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Turning Crisis into Opportunity

Turning Crisis into Opportunity

In recent weeks, DxE has been bullied, bludgeoned, and even betrayed. But the Chinese word for crisis shares a common character -- ji or  -- with the Chinese word for opportunity. Following that ancient parallel, here’s how we can transform crisis into opportunity.   

by Wayne Hsiung

Punched in the face at a demonstration in May 2014, but still smiling! 

Nearly one year ago to the day, I was slugged in the face by an angry man at a Chipotle protest in San Francisco.

The man was not initially violent, laughing and yelling “Meat! Meat! Meat!’ as he passed our #ItsNotFoodItsViolence protest. But when one of my co-organizers, Priya, began to film him, he became irate.

“Turn that camera off!” he screamed. Priya ignored him.

The man then proceeded to shout at virtually everyone around him that he wanted the camera off. He yelled at passers-by, who scurried away from him. He yelled at the building security guard, who had until that point been quite hostile toward the protest. He even went inside the Chipotle and yelled at store employees, apparently failing to realize that Chipotle management would have no control over…. protesters.

And so he came back outside and proceeded to scream his head off at Priya. But Priya continued to quietly record the man. And before we knew it, he charged her head first, tackling her and throwing her against the plate glass wall of the Chipotle as he fought to get his hands on her iPhone.

I had been talking to a group of 3 passers-by about Chipotle’s humanewashing when it happened. But out of the corner of my eye, I saw that the incident was about to escalate. And when things went bad, I was immediately ready to rush forward, as one of the individuals at our protest who was designated to nonviolently defend our protesters. I pulled the man off of Priya, and did my best to secure her iPhone, which the man had seized from her hand.

“You can’t do this, friend,” I repeatedly said.

But he was in no mood to listen, so after a brief tussle, he threw the phone at me, shattering it when it hit the ground. As I reached down to pick the phone up, he slugged me in the face. He then ran off down the street.

Astonishingly, the first person to run up to me was the Chipotle security guard.

“You want me to go after the guy?” he asked.

“No, no. It’s all right,” I replied.

For the rest of the protest, the security guard, who had been aggressively harassing us and demanding that we leave, became our defender, patrolling back and forth along the protest line with a watchful eye on any potentially violent passers-by. “Is everyone ok?” he asked.

Our adversary became our protector.

Priya, who was unscathed from the incident other than a shattered phone, went right back to protesting. As for me, other than a fat lip and a little blood, I was good to go. I walked back to the three people I had been talking to before the incident and said, “Where were we again?” Mouths agape, they listened even more intently than they had before.

While crisis poses three serious challenges to our network, it also offers 3 important opportunities.

There have recently been far more serious incidents of violence, misconduct, and even betrayal in the DxE network. Activists have been attacked, deceived, and harassed by employees or the police (and, more distressingly, by one another). At moments like these, it’s important to step back and ask, as we asked after the Chipotle incident last May, “How do we handle a crisis?” While crisis poses three serious challenges to our network, it also offers 3 important opportunities.  Let’s break things down.

Challenge #1: Keeping activists safe.

Whether violence at a protest, or misconduct by a member of the community, crisis threatens to cause immediate harm. The first challenge we face, therefore, is to protect those who have been, or will be, victimized. At DxE, we recommend that all chapters have activists trained to be legal observers/representatives, lawyers in place in case something goes wrong, and nonviolence-trained “defenders” in the unlikely event that a protest becomes dangerous. (It's important to point out that, out of hundreds of protests across the world, only a tiny handful, significantly less than 1%, have resulted in violence.) We also have a conflict resolution team, including two members designated to receive misconduct concerns, to immediately intervene in the event a conflict between community members takes a downturn.

The truth is that no matter how good your culture and policies are, crisis will still erupt. When our activists in Southern California were attacked (twice in the past two months), all of them were following standard protocol that we at DxE have been using for over two years without incident. When one of our organizers admitted to a serious breach of trust, even those closest to him were stunned by the confession. In such cases, all we can do is move quickly to ensure that those who are harmed are immediately given support and defense.

Challenge #2: Maintaining confidence in the network.

Crisis also threatens a network’s culture and integrity. As grassroots activists, we rely entirely on the faith that activists hold in the network, and one another, to sustain our commitments. When activists feel unsafe, uncomfortable, or distrustful, we lose our movement’s most important asset: confidence. The key to maintaining this confidence, in turn, is integrity and transparency.

At DxE, we focus on integrity by asking all of our organizers to sign a strong statement of values. These values, along with a clear conflict resolution process, help us ensure that our public faces and voices maintain the honesty, responsibility, empathy, and humility -- the integrity --  that are so key to maintaining confidence within a network.  

We further insist on transparency in all our decisions. Every week, we check in with our community members and ask them for critical feedback at our DxE Meetup. We do the same on an international basis on monthly strategy calls. We open ourselves up to private feedback. And when we become aware of conflict, we do our best to directly and openly address it (while respecting privacy concerns), rather than let it fester in rumor and innuendo.

Challenge #3: Mitigating conflict.

Crisis, because it involves pain and emotional intensity, often leads to conflict even among once close allies. Because we are vulnerable in a moment of crisis, we look for support from our community and friends. And if they do not respond as we would like them to respond, the hurt caused can be both significant and difficult to overcome. Disagreement quickly becomes perceived betrayal.

Did my friends respond swiftly enough? Did they respond strongly enough? Could they have done something to prevent the crisis from happening? These questions naturally go through our heads. And the discord sown by such thoughts can be fatal to a movement.

Jacob Ferguson was an informant who incited his fellow activists... then turned them over to the FBI. 

Worse yet, crisis is a moment of opportunism for those who seek to bring a network or movement down. The classic example is infiltrators. Whether on the payroll of a corporation or the government, a few rumors by a well-positioned activist can send a conflict spiraling out of control. (One of Cointelpro’s specialties in the 1960s was sexual innuendo, e.g. claiming that various activists were gay, which was seen as a mark of shame in that time period.) Others may use crisis to defend or deflect from their own behavior. It’s notable that, in recent controversies involving sexual misconduct, many of the loudest voices condemning other activists have been those who have something to hide, e.g. prior histories of misconduct. (We know this because community members have privately raised concerns about some of the most ostentatious critics.) Finally, even the most well-intentioned activists can sometimes devolve into hatefulness when caught up in a fit of righteous indignation. The New York Times wrote a wonderful piece on this phenomenon just a few days ago, When the Cyber Bully is You.

Some of the greatest activists in history have noted that their movements rose or fell largely on the basis of their ability, not to confront the oppressor, but to productively resolve conflict. (King’s famous Letter from a Birmingham Jail was a response to an attack, not by opponents of civil rights, but allies in the anti-racist struggle!) The beauty of grassroots movements -- their ability to scale up by attracting ordinary people from all walks of life-- becomes their curse when the lack of centralized authority allows conflict to rage throughout the network. Instead of focusing on collective action against systems of oppression, activists devote their time and energy to trying to destroy one another, whether due to real or perceived slights. A large nonprofit, of course, can simply fire discontented employees and force everyone else to get back to work. Grassroots movements have no such power.

So how do we prevent in-fighting from destroying us? There are at least three important mechanisms we use at DxE. First, we focus on creating a culture of nonviolent communication and restorative (rather than retributive) justice. Instead of assigning blame and “calling out,” we focus on restoring harm and “calling in.” No matter how terrible the transgression, we always offer to sit down and talk. Second, we ask our organizers to use private dispute resolution, pursuant to pre-agreed polices, as a first step in managing any conflict. When they deviate from this, we ask them to look to the values they’ve agreed to, and ask them whether they’ve lived up to those values. Third and finally, we always emphasize our shared purpose. The truth is that some conflict cannot be resolved. Whenever you bring together a large group of people, many will have tactical, strategic, or even ethical disagreements that endure despite our best efforts. Learning to live with conflict, by emphasizing shared purpose and opportunities for collaboration despite conflict, is key to effective organizing in the grassroots. (Sometimes, this means stepping apart from one another and working in parallel, rather than as part of the same network or team.)

Rising up to these three challenges -- keeping activists safe, maintaining confidence, and mitigating conflict -- is absolutely crucial to a movement’s vitality. But while the work we do to overcome these challenges can often seem frustrating, depressing, or pointless, it’s important to also see that crisis can also provide opportunities that, in the long term, benefit a movement’s strength and growth.  

Opportunity #1: Crisis teaches us.

One of the most famous mantras of the startup world is that you have to fail to succeed. The idea is quite simple -- that the only way to avoid mistakes is to avoid doing anything at all. The key, then, is whether you learn from a mistake. Indeed, some of the greatest success stories in history, e.g. Steve Jobs and Apple Computer (which was brought to its knees in the 1990s by Microsoft before being revitalized in the 2000s with the iPod and iPhone) were grounded in terrible mistakes.

Crisis presents a powerful teaching moment for us, both individually and collectively. Our attention is paid to an issue. We can look back through time and ask if we could have done anything better. And we have the energy and willpower to change our practices and policies. The physical attacks on activists, for example, have induced us at DxE to make knowing your rights and security culture a more prominent and accessible part of our activist resource database. We’ve made concerted efforts to develop a network of volunteer lawyers across the country. Sexual harassment in the network, in turn, has caused us to put together a clear and visible process for handling sexual misconduct. We’re also offering training and resources for both women and men in handling such difficult situations. Perhaps most importantly, crisis offers a moment for all of us, individually and as communities, to reflect on our own behavior. In the long term, the learning from these moments will help us build a stronger movement.

Opportunity #2: Crisis tests us.

When I was a child, I played basketball on a five foot hoop across the street. While scoring was incredibly easy, it also provided no challenge -- and no proof that I was actually any good as a basketball player. (It turns out I wasn’t any good. I never made the basketball team.)

In times of difficulty, it’s important to remember this. If we don’t face challenges, then we won’t have any opportunity to prove that we can rise to the challenge. This is important not just for the learning function a challenge provides, but because it builds our internal confidence and our external credibility. After recent incidents with violence and police misconduct, for example, my hope is that our activists in Southern California and Tucson feel even more confidence in our ability to swiftly provide support in the event that something goes wrong. Similarly, Priya, who took the lead in handling recent sexual misconduct within the network, has heard countless encouraging stories from women who feel empowered by the fact that DxE took action when we learned of sexual misconduct. While crisis hurts in the short run, then, it also presents an opportunity to test our mettle, and bolster our confidence and credibility, if we can rise to the challenge.  

Remember, if movement building were easy, it would have already been done!

Opportunity #3: Crisis ties us in bonds of solidarity.

Journalist Sebastian Junger, who has reported on war zones across the world, makes a startling observation that individuals who go through horrendous episodes of violence (leading to depression, anxiety and PTSD) often enthusiastically return to the war zone even in the face of debilitating fears. The reason? The shared experience of facing crisis together creates powerful bonds of solidarity. Individuals who have experienced war together feel compelled and even inspired to return, because they care so much for their team that they are prepared to risk their own lives to support their friends.

The attack on DxE activists in Southern California helped us build our confidence, perseverance, and solidarity. 

This is, in fact, one of the most powerful mechanisms of nonviolent direct action. Enduring a difficult situation with fellow activists ties us together in a way that less challenging activism simply does not accomplish. When we collectively speak in difficult social environments, we feel we’ve accomplished something that we would not have been able to do on our own. That empowers us, and our community. And, in a movement that suffers from astonishing rates of burnout, this is a powerful and important effect.

The support shown for Abraham (the gay person of color who was assaulted with homophobic slurs and targeted by the police)  in the wake of the physical violence in Southern California has been absolutely inspiring. We’ve united against a common adversary -- animal abusers -- and offered our moral, physical, and economic support for activists who have been wrongly targeted in a time of crisis. These ties will hold us together as we face even more difficult challenges in the future. And while the road is bumpy -- and some may even drop out on the way there -- taking the difficult road together will ultimately make all of us stronger and more committed to the movement, to the animals, and, yes, to one another.

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The first time I was attacked a protest about a decade ago (by a police officer, no less), I was shaken to the core. I was at a one-person demonstration on a cold Chicago street, outside of a fur store. And when my face was shoved down onto the cement, I could hardly even believe what had just happened. When I sat in an isolated jail cell afterwards, nursing my scratches and wounds, I could hardly hold myself back from breaking down into tears. I was uncertain about what I would be charged with, stunned by the seeming corruption in the police department, and hopeless about the prospect of continuing as an activist in the face of overwhelming odds.

When I was slugged in the face last year at Chipotle, however, things could not have been any more different. Both Priya and I received immense support and comfort, not just from fellow activists at the demonstration but from the entire DxE network. We talked openly within the community about what we could do to prevent such a future occurrence, or at least ensure that those attacked would be prepared in the face of violence. And instead of pointing fingers at one another -- “Why did you incite him?” or “Why didn’t you move to help more quickly?” -- we focused on our shared purpose, even as we discussed what steps each of us could have taken to ensure that such an incident would not repeat itself.

In the long run, getting slugged in the face in May 2014 became one of the most positive experiences of my activist history.

The Chinese word for crisis shares a common character — ji or 机 — with the Chinese word for opportunity.

This is a more general principle. The Chinese word for crisis shares a common character -- ji or -- with the Chinese word for opportunity. And there is truth to this ancient parallel. If we can rise up to the challenges of crisis, and see them as opportunities to teach us, to test us, and to create ties of solidarity, we can transform even the most painful moments into opportunities to learn, grow, and flourish. 

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What A Year It's Been

What A Year It's Been

By Hugo Dominguez

 

Hugo Dominguez (center) at his first demonstration.

Hugo Dominguez (center) at his first demonstration.

“Sh*t, sh*t, sh*t, sh*t! Are we really doing this?” I kept thinking as we headed inside a packed Chipotle restaurant. “I can’t believe we’re really doing this! What the hell, Glenn? I’m not ready for this!”

After weeks of persuading me to get involved with Direct Action Everywhere, I finally decided to join Glenn in a DxE action. As I held my “It’s not food, it’s violence” sign, I was inspired by some really beautiful words Glenn spoke: “Their joy is our joy. Their pain is our pain. And their freedom is our freedom.” It was poetic, and, though we were disrupting people’s meals, I knew those impactful words resonated with a few patrons in the restaurant that Saturday afternoon in February.

My first action ever was a success, and I was proud to have been a part of it. Later that week, Glenn informed me that he would not be able to participate in next month’s action because he would be flying back home for Spring Break and I had to organize it myself. My initial reaction was, “Dude… I’ve only been to one action. How does the responsibility fall to me?” But I liked the idea of organizing a protest and having that kind of responsibility; so I rose to the occasion.

Every single day leading up to the day of our action consisted of looking through hours of DxE footage, inspirational speak-outs by Wayne Hsiung and Priya Sawhney and listening to some of the most uplifting music to energize myself for the task at hand. I wrote a four-minute speech and had it perfectly memorized. I had created the event page, and over a dozen people had RSVPed to the event. Everything was ready, and I was anxious for the big day to come.

The night before the action, I made sure that I got enough sleep. The next day, I took the signs and myself to Millennium Park, where I was greeted by three other activists: Minku, Ernesto and Rene. I was discouraged that, from the many people who RSVPed to the action, only a few had come. Things got worse when we ran through the action plan and I was advised to cut down my speech because it was way too long. I did my best to improvise.

We walked down Michigan Avenue towards Chipotle and I kept trying to remember all of my lines; but they kept getting mixed up. We walked inside and I gave my speak-out. So many “ums” and “uhs” cluttered my speech. Staff and customers yelled at me and tried to push me out of the place. There was a point during my speak-out when I asked myself, “What the hell am I doing? Why am I here? I don’t belong here!” I wrapped it up and quickly headed towards the door.

The next few Chipotle disruptions weren’t any better. I just wanted it all to be over. I ended the day going to Native Foods with my friend Ernesto, but had no appetite at all after those disastrous protests. I practically forced myself to eat.

I was fortunate enough to have Glenn back the following month; he would resume control of the group. I was quickly reminded that he would soon end up leaving us to return home, and I would no longer be able to rely on him. It was at that point that I tried to find a way out. Yes…There was a time I wanted to quit DxE. As a person that was bullied growing up for having an accent, public speaking has always been difficult for me, let alone going into a packed restaurant and delivering a message of love and compassion for animals. Acquiring the ability to speak in public was a difficult obstacle to overcome. It started feeling like when I was in grade school, and I didn’t want to go through that process again.

There was a crucial point when I said I couldn’t quit on so many people. I received the greatest support when two people joined, who are extremely crucial to the group’s success: Araceli and Paul.

The months passed, and, with every action we did, our group became more solid and more effective. We knew that we weren’t going to continue growing if we didn’t network and got involved with other groups in the city; so we attended as many events and protests as possible, winning over some of our biggest critics in a polarizing city like Chicago and ultimately expanding our group substantially.

Within the vegan community people often celebrate veganniversaries: an anniversary for every year one has been vegan. I’ve always regretted not remembering exactly when I became vegan. I would always be filled with envy when people posted their veganniversary online; but not anymore. Though I can’t remember when I went vegan, I can remember when I first became an activist— and nothing has been as influential towards my efforts to help animals as that.

I’m hoping this blog post serves as a booster for any new and future potential organizers that, regardless of how difficult and bleak things may seem on the surface, with perseverance and an entire network of animal liberationists, you have the potential to grow your group as big as you want. Which is one of our organizing principles at DxE: Dream Big.

As I sit here typing this out on a plane to Oakland to visit and work with some of the most amazing activists in the world, I feel extremely grateful for having said yes on that cold February day exactly a year ago. Though I’ve worked really hard for this group, what I’ve gotten in return— the connections, friendships, family and strength to be a powerful voice for the animals— is well worth the effort. All I can think of now is what a year it’s been, and I can’t wait to see what the next couple of years bring as we continue to grow this amazing network further and continue our efforts to push for animal liberation. 

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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.  

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Chipotle: We communicate with pigs via telepathy!

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Chipotle: We communicate with pigs via telepathy!

by Wayne Hsiung

There were a lot of inspiring, powerful, and poignant moments at AR2014. But perhaps the most bizarre -- and the instance that most aptly illustrated the near absurd deceptions put out by Chipotle -- involved an initially hostile customer who transformed, for one afternoon, into an animal rights investigator! 

The man in question was struck by the evocative display of human beings wrapped in foil, with a looming butcher standing over them, and stopped to gawk. After he began to jeer -- "Go Chipotle! I love meat! -- I stopped to talk to him. 

"What are your thoughts on the protest, sir?" I asked. 

"Well, it's a protest against meat, right?" he replied. 

This Chipotle customer and heckler transformed into an animal rights supporter -- and fact-checker -- in a span of 5 minutes due to our protest. 

This Chipotle customer and heckler transformed into an animal rights supporter -- and fact-checker -- in a span of 5 minutes due to our protest. 

"It's a protest against violence."

The man stopped smiling and looked at me quizzically. I went on to ask the man about his interactions with animals. He told me that he had a dog that he loved. I asked him how he would feel if someone hurt his dog. He responded that he wouldn't let it happen. 

"We're doing the same thing -- we don't want to let these terrible things happen to gentle animals -- and we're asking for your support." 

We continued talking for a few minutes, and by the end of the conversation, I had him sold.

"I haven't gotten to that enlightened point that you have already, but I hope to achieve that one day," he explained. 

"It's not about enlightenment. It's about showing that you don't support these violent corporations and traditions." 

He told me he'd go into the store and ask about the animals. And he did. 

What he brought out caused my jaw to drop to the floor. He came back out, almost frantically, laughing and waving a card in the air. 

"You've gotta see this. They say they're telepathic!" he said. 

For a moment, I thought the man was mocking us again, or had gone insane. But when I looked at the card, I saw what he was laughing and waving about. Chipotle, in response to his concerned question, had handed the man a free burrito coupon. On the back, the card described the wonderful conditions its animals are raised in -- standard fare. But that was not all. The card also claimed that the company was able to communicate telepathically with pigs, a breakthrough in trans-species communication that would probably win the company a Nobel Prize! 

The bizarre Chipotle card. 

What did the pigs have to say, in the moments before they were butchered and torn to pieces to serve the company's rapidly-growing empire of violence? Not that they were scared. Not that they were in terrible pain. Not even that they would really really rather not die. No, no, what the company wants you to believe is that, in their moment of telepathic connection with pigs, the pigs told them they were happy to be raised so humanely. 

You know a company has gone off the rails when it starts talking about telepathy with its victims. But I suppose when your entire business model is founded on a fraud, there's not much else you can do.

A house of cards is bound to collapse, though. And as my new friend told me as he walked away, shaking his head. "This company is completely ridiculous. And somebody has to point that out." 

We will, sir. We will. 

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How Two Nobel Prize Winners (and one Iron Giant) Shaped DxE

PALS (Phoenix Animal Liberation Squad) interviews Wayne Hsiung on the Origins of DxE, Creative Disruption, and How Two Nobel Prize Winners (and one Iron Giant) Shaped the DxE Model

by DxE

PALS organizer Saryta Rodriguez is writing a book about the animal rights movement. But she recently published a sneak preview of an interview about DxE.

In the interview, Saryta explores the origins of DxE, the importance of "disrupting business as usual", and the influence of two Nobel Laureates in establishing DxE's model of activism. 

Here's an excerpt: 

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.

Check out the full interview here

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What a Little Hen's Bloody, Deformed Leg Can Teach Us About "Humane" Farming

A band embedded into a hen’s deformed and crippled leg is just one brutal example of so-called “humane” farming. (Left: normal leg of a chicken rescued from a battery cage facility. Right: swollen and deformed leg of a hen rescued from a "humane" and pasture raised facility.) 

A band embedded into a hen’s deformed and crippled leg is just one brutal example of so-called “humane” farming. (Left: normal leg of a chicken rescued from a battery cage facility. Right: swollen and deformed leg of a hen rescued from a "humane" and pasture raised facility.) 

What a Little Hen's Deformed Leg Can Teach Us About "Humane" Farming

by Wayne Hsiung

 

Chipotle and the “meat” industry want the world to believe that there’s a kind way to raise and kill animals.

But the reality is that the animals Chipotle kills are often raised and tormented in exactly the same conditions as every other fast food chain. The company admits in its own regulatory filings that it sources from “conventional” farms (search for “conventional” here) -- code speak for factory farms -- and that its brand is vulnerable to damage by activist groups. And even its so-called “responsibly raised” nonconventional suppliers offer little more than a window dressing difference from a factory farm. For example, Bob Comis, a pig farmer who has been haunted by the screams of the animals he raised and killed, discussed recently how a “deeply bedded pen” facility is an industrial, concrete shed with disgusting conditions and brutal crowding -- an industry average of 4 x 2.75 feet of living space for a 250 pound animal that is 4 feet long. (Imagine a 250 pound man living his entire life in a bathtub.) The only difference from a CAFO is that the farmer throws in some straw…. and, of course, charges a huge price premium.

Even on "humane" farms, pigs are intensively confined in as little as 5 square feet of space. 

Even on "humane" farms, pigs are intensively confined in as little as 5 square feet of space. 

But there are a small number of farms that genuinely raise their animals in pastures. Small scale and exorbitantly expensive, these farms are, in fact, growing in number, as niche foodie products of all types have exploded in the past 10 years. Does pasture raised farming present a reasonable alternative to conventional factory farms?  

Resoundingly, no.

First, we have no land. One illustrative example: giving a reasonable living standard to a single pig requires more than 2000 square feet of land (the size of a large-ish apartment), according to pig farmer Comis. This would require devoting almost 200 times more space than even a so-called “humane”, "free-range" farm, where the pigs (on average) receive 10.7 square feet of space. That's not feasible in a world where 30% of all land mass is already devoted to animal agriculture. Truly humane farming, in other words, is a physical impossibility.

Second, even pasture raised suppliers are horrifically cruel. Exploitation of animals, it turns out, necessarily requires… exploitation.

DxE activists saw one vivid example of this at a chicken rescue over this past weekend. Two hundred fifty gentle souls, depleted by three years of egg production, were about to be rewarded with a violent death, for the years of toil on behalf of a cruel master. Taken from a truly small scale farm that raised its chickens on pastures, you might think that they would be in good health.

A hen with a bloody, deformed, and crippled leg due to a band embedded into her by a callous master. 

But you would be wrong. Afflicted with all manner of ailments, from vent blockages to respiratory infections to parasites, the chickens were far from happy and healthy. But perhaps most disturbingly, dozens of the hens were limping severely or completely crippled because, it turns out, their master never bothered to remove the leg bands from their young feet. As the chickens grew, the bands constricted their legs, causing bloody and grotesque deformities, swelling, and permanently crippling many of them. We spent hours grooming, cleaning, and carefully clipping the leg band off of these poor souls, hours that a farmer at ANY scale simply would not have. Because caring for an animal properly, it turns out, requires…. well, time and care. Time and care that a for-profit business of any size simply does not have.

At this point it seems almost unnecessary to offer a third reason that “humane” animal farming is simply an impossibility: the inevitability of killing. We have noted previously that almost all of the animals killed in animal agriculture are killed as children -- babies, in some cases. A “broiler chicken” that might have a natural lifespan of 8 years, for example, is typically killed at 6 or so weeks. Pigs that can live for over a decade are murdered at 6 months, when their still juvenile bodies are young and supple. Even dairy cows, whom farmers have an incentive to keep alive longer as milk producers, are typically slaughtered at 5 years of age, a mere one fourth of their natural lifespan.

Each of these animals did not want to die. They were welcomed into the universe of stimulation and experience, meaning and fulfillment, that we all call life. And by killing them, we take that from them -- we take everything from them -- for the sake of a juicy piece of flesh.

And when an individual animal -- scared and alone -- sees that her life is about to be taken, as Bob Comis notes, she completely loses it. Scrambling desperately to free herself from her tormentors, wailing in terror at her impending doom, and even engaging in self harm in a desperate attempt to escape her fate… this (and not Chipotle’s Orwellian happy meat fantasy) is the reality of humane farming.

And this is why DxE’s campaign to bust the humane myth is so absolutely vital. We cannot allow violent corporations to take everything from the weakest and most vulnerable among us… and pretend they are doing the oppressed a kindness. 

With 37 cities, increasing public attention, and a shift even in the largest animal non-profits (PETA and COK, for example, have recently taken a stand against "humane" farming), our story is finally gaining the traction that the animals desperately need. But we need your help in keeping our momentum going. So join us, and activists all over the world, in speaking clearly and loudly

Pastured raised or battery caged. Free range or factory farmed. Small scale or industrial-sized. It matters not a bit. Because it's not Food. It's Violence. 

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

Gone but not Forgotten

by Ronnie Rose

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

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

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

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

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

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Chipotle to Employee: Victim of Domestic Violence? You're Fired!

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Chipotle to Employee: Victim of Domestic Violence? You're Fired!

by Wayne Hsiung

The New York Daily News wrote yesterday about a woman who was fired from her job at Chipotle... for being assaulted by an abusive boyfriend. The company, of course, regales the public with tales of workplace integrity and enthusiasm. It describes every one of its employees, other than its lowest crew member, as a "manager." And CEO Steve Ells talks in a recent Netflix documentary about how he cares for every employee that his corporation -- a 1600+ location monstrosity -- hires. 

But when it came to Natasha Velez, a line worker who chopped vegetables and made guacamole, Chipotle's conception of care apparently did not run very far. And this is par for the course. Chipotle talks a big game -- emphasizing its sustainability (while refusing to make any sort of accountability report), killing millions of animals (while talking about how much it loves them), and promising to never exploit its workers (while paying them a pittance... and then punishing them for being hospitalized by abusive boyfriends). 

We will be writing more about this in the weeks to come. But Chipotle's lies, in short, extend far beyond animal cruelty, as horrific as the animal cruelty is. In more ways than one, Chipotle represents everything that's problematic about corporate America -- a focus on appearing to do good, rather than actually doing good. And by confronting Chipotle, we help to build a vision of the world where we are no longer dependent on, duped by, and even desperate for corporate illusions. We help to build a truly better world. 

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RGB Vegan Interviews Ronnie Rose on DxE's Origins, the Dangers of Corporate "Values Integration," and Advice for New Vegans

Ronnie (on the right) at a recent It's not Food, It's Violence demonstration. 

Ronnie (on the right) at a recent It's not Food, It's Violence demonstration. 

Ronnie Rose on RGB Vegan

by DxE

Ronnie Rose, co-founding organizer of DxE, is not a name you'll necessarily know. But he did the remarkable video work that launched DxE into the world, with a splash, in early 2013. And it was conversations with Ronnie that shaped, and created the momentum for, the formation of our grassroots network. 

Since that time, Ronnie has been, in many ways, the theoretical voice of DxE. You might have read his powerful piece, The Soul of the Animal Rights Movement is Up for Grabs, or heard about DxE's graphic images study, which we commissioned in part because of a relationship Ronnie struck up with the brilliant political scientist Tim Pachirat. But in more ways than one, Ronnie has continued to be a key contributor to not just DxE's growth but, perhaps even more important, its anti-speciesist integrity. Ronnie has helped us maintain our strong commitment to animal liberation -- in our words, in our practices, and (especially) in our tactics and strategy. 

Ronnie recently had the opportunity to give a wonderful talk about the It's not Food, It's Violence campaign with our Phoenix chapter, PALS. And afterwards, one of the attendees, Joshua at RGB Vegan, was so impressed that he interviewed him for his podcast. In the interview, you'll hear about: 

- DxE's founding story
- the sinister marketing strategy -- "values integration" -- used by Chipotle and other humane washers to twist popular values in favor of eating animals
- some simple advice for new vegans. 

Check it out, and make sure you subscribe to RGB Vegan on iTunes

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(Video) Unexpected Connections: UCSF Patient Blasts Chipotle's Humane Washing

Sharing Petra's story with a UCSF patient led to a surprising turn of events. 

Sharing Petra's story with a UCSF patient led to a surprising turn of events. 

Unexpected Connections: UCSF Patient Blasts Chipotle's Humane Washing

by Wayne Hsiung

Wherever the animal rights movement has had success, industry's response has been to say that they care about animals. This is a common theme across campaigns and even nations. And we saw it recently in our Not Ours to Use campaign against the University of California, when UCSF -- in response to public criticism and protest -- announced that it had received gold standard accreditation for its "commitment to the highest ethical standards in animal care." (Just a few weeks before, a press representative came out to our protest with similar points to make. She was befuddled when we responded that animal testing was intrinsically unethical.) If you went by UCSF's rhetoric alone, you'd think that their animal research facilities were a luxurious hotel and spa! 

This is why we at DxE focus so much on maintaining the integrity of our message. Powerful institutions and norms will constantly attempt to co-opt our message and lead to backsliding of even significant reforms. Targeting the abusers that most ostentatiously display their moral credentials is a crucial part of this strategy. If even the so-called "humane" animal exploiters are engaged in fundamentally wrongful acts, then we can make a case for truly systemic shifts, shifts that are real and robust. So, while it may be true that UCSF is better than some of its peers, as its "gold standard" suggests, that should not confuse the public from the nonetheless brutal reality of what happens in UCSF's labs: mutilation, poisoning, enslavement, and, ultimately, killing. 

The strands between our campaigns should be obvious to anyone who follows DxE. UCSF and Chipotle are engaged in exactly the same practice: whitewashing violence as "humane." And in doing so, they are representative of the dominant (and until now, successful) response by animal-abusing industries. But it is even more gratifying when a random member of the public sees the same connections. I was surprised to hear the reaction, therefore, when I asked a UCSF patient (to protect his anonymity, we'll call him "Bob") what he thought of the contradictions between the university's statements about caring for animals, on the one hand, and the "gruesome" and "chilling" conditions that the animals are actually forced to endure, on the other.

Bob has a serious respiratory issue and has to come to the hospital on a regular basis. I am always hesitant to push people in such interactions, as they have understandable loyalty to the institution that is saving their life. However, upon hearing the story of Petra, a poor rhesus monkey who was left to languish for two years with a bloody hole in her head, Bob quickly joined us in criticizing the university. 

Even more astonishing, however, was what came next. When asked about whether he had heard about UCSF's shameful whitewashing, Bob responded. "Not about UCSF. But we heard about Chipotle."

At first, I assumed that he had heard about Chipotle through one of our protesters. But that was not the case. Apparently, Bob (who is naturally an affable person who strikes up conversations with people on the street) had just heard about Chipotle across the street at the UCSF cafe. A woman who was an organic (vegetable) farmer, and a former Chipotle employee, had just educated him about Chipotle's horrible humane washing. And he was as scandalized by what he had heard as we are. 

Two lessons to draw from this: 

1. Our campaign is starting to have an impact. When random passersby on the street can identify the problem with a corporation, it shows that your message is cutting through the haze. 

2. Even ordinary people -- especially ordinary people, in fact -- can see the problems with Chipotle's bloody lies.

Our movement has been so acclimated to the self-serving, consumerist model of activism that we don't always see the pernicious influence of corporate marketing. When a brand has given you something, when you love their products, it's hard even for activists to hear someone say something bad about the company. But we can't allow ourselves to be deceived by corporate marketing tricks. Chipotle has no real interest in helping animals, or even serving vegan food. They have one and only one interest: making profit. And we have to be as astute and skeptical as Bob if we want to effect real and permanent change, not just on Chipotle, but on their ilk (whether in the food industry or otherwise) all over the world. 

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