Consumer choice advocacy is not effective in creating systemic change. Hyperawareness of the personal choices we have as consumers leave little room for the consideration of the far more consequential effects of institutions on communities, animals and the planet. Consumers certainly have options at the store but often lack the ability to force the most impactful industries to actually cease their destruction. Instead, as illustrated by progressive movements throughout history, targeted direct action campaigns, including acts of civil disobedience, are the most effective choices that a movement can make.
In June 2019, members of Direct Action Everywhere, or DxE, were taught this harsh lesson at a California factory duck farm with 600 other activists. Dozens of SWAT and riot police surrounded our group and multiple police helicopters circled overhead. DxE had gathered there to demand that our investigations of the industrial farm — which uncovered illegal and inhumane conditions — be recognized and acted upon by law enforcement after months of reporting the facility. We exercised our right, afforded to us under California statute 597e, to remove some of the animals suffering acutely. We rescued more than 20 ducklings, but instead of charging the farm with documented infractions, 80 activists were arrested and many were charged with multiple felonies that still await trial today. That day marked the culmination of the Animal Liberation Conference, or ALC, an annual gathering that brings together thousands of activists for training, speeches and massive direct action and civil disobedience demonstrations.
Big money agriculture lobbyists have seen how effective community members can be at exposing the conditions on factory farms and subsequently passed backdoor legislation to repress us. The California Farm Bureau Federation paid off a state senator to slip pro-industry wording that functionally nullified 597e into an unrelated bill, thus limiting every Californian’s ability to act on their morals and save animals from extreme cruelty. Instead of making abuse in agriculture illegal, legislation made it illegal to rescue an animal suffering to death right in front of your eyes. But DxE is not discouraged. We know that nothing can stop the momentum we have already created and will be exponentially increasing our efforts this September.
From Sept. 24 to 30, DxE is bringing hundreds of the most dedicated and talented activists from around the world to enact targeted campaigns against one of the most destructive and powerful industries today. World-renowned whistleblower Chelsea Manning and gay rights movement icon Evan Wolfson are scheduled to speak, and other professional leaders will hold trainings. Hundreds of activists will march to demand that the state legislature take immediate, drastic action to curtail the effects that factory farms have on animals and the planet, just as we have done in the past. Each consumer has too small a voice for any large industry to really hear and it is only in mobilizing entire communities under one goal that people can really make an impact.
Because of DxE’s local and statewide influence, Berkeley has become the first city in the United States to commit to entirely plant-based food purchases, and in 2019, California banned the production and sale of fur. However, California still has a long way to go. The state is the second-largest contributor of methane production from agriculture in the nation and has become a battleground over the future of food. Despite progressive attitudes, California still invests hundreds of millions of dollars into industrial animal agriculture, while thousands of people organize their city governments to push back on the state’s inaction.
ALC 2021 will escalate its actions against factory farming in direct response to government inaction on the climate crisis and animal cruelty. State officials have not moved to address the strong link between animal agriculture and climate crisis, a step activists are demanding they take. Despite claiming that the recent, worsening fires are “a climate damn emergency,” Gov. Gavin Newsom has consistently failed to address California’s factory farms as a major source of climate change. Newsom has also failed to address factory farming as a factor in California’s worsening drought. Millions of animals also languish and suffer to death on California’s factory farms, despite minor welfare protections granted them by Proposition 12.
In 2019, the United Nations published a shocking report that the world has only 11 years left to stop irreversible damage from global warming. That was before COVID-19 killed millions of people and brought global infrastructure to a grinding halt. As we rapidly approach the likelihood of another quarantine, we have very little time to take action together and in-person to protect the future of our planet. We must act now.
Empowering people to take targeted direct action against destructive institutions is the most effective tactic we have to change the world in the time we have left. We no longer have the luxury of politeness or convenience. We must act swiftly and boldly and use the history of the most successful, most efficient progressive movements to guide us. It is only through the power of collective direct action can communities shut down the institutions that uphold industrial agriculture, before time runs out for the planet and for the animals.