For nearly 40 years, animal rights activists have held signs outside of businesses, state capitals, and courthouses, in pickets to demand greater respect and rights for individuals of other species, those we commonly refer to as animals. Nevermind that the species, homo sapiens sapiens is an animal species itself, the term “animal” takes on a purely pejorative connotation on the tongues of many humans. Such a view of them has manifested in a history centuries-long, of cruelty, disrespect and unimaginable neglect and abuse. What few laws are passed, in the U.S., are limited in scope, poorly enforced if at all, and tend to come with caveats so large as to make many laws meaningless.
Attempts have been made to address the grievances of other animals, by human proxy, through legislative letters and lobbying, appealing to the courts or local officials, inviting the media to cover issues or events, writing articles in newspapers and magazines, and educational outreach by leafletting and demonstrations. While reforms have slowly been made, they often end up benefitting the abusers more than the animal victims. More Americans today are aware of animal rights as an issue, but the actual progress toward bettering the lives of individual animals as a whole has been little to none in most cases.
One of the changes in the manner of activism seen in the new vanguard of the movement is the greater emphasis on direct action. Certainly, sit-ins, banner drops and ALF (Animal Liberation Front)-style actions are all forms of direct action which took place in the past. Today, though, we see more lock-downs and daylight raids than in the past, and more creative above-ground actions. For instances, the Cube of Truth events organized by Anonymous Voice for the Voiceless consist of activists standing in a square formation, holding laptops on which factory farm footage loops, while wearing Guy Faulks masks (V For Vendetta). Outside the Cube, other activists talk to passers-by about farmed animal abuse and veganism. The Save Movement holds vigils outside of slaughterhouses and films the plight of animals arriving to be murdered for their flesh. DxE (Direct Action Everywhere) addresses various forms of animal abuse, from factory farms to animal laboratories, with direct intervention into the day-to-day operations of such businesses. Many of their actions have been “open rescues,” a tactic first used in Australia, during which farmed animals are rescued during daylight hours by activists without masks.
For instance, video footage was recently released of a group of over 600 DxE activists visiting Reichardt Duck Farm, an industrial duck processing complex which sells duck flesh to Whole Foods among other retailers. On June 3, 2019, the slaughterhouse in Petaluma, California, was entered and, as a group of activists stayed outside to observe and film, another group went into the slaughter area and locked-down* on the stopped conveyor belt by which ducks were hung upside down by their feet to have their throats slit. One of the workers decided to turn the conveyor belt on and dragged Thomas Chiang, an activist locked onto the assembly line by his neck, along the line, nearly killing him. He has since been released from the hospital, but was injured. Some of the ducks were successfully rescued and will never again endure the pain and deprivation normal to being considered a commodity.
Another recent example of the direct approach many animal liberation advocates are adopting took place in January, 2019. Meat The Victims activists from various parts of Texas converged on a broiler chicken farm, to document the abuse inherent in a “cage-free” industrial poultry operation.**
The chickens on this farm were not egg-layers, but baby chickens only a few days old, intended to be fattened for the “broiler” market. Shed after shed after shed each contained hundreds of the baby chicks, packed in with one another in sweltering heat (open furnaces kept the center of the sheds hot). The air they had to breathe was dusty, hot, and full of the stench of ammonia from excrement. Very few of the drip spouts from aging water pipes yielded any moisture at all; dead baby birds lay everywhere. The conditions in which factory-farmed animals live and die are a hell on earth.
One more case of modern animal activism will complete this overview. On June 8, 2019, another convergence of activists from all over Texas arrived in Sulphur Springs, TX for the annual Dairy Festival held there. Sulphur Springs is dairy country; a week-long celebration of all things dairy culminates in a Saturday parade, milking contest, milking demonstrations, and hot air balloons. The activists protested peacefully at three different events, offering free vegan ice cream to passers-by. At one site, a Handmaid’s Tale enactment brought attention to the rape of mother cows.***
Many in the public aren’t aware that for a cow to lactate milk, she must be made pregnant. As soon as her baby is born, the calf is taken away so that none of the milk is “wasted” on feeding the calf, but is instead collected for human use alone. Male calves are slaughtered for veal after brief confinement in a veal crate, while female calves grow up to join the herd or are sold.
One last thing to note here: The goal of achieving rights for other animals has changed over time, along with some of the tactics used to advocate for their freedom from human oppression. The concept of rights is legalistic, born of a sense of what should be in the world, such as, ‘humans have a right to life, liberty,’ etc.. Rights are bestowed by humans, usually to other humans, and made effective by laws. The acknowledgment that other animals deserve the same basic considerations and entitlements that we accord to ourselves cannot reasonably be denied, is grounded in logical argument, and is to be desired (by animal advocates, anyway). But it is not enough. Individuals of other animal species require liberation from human oppression, as autonomous beings, aside from whether or not we wish to grant them a right to be who they are, safe from human meddling. so, while the term “rights” is still widely used, there is growing agreement that the liberation of all individuals from tyranny – for both humans and those who are not – is the goal.
*Locking down is a civil disobedience direct action tactic involving the use of a locking mechanism or chain to secure one’s own body to a tool of destruction or harm for the purpose of stopping the use of that tool or equipment. While a gamble, in most cases, the operator of that equipment will stop short of causing harm or death to another human being.
**After film evidence was released in the 1980’s and ’90’s of the cramped, inhumane caging typical on egg farms, with the cruelty of packed confinement shocking the public, some egg farms have since been advertising their eggs as “cage-free,” to imply that the chickens are free to move around as happy, healthy chickens. In fact, while the cages are gone, the chickens are just as packed onto the floors of chicken sheds, in large concentrated numbers, breathing in dung and dust. While effective as propaganda, the modern chicken shed is no more humane than before.
***Dairy cows are impregnated, using what the industry calls a “rape rack” to insert sperm into the cow with no contact ever with a bull. Cows are impregnated violently and against their will, similar to the “handmaids” in Margaret Atwood’s renowned book.