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For some reason, I just cannot imagine this ever happening in the US. Police in the UK are offering animal rights protesters an out-of-court settlement of £40,000 (about US$73,500) after they were prevented from joining a protest against livestock exports.
The group of London-based campaigners, who represented several animal rights groups, accused Kent police of using oppressive tactics after their bus was stopped as it entered Dover in July 2006 en route to a demonstration against the shipping of sheep and cattle to the Continent.
(Some readers may recall Jill Phipps, who was killed by a transport truck in Coventry as she protested live export in 1995.)
The protesters, including a disabled boy and several elderly people, claimed they were threatened with arrest after leaving the bus to plead their case with police. They were photographed before being escorted back to London by two police cars and two motorcycles.
Now lawyers for Kent police have offered each of the 32 protesters £1,250 (about US$2,300) in compensation following a claim brought against the force alleging that the group was unlawfully denied the right to protest.
The animal rights proceedings are the latest in a catalogue of legal complaints about the policing of demonstrations, including the May Day protests in central London and the decision to prosecute Maya Evans, a vegan cook who was arrested in 2005 for reading out a list of Britain’s dead from the Iraq war underneath the Cenotaph.
One of the animal rights campaigners, Adrian Appley, 65, from Bromley in Kent, who contributes financially to the work of the Animal Liberation Front, said: “The way in which we were treated was disgraceful. The police pulled us over by claiming that coach was not roadworthy but it rapidly became clear that they did not want to let us reach the protest.
“At first we were told that we could demonstrate for half an hour. But 10 minutes later we were all told to get back on the coach and anyone refusing to do so would be arrested. The police started filming everyone on board the coach and when one of our group tried to get off he was forcibly prevented from doing so.
“We were then escorted all the way back up the motorway to London and told that we could not turn off the motorway at any point for water or toilet breaks on one of the hottest days of the year. It was a ridiculous situation – most of us were middle-aged or elderly and we had all come to exercise our democratic right to stage a peaceful protest.”
The founder of Ireland’s Animal Rights Action Network (ARAN), John Carmody works on campaigns as varied as the Canadian seal slaughter, blood sports, greyhound racing, live export, vivisection, circus suffering and fur farming. The group also works with local welfare organizations to find permanent homes for rescued animals. Though he has an unending passion about activism, John describes himself as an average “Joe Soap,” born and bred in Limerick city. He slowed down long enough to talk about his approach to animal activism.
What inspired you to become an animal activist, John?
Seeing the front page of The Irish Daily Mirror newspaper, with pictures of hundreds of baby seals killed in Canada, their heads smashed in and their lovely bodies skinned ― I felt that I needed to do something, so I formed Animal Rights Action Network, which is now Ireland’s largest national grassroots animal rights group without doubt.
When did you form ARAN?
I think it was 1999 … around that time; it’s about 10 years now, I think.
How many people help you with ARAN? How many members do you have?
We have about 25 volunteers who do all sorts of different things, so I get to oversee all this stuff and give them projects to work on, but it’s only a drop in the ocean to the huge amount of cruelty out there. But even one person does make a difference!
Animal Rights Action Network membership is growing. We have about 3,500 on our mailing list, but we also have another big mailing list for the UK and the USA, where much of our support also comes from.
What role does veganism play in being an activist?
I think as a campaigner for animal rights we must try and level ourselves when we are advocating for animals to the average member of the public and put ourselves in their shoes and try to relate to them so that they can better understand us plus so that they feel as if we are not out of the ordinary ― but vegan is very important as it shows you are practicing what you preach, as they say!
What do you think are the most effective strategies for advocating for animals?
Being polite, professional and understanding!
Can you tell me about any successful campaigns you’re especially proud of?
I think we are successful at many things, especially generating positive press coverage for our campaigns ― whatever we touch we get press; educating people on the street, in college, in schools and in the marketplace; staging eye-catching events and getting people active for animals!
Congratulations on getting Brown Thomas to give up fur. How did you accomplish that?
It was a campaign Animal Rights Action Network and other Irish animal rights groups took part in. For ARAN’s part, we organized really exciting demos outside and also inside the store. We have people “die” in coffins outside of their flagship store in Dublin. We also had nude activists outside their store in Galway and we had activists wearing real full-length donated fur coats covered in blood in their store in Cork. We also organized regular demos, press campaigns, public education and consumer pressure, which also works. We also took over their flagship store last year and blockaded the main entrance showing pictures of the Canadian seal hunt. Anyone who buys or wears real fur can share the blame, that’s what I say!
You mentioned ARAN getting a lot of press. How do you do that?
I think the days of telling the story exactly how it is are long gone. The media these days want something in the way of sound bites with catchy headings and a tempting description of what is happening and why. For instance, protesting a fur store. Explain to the media about those large posters activists will be holding of a skinned fox with that tag line “Fur: No Skin off Your Back” ― tell the press what other members will be doing, like handing out leaflets to that curious passerby, et cetera. Always keep the press release really sharp, and put it in a way the press will want to come out and cover the event. Why? Because we need to keep them curious! Remember, at the end of the day, the people in the press are only human, so even they will be interested to see what’s going on!
What keeps you busy outside of activism?
I know this might sound strange, but advocating for animal rights is my life. When I am not working, I am advocating either online or on the streets helping to make Animal Rights Action Network the best voice for animals we can be!
Is there nothing you do to relax?
Let me see, I suppose I like to do some light reading and I love walking and hanging out with friends.
What do you do to keep from burning out?
I can’t sleep at night knowing cruelty is existing right now. I won’t ever lie down until this suffering stops. I am in this right up until my last breath on this planet.
For more about ARAN, please visit http://www.aran.ie/
Armed animal rights activists taking hostages?
That’s what the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and law enforcement officials throughout the nation seem to be afraid of. Police recently engaged in a training drill that pitted SWAT and other police officers against gun-toting anti-vivisectionist “terrorists” who took a hostage at the University of California, Berkeley (UCB).
Other tactical scenarios in so-called “Urban Shield,” which is funded through a regional Homeland Security program, have included terrorists hijacking a plane and assaults on military installations. In other words, real-world scenarios that have happened before and are likely to occur again.
I’m all for preparation, but animal activists using firearms and taking hostages seems so out of the realm of reality that one can only consider this posturing an act of intimidation. Choosing UCB as the venue for this drill also sends a message to the animal rights movement. UCB, known as one of the most progressive campuses in the world, is frequently the site of non-violent animal and environmental activism. Moreover, animal researchers from nearby University of California, Santa Cruz, have been targets of protest, including a firebombing in August that may or may not have been the work of animal activists. (Some animal advocates have suggested that the UC Santa Cruz attack may have been carried out not by an activist, but someone trying to ensure the passage of legislation against animal activism, since the proposed bill, AB 2296, was foundering until the firebombing. It certainly wouldn’t be the first time animal rights opponents used such dirty tricks.)
As Will Potter observes, “[The UCB drill] was a choice, a carefully crafted and vetted decision by this multi-government-agency program…. Terrorism scenarios like this send a clear message that animal rights activists are to be feared. It instills that fear in law enforcement. And it instills that fear in the general public. It helps legitimize the sweeping government attacks on the animal rights and environmental movements, known as the Green Scare, by mainstreaming unreasonable fears.”
Combine one of the most effective models of animal activism ― restaurant outreach ― with the ubiquity of mock meats such as veggie hot dogs, throw in a stadium full of hungry baseball fans, and you’ve got one of the most successful campaigns going.
Prior to 2000, there was not a single Major League Baseball park in the U.S. selling veggie dogs. Today, there are 15 and counting, thanks to Johanna McCloy, who has been introducing meat-free hot dogs and other vegetarian fare in MLB stadiums for eight years with her California-based organization Soy Happy.
Hot dogs once gave new meaning to “mock meat” as one of the most ridiculed meat analogs, perhaps owing to the hot dog’s place in popular culture ― and the debatable taste of early veggie versions. Flavor and texture have improved, however, and now sports fans can enjoy the quintessential concession food without the cruelty and cholesterol.
“We’ve been instrumental in opening the door to veggie dogs and other vegetarian fare in
ballparks, one, two, three or four at a time, every year since we began,” says Johanna (pronounced “yo-hawna”), who was working as an actress when she started Soy Happy ― she says her claim to fame is guest starring on Star Trek: The Next Generation as Ensign Calloway (“I had the rare pleasure of being one of only two characters in seven seasons to make out with Worf”).
Johanna sets up introductions between concession managers and potential food suppliers and suggests which menu items would work for each particular park. “Then I connect the dots to initiate sample deliveries,” she explains. Johanna says baseball fans are critical to Soy Happy’s success. “Without their feedback, ballparks would never know what their customers want,” she says, adding that the same is true for any food establishment, so consumers must tell businesses if they want mock meats.
“Soy Happy’s particular approach may also have something to do with it, as we put a particular focus on the happy and encourage consumers to come from a place of positivity and appreciation ― offering options with a smile and thanking concession managers for their consideration.”
Johanna also credits an increase in soy-meat sales, a focus on healthier school menus, and the nation’s expanding waistline as instrumental in making faux meats more readily accepted among the sports crowd.
“Now ballparks are also offering vegetarian chili, veggie burgers and much, much more!”
For more details, visit http://www.soyhappy.org.
Shannon Keith is a Los Angeles-based attorney and filmmaker, perhaps now best known for her powerful 2006 documentary Behind the Mask, which introduced audiences around the world to the activism of the Animal Liberation Front. In 2004, she started a non-profit group called Animal Rescue, Media & Education (ARME). ARME rescues homeless animals and focuses on stopping the problem at its roots through educational initiatives, including making documentaries about animals and animal activists.
In court, Shannon has represented such animal activists as Kevin Jonas, SHAC and Sea Shepherd Conservation Society. She is now working on her second documentary. Although I knew of Shannon and her work on behalf of animals and activists, I was able to learn from her firsthand at the Let Live conference in Portland last June. Shannon is a dedicated animal activist with a valuable perspective on the movement.
Shannon, what news can you share about your next film?
Skin Trade is going to be slightly different than Behind the Mask in the sense that it will be geared toward a greater spectrum of people. Skin Trade will have all new experts, new footage, activists and celebrities talking about the fur industry. The message of the film, which is anti-fur, will really hit home because of the emergence of fur in the fashion industry in the last couple of seasons. Even though the film is anti-fur I am going to show both sides of the fur issue — something that I think will add credibility and strength that will be undeniable to the average “Joe” on the streets watching an animal rights film.
It sounds compelling. When will the public be able to see it?
Oh, it’s not done yet. We expect it to be completed by January 2009.
Your activism seems to have two main prongs: your work as an attorney defending animals and activists, and your work as a film producer of documentaries. How do these two influence each other?
As far as being an animal rights attorney, the documentaries help explain to the general public and even individuals in the movement what it is I do, and who I defend. With regards to Behind the Mask, it really seemed to clear the air not only on who or what the ALF is about, but why I defend direct action activists. The media and government unjustly call them “terrorists,” and as their defense lawyer I get labeled one as well. A lot of people would ask why I defend such “violent domestic terrorists,” but after watching the movie the subject seems to be much clearer to them. With Skin Trade, I hope to have the same result but more so with my other clients, the animals. I want to portray the cruel realities of fur but target it to the general public. Hopefully, it will be clear why it is that I chose a career defending animals.
Now that Behind the Mask has been out for a couple of years, what has the impact been?
The impact has been tremendous. I cannot even begin to explain the extensive ground it covered. Behind the Mask really hit home to the people already in the animal rights community and sparked almost this euphoric passion in them. The progress we make for the animals is slow and sometimes we lose some activists and the film really seemed to rekindle that fire we all share. The impact the movie had on the average citizen, not into animal rights, was equally as great. I get emails all the time about how it changed people’s lives and helped them become vegetarian, adopt a cruelty lifestyle, go vegan, stop purchasing animal-tested products or how wrong they were about the ALF. It’s amazing!
Behind the Mask argues that peaceful activist tactics like writing letters don’t work — that direct action is really what brings change in social justice movements. Do you think there are any above-ground strategies activists can do to effectively advocate for animals?
Yes, I do. But I believe they have never worked alone; meaning, when we have seen change happen through protest, it has been because there were more radical factions working in conjunction with above-ground activists, whether known or unknown. In fact, I believe it is imperative that for the underground actions to be effective there are above-ground campaigns in place at the time. I still believe in traditional protest activity, as well as trying to change the law through the legislative process.
People who are not willing to do any of these things can simply boycott animal cruelty, by not spending their money supporting these companies and industries.
I was really impressed with your presentation at the Let Live conference in Portland; I was especially surprised to hear you say police will lie to activists when confronting them. Would you expand on that a bit?
Police and FBI, and any other law enforcement for that matter, are allowed to lie. They are allowed to tell you that if you do not talk with them, you will be arrested. That’s why it is so important for activists to know their rights. One should never talk with government officials or provide any information, even if they think they already know it. Keep your mouth shut, or assert your right to remain silent or have an attorney, at which point they are legally required to stop questioning you.
With the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act and other legislation clearly intended to intimidate activists, what long-term role do you think direct action will play in animal activism?
The repression perpetrated by the governments in enacting unconstitutional laws such as AETA, etc., is only backfiring. Because legal protest is now sometimes illegal or activists are deterred, they have gone underground. Since the passage of AETA, I have heard of more underground direct actions than before AETA.
What do you do to keep from getting burned out?
That’s a good question. I try to keep my head in the game and never forget of the pain these animals suffer. But, I try my hardest to have a good time when I can, because if I don’t, I will burn out. I love hiking with my companion dogs and going out with friends and NOT talking about animals sometimes.
Do you think Spain’s decision to grant rights to great apes offers us any hope that courts may one day regard all animals as more than property?
Any win for the animals, here or abroad, should be a sign of hope. The animal rights movement is one that requires a process that can sometimes be daunting and long. Every time we hear of any sort of inch being given over to us means we should pull that much harder on the proverbial tug of war we are playing here. Spain granting rights to greater apes is a catalyst to rights being given throughout. The day will come when we pull and all the exploiters, and animal abusers direct and indirect, fall in the mud. If we can make them budge even an inch, we can make them budge again and again.
What advice do you offer activists who are interested in using the legal system to advance the interests of animals?
The spectrum of animal rights law is a not a very populated one. I advise that working for animals in the legal field will help to show how serious we are about our cause. It takes dedication, hard work, perseverance and motivation to become a lawyer, and especially to become one not for the money, but for a cause. The more legal representation we have in the animal rights world, the bigger the chance we have to get into politics and make changes for the well-being and freedom of the billions of animals constantly tortured and murdered for the most trivial of reasons.
For more information about Shannon Keith, please visit http://www.animal-rights-lawyer.com/index.html
It’s a pretty safe bet that the Internet is the most innovative tool in our free-market economy since the steam engine gave us the Industrial Revolution. In the two decades that I have toiled in the business world, I’ve watched the Internet grow from a collection of Usenet discussion groups into an indispensable means of commerce. Commercial enterprises, motivated by the almighty dollar, take great pains to ensure they are getting the most out of the Internet, making a science out of key words, meta tags, click throughs and hyperlinks.
But what of those organizations driven not by profit, but by compassion? A recent article in Mother Jones parses the results of the magazine’s annual survey on student activism. One result is that more and more activism in moving onto the Internet.
Indeed, no matter what you’re advocating, cyberactivism allows you to do it with the three E’s: extensively, economically and expediently. Fortunately, it’s also pretty easy, so activists can take advantage of the business model countless companies have shown to be effective without being an expert in HTML code.
It’s all about communication, and what works for profit-driven businesses can be applied to non-profit organizations or grassroots activism.
1. Get friendly with social networking sites. In business, networking with like-minded professionals can be even more effective — and certainly cheaper — than advertising. Businesspeople even use sites like LinkedIn to expand and nurture their connections. Social networking sites work to connect Internet users who have the same goals and common interests. Using social networking sites for activism is as simple as establishing profiles on as many of these sites as possible. For the Y generation, networking sites like Facebook, Orkut, Friendster and MySpace are second nature. Baby Boomers and Generation Xers may need a little help, but they’re learning that social networking allows them to use mass-communication tools for distributing information throughout an informal group of people. It’s also a great way to recruit more activists. And don’t overlook specialty sites like GoodReads, which targets book lovers, and VeganWorld, which brings together vegans and vegetarians. Remember to keep your profiles fresh with updated information and images. For a list of the top social networking sites in the world, click here.
2. Become your own media. Back in the day, companies relied solely on public relations firms or in-house PR staff to churn out press releases sent to news editors in hopes of getting some ink or air time. While PR is still important, more and more companies are using the Internet to garner their piece of the media pie. The Internet also levels the playing field for non-profit campaigners, allowing them to post news, opinion pieces and articles around the world. Here are a few things you can do:
· Blogs. Starting a blog costs nothing, and you can use it to post news about campaigns, upcoming actions and more. Remember to keep the content of your blog fresh. Though your blog can focus on your cause, you might also consider a blog on another subject, and then occasionally post blogs relevant to your activism topic. For example, an animal activist might create a blog site devoted to travel and then find opportunities to post blogs on vegan-friendly cities, trips to cruelty-free entertainment venues or hotels that allow companion animals. Learn how to start a blog at BecomeABlogger.com.
· Video. Video sites such as YouTube, Google Videos, Photobucket and even social networking sites allow you to post videos. Earlier this year, the Humane Society of the United States posted an undercover video of slaughterhouse workers abusing downer cows in California, leading to the largest recall of beef in U.S. history. It’s doubtful the United States Department of Agriculture would have acted so quickly if the Internet hadn’t given HSUS the power to post their footage. Videos are the currency of viral marketing, and when you post one that people want to share, these people are doing the work for you. For a quick search of available videos and places to post them, visit Metatube.net.
· Photographs. Images are powerful tools, and with the Internet, activists can share pictures around the world. Flickr, Photobucket and other photo-sharing sites host images that you can send links to. For example, my friend Marji has a Flickr account with images of animals she’s photographed at Animal Place, a sanctuary where she works. When posting images to your own site, be sure to name them; that way, search engines will pick them up, adding another layer of visibility to your efforts.
3. Score with social news sites. Social news sites like Digg, Reddit, Propeller, StumbleUpon, Technorati, Del.icio.us and many others encourage people to promote your blog or Web site through bookmarking and social media. Become an active community member on these sites, encourage fellow activists to do the same and ask them to vote for your posts. Votes result in higher visibility — and more attention on your cause.
4. Use corporate best practices when designing action alerts. An action alert is an email message or Internet post asking for a specific action to be taken on a current issue (e.g. “Please ask the Governor to sign this bill banning foie gras”). This would be sent to an existing database of like-minded advocates. To make the most of your action alert, follow the same guidelines businesses use for email blasts:
Effectively label your issue. Professionals understand successful online marketing begins with a short, attention-grabbing headline and a strong subject line. Avoid using the words “free,” “help” and “reminder” in the subject line, as they trigger spam filters.
· Create a compelling message. Help people understand the issue and why they should be involved. Don’t assume they already know about it. Keep the paragraphs short and break them up with blank space.
· Vivid images help, but use them sparingly.
· Include a call to action. Tell people what you want them to do. If you have an online petition, link to it.
· Ask people to post your action alert where appropriate. This will broaden the alert’s readership.
· Proofread before sending! Make sure your facts and spelling are correct and that any embedded links work properly.
· Track your success. The for-profit community tracks “click throughs” to measure an email campaign’s success. As a grassroots activists, ask recipients to “blind cc” you on emails sent in response to your alert so you’ll know roughly how many activists responded and what action they took (phone call, letter, etc.). This will help you evaluate the effectiveness of your action alert.
5. Exploit Google. For better or worse, Google is the indispensable online partner for many businesses. That may change tomorrow, but for today, companies spend countless hours working to increase their page ranking on this particular search engine. A higher ranking, so the theory goes, equals better business performance. Google offers free tools that an activist can take advantage of too.
One of Google’s greatest features is its ability to deliver specific news stories right to your email in box. And not just news stories, either: you can receive blog postings, videos, Web pages, group postings — just about anything covered on the Internet. Since Google essentially catalogs all this for users, you can ask Google to email content to you whenever something relevant to your activism is posted. It’s called Google Alerts, and here’s how it works. Let’s say you have a passion for protecting wildlife, and you want to be sure your elected officials know about it. You go to google.com/alerts and, for example, type “endangered species act” into the search terms field. Type in your email address, select how often you want to receive alerts and be sure to choose “Comprehensive” as the type, so all your Internet bases are covered. Then every time a media outlet, blogger or other online user posts a story about the Endangered Species Act, you’ll know about it, and you can contact your elected officials to voice your concern, for example, if the Act is being threatened.
This is also a great tool for letters to editors. Using search terms like “factory farming,” “vegan” or “animal rights” in Google Alerts, you’ll know when a newspaper has published a story on the issues you care about, and you can respond with a letter to the editor, furthering your cause. You can use the same tool to find out if your letters have been printed; just type your name in the search terms field and links to letters signed by you and published in newspapers that are searchable on Google’s news page will be emailed to you automatically.
Google Maps are another excellent resource. Activists in the animal rights community, for example, are using Google Maps to locate animal enterprises like fur farms, and this function can obviously be used for environmentalism and other types of activism.
The largest animal protection groups in the world, including Animal Aid, HSUS and PETA, have staff people devoted to Internet marketing. They’re investing energy into online efforts like those above because they work. With even a little time, grassroots activists can take advantage of many of these same tactics, bringing awareness to their cause.
One more thing: Businesses that succeed do so because they take the time to do things right. Whether you’re a volunteer for a group or just someone at home who wants to make a difference, make your activism successful by devoting time to it. Shut off the television, video games or whatever else may distract you. Do whatever it takes to carve an extra hour or two from your day to dedicate to your cause. It’s a good feeling.
After more than 100 days in prison, activists from one of Austria’s most influential animal rights groups, VGT (Verein Gegen Tierfabriken, or “Association Against Animal Factories”), have been released. Christof, Elmar, Felix, Jan, Jürgen, Kevin, Leo, Martin and Sabine were set free by Austria’s Appellate court on September 2. (Christian had been released earlier.)
VGT secured a ban on battery hens in Austria that will come into force next year. Dr. Martin Balluch, president of VGT, says his imprisonment is a government reprisal on behalf of Austrian hen farmers. He said, “Sitting here in my jail cell it’s hard not to think of Guantanamo Bay. I am not a criminal. The government just don’t like change, and that is what our organization represent to them. They want to destroy us.” He said police were acting under government orders to create a criminal case against him in order to hinder his organization’s work. “The police acted out a strong bias to make it seem I did something illegal.”
Martin’s claims are backed up by government documents that were leaked last Friday detailing correspondences between prosecutors and police where the prosecutors demand police put a stop to the VGT’s campaigning, disregarding police advice that no criminal activities were found to be linked to the organization.
During his custody, Martin was visited by Alexander Van der Bellen, the leader of the Austrian Greens, who invited him to run as an independent candidate for the Greens in the upcoming national election on September 28. Martin will be elected at the Green Party conference on September 7. Van der Bellen told the Austrian Standard: “I have invited Balluch to run as a candidate for the Green party. He will be given a place high up on the list of candidates.” Van der Bellen described Martin’s candidacy to the ORF (Austrian TV) as “An expression of appreciation for the work of non-governmental organizations.”
From his prison cell a few days prior to his release, Martin said “Since our biggest animal protection success in 2004, we have been feeling the increasing repression by the police. That was when the Animal Protection Federal Law was passed leading to major costs for industrial livestock owners. We have evidence that the police has been advising companies practicing cruelty to animals how to effectively combat our legitimate campaigns and has been taking increasingly brutal steps against us. In 2005, an article was printed in the Austrian daily newspaper Salzburger Nachrichten in which a high-ranking official of the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution and Action Against Terrorism claimed that Animal Protection was the biggest threat to national security in Austria.”
Martin says he was harassed by a long-term government campaign to have him imprisoned.
“For 18 months they bugged my car, followed my every move, filmed meetings and they found nothing. No evidence of criminal activity. All they could come up with were a few emails and quotes they took completely out of context and claimed were ‘subversive.’”
The Interior Ministry has refused to comment on these claims.
This case shows the strength of animal protection and rights organizations, which through their activities reached big goals in animal protection. It also clearly shows the repression of the state and police forces over activists and organizations, who through legitimate ways achieved what individuals, companies and the government did not want them to achieve.
More than one hundred days in custody did not break the spirit of organizations nor interfered with their activities. They will now continue fighting for animal rights and protection and realization of their rights, which were denied them.
Martin said he has fought for the rights of animals in Austria for 11 years and admitted expressing “radical opinions from time to time” but stressed anything he ever said was not illegal and did not warrant his being imprisoned. “Since I was imprisoned the police have interviewed me for over 20 hours, but not once have they asked me about a specific crime – ‘were you here at such and such time?’ — instead it’s been — ‘do you know so-and-so?,’ ‘what do they get up to?’”
Asked about his time in detainment, Martin said “It was incredible, I cannot find words for what I went through. They took my personal freedom for 110 days. I will need some time just to get used to the sunlight again.”
”I wasn’t in jail to pay my dues for a crime I had committed, I was there because the government think I am a nuisance and they want to stop me.” He added. “It was a political thing.” Referring to his organization’s success in having eggs from battery hens banned in Austria, he said, “We brought about democratic change and the government could not accept that.”
The Austrian fur industry reacted to the release of the activists with harsh words. The industry’s body said in a statement that the acts of sabotage it suffered — and holds the jailed campaigners responsible for — were vandalism and should not be mixed up with animal protection. The body said “Law has to remain law and offences caused need to be punished.” The union said Dr. Balluch’s statement that he would do everything the same given a second chance was “provoking.”
In 1997, Peter Young and another activist raided six fur farms in the U.S., releasing an estimated 8,000 to 12,000 mink and 100 fox. Soon after the sixth raid, a farmer in Wisconsin notified police that a suspicious car was driving past a mink ranch. Alerted by an FBI report regarding recent animal liberations on fur farms, police stopped Peter and the other activist, who refused to consent to a search of the vehicle. The car was impounded while authorities waited on a search warrant. When the car was finally searched, police discovered incriminating evidence, including addresses of fur farms with notations indicating their size, fence structure, parking availability and proximity to nearby homes. By then, Peter and the other activist were gone.
Peter was wanted by the FBI for seven and a half years before being arrested in California in 2005. He faced a total of 82 years in prison. Peter’s lawyer got the felony portion of his indictment dismissed, and he was sentenced to two years in federal prison. In court, a defiant Peter Young said that his only regret was not doing more damage. He was released from prison on February 1, 2007.
Peter, you are best known in the activist community for liberating minks and foxes from fur farms in South Dakota, Iowa and Wisconsin. How have those events changed your life?
They brought me to some of our culture’s darkest corners, from hellish animal sheds to dim jail cells. From those experiences and others I have learned animal liberation is more effectively taken than asked for. I learned determined individuals can accomplish in one night what a million protests can never achieve.
So do you think there is any place in the movement for protesting and other types of campaigns?
I’m more fluid in my position on tactics than could be assumed. This is a result-oriented movement, and ultimately we must stand behind that which brings results. I am for protesting when it works, and am against it when it merely provides us the illusion of changes. Being “active” is worse than nothing when it gives us the illusion of being effective. And when protesting works, as has been the case with certain weak-link targets like foie gras restaurants, then it is absolutely to be celebrated as a tactic. Such is the case with distributing Why Vegan pamphlets: approximately 2% of people who read the pamphlet change their diet. When we are distributing millions of Why Vegan leaflets, this is huge. I will say for every protest-victory, I assess the time-costs and inevitably consider we could have avoided months of protest and hundreds of people-hours with one well-calculated act of economic sabotage. We have selective vision in regards to our victories. The last and largest foie gras restaurant in Salt Lake City, which had been protested for months, stopped selling foie gras after anonymous individuals shut down their gas main during a busy Saturday night, and later took out several large glass windows. That was all it took. We should fight smarter, not harder.
What can you say about the support you got from the movement while serving your sentence?
I received more letters than I could answer, more books than I could read, and more visits than I could accept. Asking people to take risks for animals while not being there to support them if arrested is like sending someone down the Colorado River without a life raft. While the urgency of what’s happening in farms and labs will always incite many to act outside the law, these actions will increase in correlation with the quality of the support offered to those who are caught. It is invaluable for those working in darkness to deliver animals from cages to know if they are arrested, they will be taken care of. For those who support prisoners, this is the true return on their investment: You allow those who have not been caught to do their work.
How do other inmates and prison guards treat animal activists in jail?
Having a case such as mine was an asset with prisoners and guards, and a liability with prison staff higher up the chain. With prisoners, I was given a significant amount of respect for being looked at as someone who “stood up for his beliefs.” That non-human animals were the beneficiary of this stand was irrelevant — it was the willingness to put talk into action which is respected in convict culture. This translated into many privileges and alliances which allowed my prison time to pass with little friction.
With senior staff in the Bureau of Prisons, the political nature of my case brought them to mark me as a security threat. This manifested in countless ways, including jail/prison security-level placement that was not in sync with the relative seriousness of my “offenses,” increased mail screening, stretches in solitary, and more. In recent weeks there has been a development in this realm, as we’ve seen several green scare and SHAC prisoners moved to maximum-security prisons. This is an unsettling trend and frightening evidence of the lunacy of those in power: running a website or destroying property is a more egregious crime than murder or kidnapping — crimes committed by those I shared a medium-security prison with.
Overall, I found being imprisoned for animal liberation activity was more of a benefit than a detriment, while being a little of both. It helped with prisoners and hurt me with prison staff.
What was the impact of your raids on the fur industry?
At least two of the six farms had to close. Final damage estimates were over $250,000. Approximately 2,000 animals were never recaptured, and farmers were forevermore kept up at night wondering if tonight was the night their farm would be raided — or, more importantly, wondering if they might be better off growing soybeans. The number of mink farms today is almost half of what it was when I was indicted, and I trust many fur farmers have asked themselves this question and made the right decision as a direct effect of ALF raids.
Did prison change your opinion of direct action in any way?
I never had any illusions about the consequences for direct action. I accepted the possibility of prison and, when weighed against the potential benefits and relative small chance of being caught, I made a decision. And I stand by my stance that it was the right decision. As long as direct action works, potential consequences will be irrelevant to those who answer to a higher law.
Other activists who have been jailed for their activism have told me they now focus on above-ground tactics because sitting in jail does not help animals. What’s your take on that position?
It’s a false dichotomy. In 20 years of ALF activity and over one thousand actions, only a small handful of people have ever been arrested. And of those, only a very few have served actual prison time. The number of people caught is statistically infinitesimal. It is not a “direct action equals prison versus above-ground activism equals freedom” equation. This has become more apparent as we see increased cases of people who thought they were working within the law, yet were still sent to prison — such as the SHAC defendants or those arrested in Austria. At this point, being effective is a crime, not transgressing the letter of the law.
The bigger point is that direct action versus other activism is a totally artificial division. It is all a manifestation of the same impulse, the same ethic.
Most who have been arrested, myself included, made easily avoidable mistakes which can be learned from. We must be honest about the fact that one has a statistically insignificant chance of getting arrested for direct action.
You mentioned the Austrian activists who were arrested. Governments around the world are using intimidation to suppress animal activism. What effect do you think the arrests of activists like Martin Balluch and others will have on the movement?
It will be met with both cowering weakness and galvanization. I’ve watched many people take a quit exit from activism after the smallest trace of repression — receiving an FBI visit, for example — and these high-profile arrests will filter out many weak links in our movement. My best hope for such people is that they will continue to be active in outreach efforts less likely to attract FBI attention.
On the other side, they are playing with fire when they arrest activists who work above ground and within the law. The only message that is sent to those who are in this for life is: You’re going to prison either way; it’s best to work in the dark of night where the risks are greatly reduced.
What other forms of activism do you feel are effective?
Vegan outreach in all its forms. Absolutely one of the best things you can do for animals.
Speaking of veganism, does an animal activist have to be vegan?
Veganism is too often viewed as a symbolic boycott when it is more accurately framed as something that has a direct effect on the lives of animals today. I’m not vegan to withhold money from animal abusers; I’m vegan because I’m sparing animals suffering in the here and now.
If you’re not vegan, you’re making clear that doing even the bare minimum to help animals is beneath your will. Veganism is not just another tool in the toolbox. It is the bare minimum.
You’re an inspiration to many activists. Who are your heroes in the movement?
We are best to keep an eye on our results and not those of others. I have no heroes and would encourage others to drop theirs. Don’t look up to your heroes, become them.