The following is the text of the speech I delivered at Grand Park in downtown Los Angles to a group of animal activists who had just marched in the Los Angeles Earthlings march which I helped organize:
I want to thank you all for coming out here to take part in this event, the idea for which originated in Tel Aviv, Israel and has captured the imagination and fired up the spirits of thousands of activists around the world. I want to thank you for caring enough about our fellow Earthlings, the animals, to march in unity, to raise your voices in solidarity, to come together as part of a worldwide movement to open eyes and open hearts to the injustice done every day to the powerless and exploited. I want to thank you for taking action – on this the 50th anniversary of the historic March on Washington to demand justice for all human beings and the famous speech by Martin Luther King, Jr., a man who was not content in merely dreaming but believed in taking action, non-violent, direct action, to realize that dream.
Another man who believes strongly in taking action –non-violent, direct action –is Wayne Hsiung. Wayne is a young technology lawyer up in the San Francisco Bay area and a powerhouse organizer who has been instrumental in organizing Earthlings marches in many cities throughout the U.S. In a post on the Direct Action Everywhere “Liberationist” blog, Wayne has this to say about activists in the anti-slavery and civil rights movements:
Every act of resistance inspired others to do the same. Every word of dissent made it easier for subsequent dissenters to raise their own voices.
He goes on to write:
We cannot end the murder of our fellow Earthlings, if we do not speak out forcefully against those whose hands and teeth are stained with their blood. And we cannot create a world for animal liberation, if we do not live out a vision of animal liberation (with all the tension and confrontation that entails) in our own lives. If we are not willing — indeed, inspired — to protest.
When Wayne wants your help on some project he doesn’t cajole, he doesn’t coerce, he simply states how your help could be beneficial in a way that just assumes that you, of course, are going to help. He pulls you in. So when Wayne wrote to me last month, asking if I was aware of the Earthlings march and that it would be great to have a march in L.A. and how this would fit right in with my Vegan Street Theater project – I felt the pull. I agreed to help out as long as I had plenty of support with the organizational heavy lifting.
Though animal activism is a huge part of my life and I love doing vegan outreach, I am often more comfortable working in solitude on writing projects such as The Veg Monologues and Vegan the Musical. Except when my writing muscles are paralyzed by a bad case of writer’s block! At the end of July, I had a three week vacation from my teaching job which promised, I thought, plenty of time to make significant headway on those projects. At the end of the second week, with the days a blur and almost nothing written, I found it impossible to take action.
On August 10th, in a state of inertia, I managed to rouse myself to journey by metro rail out to the Animal Advocacy Museum in Pasadena for a presentation by Lauren Gazzola, a lead organizer in the Stop Huntingdon Cruelty Campaign here in the U.S. and a SHAC7 co-defendant. A little background may be needed for those of you who may be unaware. Huntingdon Life Sciences, founded in 1951 in Cambridgeshire, England and with labs in the U.K. and the U.S., is a huge Contract Research organization – which means they will test for anyone willing to pay, any product, any noxious or toxic substance often in lethal doses, on innocent, captive animals. As independent journalist Will Potter points out in his excellent book, Green is the New Red: An Insider’s Account of a Social Movement Under Siege, SHAC pressured corporations to sever ties with the lab after multiple investigations exposed horrible animal welfare violations. Lauren and her co-defendants worked tirelessly and successfully on the campaign but were eventually convicted of animal enterprise terrorism charges – even though they never committed a violent or even criminal act.
Lauren’s talk was entitled “The Animal Rights Movement Today” but she admitted to her audience that she had more questions than answers. She did say that rather than spending our energy trying to find the best ways to create more vegans, we should concentrate on the best ways to create more animal rights activists. As someone whose primary form of activism has been vegan outreach leafleting this really shook me out of my torpor. I balked at first at her comment but the more I thought about it, the more it made sense. Getting people to go Vegan is a given. How though do we take those vegans to the next step? How do we frame the issue in such a way that they are hungry not only for vegan food but for animal liberation as well? How do we get them to see that animal rights is the biggest social justice issue of our time?
I think the answer is a revolutionary shift in how we conceive of ourselves in relationship to non-human animals. It is essential, I believe, that we open our eyes to the fact that all sentient beings on this planet are, indeed, Earthlings. Earthlings are not commodities, they are not things, they should not be slaves. Earthlings are living beings, subjects-of-a life, each one of us with an interest in staying alive, in avoiding pain, in experiencing pleasure, joy, companionship, comfort. We must all coexist on this planet. Just as it is imperative that human beings must stop battling and killing each other, we humans must stop waging war on our fellow Earthlings, the animals. We must stop causing them needless pain. We must stop seeing them as means to our own ends. We must stop global warming, environmental destruction, poisoning the water, polluting the air, raping the land, not just because of the negative consequences for humans but because we are defiling the home of our fellow Earthlings.
Make no mistake: this is, indeed revolutionary stuff, especially in these days when taking action to save the earth, to liberate the animals is viewed by those in power as terrorism. But it is absolutely necessary, now more than ever, to open our eyes to what is happening and to take action. As Will Potter writes at the end of Green Is The New Red:
In history books, injustice is always so easily recognizable, social struggles are buffed to a Hollywood sheen so that the characters are either pure good or pure evil and the necessary response is equally straightforward. But at the time? At the time it’s not always so easy to see.
Do we take off the blindfolds and see the injustice that is done to our fellow Earthlings or do we remain blind to their suffering? Do we take action, do we protest, do we cause a disturbance, do we openly resist so that others will be inspired to do the same? Do we truly live out our vision of animal and human liberation? Or do we just hope for the best as we go to the next vegan potluck? Now’s the time. The time for action. Non-violent, direct action. Action designed to open eyes. Action designed to draw others to the cause, not push them away. Action designed to open cages. Now is the time to act – for the sake of all the Earthlings. Thank you all, once again, for taking action!