Archive for the ‘PALS NEWS’ Category

Hi, PALS!

The one-year anniversary edition of PALS Quarterly: Animal Liberation News and Fun Stuff has now been released! Email PALSactivism@gmail.com to subscribe (palsdxe@gmail.com is no longer being maintained).  I apologize for the slightly delayed release date.

In other news, I know I’ve said this before; but this time, it’s for real.  This will be my last post on this blog.  I moved from Phoenix to Oakland in March of this year (2014), and have since been too busy to update this blog as much as I would have liked; I suppose other PALS members experienced the same thing.  In any case, not being physically in Phoenix anymore, there’s so much to do with respect to both this blog and the newsletter that I simply cannot do.  I cannot, for instance, tell you What We’ve (PALS has) Been Up To.  I cannot provide you with the PALendar, as I do not know what types of actions PALS has lined up in the near future or precisely when/where each upcoming action will occur  (though I’m sure it is working on plenty of awesome initiatives, as usual; send an email to the above address for the latest!).

I also was recently named Blog Manager for Direct Action Everywhere’s The Liberationist.  Responsibilities include writing original content and conducting interviews (as I’ve done with this blog), as well as editing content originally drafted by other activists and preparing said content for posting. Between assuming this new duty, running my own editing and publishing consulting firm, starting an annual walk for retinoblastoma in the Bay Area, and of course, advocating on behalf of non-human animals, I doubt I will have time to maintain this blog or the newsletter going forward.

Our next newsletter is tentatively scheduled for release January 2015, so be sure to sign up before then and email PALS via the new address to check-in if you do not receive it.

I wish PALS the very best with maintaining its various publications in my absence, and thank all PALS members for serving as such an inspiration to me via their passion, creativity and commitment to creating a more compassionate world.

Please do keep checking here for updates by other members (or inquire via email); to keep abreast of my work, check out The Liberationist and/or email me at saryta@directactioneverywhere.com.

Cheers,

SARYTA_Blog Signature

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Hi, PALS!

Our first anniversary/fifth edition of PALS Quarterly: Animal Liberation News and Fun Stuff will be released this Saturday, October 25th, 2014–coinciding with our next International Day of Action: Ghosts in the Machine.  It’s not too late to subscribe; just send an email to palsdxe@gmail.com with the heading “Newsletter Subscriber” to receive your newsletter electronically, for free!

Please note that when using Gmail, our newsletters will appear in the Promotions tab; and allowing images to be displayed will be necessary for you to view all content.

Halloween Special: Spooky Creatures and Their Habits (2 of several)

By Saryta Rodriguez

BatsforBlog

CatsforBlog

PALS Book Burrow: The Lives of Animals by J.M. Coetzee

By Saryta Rodriguez

LivesofAnimals

Introductory Paragraphs: 

I first encountered this gem while babysitting for the Chen family in Oakland Hills one chilly summer night. I had heard of Coetzee’s Tanner lectures and some of his other writings, but not this one. The Chens seemed to feel lukewarm about it; some fellow activists laughed in my face when I mentioned I’d borrowed it. Others had never heard of it.

Needless to say, I had little idea what to expect.

First, allow me to extoll the literary device, the meta-ness—the many, many layers of meta-ness; and not of the superfluous, Inception kind. A kind that matters and is helpful. Elizabeth Costello is Coetzee’s fictional character, a novelist invited to Appleton College for three days to talk about whatever she wants. Everyone expects her to talk about her novels, or about the craft of fiction writing

more generally; to the academy’s chagrin (not to mention that of her son, John Bernard, a professor at Appleton who would have preferred no one find out about his famous mother), she instead devotes her lectures to animals. A liberationist speaker writing a fiction piece about a fiction author giving liberationist speeches. Brilliant.

Content still in the works: An updated PALendar, our annual SPOTLIGHT interview, What We’ve Been Up To, this quarter’s Flick Pick, and more!

Thanks so much,

SARYTA_Blog Signature

Hi, PALS!

Sorry to bother you twice in one day–on a Friday, no less; but I’m super-stoked to share with you the enclosed interview I’ve just finalized with Mary Schanz, President and Co-Founder of the Ironwood Pig Sanctuary in Marana, AZ, where PALS visit regularly to volunteer.  Thanks so much to Mary, Ben and the rest of the team at Ironwood for their commitment to providing safe harbor for what I personally consider to be one of the most undervalued and under-appreciated non-humans in existence.

Pig Newton, at bathtime

Pig Newton, at bath time.

Willow and Daphne, napping/cuddling.

Willow and Daphne, napping/cuddling.

 

 

 

 

 

 

SR:      How did you first become involved in animal activism? Were you prompted by a specific person or event in your life?

MS:      When we moved to Arizona back in 1988, I became involved in environmental issues. I wrote letters to congressmen, the President, the board of supervisors (for local issues), state representatives and senators, as well as governing bodies such as the Game and Fish Department. I worked on land issues here, went to tabling events, donated money to organizations, etc. I began to receive mailings picked up by animal rights groups and soon I was drawn into what was happening to animals everywhere.

I attended an event in Tucson where speakers from various organizations gave talks. I went specifically to hear a representative from SPEAK, a local animal rights group. SPEAK was involved in many aspects of animal abuse, and demonstrated at rodeos, circuses, and vivisection labs, among other hubs of animal oppression. When I tied together what I had recently learned and what was said at this event, I was really shocked. This moment was a wake-up call to me about the horrible realities of animal abuse and, by extension, environmental concerns.

Later, while I was doing some petitioning to obtain signatures for a ballot issue (to get ten million dollars a year from lottery money for parks and recreation), there was a group collecting signatures to ban leg hold traps on public lands in Arizona.  Steel-jaw leg hold traps are metal traps in which people put a small amount of food, and animals attempting to eat the food are caught and left to die or to be preyed upon.  They are horrible cruel devises. I became very involved, and was soon one of the main people working on this ban— which finally passed after several attempts. By that time, I was completely involved with and committed to the animal right movement.

I also read John Robbins’s Diet for a New America, and it fit all parts of my thinking—health, ethical, and environmental.

SR:      It’s really rewarding to see how committed you are not only to helping animals, but also to helping the planet at large. Thank you so much for all of your efforts. Now, I’m sure you get this all the time, but…Why pigs?

MS:      It was really just by chance. I had been working on so many animal issues—all of which I am sure you are familiar with—and I was having a very difficult time. I was angry and depressed. Back in 1998, I saw an article in the paper about a woman who had a pig sanctuary and was in great need of help. In fact, our animal rights group, Voices for Animals, had received a few calls about her and the lack of care of her animals. I needed a break, so my husband and I went out to see her place and offer some help. We got very involved with her and her pigs, and there was a huge need, since she had no money and little infrastructure.

We built her shelters from wood out of construction dumpsters, put up shade, installed a water system, picked up produce several times at week, etc. Over a nearly two-year period, I became very attached to the pigs and we could see things were not going well. We knew we had to do something on our own to help these pigs that I had now grown to love.

SR:      How did Ironwood come to be? Who was your team comprised of, at first? How did you initially acquire the funding and space necessary for such a massive undertaking?

MS:      In November of 2000, we bought the first forty acres that was to become Ironwood. Things were not going well where we were volunteering at that time. The lady who owned the place was a drug addict, and she had allowed a male with an undescended testicle to breed with most of her females. She had been told he was neutered, and since his testicle didn’t show she did not notice when he was breeding all her females and did not question that maybe he really was not neutered. A pig with an undescended testicle may still be fertile and must be neutered.

The summer of 2000 was a nightmare, and we ended up paying to neuter all the male babies that were born that summer to prevent even more births. We knew she was not far from failing unless we infused money into her place—which we did not want to do; so we bought the land and began the plan to open our own place and to take many of her pigs.

The initial funding came from our own personal funds. We owned some properties in California, which we sold to buy the land and the first buildings, as well as to build the first pens and fields. Without this ability, Ironwood would not have happened.

Bubbles and Mojo. Fun Fact: At Burning Man 2007, I used the playa name "Bubbles." I have a good friend in NYC who goes by "Mojo."  These must be our spirit pigs :-)

Bubbles and Mojo. Fun Fact: At Burning Man 2007, I used the playa name “Bubbles.” I have a good friend in NYC who goes by “Mojo.” These must be our spirit pigs 🙂

SR:      Please tell us a bit about your first animal rescue. From where were the animals being recued? What condition were they in?

MS:      Our first two pigs, Claire and Popeye, were adopted from the place we were volunteering. The lady who had them was a friend of the woman who owned the place where we were volunteering, and when she heard we were opening our own place, she called and asked us if we would take her two pigs. Claire was about four at that time, and Popeye about two or three. We still have both of them. They arrived at Ironwood on June 10th, 2001. They were both in good condition. She did not want to keep them since she lived in town and they would scream when they wanted to eat; she was getting a lot of grief from her neighbors. They had not been abused.

SR:      How long has Ironwood been around? Any idea how many animals have been rescued by the sanctuary since its inception?

MS:      Ironwood has been active for about thirteen years. I don’t know for sure, since I have never done a good accounting of it; but from the number of pigs we have adopted and lost it would be some where between 1000 to 1200 pigs that have passed through our gates. Many have come from failed rescues, including the one at which we had volunteered. We bought her place in foreclosure in 2003 and left all the pigs in place. We had brought about seventy-five or more of them to Ironwood already, and we picked up another 105 from her when we purchased her place.

SR:      Please share one or two stories with us about pig rescues that stand out in your mind, after so many years’ experience in this line of work. Any personal favorites?

MS:      It is hard to say. There are so many. A few years ago, we got a call from a woman in Peoria, Arizona. She said she had an injured pig and wanted to know how to help her. As my husband began to talk with the pig owner, we found out that she had about forty pigs—and the males and females were all together, breeding without any restrictions!

For a period of time, she would not answer any of our calls. My husband was more or less horrified when he found out how many pigs she had and how they were being kept upon that first phone call.  I suppose she felt we would try to take them or turn her in to animal control—which someone else eventually did, but not us. She finally called us a couple of months later, told us her address and invited us to visit. She was now being charged with sixty-two counts of animal cruelty, and decided we could take all of her pigs.

Dexter and Jeannie

Dexter and Jeannie, rootin’ around.

It was a huge undertaking. There were twenty females, most of whom were pregnant; eleven boars; and couple of babies, one of whom died while we were there and another of whom died on the way home. After lytalyzing (this is a hormonal drug that acts to abort a pregnant animal, similar to RU 486 in humans) most of the females and having three litters from sows too pregnant to lytalyze, we ended up with a total of forty-five pigs. We now have a field named after the pigs from that rescue. It was an awful example of how one careless person can cause tremendous suffering.

One other time, we got a call from a woman who had answered an ad on Craigslist to buy a head board for her bed. When she went to look at it, she was horrified to see this poor pig in a carrier with no blanket (it was winter), surrounded by urine and feces. After she called us, we contacted the people to tell them we would take their pig. At first, they said no; but later, they called to say we could take her.

Her condition was shocking. When I saw her, without thinking, I muttered “Oh, my God.” She was so thin, she could not even get up; and she was cold from lying in the wet carrier. We took her home and named her Lola. We fed her several times a day (small meals), kept her warm and, in time, placed her with companion pigs near her age. She was only with us for a little over a year; but she was loved and well cared for during all that time, and at least her last time here was kind and peaceful. We had to euthanize her when she could no longer stand and her breathing had become very labored.

SR:      Those are both truly horrific stories; but I’m glad to hear they’ve had happy endings, all thanks to you, your husband and your team.

How does Ironwood currently go about funding? Are you mostly donation-based? Do you have any investors?

MS:      We are funded by donations. Our newsletter is our major source of funding, which goes hand-in-hand with our sponsor program (we feature the program in each edition of our newsletter). That is where the vast majority of our funding comes from; we also receive a couple of small grants. We have no investors; but we have gotten a few bequests, which have been helpful.

SR:      How does Ironwood currently go about staffing? Are you largely volunteer-based? Are there any qualities you feel are vitally important in a sanctuary volunteer or staff member?

MS:      Staffing is one of our most difficult problems. We are not run by volunteers. We have a few volunteers that come in once a week; but we could not run this place for even one day without our staff. We do have some volunteers who write Thank You notes and complete other office work for us, which is greatly appreciated. We run ads on Craigslist and in the paper. We have posted ads on our website and in Best Friends magazine; but most of those ads have not been successful.

There are qualities we would very much like our staff to have; but for the most part it is not possible. Most (though not all) of the staff are local people who need a job— not animal people. It is a hard job. We are remote, it is very hot here for many months of the year, the pay is not good, and the roads are very hard on one’s car; so staffing is not easy by any measure.

SR:      I’m so sorry to hear that. I hope PALS can be of value to you, both in terms of providing occasional volunteers and with respect to promoting your sanctuary so as to attract more applicants.

How do you find animals to rescue? Where do they come from?

MS:      People call us and e-mail us from all over Arizona— sometimes from California and New Mexico. We even got a message from Puerto Rico recently. When people want to give up their pig/pigs, they go online and look for a pig rescue— and we are the one that comes up in Arizona. They come from all over Arizona, but mostly from the Phoenix area. The most common reasons are moving, divorce, the person becoming pregnant, the pig becoming aggressive or destructive, strays, animal control or shelters. We have also taken in large numbers of pigs from other failed rescues here in Arizona, like the ones I mentioned earlier.

So many are now being released because people bought these poor pigs after being told lies that they were “tea cup” pigs and would only reach thirty to forty pounds. Many of these people know nothing about pigs or their needs, and very soon after buying them they try to dump them. Very sad indeed.

Ganesha and Govinda--speaking of spirit pigs...

Ganesha and Govinda–speaking of spirit pigs…

SR:      It is. It’s discouraging to think not only that people are being lied to about the pigs, but also that anyone who doesn’t know an animal’s needs to begin with would deign to purchase or adopt one. What is the alternative, for people who want to dump these poor animals, if they don’t call a sanctuary like yours? Where do some of these unwanted pigs end up?

MS:      Most unwanted potbelly pigs end up at auction, where they are sold for about fifty cents a pound to be slaughtered and rendered. Most animal control facilities do not take them; and when they do, some send them to the auction anyway when they are not adopted. Arizona shelters will often call us because pigs they have are not being adopted, so the only out is euthanasia.

SR:      What are some ways in which people who either don’t have time or live too far away to volunteer regularly at Ironwood can contribute to your mission?

MS:      People who live too far from the sanctuary to volunteer can contribute in many ways. First and foremost is by making a donation. Our medical bills and medicines are very expensive.  Water, since much of it must be hauled from far away in the summer months, amounts to about $70.00 a day—including the cost of the water, fuel and labor.  Grain and hay to feed 580 pigs, utility bills, insurance bills, supplies and so many more costs must be covered on a daily basis.  Employment is also a big part of our budget.  Ben and I take no salary and never have; but we alone could not run this place and care for this many animals for one day without our employees. They can also send products mentioned on our wish lists, which we publish regularly in our newsletter, accessible via our website: http://www.ironwoodpigsanctuary.org.

People help in many other ways, however. They have a garage sale and donate the proceeds, for instance; they host a vegan bake sale on Earth Day; organize the annual Peaks for Pigs event and have a raffle and dinner at the end; create artwork and sell it on E-bay, giving us the profits; donate piggy items to be sold at our open house; write Thank You notes; pick up produce and come once a week to deliver it to be fed to the pigs; and sew small blankets together to make the larger size we need for surgery. So you see, the possibilities are many to help raise money for our pigs, raise awareness of our sanctuary and engage the community in pig-related activism.

SR:      Is there anything else you’d like to share with readers about your experience as a full-time rescuer of pigs?

MS:      Yes. I would like to add that these animals have become fad pets— exotic animals that really don’t belong in a home.  They are affectionate, smart, wonderful animals; but they are not easy to manage.  They bulldoze backyards, destroy household items, and often become aggressive beginning at about age 1 to 3 years old. They are driven to become the head of the herd, which is natural for them amongst their own but is not well-received in the human household.  Of the hundreds of pigs we have picked up over the years, very few have come from a good home for a pig.  Not that many of the people did not care for their pig; they just didn’t understand what a pig needs.  One of the most important needs for any pig, for instance, is a companion pig—and most people only want one pig.

Most locations are not zoned to allow them, since they are considered livestock in most places; and there are very few vets who will treat them.  Therefore, it is my opinion that these animals should not be bred for any reason.  Many people will wildly disagree with this statement, because there are many who really do love their companion pig. However, having been in this business for fifteen years, thirteen of which were spent running my own place, there are many more who don’t love them.  Many people get a piglet simply because it is cute, knowing little or nothing about raising a pig and what his or her needs are; soon enough, we get a call to take their pig.  Or their pig ends up in their backyard, or a tiny pen in the backyard, where this poor, intelligent, curious animal lives a life of boredom and loneliness.

So I would conclude by saying that if you do choose to give one of these animals a home—because the need is great—do your homework and be sure you understand what they need and who they are before taking in a pig as a companion.

SR:      That’s very valuable information, and a sad truth that exists for many animals, I think. People sometimes adopt animals as if picking out a new pair of shoes—what’s cute, what’s in season…But animals aren’t objects or toys. And just look at what happens to humans who don’t get enough regular contact with other humans! They go crazy!

One last question: What is your spirit animal?

MS:      I think I would have to say the BAT. We did many years of volunteer work related to bats before we had the sanctuary, and I have a great love of them.

Bats are people, too.

Bats are people, too.

 

SARYTA_Blog Signature

Hi, PALS!

The newsletter is finished and has been sent out!  But it’s not too late to get yours…Email us at palsdxe@gmail.com to get in on the action 🙂

Speaking of which, here’s a link to Direct Action Everywhere’s most recent action video. I’m actually giving a speak-out in Spanish in this one, towards the end of the video; it starts around 2:20 (2 min 20 seconds).

That’s all for now,

SARYTA_Blog Signature

 

 

Hi, PALS!

The fourth edition of Pals Quarterly: Animal Liberation News and Fun Stuff will be released at the end of this month.  Please email palsdxe@gmail.com or use the Contact Us tab at the top of this blog to request that we add you to our mailing list!  Please also note that when using Gmail, your Mailchimp newsletter will appear under your Promotions tab.  You may also email us to request up to five hard copies of the newsletter mailed to your home, free of charge.

Feel free to also order, either electronically or up to five hard copies, back issues of our newsletter.

Past Issues:

NL1 Cover

Highlights from Issue 1: 

Interview with Sasha Boojor of the 269 Movement

Book Burrow: History of the Reign of Ferdinand and Isabella by William H. Prescott

Vegan Halloween Candy Recommendations 

NL2 Cover

Highlights from Issue 2: 

Vegan Confessional: Foods we miss, and what we use now instead

A Lamb is Born: Poetry and facts about lambs in honor of Christian winter holidays

Flick Pick: Before Sunset

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Highlights from Issue 3: 

Earth Day in an Eggshell: Celebrations, origins, and related groups

Animal-Friendly Spring Cleaning Products

Book Burrow: Enemies: A Love Story by Isaac Bashevis Singer

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Highlights from Issue 4: 

We are still working on this content, with a release date scheduled for July 25th, 2014.  In the meantime, I can tell you that this issue’s “fun stuff” will be LOGIC PROBLEM #2 on this blog–Liberationists’ Conference.  So go ahead and do it already if you don’t want to wait for the newsletter.

Here’s a sneak peak for Summer Snackin’, a section I’ve composed myself:

What’s in Season? (Longer list in newsletter, along with serving recommendations.)

Apples, Figs, Peaches, Raspberries, Tomatillos

To The BBQ…and Beyond!!! (First two sentences below.)

 My favorite thing to BBQ, by far, is a fat Portobello mushroom capGrilled zucchini and corn-on-the-cobb make great side dishes for this non-burger burger.  

The Perfect Side Dish: Vegan Pasta or Potato Salad (Recipe in newsletter.)

Snackwiches (One of three below. Newsletter also includes cold-cut and cold cheese recommendations.)

Chik’n Avocado:

Savory or plain bread

Boca Spicy Chik’n Patty, baked or lightly pan-fried

About half an avocado, lightly salted

A few cherry tomatoes, cut in half

Vegenaise or Nayonaise (Recommended: Pesto Vegenaise)

Optional: greens, Daiya (tapioca-based) mozzarella

Until next time,

SARYTA_Blog Signature

Hi, PALS!

Last week, DxE hosted its first annual convergence, during which reps from various branches in the US and even in Canada came to Oakland for three days of lectures, discussions, and of course, actions.  Unfortunately none of the PALS were able to make it; but y’all were with us in spirit!

In any case, I myself was unable to attend the lectures and discussions, as well as Friday’s actions, due to work and other commitments. Thankfully, I was able to join DxE on Saturday for two back-to-back actions: participation in Empty the Tanks via a satellite demonstration at Six Flags Discovery Kingdom in Vallejo, and our monthly demonstration against Chipotle.  Six Flags Discovery Kingdom has a history ripe with animal abuse, having previously served as both Marine World (in the 60s-early 70s) and Marine World Africa USA (mid 70s-80s) prior to becoming Six Flags. At first this was a site of captive sea animals; when it absorbed the failing Africa USA in the mid-Seventies, it became the prison of exotic land animals as well.  Now, under the banner of Six Flags, rather than liberating these poor creatures the theme park has absorbed them and re-branded itself as Six Flags Discovery Kingdom. The park continually adds “animal attractions” (slaves) every year.  Wikipedia makes the following weak-ass claim in an effort to glorify SFDK’s exploitation:

“Most of the animals on display at Six Flags Discovery Kingdom were not born in the wild, but were raised at zoos and aquariums around the country. The park also cares for recovered or rescued animals that cannot be returned to the wild due to injury. Examples include an Atlantic bottlenose dolphin recovered from the Gulf of Mexico in 2003 and a California sea lion that was shot by a fisherman after it tried to steal his catch.

As liberationists, we cannot be fooled by such rhetoric.  Yes, animals born and raised in captivity unfortunately cannot be released into the wild, for their own safety (though at a young enough age, many can be rehabilitated and gradually re-learn how to survive in the wild). The same is true of injured animals.  However, an amusement park is not the place for these victims. This is what animal sanctuaries and reservations are for– places that closely emulate an animal’s natural environment and allow animals to exist purely as animals (rather than as performers or attractions: keeping odd hours, performing tricks or stunts, surrounded by overstimulated humans all day, etc.).  SFDK was once home to an orca named Shouka, who was later moved to Sea World San Diego; this was, presumably, the impetus for hosting the satellite demonstration against Sea World at SFDK.

Our second demonstration took place at a Chipotle location in San Francisco. The theme of this month’s action was “Violence, Unmasked.” We wore masks with blood on them and stood statuesque in the street and on the sidewalk, holding signs asking, “What is Chipotle hiding?” We then retreated en masse to the sidewalk, where we chanted and some people (myself included, in Spanish) gave speak-outs. Some time after my speak-out, I had a memorable conversation with a slightly inebriated gentleman from the UK. In spite of his inebriation, I could tell he was of considerable intelligence and possessed of intellectual curiosity, as he was quite knowledgeable about meat production laws currently in effect both here in the US and in the UK. One of the many noteworthy elements of our conversation is that it gave me a valuable opportunity to explain the difference between welfarism and liberationism. Here’s a paraphrased summary of how that part of our conversation went:

 ***

I agree with you, you know, I know that the meat legislation here in the US is bullshit, it’s so lax and easy to get around…but in the UK….[Insert facts about humane killing legislation in the UK.]

I understand that, sir, but the fact of the matter is that at the end of the day, those animals are still being slaughtered.

You’re never going to convince me not to eat…FOOD. I mean, I will always eat meat, the way that, you know, lions will always eat gazelles.

[Here I segued a bit into some of the contents of Chapter Two, explaining to this gentleman that while the lion needs the gazelle, we don’t need meat. I omitted, for the moment, any mention of whether it would be ethical to eat meat even if we needed it—which some at DxE argue we still shouldn’t, and about which I am frankly still on the fence. Thankfully I don’t have to decide, because I already know I don’t need meat. Of course, he showed me his canines…and I told him they’re for fruit…and he said Herbivores don’t have canines and I said Yes they do, like horses and he said Horses’ teeth are flat and I said Not all of them, they DO have canines, look it up sometime…Etc.]

Okay, right, well that’s your belief; but since I am going to eat meat anyway, I am very careful about where I get it from. The thing is, you all here, you are drawing a line in the sand—you’re saying, you HAVE to stop eating meat. This is not the way to pull people over to your side. Why are you doing this?

You’re right; we are drawing a line in the sand—and we mean to be. You sound like a welfarist to me. You’re saying that it’s okay in the end to kill an animal as long as it is done a particular way, right? Well, we are a liberationist group, which means that we are fundamentally opposed to killing in general. We believe there’s no right way to kill someone who doesn’t want to die—and NO animal wants to die.

But this isn’t WORKING, I’m telling you! Standing out here shouting at people, it’s not going to bring anyone to your side. It will pin people against you.

I understand that, and I DO worry about that sometimes myself! But it’s not about bringing people over; it’s about starting a dialogue. You’re talking to me right now, aren’t you? And you’re thinking about this. So even if you don’t agree with me, I believe this is working.

We are always very open to feedback, though, and if you have any ideas to share with us about other demonstrations we can do, feel free to reach out to us [Here I gave him a DxE card with our Web address on it.] We are open to trying new things, and if you have a way of getting this message across that you think would be less…aggressive? Or encroaching?…Let us know!

 ***

That last bit gave me a chance to express a little of why DxE does things the way we do, how we measure our success and to convey our willingness to try different methods and openness to critical feedback. Unfortunately I do not think this gentleman is going to stop eating meat; but at least he already has been, and will likely continue to, think about what he’s doing. And if he talks to even just one person about the conversation he had with me, that person will think about it, too. I was both amused and grateful when Assaf, a fellow activist overhearing our conversation, interjected to recite the very same point I had delivered minutes before he entered earshot: Well, you’re talking to her, aren’t you? And you’re thinking! We need to put this on the public agenda (more on that in Chapter Four)—to steer the conversation away from how non-human victims are being housed or fed and towards whether we should victimize non-human animals at all.

This conversation also harkens back to our demonstration in Vallejo, as rhetoric such as that employed by Wikipedia would likely sway many welfarists into thinking that SFDK actually provides a valuable and necessary service to the animals they enslave, whereas liberationists understand that even if the animals at SFDK have “big enough” tanks and “big enough” fields in which to roam, the fact that they do not belong there and would rather be somewhere else is inescapable.  The options aren’t strictly “The Wild or enslavement.” Animals that cannot survive in the wild nevertheless have a right to freedom and family: two fundamental features of a life of liberty that animals at ANY amusement park are decidedly denied. These animals are still treated as commodities and not as fellow sentient beings–regardless of how “nice” their human captors are to them.

If you vacationed at the most fabulous hotel you could possibly imagine and someone told you, “Sorry, you can’t ever leave; and your room is only big enough for one, so you can’t have any company. We can give you a bigger room, but you cannot choose your roommates and you’ll be stuck with them forever. If you get pregnant by one of your roommates, we’re going to steal your baby away as soon as we decide he/she’s big enough. Oh yeah, and other people are going to look through your window and bang on it and shout things at you for about a dozen hours every day,” would you want to stay there? Now pretend this isn’t the most fabulous hotel you’ve ever imagined but a rather dinky one that’s only a fraction of the size of your former home (remember, most but NOT ALL animals at SFDK were born in captivity!). Now pretend you have a family Back Home and they tell you, at either hotel, “Sorry, you’re never going to see them again.  They can’t come here and you can’t go there. Ever.” This is the point welfarists fail to realize or adequately appreciate. Comfort level is irrelevant; freedom and family, both of which come to all life forms via liberation, are what truly count.  You cannot truly choose to do whatever you wish (i.e. go on a super-long walk, go on a hunt, search for a new mate) when you are not liberated; and while you can physically produce a family (IF your captors set you up with a mate–who you may or may not actually like), your existence among family is never guaranteed. Someone else can come along and move you or any of your relatives whenever he/she wants to, and you have no say in the matter.  Your children, your brothers, your sisters, your parents–all up for grabs. Always.

A final note: This conversation was a perfect exercise in flexibility. He did just walk right up to the banner, standing in front of it; and due to his prior activities he swayed back and forth slightly, getting closer and farther and closer to my face as he spoke. At one point, Wayne attempted to steer him away from me, bless his heart. He expressed concern that others were concerned about their personal space—in other words, he sensed or anticipated discomfort on my part and tried to alleviate or prevent it.

I came over to the corner where Wayne had led our gentleman, as I could tell my new associate was offended; he had been mid-sentence when approached, which Wayne likely hadn’t heard over the chanting. I appreciate his efforts to ensure the comfort and safety of his fellow activists; but in my view, answering questions from the audience is paramount to both spreading the message and maintaining a positive public image. It is far more vital to me than whether a banner is in full view or not, whether or not I’m able to participate in this or that chant—and yes, even whether or not I personally am 100% comfortable! I will always, gladly, walk away from whatever I’m doing to answer someone’s question, or series of questions; or even simply to hear someone’s critiques. For in order to make any effort to criticize or interrogate a person, the critic or questioner must be thinking. And with any luck, at some point later that day or the next, that person will speak to someone else about it.

It doesn’t do to be dismissive or overly attached to “the task at hand.” The ultimate task at hand is reaching people, and there is no one set of rules that works for everyone. Sure, there are rules that work most of the time—fundamental social-change strategies such as those shared in Randy Shaw’s The Activist’s Handbook and similar titles; still, the importance of flexibility in activism—and in life—cannot be overstated.

 

SARYTA_Blog Signature

Hi, PALS!

Direct Action Everywhere founder and organizer Wayne Hsiung was generous enough to provide me with the following interview for a book I am writing, and has granted me permission to share the interview on this blog.  His answers were deeply personal, highly intelligent and truly inspiring.  Thanks, Wayne!

 

SR: How did you first become involved in animal activism? Were you influenced by a specific person or event in your life?

 

WH: This is a really hard question that, when I’m honest with myself, I don’t know the answer to. It was so long ago. There were so many factors; and memory is just the imagination running in reverse.

 

The story I tell myself focuses on three really important factors. The first is a childhood of solitude and sadness. I grew up in an entirely white community as the son of Chinese immigrants who knew little of this country’s ways. So, for example, it would never occur to a Chinese parent that having your child dress well, or be involved in sports, might be important to developing their social life. So I always stuck out like a sore thumb and was punished severely for it. I still remember, for example, a particularly painful experience when another student asked me if I had gotten my shirt from Goodwill. There were so many instances of physical bullying that I went through, but the emotional pain of being an outsider—rejected and even loathed by all those around me—far outweighed the physical cruelty. I still often tell the story of how through much of middle and high school, I would hide in the bathrooms in the morning, tucked away in a stall and hoping that no one would have to use it, in fear of scrutiny by my classmates. It’s a fear that fades, but never really goes away.

 

Having gone through a childhood like that gives one a finely tuned sense of empathy for those in need. That leads me to the second factor: my love of animals. With essentially no human friends, I pretended that the animals who lived around my house were my companions. I would stare for hours at pictures of animals in the encyclopedia, and I successfully begged my parents to buy me a subscription of Zoobooks, a magazine that featured a new family of animals every month. As they are for so many other people in this world, animals were my non-judgmental companions—my friends in a world that often seemed cold and harsh. I would talk to them in the forest, sign to them in the zoo, and above all, beg and beg and BEG my parents to adopt them when a rescue situation came to my eyes. It took many years of such begging before my mom and dad gave in and allowed us to adopt; but once I had my first non-human animal companion, Vivian, the transition to a lifetime of animal liberation work was more or less cemented.

 

The third factor, though, was reading Animal Liberation. Despite loving animals and volunteering extensively at a local dog shelter, it had never occurred to me that there could be broader or systemic problems with the way we treat animals until I read Singer’s book. His words shook me: “This book is about the tyranny of human over non-human animals. This tyranny has caused, and today is still causing, an amount of pain and suffering that can only be compared with that which resulted from centuries of tyranny by white humans over black humans.” The words seemed almost impossible when I first read them. Even as an animal lover, I had never conceived of animal liberation as a political or even moral movement; but Singer’s words shocked me into thinking harder.

 

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

 

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

 

The primary way to change those institutions, in turn, is to create political or moral campaigns. It was shocking to me to read this literature; but the main basis for this thesis is a University of Chicago economist (and another Nobel Prize winner) named Robert Fogel, who showed that human slavery was won via a moral, rather than an economic, cascade. It was the mass of dissenters speaking out against slavery—and not changing economics, or the availability of alternatives—that ultimately drove antebellum chattel slavery to its deathbed.

 

A couple of other factors were also very important to me. The first is that I wanted to be a part of an animal rights platform that expertly used modern technology and the latest research. One example: behavioral economics and psychology has shown that impersonal approaches to outreach—leaflets, billboards, advertisements—pale in comparison to the effect of one’s peers. For instance, top-down anti-smoking campaigns have been working for decades to limited ultimate effect; but if a single friend of yours stops smoking, it causally increases the odds that you will stop smoking by over 20%! I saw this not only as an academic but also in my work as an adviser to corporations. Very few of the best marketers focus on getting eyeballs, nowadays. What they want is not attention, but engagement. Creating a passionate user base that will “advertise” for you in its local communities is so much more powerful than trying to influence people directly; yet there seemed to be no animal rights platforms focused on this model. As both an academic and a professional, this struck me as a travesty.

 

The third and most important factor, however, was that I saw the Animal Liberation Movement losing its soul to cynicism and corporate manipulation, and wanted to be part of building a better and stronger network for animals. We have enough obstacles as is, and don’t need to create more obstacles with a self-defeating attitude; yet even the largest and most popular animal liberation and advocacy groups practically encourage people to be evasive and depressed. This is contrary to the best evidence on effective advocacy, and I wanted to be part of spreading a stronger and more beautiful message.

  

SR: Tell me about your first action. Were there any surprises in store for you? Any good lessons to be learned from the experience in developing future actions?

 

WH: Our first action was a guerrilla poem in a grocery store. We had a bunch of heavy social media users in the group, who were attuned to what works in the digital world. So we decided we needed to do something creative to cut through the “stimulation haze”—the massive oversupply of information, emails, pictures, and messages that all of us are overwhelmed with in an iPhone world. We also wanted to send a strong message that made clear that so many places that we just walk by are, in fact, places of horrific violence. So we settled on delivering a poem that I wrote, line by line, with ordinary customers suddenly transforming into protesters.

 

We did the action two times in a grocery store. We were all incredibly nervous. I think I was the only one in the group who had ever executed a disruption of any sort—and even I had never done something in a space as “ordinary” as a grocery store; but it had been an aspiration of mine—to speak where it was most unwelcome—after years of discussion with my good friend Lauren about the evolution of the Animal Liberation Movement. We felt it was so important to take our message directly to places where ordinary people were most deceived, duped, and socialized into seeing dead animals as just things. We felt it was important that we push our movement’s comfort zone, while tapping into the broad public sentiment that animals ought not be harmed.

 

The initial actions were a mixed bag and mostly valuable as learning experiences. We learned two important lessons. First, most of our nerves and fears were unfounded. One of the beautiful things about the DxE approach is that it focuses on public spaces. The disruption we are causing is moral and social rather than legal. Having had multiple friends serve long jail sentences, I felt this was incredibly important to our approach. We wanted to create the same tension, controversy, and energy of past successful animal liberation campaigns, such as SHAC, without the legal risks. Our early prediction has proven true: we have now performed well over fifty similar disruptions and have not had any legal issues (knock on wood).

 

The second thing we quickly learned is that we should not shy away from conflict. At one of the two grocery stores we first protested in, there was virtually no reaction from the store. The only incident was an employee saying over the intercom a few times, “We need help in the meat department!” No one even bothered to respond to the intercom request. By contrast, at the other grocery store, where a manager aggressively confronted our camera person and speaker, the footage was compelling human drama. Our hearts would beat when we watched the video—and we watched it again and again. This reinforced to me one of the central lessons from activist campaigns over the past few hundred years, a lesson that Rhodes Scholar and pioneering feminist Naomi Wolf has driven home repeatedly: you can’t be effective unless you “disrupt business as usual.” 

 

Combining an appreciation for the legal and social constraints we face and the overwhelming need to “disrupt business as usual” to create powerful and effective campaign stories is a delicate and difficult balance that we have continued to push for in the year since our first action. Based on the response we’ve received from both the public and press (almost universally positive), we have done a pretty spectacular job at maintaining that balance—in no small part because of the character, diversity, and intelligence of the remarkable activists who comprise the DxE network.

 

SR: Aside from the message, would you say there is a common denominator to all DxE actions, or are they each a bit different? Have you developed a “style” of sorts, or is it always a bit touch-and-go?

 

WH: You’ve noted one common denominator: the strong message. The other big common denominators are that we focus on creating activists (rather than just vegans) and that we focus on social media (rather than just the handful of people at a protest). Stylistically, we are known for being young, confident, and energetic; but the truth is that there are different styles all over the world. Our allies in Moscow, at the Alliance for Animals, use extremely aggressive tactics, including chaining themselves to the Russian Parliament. In contrast, we have just as important contributors in places such as Augusta, Georgia, where one of our organizers (Breeda Mahoney) focuses almost entirely on leafleting and outreach. So our primary style is…that we have no style. Rather, we seek to empower activists anywhere and everywhere under the same strong message, regardless of what style they find most appropriate.

 

SR: How do you measure the success of your actions? How can you be sure any of this is “working?”

 

WH: We look at three different measures: impacts on the target, impacts on the public, and impacts on the movement. Unlike most campaigns, we reverse the typical priority; impacts on the movement are key. Again, if you look at the model of social change that works most effectively, pursuant to work by groundbreaking scholars such as Christakis, North, and Fogel, you have to create strong social movements to effect real and permanent change. Without that social base for your movement to take root—think of it as fertile ground for social change—any changes to a particular target or even the public at large will quickly dissipate. As so many politicians have noted, you have to first shore up your base—and, at this point, we as animal liberationists hardly even have a base!

 

That is not to say, however, that we don’t look at other measures of success. We regularly assess our progress with respect to all three categories of impact. We have made incredible progress in all three in less than a year’s time. With respect to the target, two of our most important objectives were to provoke a significant public response by the company we are currently targeting (Chipotle) and to slow down its truly astonishing growth. We’ve now achieved both objectives, as the company was forced to shut down its largest San Francisco store last month due to concerns over bad press and social media during the MacWorld Expo, and its growth has slowed to almost zero—including a $1 billion loss in shareholder value on a single day!

 

With respect to the public, we set out to achieve press “pings” in five cities, trigger national press attention, and achieve at least 500 visitors to our campaign web site on a daily basis. These were all no small feats for a grassroots platform with a budget of $0; yet, again, we’ve achieved all of these objectives, with a glowing piece in Salon about our campaign against “humane slaughter” being the most prominent success to date.

 

Finally (and as I said, most importantly), we look to our effect on the movement. Here is where we’ve had the most astonishing success. We set out a goal of gaining participation in twenty cities. We’ve now had thirty-seven. We hoped for five countries. We’re now up to thirteen. We hoped to trigger a dialogue on our movement about humane slaughter and corporate manipulation of our movement. Here, we’ve had perhaps the most success. The best example of this is an amazing interaction I had with the famous author Jeffery Masson. I met him prior to a book talk, and he started raving about this campaign against Chipotle and humane slaughter that he had read about. I blushed and informed him that the campaign at issue…was ours! When the biggest and most influential voices in the movement are talking about your campaign, when the press and public have shown nothing but support, and when you’re scaring the bejesus out of one of the largest multinational corporations in the world, you KNOW that you’re achieving incredible progress.

 

SR: Tell me a bit about how you managed to grow this from an Oakland-based community of activists to the international coalition it is today. How did the other branches spring up? How did you initially connect with activists in Copenhagen and other locations abroad?

 

WH: A lot of the initial connections were built up through personal connections of mine; but the truth is that many of the activists I have been closest to have, for one reason or another, not been part of this project and campaign. The idea—a strong, smart, and inspirational network of animal liberationists—had a life of its own.

 

While every city has its own story, the commonality is a great personal touch. It really does make a difference if you can build personal trust with your colleagues, whether in the workforce or as activists. What we have tried to do is create a team of organizers who have high moral character, great communication skills, and insane levels of charisma. The person I’d like to especially recognize in this regard is Priya Sawhney. Once in a while you meet someone who has incredible charisma and a powerful personality, but is also exceedingly generous and supportive of others. That is a rare blend of attributes that has been vital to our ability to get new cities on board.

 

But, again, I don’t think you can chalk up our success to any one organizer. The truth is that the idea’s time had come. We have needed a stronger international grassroots movement since the end of SHAC, and DxE’s growth is just a reflection of the latent potential in this movement that was already there. We want to be united. We want to feel inspired. We want to be strong.

 

SR: Over 5,000 participated in last year’s (2013) Earthlings march, and I’m aware that you played a fundamental role in organizing that event. How did you pull off such a massive undertaking? What advice might you offer to other activists worldwide who would like to host similar demonstrations?

 

WH: Lots and lots of sleepless nights. Fantastic content and design, by people such as Kelly Witwicki Faddegon and Heather Rhine; and, again, a beautiful idea.

 

My network definitely played a large role in seeding the event, initially. As an activist for fifteen years, you meet people here and there who believe in you, and who can help you get an event like that rolling; but the truth is that I spent almost no time networking in my first thirteen or so years as an activist. I come from a Chinese school of thought, where you focus almost all of the attention on the community instead of the individual. So I never tried to make a name for myself. Heck, I refused to even put my name to the articles that I wrote, out of shyness and fear of scrutiny. I’ve learned that, in American culture, sometimes you just have to put yourself out there. That’s what I did in the weeks leading up to the Earthlings March, and I think it was an important part of the March’s success, as I was lucky enough to earn the confidence of our organizers around the world.

Wayne at Earthlings March, 2013

Wayne Hsiung at last year’s Earthlings March

 

It would be wrong to not also recognize the efforts of the main Israeli organizer, Asaf Harduf, and an important supporter, Sasha Boojor. Asaf not only came up with the original idea and organized the world’s largest event in Tel Aviv, but also was relentlessly supportive of every city that joined in the campaign. Sasha, in turn, was humble enough to undermine his own group’s event, which was to occur literally a day before the Earthlings March, in favor of supporting a coalition campaign. He went out of his way to encourage the folks in his international network—the largest in the world—to support our event. I still don’t know exactly why; but it made a huge difference in getting the international event off the ground.

 

 

So if I were to try to distill my advice into a couple bullet points, it would be: work hard; ask for help; and be positive. We often have trouble doing any one of those well; but if we want big international events to go well, we really need all three.

 

SR: What is your spirit animal?

 

WH: The Iron Giant. He’s not a biological animal; but he might as well be. In his determined commitment to nonviolence, he is a role model for us all.

The Iron Giant

The Iron Giant demonstrates kindness and warmth to those who are weaker than himself.