Naomi is a good friend of mine who I met in Berkeley and who helps with the Animal Care Working group of Direct Action Everywhere. She wrote this paper for a class she was taking at UC Berkeley. I thought it was excellent. Here it is:
The animal liberation movement is the revolutionary approach to animal rights which aims to abolish the exploitation and property status of non-human animals. This includes killing and exploiting animals in the food industry, which constitutes the vast majority of animals killed by humans, as well as vivisection, animal skin and fur in clothing, and confining animals in unnatural environments for human entertainment. 56 billion animals are killed for food every single year (according to animalequality.net); several thousand animals are killed every single second of every single day, making this by the far the largest genocide of innocent beings in human history. The scientific community has reached consensus that animals feel pain and have the ability to suffer, yet animals are not entitled to their own bodily autonomy.
Speciesism is discrimination and “othering” based on species, where humans or even dogs are treated as more deserving of basic rights than pigs, cows, or other animals. Animal rights is a social justice issue for victims of the food industry (and other exploitative industries), not a “food” issue. There must be a transformation of consciousness in which animals are viewed as people, which simply means individuals with personalities (people is not the same as human), and not as food. Animals are not food- they are victims of the food industry. They are uncompensated “workers”, slaves, who have their body parts taken from them for someone else’s profit. In Strategic Action for Animals, Joy explains “Profits are lost when corporations have to respect animal welfare, human rights, and environmental protection. In other words, it has become that much more difficult, and imperative, to protect all forms of life. Economic globalization has had a devastating effect on animals, laborers, citizens, and the ecosystem and it has become the natural point of intersection for different movements” (Joy 27).
Capitalism will never bring about rights for people, since it is a system based on exploiting the physical bodies of humans and animals in any way that is profitable. Veganism is often exercised as a boycott, in which the demand for vegan products increases and thus the availability of vegan foods on the market increases, but this does not prevent animal agriculture from continuing. Vegan options mean nothing to the murdered animals whose bodies are sold next to them. Contrary to public belief, we don’t have to make everyone vegan, we have to actually ban the sale of animal body parts and secretions. Slavery didn’t end by asking people to please give up their slaves; slavery was abolished by making it illegal for humans to own other humans. The belief that eating meat is a personal choice is not true- personal choices do not have victims. The animal that is being killed did not consent to have their life taken. Due to speciesism being ingrained in our society, many people would support a ban of the dog meat trade in China, and understand that taking the lives of dogs is not a personal choice. Ironically, and hypocritically, the vast majority of people find it absurd to even consider banning the sale of other animals.
Direct Action Everywhere, or DxE for short, is a grassroots network of animal rights activists, and the ultimate goal of the organization is to establish a 28th amendment to the United States Constitution declaring legal personhood for animals; this would grant them the right to be free from torture and harm. What makes DxE unique is the restructuring of approach away from the idea of veganism as a food issue, and instead treating animal liberation as a social justice issue by targeting speciesism at its core. DxE was founded by drawing inspiration from historical social movements, such as the Civil Rights movement and the use of nonviolent direct action. This is not the only group to use these tactics in the animal rights movement, but it is the organization that I am most familiar with and I believe in most passionately. Thus I will draw examples from their work for this essay, but the strategies used and challenges faced apply to various groups and affect the animal rights movement as a whole.
DxE works to transform vegans and/or animal-lovers into social justice activists. I resonate with this quote from a description of Occupy Oakland: “It politicized us in the deepest way- not by making us aware of what was wrong in the world (which most of us already had an acute sense of), but by suddenly making it seem that another world was actually possible” (Behbehanian Preface X). It is depressing for many vegans to face the fact that the vast majority of people are not vegan and are not considering changing their habits. Working to create legislation and transform social norms makes animal liberation feel like an actual reality that could be achieved within our lifetimes.
Direct Action Everywhere builds upon the idea that we can create institutionalized change through the use of non-institutionalized and often illegal tactics of direct action. “[B]ecause animal exploitation is institutionalized, in that it is accepted and promoted by all major social institutions, activists often can’t turn to existing power structures for support. Therefore, many animal liberation campaigns will use direct action. Direct action focuses on achieving a specific goal by challenging existing power relationships,” (Joy 59). DxE utilizes nonviolent direct action to bring the severity of the problem to the public’s attention. The animal rights movement is unique because the victims are essentially “voiceless”, as their voices are suppressed and hidden away; their screams are not audible and the blood they shed is not visible in the stores where their bodies are being sold. However, when we speak loudly with megaphones or block traffic, we are seen as “extreme”. “Activists for animal liberation have to speak for victims who literally cannot speak for themselves. This poses a serious challenge. Direct victims have much more moral authority to call attention to their own suffering; they are often allowed and even expected to be outraged and outspoken” (Joy 18).
Nonviolence is a core principle, arguably the most important principle for DxE organizing; however, we are often perceived as violent because we intentionally cause disruption. As Martin Luther King Jr. described, disruption targets “negative peace”. While a restaurant or grocery store may be calm, or quiet, there is extreme violence present; we want to transform negative peace which is “the absence of tension” to a positive peace “which is the presence of justice”. Ethically, the majority of vegans believe in nonviolence for its moral importance, since we want to end violence against all animals including human animals. It is paradoxical and hypocritical to ask society to stop inflicting harm on animals through harming others. Strategically, we must remain nonviolent for a variety of reasons as well: violent behavior will scare people away from coming to our actions, reduce public sympathy, and give the state reason to use violence against us.
The willingness of activists to make personal sacrifices shows their dedication and forces society to take the issue more seriously. Many activists believe that even prison could never compare to the torture of animals on factory farms, trapped in cages so small they cannot move, having their bodies painfully mutilated without anesthetic. Recently, over 200 activists, including myself, took nonviolent direct action at a slaughterhouse in Oakland; this action utilized a variety of tactics, including a sit-in occupation, civil disobedience, and open rescue. Three lives were saved, 23 of my closest friends were arrested, and we garnered significant news coverage. This act of occupation and open rescue was a prefiguration of space; inside a slaughterhouse full of knives where animals were being killed, we walked in holding red roses in our hands as a symbol of love and nonviolence and tied them to the cages where the victims were being held. Nearly two dozen activists committed themselves to continue occupying the building and refusing to leave until every animal was released, despite understanding their demands would likely not be met, and thus they were arrested. We sang songs of liberation, roses in our hands, as nonviolent protesters were led out in handcuffs. This repression of nonviolent protesters garners public sympathy and attracts media attention, similar to how the Civil Rights movement benefited from publicized backlash on television. The story was covered in The Intercept, an “adversarial journalism” online news publication, in an article written by Glenn Greenwald.
Open rescue is a form of civil disobedience since it is an illegal action that challenges the sanctity of a law that is unjust. “In an open rescue, activists take the animals from a facility and bring them to an undisclosed sanctuary. They videotape the facility and the rescue, to publicize the conditions in which the animals have have been kept and their commitment to the cause. They show themselves as willing to risk arrest because they fully believe in the rightness of their actions” (Joy 69). Open rescue is a direct challenge to the property status of animals; since we believe animals are not property, we do not believe that they cannot be “stolen”, only liberated. In fact, even the police officers who were called in as authority figures to stop our “illegal activity” were moved by our message. An activist carried a rabbit out of the slaughterhouse in his arms past a line of police officers who did little to stop him besides verbally threatening to arrest him. One of the police officers was so moved that he paid the slaughterhouse to release a sick, dying quail to us.
The criminalization of open rescue highlights the extent to which speciesism is so fiercely institutionalized and protected by law. If a dog is locked in a hot car, citizens have the legal right to break the car window and destroy someone else’s property in order to save the dog. But when activists take an animal on the verge of death from a factory farm and give them medical care, the government considers this an act of domestic terrorism. This is because the animal exploitation industries are essentially in bed with the government. After activists rescued a baby from the largest pig farm in the country and took her to sanctuary, FBI agents were sent across state borders searching for her. Taxpayer money is being used to pay agents to infiltrate our movement and protect the profits of these corporations. This is a concern that the general public should be concerned about, and the article written by Glenn Greenwald, titled “The FBI’s Hunt for Two Missing Piglets Reveals the Federal Cover-Up of Barbaric Factory Farms” is the most viewed article of the entire The Intercept website.
Several states have in place “Ag-Gag” laws which criminalize taking photo or video of animals in factory farms, a clear violation of free speech and the public’s right to know what they are buying. DxE has exposed the truth of “humane”-labeled meat and animal products, showing that animal welfare laws are not enforced and that consumers are being misled and outright lied to. Companies like Whole Foods charge people significantly higher prices by promising that their animals are treated better than those on other farms; however, video footage from DxE shows that this is not true in the slightest. DxE aims to target this idea, the “humane lie”, because we believe it is what is holding up the animal agriculture industry; most people do not want animals suffer. Polls from the Sentience Institute show that 75% of people believe that the animals they are buying were treated well; however, 99% of animals in the industry live on factory farms.
The animal liberation movement is growing rapidly. Recently, the largest march for animal rights took place in Israel, where 30,000 people took action for animals. The Official Animal Rights March in Berkeley had 500 people, and the Berkeley Animal Rights Center is the first community center for animal rights in the US. Animal rights activists around the world have saved many lives through both open and undercover rescues; the stories of rescued animals are reaching thousands of people through social media, and changing the way people view animals.
Behbehanian, Laleh. 2016. The Pre-emption of Resistance: Occupy Oakland and the Evolution
of State Power. PhD Dissertation, University of California, Berkeley. Preface & Introduction (Pp. xii-xiv; 1-19)
Institute, Sentience. “Animal Farming Attitudes Survey 2017.” Sentience Institute, 20 Nov. 2017, www.sentienceinstitute.org/animal-farming-attitudes-survey-2017.
Joy, Melanie. Strategic Action for Animals. Lantern Books, 2008.
The Intercept. “The FBI’s Hunt for Two Missing Piglets Reveals the Federal Cover-Up of Barbaric Factory Farms.” The Intercept, 5 Oct. 2017
The Intercept. “Rescue at Oakland Slaughterhouse Shows New, Potent Tactics of Growing Animal Rights Movement.” The Intercept, 1 Nov. 2017
Written on 10 December 2017