Opinion: Is a better ‘brand’ of violence what animals deserve?

Even ‘humanely” butchering animals is killing them. Pointing this out through dramatic protests is a crucial step toward creating a city free of violence toward animals.

The Local Butcher Shop owners chose to hang a sign against the killing of animals in their window in exchange for Direct Action Everywhere reducing their weekly demonstrations. Photo: Natalie Orenstein

Berkeley’s The Local Butcher Shop posted a startling sign over the weekend in opposition to – of all things – butchering animals.

“Attention: Animals’ Lives are their right. Killing them in violent and unjust, no matter how it’s done.”

“Don’t buy the humane lie!”  “Animals do not want to die!”  Our impassioned call-and-response chants have been a mainstay outside The Local Butcher Shop over the past few months.  Activists hold signs, deliver speeches, and lie on the ground half-naked, covered in blood.

Our presence led to dialogue, negotiation, and ultimately, an understanding: in exchange for stopping the protests, TLBS would display the first-of-its-kind (to our knowledge) proclamation.

As an organizer with the Berkeley-based grassroots animal rights network Direct Action Everywhere, I’m committed to creating a world in which every animal is happy, safe and free in one human generation.  And to making that happen in Berkeley a whole lot sooner.

In my usual protest role as outreach volunteer, I discuss these actions with passersby.  Typical responses range from confusion, to support, to anger.  “Why not protest McDonald’s – they’re way worse!”  The reactions are understandable, reflective of feelings I held myself in years past. Berkeley’s inquisitive citizens give me cause for hope while highlighting the necessity of increased educational efforts.

While protesting the worst-of-the-worst, so the speak, would likely garner more widespread support, it frames a discussion of animal welfare, not animal rights.  We end up asking ourselves questions we’d never dare breach in regard to dogs and cats, who are loved as family members.  We never hesitate in our criticism of dogfighting, for example, to consider the conditions in which these animals are raised.  But with pigs or chickens, the basic acknowledgment that hurting animals is wrong is often forsaken in favor of seeking the right way to do the wrong thing.

The truth is, almost nobody is OK with what is happening to animals.  An average person is disgusted at the sight of footage inside farms and slaughterhouses.  Yet that same person supports that very violence – thoroughly normalized and sanitized by the speciesist culture that surrounds us all.

And that’s where the animal rights community in Berkeley is becoming a real game-changer.  We flip the script, creating the right kind of social norms – not just around vegetarianism or veganism, but activism – and support each other in becoming the best agents for social change that we can be.

As part of our long-term plan for a constitutional amendment for animal rights, we draw on the historical examples of successful social justice movements which used key cities to springboard legislative progress and inspire folks everywhere else.  Frontiers such San Francisco for gay rights and Zucotti Park for Occupy Wall Street have proven invaluable.

This is just the latest groundbreaking victory in our ongoing effort to fundamentally transform Berkeley – our goal no less than creating a city free of violence toward animals (i.e. a vegan city) by 2025.

  • July 2016: The first community center for animal rights in the US – Berkeley Animal Rights Center – opens it doors at 2425 Channing Way.
  • September 2016: Berkeley City Council passes the first US resolution condemning the infamous Yulin Dog Meat Festival in Yulin, China.
  • April 2017: Berkeley City Council votes to ban the sale of fur in Berkeley, just the second US city to do so.
  • And now, a first-of-its-kind disclosure at a place of violence – publicly acknowledging the violence and injustice inherent in hurting animals.

It’s time to make Berkeley an example of the best we can be. In the city at the forefront of the Free Speech Movement, disability rights, and a whole host of other social causes, it’s clear that when Berkeley leads, a nation follows. Nobody is perfect, and we are all raised to support things that we later come to regret. It’s time for residents of Berkeley to face what society does to animals, from butcher shops to fur farms to experimental labs at UC Berkeley, and to have a conversation about how to right these wrongs.

Matt Johnson is a Berkeley organizer and investigator with the grassroots animal rights network Direct Action Everywhere.