, I hated being Chinese. I looked at the few Chinese people I grew up with with contempt. I went out of my way to avoid Chinese foods, culture, and people. And I accepted the values imposed on me by the dominant American culture – that playing football was more important than math, that success could be measured by individual accomplishment rather than community empowerment, and that charisma and talent were more valuable than nose-to-the-grindstone effort.  In short, I was performing whiteness.

Even after readings in college politically awakened me to the world of anti-discrimination (and ultimately, anti-speciesism), there was a difference between my stated values and my emotions. I still felt embarrassed, for example, when I walked through the din of Chinatown. I felt disgust when I saw another video of Asian people hurting animals. And I felt ashamed when I looked around me, in the social movements that I was working in, and saw nary a colored face.  In the recesses of my mind, I secretly still feared that, perhaps, white people truly were better than the rest of us.

DxE has transformed that. The theory that I never dared to test – that animal rights activists could be found on all nations and continents, and from all cultures, races, and creeds – has now been tested, and we have passed with flying colors. I now realize that I never should have worried at all. We can speak proudly for animals – and for our own people – and be confident that we can find allies of every race. No more apologies. No more begging. No more fear and shame. Liberation is born from confidence and honesty, from shining the light of truth onto even the darkest recesses of the human condition.

If I could go back, then, to my teenage self… to the self-loathing Chinese boy, I would share three lessons that I have learned, lessons that I think the entire animal rights movement can apply.

The first is that oppression is, in fact, everywhere, and that we don’t have to be scared or ashamed to admit this. It’s in the unthinkingly violent Chinese man who skins a dog without a second thought. It’s in the angry white bully who pummels a poor Asian kid in a gym class in Indiana. It’s even in a radical anti-racist activist who has spent her entire life thinking about justice but, somehow, doesn’t have any non-white friends. The reason for this is that oppression is systemic, not individual; and as individuals who are fundamentally shaped by the systems in which we live, we can’t avoid the system’s impacts on our beliefs, on our behaviors, and even in our most basic emotional reactions. (For example, having grown up in America, the Western preference for dogs may remain forever imprinted in my mind. Though I love hens dearly, I fear that I will never emotionally respond to a chicken the way that I respond to my dogs Lisa and Natalie. That is speciesism.)

The second lesson is that contesting this oppression is hard, and requires a constructive and open-minded outlook. Performing whiteness – the elevation of white and Western perspectives – is in fact just one instance of deep and insidious discrimination. Performing maleness. Performing straightness. Performing humanness. Each is an equally important frontier of social justice. When our most basic assumptions about life – that traditional American practices are superior, that men are stronger or smarter than women, that alternative sexual behavior is disgusting, or that meat is just “food” and not the body of a murder victim – are dictated by unspoken systemic bias, we have to dig deep into ourselves and think hard about our own beliefs and behaviors to uproot discrimination and make real and permanent change.

Animal rights activists come from all nations and continents, all cultures and creeds. And we are speaking with one voice for animal liberation. 

The third and most important lesson, however, is that there is hope in the intersection of all of these struggles, and in the progress that has already been made. My father never became a leader, but he still survived in a country that, just a generation ago, barred everyone of his race from entering its borders. My mother never became a math professor, but she was an astonishingly successful small businessperson in a state where both Asians and women faced obstacles that I can only imagine. As our movement grows, it touches people across the world, and relates the animals’ struggles to their own. When we recognize the commonality of oppression, we also recognize the commonality of liberation. We recognize that direct action is, in fact, everywhere. And in the brilliant connections that are made, we will light the path to liberation.  

Is there a place in animal rights for a kid from China? Part II: Orphans of the Left

Is there a place in animal rights for a kid from China?  
Part II: Orphans of the Left

by Wayne Hsiung

(Check out Part I and Part III of the series as well.) 

When I was growing up in central Indiana, my family, like many immigrant families, was alienated from the white communities that surrounded us. My parents have never had a white friend. Heck, they have never, as far as I know, been invited to a white social gathering. Worse yet, living in central Indiana, where people of color were basically nonexistent, there was not even a ghetto for us to retreat to. We lived, for all intents and purposes, in isolation.

Alienated from the surrounding community, my family sought support from within. 

Isolation breeds fear. Fear of the uncertain. Fear of the unknown. Fear of those tall, sun-splashed, statuesque white people who seemed to effortlessly walk through a world that, to us, was terrifying and foreign. From our broken English to our sloppy immigrant clothes, we stuck out like sore thumbs. So it was with great trepidation that I made my first entrance into the white world: first grade.

It did not go well. On the first day, the kids looked at me with curiosity. I could see their strange glances, and hear their whispers. And it did not take long for one of them to finally pop the question.

“What’s with your eyes?” a girl asked me at lunch.

“My eyes?” I mumbled in broken English.

“I mean, what’s with your eyes?” the girl asked again, this time with a slightly mocking smile.

Fighting tears, I looked away from her and tried to focus back on my food. But the chatter continued. I noticed the girl and her friends using their fingers to bend their eyes upward, to mimic the slanty shape of the stereotypical Chinese eye. They later pulled me over to perform the infamous limerick -- “Chinese, Japanese, dirty knees” (with eyes pulled up, then down, then hands placed on the knees) – that to this day makes no sense to me at all.

Except that it sort of did make sense because, from that day, the pattern was set: I was expected to perform whiteness, i.e. to normalize and privilege Western attributes and perspectives above all others. 

It would take a book to describe the humiliations I faced over the next 10 years. But though I suffered many episodes of physical violence, the worst incidents – the incidents that remain deeply engraved in my mind and that still wake me up screaming in the night – always involved the way I looked. Eyes were only the beginning. Kids asking why I dressed the way I did. Why my hair was so “geeky” (i.e. stiff, straight, and un-stylish). And whether my “cum was yellow, too” – an insult that, being a naïve Asian kid, I did not even understand until I went off to college. It got so bad that, for years, I would hide in the stalls of the bathroom. There, I would sit on the toilet, trembling, and tear at my own hair and skin (sometimes to the point of bleeding). I would sit, trembling and crying, and plead to myself, “Why can’t I just be white?”

In the 2000 presidential election, candidate John McCain explained that he "hates gooks" - a racial slur used against Asian people. The mainstream media yawned. 

The strange thing about all of this was that the town I grew up in, Carmel, had a reputation for being less ignorant than the surrounding areas. It was where the “educated” people lived. Indeed, that was precisely why my parents chose to make Carmel their home. But while discussions of racism did enter into our curriculum – even in conservative, white Indiana, Martin Luther King, Jr. was lionized as a hero – it was something that was remote, abstract, and almost mythological. It was never something that students, particularly of Asian descent, could actually be hindered by.

And so, even when a bully was battering my face and screaming that I was an ugly chink – which happened on more than one occasion – it never occurred to me that the problem was racial.

“It’s just me,” I told myself. “If only I weren’t so stupid, so ugly, so clueless.” If only I could properly play white.

And my experience is not unique. Millions of Asians across the country face the same struggle. The mainstream media loves to promote the myth of the model minority. We are the chosen colored people. The people who have assimilated, adopted Western norms and habits, achieved social and economic power, and succeeded beyond our wildest dreams! Bill O’Reilly blabbed to Jon Stewart recently about so-called “Asian privilege,” and even some progressive writers have begun talking about “Asian as the new white.”

There’s just one little problem: the facts.  


-  A frightening 68% of the American public has “very negative” or “somewhat negative” views of Chinese Americans, and those views extend to Chinese in leadership positions (with over 50% more people saying they would be uncomfortable with a Chinese president than a black president).

- Asians are represented at lower rates in positions of power despite having higher educational status. Asians comprise 0.3% of corporate officers relative to 5% of the population – a 17x difference. (The comparable rate for women, who are also discriminated against, is 14.6%, relative to 50.9% of the population -- a 3x difference.)

- Asians are paid lower wages for equal work, even in industries such as Tech (where Asians make $8,146 less than white workers, compared to a $3,656 gap for Black employees, a $6,907 gap for those whose race is "other,” and a $6,358 gap for women).

- Asians have far lower representation in the mainstream media and other public roles than other races. (One prototypical example: in its four-season run, the popular television show The OC did not have a single Asian face, despite depicting a region of California, Orange County, filled with over half a million Asian people. The Asians literally just disappeared.)

- Victims of bullying in schools are “disproportionately Asian.” Those of us who grew up in white schools know this very well: we are perceived as weak, and the first targets on every violent bully’s list.

- Asians (particularly men) suffer from the strongest bias in measures of attraction. ("[O]ur main finding is that Asians generally receive lower ratings than men of other races. In fact, when we run the regressions separately for each race, we find that even Asian women find white, black, and Hispanic men to be more attractive than Asian men.") 

- Asians are socially excluded at higher rates than any other race in simple tests of implicit bias, even in the ivory tower. I saw this when I was in graduate school. Asians had to work twice as hard as white kids to get attention from star professors, and even then, we were invariably perceived as robotic drones.

And then there is, of course, what happens in, well, Asia. Nearly one billion people in my home continent (70% of the world’s total) live in extreme poverty, defined as less than $1.25 a day in income. That is just the tip of the iceberg because millions more don’t meet the criteria for “extreme poverty” but nonetheless suffer under the crushing weight of Western hegemony.

Some recent examples:  Twelve hundred people are killed in the collapse of a dilapidated garment factory for huge American corporations such as Sears and Walmart (who don’t even bother to compensate the grieving families for their loss). Employees at an Apple factory toss themselves off the roof of their workplace, in a desperate attempt to escape slave-labor working conditions. (Apple CEO Steve Jobs responds by saying, “For a factory, it’s pretty nice.”) Hundreds of workers are locked into a factory making American handbags, for all but 60 minutes a day, and face beatings if they dare challenge their confinement.

Every now and then, ever so briefly, the suffering of Asia blinks into American view. But it is just as quickly forgotten.

We tell ourselves that what happens in Asia is a product of Asia. But it’s not. In fact, the abuses in Asia are the direct result of, not just corporate practices, but widespread indifference to the plight of people who are seen as “perpetual foreigners” even in our own country. It’s a result, in short, of the global pull of performing whiteness. Consider some perspectives from Asians in America.

“The West has taken our best and our brightest – the leaders of Asia – and turned them into servants to white people.”

- A friend of my father’s contrasting life in Asia with life in the West. Like so many Asians, and despite exceptional performance, my father and his friends were relegated to non-leadership roles throughout their careers.

“I have no idea where we can live if we have to leave here. We're hoping not to sleep in the street.”  

- Poon Heung Lee, an 80-year-old retired hotel housekeeper, after being evicted from his San Francisco apartment along with his 48-year-old mentally disabled daughter. Countless other families in historically Chinese neighborhoods have been physically forced out of their homes due to the Ellis Act. (Yes, the very neighborhoods that the racist tour guide last week told to “F--k off.” She, and many other people, are getting their wish.)

“I’m in pain, but they don’t believe me. They tell me, stop faking.”

- Hiu Lui Ng, undocumented immigrant who was shockingly seized after 17 years in this country at his final green card interview, taken from his wife and two young children, and thrown into a grim detention center. After nearly a year languishing in the facility, and despite his cries of excruciating pain, Ng was dragged from his cell because he could not stand on his own power. Shortly thereafter, he was diagnosed with a broken spine and liver cancer, which killed him five days after the diagnosis. As with the Vincent Chin beating and death, the government responded with a collective, “Who cares?"

In short, Asia and Asians have been forced into the most humiliating positions, used to serve Western capitalism, confined in spaces no living being should be forced to endure, kicked out of our homes when the land is needed for more powerful peoples, and even murdered in cold blood. And yet the American Left is unmoved. Indeed, the American Left hardly even remembers that we exist.

Sound familiar? It should. Because there’s another group that suffers from the same problem to a much more severe and horrific degree.


Invisible Oppression

Readers of this blog do not need me to recount the horrific details. 10 billion land animals killed in the United States. Hundreds of millions more for fur, experimentation, and entertainment. Even dogs and cats, our beloved family members, are murdered by the millions every year – all for the crime of being born to a different species. But the most heartbreaking stories are always those of individuals. Two are particularly salient.

A poor cow is forced to witness the violent end of her friend. And she's next in line. 

In a recent video, a poor cow is forced to witness violent men murder her friend. She struggles to escape the slaughter line, to stay as far away from the room where death awaits. But she is eventually shocked with an electric prod into the chamber where she will meet her end.  You see the fear in her eyes, as she desperately tries to turn and escape. 

The second is the story of the so-called last pig. A baby pig, surrounded by the dead bodies of her friends, screams and scrambles desperately as men approach to take her body and flesh. These are not screams of physical pain. They are screams of terror and fear… the screams of a gentle soul who cannot bear to face her oppressors alone…. the cries of someone who desperately needs a friend with her as she faces an unspeakable end.

When I see the world through these animals’ eyes, I can barely maintain my composure. I think back to the moments in life where I have lived in fear, in isolation, in terror of imminent violence, and I can barely stop myself from screaming out, at the top of my lungs, “JESUS CHRIST! WHAT THE F--K IS GOING ON? SOMEONE STOP THIS NOW!” 

My friend Lisa put it very well, when I talked to her recently about her evolution towards animal rights consciousness. When she first saw what happened in a slaughterhouse, she cried out in her head, "Nothing could be more evil in the world!" I wholeheartedly agree.

And yet, despite the horrific evil that  surrounds us, oppression of animals, like discrimination against Asians, is largely ignored. Approximately 2% of the American population has taken the small step of declining to consume the bodies of animals. Even in that small sliver, only a small percentage endorse true animal rights or species equality. And finally, there is the sliver of the sliver: those proud few who have committed to take a stand

Abandoned by the Left, you might think that Asians and animal rights activists would be allies. But instead, we have the opposite.

In fact, a list of the most hate-filled animal rights campaigns almost invariably includes a long line of Asian targets. The slaughter of elephants and rhinos for "trinkets." The deforestation of orangutan habitat for palm oil. The primate trade in China. The list of Asian targets is like the animal rights movement’s Most Wanted. And even when the organizers of such campaigns expressly disavow racism, hateful sentiments always bubble up.

Take dog meat. Perhaps the most prominent international animal rights organization on the planet, with a reputation for being effective, ethical, and thoughtful, took on the issue last year. And they did so with the highest and most ethical purpose in mind – to extend consideration and equality to all animals, not just the dogs and cats that Westerners traditionally have loved.

And yet a brief perusal of responses to their campaign media shows a torrent of violent and racist rhetoric. A commenter (approved by 225 people) calls the Chinese “weak cowards” and asks “Why are they allowing these scum bags to exist?” (One wonders if Americans are cowards, too, for killing and eating over 100% more animals than the average Chinese.) Another comment with the text “Go to hell, China!” and “Hang them all, devils” is approved by an astonishing 131 people on the page. (Ironic, given the hanging dog in the image.) And perhaps most perversely of all, “I always wanted to go to China, I will not set foot in that place! They are a disgrace to humankind and in fact don't deserve to even to referred to as human!” (A strange thing for an activist for non-human animals to say. After all, while we Chinese are, in fact, human, what’s wrong with being non-human?)

And this, of course, is by an organization that is doing a “foreign” campaign as ethically as it can possibly be done. For example, the campaign included Chinese activists and voices in its materials, emphasized that Western countries also engage in violent practices toward animals, and expressly disavowed any sort of racist rhetoric or messaging.

But if you have been following this blog, you should not be surprised. After all, when 68% of the public un-apologetically holds negative views of Asians, when many more who disavow conscious prejudice nonetheless show dramatic evidence of implicit bias (e.g. refusing to even talk to someone simply because of their ethnic face or name), and when an entire continent remains under the heel of the Western powers that have ruled the world for hundreds of years, should we be surprised when campaigns that target foreigners... trigger anti-foreigner hatred or even violence?

It should also be no surprise when Asians, and other minority communities targeted by the animal rights movement’s ire, don’t take well to these campaigns. Indeed, one begins to wonder what self-respecting person of color would even consider becoming an animal rights activist in the first place. My cousins asked me if I was performing whiteness. But perhaps they should have been harsher on me: Am I betraying my own heritage, culture and people… betraying my own non-whiteness…. by fighting for animal rights?


Next: Part III: The Path Forward.

What's Stopping You From Speaking Out?


What's Stopping You From Speaking Out? 

By Laura Bellefontaine 



"The moral evils of a flesh diet are not less marked than are the physical ills. Flesh food is injurious to health, and whatever affect the body has a corresponding effect on the mind and the soul. Think of the cruelty to animals that meat eating involves, and its effect on those who inflict and those who behold it. How it destroys the tenderness with which we should regard these creatures of God!" - The Ministry of Healing [Pg 314-316].

Direct Action Everywhere's protest in Salt Lake City, Utah. Protesting against the "humane" advertising slogan placed on meats at various upscale grocery stores. Exactly what is their definition of humane slaughter?

Direct Action Everywhere's protest in Salt Lake City, Utah. Protesting against the "humane" advertising slogan placed on meats at various upscale grocery stores. Exactly what is their definition of humane slaughter?

Direct Action Everywhere’s (DxE's) mission, stated simply, is to create peace for all earthly beings. The recipe for social change is fairly simple: Create activists, Connect activists and Inspire activists. Priya Sawhney, DxE’s community organizer, states, “Committing ourselves to making the world a better place is one step in finding deep peace within ourselves, but more importantly, a step closer in creating a peaceful world for all inhabitants of this planet.” The people involved with DxE convey the passion they feel about animals. However, many people argue that DxE’s approach is harsh and preachy. Nobody likes a preachy vegan. Right? Well, except for the animals. Instead of judgment, read this article and admire their convictions and commitment. Avoid the social stigma that to be assertive is pushy.

Protest in Salt Lake City, Utah

Protest in Salt Lake City, Utah

Some vegans try hard to keep the conversations light, to avoid the social shame that animal right activists have stamped upon their foreheads. Are vegans preachy? Where does the negative association of the word “preach” come from? Since millions attend churches, one would assume people enjoy hearing a sermon derived upon various religious notions and beliefs. When I asked Priya whether protesting produced any benefits, she answered, “In his letter from a Birmingham Jail, Martin Luther King Jr. said, 'Nonviolent direct action seeks to create such a crisis and foster such a tension that a community which has constantly refused to negotiate is forced to confront the issue. It seeks so to dramatize the issue that it can no longer be ignored.' The world needs emerging leaders who display an outspoken understanding of the cruelty taking place. Indeed, if outspoken activists did not campaign for social justice throughout history, would slavery still exist today? Furthermore, what is your definition of slavery? Is it only confined to human-beings or rather all innocent beings?"

Protest in Salt Lake City, Utah. "This is a somebody, not a something!"

Protest in Salt Lake City, Utah. "This is a somebody, not a something!"

I was moved, as I began to understand why people choose to protest. These activists protest despite the public opposition. They continue to speak against the injustice being done to animals. Do they not deserve a voice? Do they not have an equal right to be safe, happy, and free? Is this not honorable? DxE hopes for change focusing on farm animals, noting that violence is not food. This campaign directly impacts Ching Farm Sanctuary. These organizers and protesters help give a voice to the animals that reside on our farm; animals that society sees as food. If you wouldn't harm a cat, why are other animals so different? Animals big and small, they all deserve a voice. They all deserve love and compassion. What’s stopping you from speaking out?

Post action activist dinner with some awesome people.

Post action activist dinner with some awesome people.

Allies and Images: The Importance of Communicating the Victim's Personhood

Allies and Images: The Importance of Communicating the Victim's Personhood

By Kelly Atlas

It is very common in the animal rights movement for human activists to show images of exploited animals in the process of their degradation. We use these images in the hopes that they will evoke in others the sympathy that they evoke in ourselves. However, if the viewer is as speciesist as our society makes most of us, the effect may be the opposite.

DxE tested this hypothesis by exploring people's receptiveness to liberationist ideology once primed by one of four kinds of images: 1) A photo of graphic violence against a nonhuman; 2) a quote on animal rights by a figure of authority; 3) a perspective-shifting image of an animal that shows something of who the animal is; and 4) a control image. Though the study was small in scope, preliminary results suggest that graphic images made people more aversive than the control group to nonhuman rights, while images that demonstrated the individual's personality primed people to be more receptive to the anti-speciesist questions asked.

With that effect demonstrated, allow me to explain my concerns with showing graphic images.

While many of us have felt that films like Earthlings or short videos like “From Farm to Fridge” were incredibly emotionally motivating for us, that can only be the case for someone who already understands that those animals can suffer and who already regards them as mattering morally. Unless someone can recognize the subjectivity and personhood of the animal whose body is being violated, that person will not be able to recognize the act of violence against the animal as violence any more than he or she regards the picking of a pear from its tree as violence.

Even if we are predisposed to recognize and have concern for the violence, unless we are presented with a clear solution to it (liberation, sanctuaries), and unless we have access to an anti-speciesist community for social support, we are likely to shut down our emotional response to the violence out of a basic psychological need to stay sane in the overwhelming face of an unfathomably massive atrocity. Horrific, graphic images can trigger defense mechanisms that make people shy away from the scene, thereby discouraging engagement with the liberationist message and political activity. (By liberationist "political activity" I refer to any openly anti-speciesist action: an act of protest, a personal communication of rejection of speciesism, helping refugees at sanctuaries, and so forth.)

I am also concerned that repeatedly seeing images of people of a given group (nonhumans) being objectified by one's own group (humans) may normalize their objectification in the viewer's mind. There is only "shock value" in these violent images because the violence is kept out of sight; but note that in cultures where it is in sight, it still happens. Even if a first glimpse into a slaughterhouse is morally shocking for the typical human in our society who has never witnessed the violence, that shock value will wear off as increased exposure to such images only decreases sensitivity to the violence. That is a serious threat to the movement, because we need people to empathize with the victims and care about the violence being done to them if they are going to demand its end. Only when people recognize that each of these animals is a someone who does not want to die and has a right to live will they be able to acknowledge that violence against them is wrong. Violence against nonhumans is not a result of slaughterhouses having opaque walls; it is the result of a pervasive ideology that reduces nonhumans to commodities. Images of animals being treated as commodities do not challenge the speciesist thinking that enables that violence.

Additionally, we do not want to risk making people associate the nonhumans for whom we fight with the sensations of revulsion and disgust that they experience when looking at gory images.

In the aim of checking our own speciesism and not reinforcing frames of mind that treat nonhumans and humans differently, it is important to point out that culturally, we rarely, if ever, show photos of the dead bodies of degraded humans who were raped, lynched, or murdered out of hatred. Most of the "graphic" imagery that we do share of human conflicts at least shows the emotional devastation on the face of a living human in the scene. (This is the case for victims who we already mostly recognize as people.) Showing the objectified, violated bodies of anonymous, non-individualized nonhuman beings is speciesist behavior; and so even just for that, it is not likely to help us confront and dismantle the speciesism system.

Finally, showing these people as victims – instead of showing images of them resisting, escaping, and empowering themselves against their oppressors – renders their own agency invisible, disempowering them. Past movements were not won by "saviours" from the oppressing class, but by the oppressed themselves – and allies who empowered them.

So, we must use images that tell the story of who someone is, that make their personhood recognizable, that help viewers empathize with them, and that help viewers listen to them. If and when we do share images of nonhumans being violently violated, we must carefully contextualize them by first showing images of those (or similar-looking) nonhumans experiencing joy and the positive emotions we associate with personhood, or otherwise demonstrate that they are emotionally rich individuals. If and when we do share contextualized violent images, we should make every effort to use images that show the emotion on that person's face. Remember, the external conditions being imposed on them are not nearly so important as what that makes them experience internally; the latter is why the former matters at all.

We are these animals' allies. We are here to open up space for their silenced voices to be heard. It is our responsibility to show these animals not as the objects they are presently treated as, but as the persons as whom they want to be seen. (Yes, when they cry for their lives, they are very much asking to be regarded as persons; they are most certainly asking to be listened to.) People will not be able to maximally empathize with nonhumans until they recognize them as other people.

So show the world what's really happening. Show humans what they otherwise would not see... by showing them that a chimpanzee and a chicken are people, too.

Tell Their Stories

Tell Their Stories

By Saryta Rodriguez


Devotees of The Lib may already be aware of the recent press coverage we have received since our last Day of Action, September 27, 2014.  A video from one of the many demonstrations carried out in the Bay Area that day, featuring DxE organizer Kelly Atlas, has gone viral, been discussed on Glenn Beck, and prompted both CBS San Francisco and On Call to interview Kelly.  Kelly is a brilliant speaker and a perfect model of emotional authenticity; but emotions aside, Kelly utilized a tactic that embodies one of DxE’s five organizing principles: she told a story.

In an attempt to mock Kelly, Glenn Beck surprisingly shared an animal story of his own: the story of Charlie, a chicken friend he had when he was a boy. 

“I had Charlie the chicken. And it was this nice little chicken and it was my chicken. Well, grandpa ate my chicken, and I was very upset. He ate my chicken. He took my chicken, and one day, we were eating chicken,” Glenn said. “And my grandpa said, that’s why we don’t name our chickens. And he said the whole time, don’t name the chickens. Don’t name the chickens. He warned me and he’s like, Glenn, we eat chickens. This is what we do. We grow them so we can eat them. This is what we do. We gather their eggs.”

The message Glenn seems to have derived from this boyhood experience is: Turn your empathy switch off.  Do not personalize non-human animals; they are merely tools for production, and not individuals with whom we can form friendships.  It’s the story every farm boy/farm girl hears; Harold Brown, a farm-boy-turned-animal-advocate, relates his experiences being trained in the art of empathy suppression in the heartfelt documentary Peaceable Kingdom: The Journey Home (2004).

Even more surprisingly, one of Glenn's co-anchors—a vegetarian—called him out on the decree against naming chickens: "Isn't that just a sort of...denial? Of their individuality?"

When I was about four or five years old, my mother related to me the story of a goat named Pepa.  Pepa was her friend, just as Charlie was Glenn’s; but like Glenn’s parents and/or grandparents, my mother’s grandparents (by whom she was raised) murdered Pepa one day while she was visiting an aunt--and served her for dinner that night.  I don’t remember whether or not my mother cried while telling me this story; but I do recall distinctly that her voice cracked, and her brow furrowed ever so slightly.  This is the first memory I have of ever seeing my mother in pain.

Glenn may have been trying to mock Kelly with his Charlie story, and convince her and others like her to “hop on the speciesist bandwagon” and stop campaigning for a more compassionate world; but in my view, his story only further highlights DxE’s most fundamental views.  The fact that he remembers Charlie at all, so many years after his death, proves what a unique individual Charlie was.  His memory has not been obscured by any previous or future encounters with chickens that Glenn may have had; Charlie continues to stand out in his heart and mind.  I’m sure Glenn has a wealth of memories of hanging out with Charlie, watching him do this or that, hearing him make funny noises and perhaps trying to imitate him: memories he chose not to share on the air because of who he has become in the public arena.

I don’t expect one of the loudest conservative mouthpieces in the country to ever admit it; but I know that deep down, Glenn still feels that pain, that loss.  No amount of money, fame or “success” will ever bring Charlie back.  Or Pepa.  Or any of the hundreds, thousands, millions of animals that are slaughtered day in, day out, by people who can’t or won’t allow themselves to form any connection with them.

I am sorry that Glenn has fastened himself to the opposite course of action; but Pepa’s story is, I believe, one of many reasons that I became an animal advocate.  Rather than emulating her caregivers and suppressing my empathy, I choose to emulate my mother and acknowledge the individuality of all sentient beings—not just cats and dogs. 

This is why telling the animals’ story is paramount to what we do, and is one of our five organizing principles.  Of all the Bay Area speak-outs that occurred on September 27th of this year, Kelly’s was the only one that told a story: the story of Snow.  Hers was the only speak-out to go viral and receive national press coverage.  In an attempt to criticize her, Glenn could not help but relate the story of Charlie; now he, too, lives on in the public’s consciousness. 

This post is for Pepa, and for my mommy.  This is their story; and now, you are a part of it.

What stories will you tell?


After writing the above, I sent it to my mother for approval. She wrote back with the following, which I've decided to include here verbatim rather than just mushing it into my article.  Here it is, straight from the human's fingertips:

HI BABY!  I am going to give you Pepa's story:  

Pepa was a baby goat that grew to be my one and only companion after school and on lonely weekends. How did I acquire Pepa? A neighbor was looking for someone to take of his goat: Pepa's mom. In return for taking care of the senior goat, I was given baby Pepa to keep as my own.

I was super excited! I was finally coming home to a friend who would listened to my day at school! I accepted the neighbor's offer and started looking forward to coming home from school to do all of my chores on time and take care of the goats--especially mine.  I made sure that her mother was always well-fed and clean. I then would take my goat to the hill and sit in front of her, talking about my day at school...the day of a twelve-year-old lonely girl who was left without brothers and sisters and in the care of her old grandma and grandpa. I was happy to have that time alone with Pepa; she looked at me as though she understood my life better than I did!  

Years passed, and Pepa grew to be a beautiful, healthy goat that everybody wanted to buy.  Everybody congratulated me on a job well done in raising her; but one unfortunate Mother's Day, my long-lost older uncle decided to come visit us. Hours of house-cleaning and organization....Rehearsing what to say and what not to say....After all, he was coming from The City--and that was A BIG DEAL!

My grandmother asked me to visit my aunt, who lived about two miles from our home. I looked to my grandfather for permission, and he granted it. None of this was strange to me; he always did what she wanted. I hesitated to ask them why. I think deep inside, I knew something bad was going to happen; but I never thought that they were going to kill Pepa as a present to celebrate my uncle's visit.

They did--without any regard for my feelings, or hers. Somehow, after days of quietly crying and feeling sad, I forgave my grandparents. My uncle, on the other hand, was impossible for me to forgive; he was the first one to die in the family, and he was the only one for whom I did not cry!

How to Get Glenn Beck to Put Your Issue on the Table

Perhaps the most famous conservative voice in America attacked animal rights this week. Here's why that's a good thing.

Perhaps the most famous conservative voice in America attacked animal rights this week. Here's why that's a good thing.

How to Get Glenn Beck to Put Your Issue on the Table

by Wayne Hsiung

Over the past two weeks, with three major press hits, millions of people across the world have been exposed to the debate over animal rights -- and DxE's #ItsNotFoodItsViolence campaign -- in a significant, serious, and meaningful way. 

The LA Times, the largest paper in the second largest media market in the country, posted a piece discussing our campaigns and the meaning of "speciesism." (Our response here.) TheBlaze and Glenn Beck's influential TV and radio show both published angry rants about liberal animal rights activists going too far. (Our response here.) And, just this morning, Truthout published a powerful piece by my co-organizer Priya Sawhney on the intersections between racism, sexism, and speciesism. How did we get our issue on the table? 

In one word: disruption. 

I've written and spoken previously about how disruption has been a necessary element to every successful social movement . It has been described by distinguished political scientist Sidney Tarrow as "the strongest weapon" of social justice. It was the original form of direct action, going back all the way to Socrates, who was killed for speaking in places where his words were unwelcome, and defined most powerfully in America by Martin Luther King, Jr. And it works through three primary mechanisms: inspiring activists; provoking the public; and broadening the circle of debate.

That is exactly what our campaign of nonviolent direct action has achieved in the past year. We have jumped from 1 to 66 cities, mobilizing an inspiring and diverse array of activists across the world. We have provoked public attention and dialogue by some of the biggest names in media. And we have pushed the debate over animal rights into circles where it had previously been unheard.

And it is only by pushing our words and actions beyond social convention and comfort -- yes, to the point of disruption -- that we were able to make this incredible progress. 

Consider: if we had adopted less disruptive or emotionally wrought tactics, would anyone have cared? Almost certainly not. We are a grassroots operation with no money, no history, and no famous names. The LA Times' of the world could not have cared less if we had picked a less provocative target, or adopted less disruptive tactics. Educating calmly outside of a McDonald's for bigger cages is not just ethically problematic; it's a story that's stale and old. "Protesters stream into 'humane meat' restaurant," on the other hand, is a headline well worth writing. 

"But it makes us look extreme and crazy!"

And yet, at the same time, and despite our campaign's rapid growth and many successes, we've faced fierce internal criticism.  It's worth emphasizing that this is nothing new. In every movement, disruption has been met by fierce critics from within movements for change. (Indeed, criticisms from within the movement caused King to write perhaps the most famous letter in the history of activism.

One powerful example came up as I was examining the early documents of one of the most successful and famous activist networks in history: the SCLC (which, like DxE, had a central objective of inspiring networks of nonviolent direct action across the country). An early pamphlet defending the waves of sit-ins by students in suits and ties -- essentially, disruptive street theater -- had an interesting description of the reaction to the actions in the community. "It has electrified the Negro adult community with the exception of the usual Uncle Toms and Nervous Nellies."

The pamphlet was perhaps unfair to early opponents of the sit-ins. After all, there unquestionably was an intense backlash to the early waves of nonviolent direct action that swept across the country in the early 1960s. Common sense might have predicted that triggering this sort of reaction was a bad thing. After all, who among us wants to be seen as shrill, weird, or insane? (All words, incidentally, that were also used to describe William Lloyd Garrison.) 

But common sense routinely fails us when it comes to social change. And what works on changing individuals often has no relevance at all on changing society. It turns out that the backlash, far from being counter-productive, triggered massive growth and sympathy for activists -- first and foremost, by finally getting their issue on the table for serious public discussion. The old adage often attributed (perhaps falsely) to Gandhi -- "First, they laugh at you. Then, they fight you. Then, you win." -- turns out to be true. 

Direct Action is a Value, not just a Tactic

There's so much more to say, but let me end my point with this. In Glenn Beck's surprisingly thoughtful discussion of DxE's recent #DisruptSpeciesism action (in which he says, among other things, that he won't eat veal because of the cruelty), he mentions that, in listening to Kelly's heartfelt speakout, he was at first mobilized to outrage by the story because he believes it is about a human victim. Indeed, he has so much outrage that he wants to join the protest! "I'm thinking, this is horrifying! I'm taking my napkin and tossing it angrily on the table right now. My gosh, how can I help you?"

Then he learns the victim is a chicken. And he just laughs. 

This, of course, is the definition of speciesism. A violent act that, at first, is a horror and outrage becomes.... a joke simply because the victim is a member of a different species. But before we leap forward to condemn Glenn Beck, we should ask ourselves, "Am I doing any better? If these were human children on the plates, how would I respond? And if I don't respond the way Beck suggests that we should respond -- by getting angry, by speaking out, and yes, even by disrupting the status quo -- am I really living up to what I say I believe?" 

We live in a world where violence is routinely made normal. Where the bodies of gentle creatures who meant us no harm are routinely objectified, violated, and then even consumed in ways that would be widely perceived as nightmarish, if such things were to happen to a human being. We are constantly told that we have to accept these horrific practices, as if they were no different than personal choices as to what to wear.

But nonviolent direct action rejects that abhorrent value system. True, direct action comes in many different flavors and forms. ACT UP made clear that even a personal conversation, if coming from a strong spirit of dissent, was a powerful form of direct action. But direct action is, fundamentally, not just a tactic or strategy but a value... a belief that all is not well... and a disruption of the way things are. And when we take direct action, we are not just tactically leveraging our limited resources to make huge waves (as important as that is), we are living up to our deepest and most heartfelt values, speaking as the animals would if they could, and building our dream of a better and more beautiful world -- one disruption at a time.  

Dramatize the Issue

Dramatize the Issue (by Kelly)

UPDATE: Glenn Beck personally spent twelve minutes on his talk show talking about the disruption (hatefully, in perfect human supremacist fashion, though with an interesting acknowledgement of how he was taught speciesism).

I have adopted three little girls. One is a dog. Two are chickens. All are family.

You know how that is. Heck, most of America knows how that is where their dog or cat is concerned. The trouble is, we've learned to be so speciesist that we have a hard time seeing a chicken for the social, gentle, loving, clever little girl she is, because we're taught that only animals like "dog" and "cat" are "friend" but other animals like "cow" and "chicken" are called "food" instead -- without ever bothering to listen to what that animal has to say about it, when she cries out in a very clear call for help before a human kills her for his pleasure.

Well, last weekend, with other liberationists at my back, I went into a space that normalizes violence against animals who are not named "human" or "dog" or "cat" and I told the people there (and the people to view the video on the Internet) the story of one of my little girls.

Today it was widely publicized through a conservative web publication, namely by bullies eager to demonstrate their human supremacism, in tandem with threats of violence ("get between me and cooked meat, and i'll show you some violence" and "go away, woman, before we barbeque you") as well as a dash of misogyny ("sorry, but I don't trust females with little boy haircuts" and "crazed woman"), of course. (The publication's Facebook post is here.)

Other leftists, take note: If Glenn Beck's camp hates us this much, we're probably doing something extremely progressive. Leftist politics have everything to do with not treating others badly just because we can -- being against discrimination and violence is core to our position. And it's quite apparently antithetical to theirs, which is why they hate the threat of empathy that we embody. They believe that violence is a joke.

And to the #FirstWorldProblems comment, while I personally have that privilege, it is not hard to find animal rights activists and ethical vegans and anti-speciesist sentiment in any human society, and no actually, the hashtag doesn't justify dismissing the issue and the voices of those who are crying out for help just because they aren't humans. All oppression has the same ideological roots, we can't just fix the "human" problems first and then move on to the other animals. And we certainly shouldn't continue actively harming other animals just because other human animals are still being oppressed, there is no logic to that, unless it's okay to beat and rape and kill me because there are still men who experience oppression at the hands of some other logic of domination and they're just that much more important than me. And we should not judge that one person's suffering is more important than the suffering of any one or one billion others just because that person occupies a privileged class that the others do not.

The #FirstWorldProblems hashtag is used by people complaining about something that happened to them that they acknowledge is trivial. Nothing has happened to me. I have the privileges of being a human in a human supremacist society. The grievance here is from someone who is crying out for help as she desperately tries to escape being murdered. (And currently humans are not listening to her -- rather, we're silencing her -- so I am trying to use my voice to make space for hers.) That's not a triviality. She wants to live, she wants freedom, she wants to be loved, just like you and I and our dog friends. Really, the Blaze article itself should be hastagged #humanproblems, because it's just humans complaining about other humans trying to stop them from engaging in gratuitous acts of violence that they only can participate in because they are humans in a human supremacist society.

Basically all the other comments I've seen are straw humans and attempts at diversion and other obvious fallacies or just plain trolling.

While the speciesist hate speech in the comments may be enraging and disheartening, it is important to remember that confrontations like these and the others we do function to force the issue onto the table. And clearly, people are talking about it, it's not a non-issue that they're dismissing anymore. Instead, they're feeling pressure and retaliating. The animal rights movement is growing and everyone can see that happening.

(I'd like to note too that we should consider it an indication that our message is strong when the opposition themselves reiterates in our terms our attitude that Snow is a "somebody" rather than a something.)

As activists who engage in nonviolent direct action like the activists of the anti-oppression movements before us, we are here to get the dialogue moving, to get the animals' voices on the tables beside their bodies. And it's working. We're here to polarize the debate so people have to take a side and fight for it, and look at how the human supremacists are letting their colours show -- the animals' opponents are making it very clear that they are just violent, oppressive, hateful bullies who aren't particularly interested in empathy, rational conversation, or new ways of thinking. They're very actively and proudly in favor of hurting defenseless animals who just want to live, and they're aggressive towards humans who peacefully speak of a world without cruelty to animals. They're bullies, to the nonhumans and to their human allies. Seriously, whether you read our history books or just watch the movies we make, I think we are all equipped to determine who the bad guy in this story is.

No, this won't be easy. What movement against violent oppression ever was?

Yes, there is hope. Oh, so much of it. Why?

"Nonviolent direct action seeks to create such a crisis and foster such a tension that a community which has constantly refused to negotiate is forced to confront the issue. It seeks so to dramatize the issue that it can no longer be ignored." (Martin Luther King, Jr, Letter From a Birmingham Jail)

They're not exactly ignoring it.

(PS: The original video is on Facebook and YouTube.)

Three Steps to Building a Diverse Movement

Our movement's lack of diversity is one of its great stumbling blocks in achieving broad acceptance. Here are three easy steps we can each take to solve that problem. 

Our movement's lack of diversity is one of its great stumbling blocks in achieving broad acceptance. Here are three easy steps we can each take to solve that problem. 

Three Steps to Building a Diverse Movement

by Wayne Hsiung

I posted earlier today on how inspired I was, as a Chinese person, to see so many Chinese faces at the Global March for Elephants and Rhinos this past weekend. And the march organizers did a fantastic job of not just seeking out feedback, but modifying the march message and tone to reflect concerns from the Chinese community. But in raw numbers, we are still far short of where we need to be in order to achieve real success. 

One third of the population of San Francisco is Asian, and 52% of the population is of color. While there were some amazing faces of color speaking for the march, including the lead organizer Rosemary Alles (who is Sri Lankan), the march was still perhaps 90% white.

Direct Action Everywhere and Animal Liberationists of Color (ALOC) are on a mission to change these dynamics. As distinguished scholars have noted, we have to represent the world if we are going to change the world. But we need help from you to do that. So here are three steps that are important for all of us to take if we want to build a stronger and more diverse movement. 

1. Acknowledge the gap.

We can't start addressing the diversity problem until we're willing to acknowledge that it exists, and discuss ways to solve it. A diversity policy is a great first step, as is building a culture that encourages underrepresented communities to participate. 

2. Seek buy-in and feedback.

Actively encourage people from under-represented communities to have significant roles in your campaign, listen to what they have to say (they'll have different and important perspectives, based on their unique experiences in life), and empower them to become activists in both their local communities and in the broader movement. 

3. Don't be evil.

Don't play on stereotypes (whether explicit or implicit). Don't target under-represented communities for protest without buy-in from that community. Don't lash out when someone from a community of color raises a concern about possible racism. And support efforts to shift our movement's resources and attention away from "foreign" and "minority" contributions to the problem, and back to domestic and majority contributions. (E.g. the US remains the world's largest animal killer and, historically, the world's largest contributor to the destruction of habitat for non-human animals.) 

Three easy steps to enhancing diversity. Three easy steps to building a stronger and more inclusive movement.  Three easy steps to help us down the path to liberation. 

Bridges and Walls

Bob Linden, once one of DxE's most vocal supporters, has now become its fiercest critic. What can this teach us about building bridges and walls? 

Bob Linden, once one of DxE's most vocal supporters, has now become its fiercest critic. What can this teach us about building bridges and walls? 

Bridges and Walls

by Wayne Hsiung

One of the first times I spoke with Bob Linden, we were driving to a circus protest organized by Pat Cuviello’s group, Humanity through Education. We had just finished up our biggest mobilization to date, the Earthlings March, in which 41 cities, 17 countries, and thousands of activists participated. And we were on a high about the possibilities for bridge building in animal rights activism.

As we drove to the circus protest, with my friend Kara from LA in tow, I spoke to Kara and Bob about DxE’s role in the movement -- to build a unified network on behalf of a strong and uncompromising message; to tap into the latent potential of animal lovers everywhere to create a powerful movement for change; to adapt best practices and insights from some of the greatest scholars and activists in history to strike at the foundations of animal exploitation; and perhaps most important, to empower animal rights activists, especially from underrepresented or unexpected communities, to speak confidently for what they truly believe: the right of every animal to be safe and happy and free.

Thousands of activists across the world took to the streets as part of DxE's Earthlings March in August 2013. 

One of the things that struck me most about this conversation was that the three of us, though from completely different backgrounds, cultures, and areas of the world, all felt so strongly about these basic ideas. Kara was a younger activist from the Los Angeles scene, where there were a number of promising pressure campaigns thriving in the face of legal repression. Bob was an older activist based in the Bay Area, whose unrelenting focus on vegan education has served as a moral compass for our movement. I, in turn, was a long-time Chicago activist from an immigrant family who had been a part of virtually every animal rights campaign available for over a decade, from vegan outreach to SHAC, before settling on DxE’s current path: creating empowered networks for change. The bridges that were built on that day, across the world, and within a single car, were inspiring and powerful. And I had high hopes that they would sustain themselves over the long run.

But bridges are hard to maintain, and they sometimes fail. Even worse, the collapse of a bridge often leaves such a mess of debris that what was once a bridge is now replaced by something more intimidating than empty space: a wall. And while bridges allow us to connect, to unify, to strengthen ourselves and our entire movement through solidarity, walls do the exact opposite. They block us from, not only working together, but from even accurately perceiving what is happening on the other side.

I think that is sadly what has happened between myself and Bob, with his recent criticisms of DxE (and the similar criticisms raised of DxE by Gary Francione). A bridge has collapsed and turned into a wall. I like and respect Bob. He is brave and passionate, and he dedicates virtually every moment of his life to working for animals. We have had countless conversations about the problems the animal rights movement faces -- the constant pull of the “mainstream” to suppress not just our sadness and outrage over atrocities, but even the content of our beliefs; the intoxicating allure of money and power in subtly reshaping the activism of even the most principled individual activists; the cynicism and hopelessness that leaves activists uninspired and burned out. I still agree 100% with all of these criticisms. I still agree nearly 100% with Bob. Where I disagree is in how to change that.

California's Prop 2 in action. According to the New York Times, the hens are "living the good life."

Bob believes that working with industry is undermining our movement. Bob is right about this, not just on moral grounds, but because the history of welfare reforms is a terrible one, and because there’s no clear evidence that welfare reforms have, well, actually reformed welfare. The colony cages that are set to be introduced in California, to replace the battery cages that were used before, are one such example. Cages of wire have been replaced by cages of flesh.

But there is a much broader literature in moral and social psychology on the issue of “moral credentialing” -- how institutions such as Chipotle (and others before it, such as Enron or BP), which offer up meaningless badges of their so-called integrity, use their new-found moral credentials to engage in even more brutal acts of violence. I have seen these with my own eyes in working on rescues from genuinely pasture-raised farms. New forms of brutality and violence pop up to replace the old, as industry adapts to reform to ensure their astonishingly low costs are maintained. And even where reforms are not evaded or undermined, animals still live such atrociously horrible lives that it’s not clear if there are any genuine benefits. (A similar point is made in the research on human poverty alleviation. If a poor child is oppressed ultimately by institutional causes -- discrimination, inequality, and corruption -- then addressing one minor symptom, such as lack of malaria nets, might not do much to solve the problem.)

Bob also believes, however, that animal advocates who take the “welfarist” path, despite the moral and factual reasons to think it is a wrong turn, are traitors to the cause, and as bad as animal abusers themselves. And I understand this position. William Lloyd Garrison, after all, set out to undermine the mainstream “antislavery” group of his day, the ACS, because of its false compromise with slaveholders. Emmeline Pankhurst unrelentingly attacked not just the institutions of power that denied women the right to vote -- but also those women who rejected her militant tactics to force the issue with the public at large. And even Martin Luther King, Jr. decried “moderates” (who rejected the disruption of mass nonviolent direct action because it made civil rights activists seem extreme and crazy) as the great stumbling block in the nation’s stride toward freedom. There is, in short, room for harsh criticism … and, indeed, we should encourage such criticism because, as with every social justice movement before us, the debate will illuminate the path to liberation.

But that is the key -- winning the moderates over through debate, rather than destroying them. William Lloyd Garrison’s Antislavery Society was filled by one-time supporters of the ACS. Emmeline Pankhurt believed that her dream of a world where even women were free to vote was so powerful and compelling that even conservatives would eventually understand the need for direct action. And Martin Luther King, Jr., even as he angrily criticized moderates, was always animated by love and hope, rather than hostility and hate. He was humble enough to entertain criticism, and optimistic enough to believe that even the staunchest conservatives could be changed.

The danger of corporate capture of our movement is a real one, as demonstrated by this hen's bloody, deformed leg. 

And in this hope, he was correct. The infamous racist and segregationist George Wallace, at the height of the Civil Rights Movement’s tumult in 1963, hatefully ranted, “Segregation now. Segregation tomorrow. Segregation forever.” And yet, within a few years, after it became clear that the cultural waves had turned against him, Wallace went on a speaking tour throughout the state of Alabama… but this time to beg forgiveness of the black families that he had so violently antagonized as a candidate for President. Wallace's story should give us hope.

And this hope, more than anything else, is perhaps where Bob and I truly disagree. Bob believes that groups such as MFA, HSUS, and Farm Sanctuary have shown us their true colors… that they are unrepentant animal killers who serve only their self-interest and bottom line. Whether accurate or not, this is a cynical view that, if not complemented by an attempt to build bridges, will only serve as a self-fulfilling prophecy. If the moderates and conservatives in animal advocacy see our grassroots movement for animal liberation as motivated by cynicism, they will have no reason to heed our calls for change. If, in contrast, they see in our criticisms a genuine and heartfelt and even desperate call to rethink our most basic strategic and moral assumptions (and an equally genuine interest in listening to criticism ourselves), then we can begin to build bridges rather than walls.

To be sure, fierce voices such as Bob’s help drive all of us to greater understanding. They push us to have dialogue -- whether within the community of radicals or between radicals and moderates. They help us identify that a gap exists, that a problem is unacknowledged, that a bridge must be built. But the fiercest critics, to be effective, must be complemented by activists just as fiercely committed to generosity, humility, and hope.

It has been said that Martin Luther King, Jr. believed that twenty percent of his work was activism. Eighty percent was dealing with internal divisions within the movement. While this is the reality of dealing with passionate people in a desperate cause, those divisions can only be healed and addressed if we talk. I hope that Bruce Friedrich and I continue to talk, despite our disagreements. I hope that Bob and I continue to talk, despite his feelings of betrayal.

But above all, I hope that all of us (including Bob) continue to speak strongly and confidently for animals, even where our voices may be unwelcome… to build bridges with even animal eaters within our communities, not to compromise our vision of a better world, but to spread our vision of a better world, with strong and committed allies, to every corner of this planet.  

Because without such bridges, those who oppose us, whether in the halls of power or in a Chipotle down the street, will never find the path to the other side... the path to liberation.