Update 6/22/21: This article has been updated to include comments from Berkeley Mayor Jesse Arreguín.
Members of Direct Action Everywhere, or DxE, gathered outside Berkeley Mayor Jesse Arreguín’s house during Tuesday’s Berkeley City Council meeting to demand progress toward reducing city spending on animal agriculture.
Arreguín and the council made commitments to DxE’s goals of implementing plant-based food purchasing in Berkeley during a set of meetings beginning in February, DxE organizer Christina Liu alleged. These commitments included plans from Arreguín to introduce an ordinance in April or May.
However, Arreguín allegedly stopped communicating with the group after the second meeting in March, prompting the demonstration, Liu added.
“The mayor continues to actively avoid us and our calls for accountability,” Liu said in an email. “This conduct is disappointing and troubling, as it undermines progress and public trust, at a time when wildfires and climate change are escalating out of control, future pandemics are being bred in factory farms, and billions of animals are suffering needlessly.”
At the rally, DxE supporters gave speeches, called into the City Council meeting and held signs reading “Divest From Animal Ag” and “Divest From Cruelty,” according to a DxE press release. Liu said DxE has continually worked to coordinate its demonstrations with respect for other residents in Arreguín’s neighborhood.
Arreguín allegedly first stated his support for DxE’s efforts to achieve a divestment from factory farming in Berkeley in an email to DxE in February, according to Liu. Subsequently, Liu said Arreguín and DxE met twice over Zoom, and Arreguín showed further support for an end goal of 100% plant-based city spending.
“The demonstrations are a last resort after prior efforts to promote the campaign — phone calls, emails, and meetings with Mayor Arreguin — have been ignored or resulted in promises that have not been fulfilled,” Liu said in an email. “We have faith that Mayor Arreguin and other political leaders share our values of compassion for animals and want to protect our planet.”
This was not the first time DxE organized such a demonstration, Liu added. The group gathered outside Arreguín’s house once in January with the hope of drawing his attention toward its cause, and three times since the city stopped meeting with them, including Tuesday’s event, according to Liu.
Liu noted that DxE hopes Berkeley will eventually pass an ordinance in favor of plant-based purchasing and encourage other cities to divest from animal agriculture.
“We don’t have time for petty political games,” Liu said in an email. “Our goal is to raise awareness about the urgent need to take action to stop the harm caused by the animal agriculture industry and to promote the idea of using public/taxpayer funds for public good.”
Arreguín said he remains committed to shifting city funds toward plant-based purchasing and to promoting the humane treatment of animals.
City Council unanimously voted to adopt a resolution aiming to replace 50% of the city’s annual animal-based food procurement with plant-based food March 9, according to Arreguín.
“This action … is the first time the City of Berkeley has set a goal of divesting city funds from animal agriculture,” Arreguín said in an email. “In Berkeley, we believe in investing our taxpayer dollars in a way that is socially responsible.”
Arreguin’s staff is researching the city’s existing contracts for food procurement, he added. He is also drafting an initial policy with council members, who intend to make city law in the coming months.
Still, Arreguín disagreed with DxE’s tactics. He said “disruptive protests” in front of his and other elected officials’ homes are not productive, nor do they foster goodwill.
“The fact remains that the city has made a commitment to transitioning to plant based, a stated goal of the City Council,” Arreguín said in an email. “For those who support this, stay tuned.”
A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that Jesse Arreguín expressed his support for a complete divestment from animal products in an email to Direct Action Everywhere in February. In fact, he stated his support for divestment from factory farming in the email and stated his support for a complete divestment from animal products in a later Zoom meeting.