Today’s vigil was about being cold – for both humans and non-humans. The temperatures plummeted to minus 17, but with the wind coming off Lake Ontario, next to “Pig Island” (the median in the middle of the highway where activists congregate) it must have been minus 30. It was cold.
There were two vigils today, one in the morning which I missed, but I hear there were 10 people for that one. There were 20 for the afternoon, which is simply amazing. TPS brings out the best in people,truly.
Here is a link to the photos taken today.
I saw three transport trucks; two had the panels on – the thin but vital fiberboard that keeps the wind out of the truck, providing protection from the wind – and one (criminally) did not. I am hoping that activists photographed that truck, because it needs to be reported for violating animal welfare laws – which I believe require panels on a day like this. [update: there are indeed photos of it! It will get reported]
Suffering in the cold
All the activists suffered the cold. I was well dressed, with many layers and good boots, but it was still not enough. The wind was like a relentless knife on exposed skin of the face, and I felt my body heat slowly ebb away, and the beginning stages of hypothermia: shivering,pain in the extremities. It was dressed very warmly but it was not enough for the wind off the lake.
I know others felt the same, but it was a Stoic bunch and few complained, though some were less well dressed than I. I very much empathized with the pigs (who are short-haired), and chickens – who are no doubt dying in the thousands in this weather, during live transport.
Our suffering was nothing compared to theirs, but I am glad I suffered cold today,to be reminded in some small way of the pain they are going through. It gave my small suffering some meaning. It tied me into the much deeper and broader suffering they feel and awakened my compassion all the more.
It is painful on our hands and feet. Their ears, tails, and feet, and snouts must go through a worse pain, and they must feel that desperation one feels as the heat leaves the body, and you know that being out there much longer will spell death. I believe some of them did die en route. Certainly, all of them suffered.
Another level of hell
Even within the context of transport to the slaughterhouse – mass murder — this neglect is an added crime, another level of hell. There is no reason they should suffer prior to their deaths. It is animal cruelty.
The OSPCA should be shutting this down,yet they were nowhere to be found. The entire system is aligned against the pigs. We are the only ones standing up for them.
In the one transport truck that stopped at the light, one panel was open, perhaps to allow air inside. I could see pigs inside, and was absolutely certain they were suffering terribly.
We later heard that some were literally frozen to the floor of the truck – perhaps dead on arrival, having frozen to death en route – and were being cut off the floors by men with knives!
There are no words of consolation that make this better. I tried to find some. I just couldn’t. I tried to imagine the pigs going to heaven, but I am too much of an agnostic to believe that. I am forced by the crime to confront ultimate questions of good and evil. There are no easy answers.
Compassion bridging the infinite gulf
Nonetheless, I will call on the words of activist-theologian Simone Weil who also confronted this in her lifetime and tried to give words to it. Her essays are about as close to a clear articulation of the problem of suffering that I can think of. She is good because she doesn’t give any easy answers. There is no saving grace, but there is compassion in her vision.
She describes it in symbolic terms, as an infinite gulf between God and the sufferer (where God symbolizes the hopes and dreams of what should be, the ultimate mysteries of life and death perhaps). The filmmaker Bergman called it “the silence of God.” And those trucks seem about as far away from God (in that sense of the word) as they can be.
So what is her “solution”, if any? It is to reach out across the void of suffering to the one who suffers, in an act of compassion, to bridge the gap. She also said that ““Attention is the rarest and purest form of generosity.” By “attention” she means the act of compassion, such as the activists today standing there for the pigs.
She also said “the ones who do the crushing feel nothing; it is the person crushed who feels what is happening. Unless one has placed oneself on the side of the oppressed, to feel with them, one cannot understand.” Is it any surprise that Weil spent most of her of her life as an activist for social justice?
You don’t have to subscribe to theological ideas to know that some kind of symbolic statement is needed, to say that it is wrong. So it is uplifting to see people show up,people who care, who exercise compassion.
I expected 2or 3 people in that bitter cold, but there were 20 people! What a fantastic community! Many people I knew, but many were new to me. TPS is a dynamic body that constantly grows and shifts and changes. Three were grade 10 students,spearheaded by a young lady, Laura. I was truly inspired to see this and spoke with them at length. Her friend expressed a desire to become a vegan. It gave me hope for the future of humanity to meet these young people.
Slavery is economically unsustainable
To give them a spark of hope in return, I told them about the change in economic forces underway worldwide, that I believe will eventually spell the end of factory farming, as it becomes economically unsustainable. The Save movement is part of that, because it provides the vision and the activism that a society like ours needs. It unveils a truth that people do not want to acknowledge.
Human slavery became economically unsustainable, and ended. At the same time,abolitionists spread the moral arguments against slavery. The end of slavery is often attributed to the American Civil War, but it was already economically unsustainable by the time the war began. In the same way, industrial animal slavery cannot be sustained indefinitely, due to water shortages, and as plant-based alternatives flood the market. We are today’s abolitionists.
I have an entire lecture on this, too long to go into here, but I told the students that in their lifetimes they would see most of society shift to vegetarianism or veganism, for largely economic reasons. Movements like this one, that do vegan outreach, are necessary to provide the way forward, to provide the moral vision that needs to accompany that change and give it focus.
Hearts and minds campaign
Freud said that our civilization is based on the maintenance of illusions; this is nowhere more true than in the case of the pretense that humans are superior to non-humans and entitled to exploit them. Someone who exposes the illusion will be mocked by some, but the truth is already out there. The convenient lie is ruptured by the inconvenient truth presented by the activist. Just by standing there in the cold with those signs, and handing out that literature, we had already ruptured the illusion. The activist is ignored or mocked in some cases, but this is only because the activist for social change forces people to confront the truth.
People unconsciously know this, which is why they sometimes don’t roll down the window, or they look away – but some of them, when they are face to face with a dead animal on their plate – will think back to those people on the corner, and question the assumptions they have taken for granted their whole lives. And in that moment of silent questioning, that imperceptible shift, the work of the non-violent activist for social change has been done. It is a hearts and minds campaign.
Mainstream media absent
The mainstream media were absent, which reflects very poorly on them, since this was a good story –yet not one camera or reporter showed. This was a real shame. However, John Bonnar, an indy-media activist / reporter / photographer extraordinaire (I have seen him at countless events over the last 20 years), showed for the morning vigil. I learned that 10 people showed to that one! It was earlier in the day, and colder.
At one point, a masked cameraman showed up. My hope rose that it was the mass media.It was AR videographer and friend Michael Sizer, but I did not recognize him because his face was draped against the cold. Several people wore covers over their faces, reminiscent of A.L.F. But there will be other cold days, so there are still opportunities to get the media out. There is a TPS press release on cold weather, so if you know media contacts tell them to contact Anita K. of TPS.
Inspiring new activism
I ran into Megan Hashemi at the vigil. Unbeknownst to me she had been dong vigils with TPS since September, and said that my posts on Facebook had inspired her to start this activism! It made me very happy to hear this. I recall her sitting in Animal Rights Academy talks. When someone becomes a serious activist because of something I said or did, nothing makes me happier (except my dogs). So that was really the highlight of my day. Thank you Megan, you made my day!
Renewals of hope
After the vigil we discussed activism at length, including emotionally sustainable activism and how not to burn out from the emotional stress of being so close to so much suffering. This gave me the idea to do an Animal Rights Academy panel discussion on that important topic. Anita K. also suggested that we devote a talk to youth AR activism, which is a very good idea. Laura, Caitin Herkenrath,Caroline Wong, and other young people could present, and invite their friends.
It would be very inspiring. A talk like that would sustain me for a long time.Activists, in my experience, need these renewals of hope. That can come from seeing the movement grow and flourish with young people.
Of course, many people declined a pamphlet, but many others accepted it, and were talkative, despite the cold air. Caroline, Ivan, Laura, and a few others were very vigilant about going from car to car to offer the pamphlets. There was a surplus of activists there, and we suffered in the cold, but I did truly feel that it was in solidarity with the pigs.
One could also look on it as an ascetic practice, to suffer with them in this way, even for a short time … I’m afraid I complained a bit too much about it, and Anita K.made me get in Michael’s car, while others walked back to her place – which I half-heartedly joked was a blow to my male ego — but TPS does not accommodate male egos (or any egos for that matter), so I acquiesced.
At Anita’s place, she ordered vegan pizza, made tea, and we had a real get-together, a community event. This happens at Anita’s all the time. She is very hospitable.Her dog, Mr. Bean, was delighted with all the people and barked in excitement.
That feeling of being part of a community – one that collectively aspires to a great ideal, such as animal liberation – is a great feeling. And to reflect on the fact that this is happening in other cities in the world – 16 at last count have “Save” groups – is just extraordinary.
I also wantto note that several people made it to two vigils today, which is really super-human in this cold. So many good people! If you want to meet some of the best people who ever lived, go to a TPS/TCS vigil. You will find them there.The photos will come out soon, with names and faces – all good people. An amazing community.
Worldwide movement for compassion
What Anita K. has inspired and unceasingly worked towards, for several years now – aided by some extraordinary people, such as Louise Jorgenson (but also many others too numerous to list) — is a type of animal activism, based on a Gandhian love-based vision of non-violent transformation — and it has really paid off.
The idea of bearing witness at slaughterhouses is brilliant, because it plants the seeds of change in those who pass by, it reaches those on the Internet who see the photos, and it transforms the activists themselves. It works on multiple levels, and it helps form ethical communities.
Right in front of me, I saw a young person seriously asking about become a vegan and tell me that this experience meant a lot to her. It doesn’t get any more inspiring and uplifting than that!
“My spirit soars”
I don’t think I have been this cold in a long time, and it has taken me the rest of the day to recover from the cold, but as in the words of the poem by Chief Dan George “my spirit soared” today because of Toronto Pig Save.
I found this quotation by Chief Dan George that describes the act of bearing witness, when the activists reach out to the cows or pigs and talk to them, and tell them “I’m sorry” and “I love you.”
“If you talk to the animals they will talk with you and you will know each other. If you do not talk to them you will not know them, and what you do not know you will fear. What one fears one destroys.”
Author: Paul York