Public Comment

Rescuing animals Is not a crime- hurting them Is

Matt Johnson
Friday February 10, 2017 - 11:40:00 AM

A Berkeley-based grassroots animal rights network, Direct Action Everywhere (DxE), released footage Thursday of myself and fellow activists rescuing a dying animal named Scarlett from horrific conditions of immense suffering.

Unfortunately, actions such as this - which really amount to common decency - have recently been characterized as criminal and even terrorist.

The egg farm I visited was the epitome of hell on Earth. Dead birds were piled up near the entrance. The air was thick with burning ammonia - a smell that lingered over a half mile away. We witnessed birds being cannibalized - the result of stressful confinement and periodic starvation to stimulate egg production.

Yet this facility was touted by Safeway as “humane” and “cage-free”. While this type of self-regulation can be quite effective at pacifying animal-friendly consumers as it enriches corporations, it fails the very individuals it claims to protect. In fact, it’s debatable whether cage-free improves animal lives at all.

Last November, DxE activists received a threatening legal letter from a Whole Foods supplier, accusing them of “eco-terrorism” for rescuing animals and blowing the whistle on animal abuse. Then last week, Diane Sorbi, a Bay Area retiree and DxE activist, was charged with theft, larceny, and criminal mischief. Her crime? Allegedly rescuing a hen, Ella, from being tormented on a cage-free," "certified humane" Costco egg farm.

This might all be hilarious were it not so tragic. Corporations which systematically brutalize millions of animals seek desperately to silence and to deflect. The 2006 Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act and a litany of state-level “ag-gag” laws starting in 2011 are blatantly anti-speech and unconstitutional.

Much like the authoritarian tendencies of our president, this corporate overreach presents opportunities alongside its threats. The defensive hypocrisy is plainly visible to everyday citizens, who would similarly support the rescuing of a dog by breaking the window of a hot car. An informal poll on the streets of Berkeley found unanimous support of activists, with reactions ranging from confusion to outrage regarding legal charges. 

Berkeley residents are very fortunate to live in this iconic leader of American progressivism; from free speech and disabled rights to recycling programs and anti-smoking campaigns, when Berkeley leads, the nation follows. On the frontier of animal rights, we’ve opened the first community center for animal rights in the US, and we’re on the verge of becoming the nation’s second city to ban the sale of fur. Like many other activists, this community has empowered me to recently relocate to Berkeley to take part. Together, we’re committed to leading the way by making Berkeley the most animal-friendly city in the US. 

Terrorism is not bringing an injured animal to a vet. Terrorism is not exposing the violence inherent in animal use. Terrorism is treating living, feeling individuals as objects, rather than respecting them as the individuals which they truly are. And Berkeley is the ideal place to launch this budding nonviolent, anti-terrorist movement for all sentient life. 

Matt is an organizer with the global grassroots animal rights network Direct Action Everywhere (DxE) living in Berkeley