Swedish Group Performs Open Rescue Campaign

It’s a dark night in mid-August, and the clock is nearing 3am. A small group of people huddles together in a spot of overgrown vegetation, just outside an industrial farming facility where hundreds, if not thousands, of pigs are held captive. These pigs live out miserable and short lives at the end of which awaits a sorry fate consisting of becoming food on the plates of those who value their arbitrary taste preferences over the lives and suffering of sentient beings.

It is the first direct action of this type for several members of the group, and nerves are running high. They’ve seen cars come and go near the facility. And was that voices in the distance? Finally, after making sure everything seems calm and quiet, the moment has come, and it is time to enter in order to save some of the individuals inside. The group leaves the safety of the forest line and hurries across the open yard towards the entrance to the facility. As they open the unlocked door, they realize that someone is already inside. Panicked, the activists dash back to safety, and curse the turn of events. No animals will be saved tonight. Or will they? Where do we go from here?

This is a relatively accurate re-imagining of an open rescue performed by the Swedish direct action group Tomma Burar (Empty Cages), one of three such rescues performed during their high profile August campaign in which they hit three sites, liberating selected animals from the cruel conditions prevailing in industrial animal farms. They had been planning the campaign for a long time, and thought out what they believed would be the best tactics and best strategy for their specific conditions.

Rather than conforming to the stereotypical demographic of naive teenagers often spouted by media, commercial interests or politicians, these were people of various ages and from various backgrounds, some of them parents, some veteran activists while some participated in this type of action for the very first time. As such, certain options were off the table. A full blown rescue, while hitting the factory farm hard financially, would at the same time pose several problems. Chief amongst them, was that these activists had families, and couldn’t afford to leave them behind, spending time in prison.

They had children and loved ones to care for, and had to strike a balance between benefits for the animal liberation movement and personal consequences. Usually this is where activists often would drop out, and where everyday lives lure those in theory opposing many aspects of the status quo to lull into a sort of slumber, pacified by the hardships and realities of our society. And it is indeed hard to blame people for not doing more, as they try to stay afloat amidst financial, social and political hardship. But these activist wouldn’t have any of that, and thus the idea of open rescue.

Back in the safety of the vegetation, the group is shaken and uncertain of what to do. Months of planning, and now this setback at the first step of their campaign. But not everything is lost. In their reconnaissance operations, they have pinpointed a backup location. A plan B. But the safety of the night will soon break into the exposing light of dawn, and the later in the night it gets, the bigger the risk that personnel will be present at the site.

Besides, the secondary location is not as well scouted as the primary one. Is it worth the risk? The activists consult with their off-site member that is on stand-by back at home. Together they iron out how to get to the second location, and the group makes a consensus decision to carry on. There’s no time to be afraid or get caught up second guessing oneself, it is time to act.

Open rescue is a type of rescue in which the activists are open with both their identities and their actions. It means that they will certainly have to answer for what they do to those who uphold laws, but it also means a great chance at publicity, and a platform to discuss animal rights and animal liberation. For this purpose, the group chooses to perform the rescues as partially symbolic actions, for which the legal ramifications will not include prison. Throughout the course of August, they liberate two pigs, eight hens and one salmon.

The animals are relocated to loving homes (well, the salmon is in the open waters, which is probably as homely as it gets) where they can live in natural and non-oppressive environments. The activists contact authorities and media and inform them about the actions they have performed. They also leave a jar of cookies and a signed letter at the sites where they liberate animals, explaining their actions. They take pictures, record sound, and record video, before, during and after the rescues, and have turned it all into documentaries and informational material on their website where people can hear their thoughts, see their actions and judge the results for themselves.

As they performed further rescues, the media attention picked up, and the activists got recognition on national level. They managed to get statements published in a multitude of papers, and garnered the support of thousands of people, dozens of whom even contacted the group and were eager to join into similar operations.

Some radical voices, on the other hand, criticized the group’s “tame” approach and friendly style of communication. But the effort the group put into this image is probably the key element of the broad popularity of their actions. The group contacted experts for consultation regarding how to best transport and feed the animals, wore protective clothing during all rescues, and generally made sure that derailing the debate with dishonest pseudo-concerns wasn’t viable, and that critics had to face on explain that the lives and well-being of these rescued individuals were not a priority compared to property rights.

This can be a valuable lesson to activists of all stripes. Just because we’re radical, we don’t have to treat those we oppose as bad as possible or profile ourselves with the most vulgar and polarizing rhetoric possible. Sometimes, we need to break things or violently defend ourselves. But other times, a friendly approach can be the most disarming thing in the world.

It feels like the clock is racing as the activists approach the second site. It will soon get bright, and as the group surveys the perimeter, they confirm that this facility is locked, and they will need to break open the front door. They proceed with their plan, get into the facility, select two pigs, and carry them to the car which they have prepared for the journey to safety.

As the activists leave the facility, it is already dawning, and they hurry into the car and drive off. The tension built up throughout the night’s events finally subsides, and some of the members of the group break into tears. The surreal circumstances of the rescue clash with everyday reality, driving a car down a countryside road seeing the two animals sleeping tightly in the back.

Even though the activists of Tomma Burar do not espouse any specific political ideas or principles other than their veganism and animal liberation sentiments, it is easy to extrapolate their actions and their thoughts to a broader context. By taking action into their own hands, and disregarding arbitrary laws, they question the very foundation of present day society. A foundation which consists of multiple layers of domination and oppression, which we can reject and act out against in a way that suits our own situation.

By being open with their identities, these activists became very relatable, with all their thoughts, fears, strengths and weaknesses, and it is easy to realize that they are not very different from anyone else. We can all let ourselves be inspired and take this with us as we envision the actions we can take ourselves, in our lives, to challenge the oppressive institutions that we are stuck with for now. At some point, all those small ripples will become a storm again, and through our actions we’re all potential links in the chain that will lead up to it.

As the early morning light paints the surrounding rural landscape in different shades of green, the activists reach the location of the new home for the two liberated pigs. One of the group’s members reflects on the night’s events:

-Watching them stroll around here, with grass under their feet, curious and playful, one single thought strikes me. How can anyone think we’ve done the wrong thing? It is absurd. We haven’t stolen anything. We have liberated two individuals.

The two young pigs grunt, as to confirm the statement, while they busily forage the surrounding grass for food and keenly explore their new surroundings. They sure enjoy themselves, but it is hard to tell if they know just how lucky they are. Back at the factory, vast amounts of their former companions will never experience anything other than crowded concrete floored confinements, with no light but instead a premature death down the tunnel.

As the activist group says it themselves, in one of their videos: Rescued animals are ambassadors for those left behind.

English website of the Swedish direct action group Tomma Burar

Vegan podcasts by members of the direct action group Tomma Burar, outlining their August campaign (in Swedish only).

Getting Ready For 1st May

Just a short post and an image, for a change. Ever since I read Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States years ago, I’ve had a special relation to 1st May. Not only was it the first time I really read something about anarchism and anarchists, about the Haymarket martyrs, it was one of the books that finally made me realize that this is something that strongly resonates with me. These were working class people, fighting for better conditions, but they also had their sights set on an entirely different society, they questioned everything. It sent me down a path from which I’ve not looked back since.

While I don’t necessarily think that this is the be-all end-all expression of anarchism – I think there is room for a multitude of different expressions – I feel like there is a slumbering strength in the working masses, and that anarchism has many times been part of realizing that strength, the people rising up to say we’ve built this world with our sweat, our blood and our tears. It is ours to tear down, and reshape as we see fit. Walking down the street underneath the red and black banners reminds me of that, and it is nice to be reminded sometimes.

Today, we spent some time putting up posters and stickers for 1st May. “Unfortunately”, we ran out of big posters, so this is mostly assorted small stuff that made it all the way back home for this time.


Colonialism, Imperialism and Animal Liberation

Colonialism is not a thinking machine, nor a body endowed with reasoning faculties. It is violence in its natural state, and it will only yield when confronted with greater violence. – Frantz Fanon [1]

It is, in theory, not necessary to point out the brutality and violence permeating the colonial and imperialist projects of various societies as they have come and gone throughout history. The arcs on which these events are documented are, as Marx said of capitalism, dripping from head to foot, from every pore, with blood and dirt. But in practice, the only danger lies in not retelling this story enough rather than in telling it too often.

Whether we are talking about Africans, enslaved and brought to the Americas as a tool for imperialist interests, native Americans robbed of their land, their freedom and ultimately their lives, the utter misery in Kongo under Belgian rule, or British imperialism in India, the underlying themes share a striking similarity. The bodies of the conquered were objectified as machines to do the work of their new masters, the land and riches were confiscated while the cultures and societies, in many cases, torn apart and destroyed. To accomplish this, an entire philosophy of domination was applied through a brutal and multilayered web of racism, sexism, religious persecution and cultural universalism strictly from the perspective of the conquerors. The cultures and practices of the natives were vilified and demonized (sometimes literally, as in the form of witch hunts), while atrocious behavior on the part of the invading empires – both at home and in their new colonies – was often explained as justified or even necessary.

It is no wonder, then, that anarchism is by very definition opposed to these practices of domination and that anarchists are among the foremost critics of this process and its lingering effects. This is very much the case also for anarchists engaged in the animal liberation struggle, as several parallels can be drawn in the way that the highly diminished status of non-human animals could be used as a platform to dehumanize and delegitimize the conquered populations and their cultures. With animals already neatly fit into the narrative of being mere tools and objects for human exploitation, labeling the colonized populations as animals immediately brought to life the desired associations.

Despite this, some would like to fit the animal liberation struggle into the imperialist project, as a form of cultural imperialism, turning such anarchists or other animal liberation activists into proponents of one of the things they abhor the most. It is often the strong advocacy for total abstention from animal exploitation – veganism – that results in accusations of racism and imperialism. How dare we force western values upon indigenous cultures and societies?

This is a serious accusation, and one understandably perceived as insulting for many engaged in the anti-speciesist struggle. But ultimately it is one worth dealing with, because doing so sheds some light on some of the implicit assumptions within the accusation itself. To start with, imperialism, and all its destructive tools, was a means of dominating others, and asserting one culture above another. Veganism, in this sense, is acultural. It doesn’t apply double standards by letting something slide in one place but not the other, it doesn’t try to establish cultural hierarchies and it is not looking to establish domination. On the contrary, it is the dismantling of domination, in all its forms, that vegan anarchists seek. We wouldn’t accept cultural expressions involving slavery, patriarchy or economic exploitation – no matter what culture we are talking about – so why should we accept any additional forms of domination in one place but not the other? Gary L. Francione, an animal liberation proponent, answers this accusation succinctly:

Those in this group beg the question and assume that speciesism is justified. That is, their position amounts to the view that it is racist or culturally insensitive to seek to protect the interests of another marginalized and particularly vulnerable group, nonhuman animals. I would imagine that most of those who have this view would not object if the marginalized beings were other humans. But this is just another way of asserting human supremacy and exceptionalism. I find that as objectionable as asserting racial supremacy. [2]

If anything, vegan anarchists espouse values that are strongly in conflict with contemporary western culture, and most efforts are rightly aimed at western societies because this is where a significant part of the severe exploitation of non-human animals takes place. Not only that, it is in many cases western influence that increases – or at least exerts a cultural and economical pressure to do so – levels of animal exploitation in societies that peruse no or relatively small amounts of animal products, such as is the case in India and among Jainists in particular. No vegan anarchists want to take away people’s means of subsistence. The claim is rather that whoever has the practical prerequisites – economic, environmental, social – ought to choose not to harm sentient beings for nearly arbitrary reasons such as old habits and taste preferences.

In fact, by trying to apply imperialist connotations to proponents of veganism, one unwittingly positions western cultures as the subject, and indigenous cultures as the object. As if the western culture is dynamic, always changing and open to questioning, while the indigenous cultures are static and confined to the state in which colonial powers found them hundreds of years ago, unable to evolve and unable to challenge their own norms and thus develop. Indeed, as Margaret Robinson, a vegan of indigenous background, points out:

When veganism is constructed as white, First Nations people who choose a meatless diet are portrayed as sacrificing cultural authenticity. This presents a challenge for those of us who see our vegan diets as ethically, spiritually and culturally compatible with our indigenous traditions. [3]

The push against speciesist thinking should transcend cultural boundaries, as should any global struggle against oppression, thus uniting the participants across such divides. Questioning part of cultures on grounds of oppression – from within or without – is only hypocritical when done in the traditional guise of ignoring the same issues at home. But here vegans and anarchists are adamant, and emphasize the injustice in western culture as one of the large causes for the problem in the first place. In many of the indigenous legends, the use of animals was seen as a sacrifice, which was done out of necessity, not out of the ability to dominate. Many of these cultures have been pushed beyond such a relationship with nature, and as such can within their own spiritual and cultural heritage find arguments for moving beyond the objectified relationship with animals often imposed by imperialist conquest. In other words, when the material conditions no longer necessitate the exploitation of non-human animals for survival, the indigenous traditions can in many cases be seen as an argument for veganism, and not against it.

When people single out veganism for this type of critique, typically also calling it a form of consumerism, they mistake it for being promoted as the one and only solution to a problem. But I don’t have to think that abstaining from buying slaves, by itself, would stop the slave trade, to think that it would be unethical for me to participate in trading slaves. Consequently, activism and veganism are two components to reach one goal – the end of human domination of non-human animals.

While the activist component of animal liberation promotes agitation, direct action and similar activities, veganism is a way of already living in the now without being complicit in the perpetuation of the exploitation, which, besides showing that our ends can be our means, also shows that it is a viable alternative, and as such paves the way for others to follow suit. The burden of proof should be on the participants in the animal exploitation cycle to show that despite their participation, their choices have no negative net effect whatsoever on the well-being of sentient creatures. Because if their choices do have such consequences, and there is a practical alternative that doesn’t, then clearly that alternative is a better choice. This is especially true if said alternative synergizes with the wider struggle against domination.

There is a difference here between on the one hand anti-capitalist struggle and on the other hand anti-speciesist struggle. While capitalism permeates our entire society, and can be very hard or even counter-productive to fully distance oneself from, our domination of other animals is literally advertising its own presence wherever we face it and is often readily avoidable, so we don’t have to marginalize ourselves in society or act in highly impractical ways in order to withdraw from its perpetuation. Instead, a sharp critique of capitalist practices such as industrialized animal farming can be used as a launching point for a wholesale attack on capitalism as a system. There are synergies abound, comrades, and we should all support each other in building a strong, multi-faceted and vibrant movement that challenges the dominant ideologies of present society on all fronts on which they conflict with freedom and well-being.

Veganism, as an ethical choice, is thus a consistent complement to activism in the quest to end human domination over and exploitation of non-human animals. It transcends cultures, in the same way that other forms of oppression should be resisted no matter where they persist. All cultures are living and constantly evolving, and can from within their own cultural understanding find the tools and means through which speciesism, racism, sexism, capitalism or any other form of domination can be opposed. Everyone who opposes domination should find it within their interest to engage in or at least support the anti-speciesist struggle, for what more severe form of domination could we imagine than the notion that it is acceptable to harm and kill sentient beings because one likes their taste?

[1] The Wretched of the Earth – Frantz Fanon [PDF]

[2] Racism Versus Speciesism: A Moral Battleground? – Katrina Fox [link]

[3] Indigenous Veganism: Feminist Natives Do Eat Tofu – Margaret Robinson [link]

Animal Liberation

Words are funny in many ways, aren’t they? They can say a lot about ourselves just by the way they affect us. Combining a couple of them might cause an even greater upset. Animal Liberation is one such combination. Many wince when they hear it in a conversation or read it somewhere, and have a distinct preconception regarding what this phrase means. Oh, that. Which brings us to the funny part, because, why would anyone react with suspicion towards the notion of their own liberation? Humans are, after all, just another animal. Then again, many live their physically and mentally sheltered lives under the impression that no liberation is needed. Anarchists usually know better, but despite this fact, our initial reaction would often subconsciously construct the same dichotomy; animals, that’s them. We, we are humans.

We are, however, but one of many animals on this planet. We haven’t been around the longest, we’re not the most numerous, and we’re far from the most skilled at many things. We don’t know what it feels like to soar through the blue vastness of the the sky, with the strength of our wings and our skills in using them being the only things stopping us from plunging to the ground. We have no idea what it means to dive into the depths of the ocean for long periods of time, unaided but for a sleek and sturdy body. We can’t even begin to imagine the scenery so self-evident to a nocturnal being that sees with sound waves. Yet, ironically, one of our most notable features, is exactly to proclaim how special we are. We have much more in common with certain animals than they have with others, still we are part of one world and they of another. While many other animals fill an important niche in the ecosystem, we’re not only quite irrelevant, but actually the only species that threatens the well-being of the entire planet. Still, we continue to measure other animals by our own yardstick, and congratulate ourselves to our superiority. But what is sophisticated reasoning and modern technology worth if we cannot value a life?

We are of course also capable of doing good things. Anarchists know that it is not a new, better, human being we need, but a society that enables us to nourish our tendencies towards mutual aid, cooperation and individual autonomy. A society that doesn’t hide the consequences of our actions from us, doesn’t alienate us from ourselves and one another, doesn’t pit us against each other, and above all, a society that isn’t contingent on the perpetual oppression of some by others. This is the liberation we should strive for. The liberation of all those oppressed beings, all animals. This is the Animal Liberation.

The interconnectedness of our social lives today is mirrored in the interconnectedness of our struggles and the different forms of oppression we face. The capitalist mode of production, with its ability to hide the social relations behind its ruthless, commodified and mechanical search for profits, in this way hides the suffering and exploitation of both non-human and human animals. To see this connection makes us stronger, and our cause the more important. In the same way that women have been objectified, not only culturally but also as a tool to control the reproduction of the working class, the bodies of non-human animals have been objectified to forward the interests of capital. By analyzing these things separately, we miss the bigger picture. There are synergies between all forms of oppression, and a strike at one is incomplete without a strike at the other. When white Europeans traveled the world and discovered other cultures, and people of color, what was one of the main justifications for the brutal subjugation of these new-found societies? “They are not human. They are animals.” By devaluing the lives of non-human animals, the road was paved towards doing the same to anyone that was different from the narrow norm. It is also a well known fact that violence towards other animals is often a precursor of violence towards humans. This is true on an individual level, as is often the case for women stuck in violent relationships, but also in the way governments have fine tuned methods of warfare on non-human animals in laboratories or military facilities before unleashing them on other nations. In other words, we have all the reasons to look at the big picture because it helps us to form the best tactics going forward. The boundary we usually draw between ourselves and other animals misses the point, because it has nothing to do with their ability to suffer. In that, they are just like us, and as anarchists we should recognize their suffering and make sure it is recognized as a form of oppression that we need to dismantle.

At this point usually a few concerns are raised. Even though few, if any, anarchists would disagree with the notion that factory farming is an atrocity, various forms of the “class first” argument are brought forward to signal that this is not the time to particularly think about other animals. This largely used to be the case with feminism as well, but it is decreasingly so, and that for several good reasons. First, these different struggles rarely stand in any sort of practical opposition to each other. It is possible to engage in both of them, and the same is true regarding the issue of non-human animals. From the simplest things, such as making sure the food is vegan when hosting functions, to supporting activists involved in the animal liberation struggle and seriously engaging with these ideas theoretically.

Secondly, the various forms of oppression will affect different people in different ways. Often they will intersect. We cannot set aside the plight of others because in making such priorities we often presume too much and are biased towards our own perceived grievances. This not only shows a lack of solidarity, but even worse so, tends to divide us instead of giving us strength in numbers. Sure enough, we cannot expect non-human animals to partake actively in the process of liberation, but this is also true for groups of humans, which would never lead us to think they do not deserve our solidarity. There are also significant numbers of anarchists already engaged in animal liberation in various ways, and in that sense the divisiveness of such argumentation is as real here as in the case of feminism or racism. Besides, the suffering caused to non-human animals, largely through factory farming and other capitalist institutions, is of staggering proportions. Forgoing all but the end to capitalism itself in the struggle for the abolition of it seems like a very narrow-minded and far-fetched approach to an acute issue of great consequences here and now. Although state capitalism utilizes many forms of oppression to divide and conquer its subjects, most of those are not unique to this system, and as such we have no reason to assume they would resolve with the end of it without a deliberate effort.

The revolution cannot be some distant and abstract mirage on the horizon. It must start within us, before it can happen on a large scale in the material world. Our means must be our ends, because we will reap what we have sown. Of course, lifestylism by itself will never bring about a social revolution, but at the same time the social revolution will never happen unless we act it out in our everyday lives – or it will come and go, leaving those marginalized forms of oppression intact. Just like refraining from owning slaves didn’t really forward the abolitionist cause, it also didn’t in any way justify doing the opposite. And using animals for our own benefit – when not necessary, which it rarely is for most of us – is in the same way not a personal lifestyle choice; it is not like picking which shirt to wear. It has direct negative consequences, death and suffering, which to a large extent can be avoided.

Another thing that needs to be pointed out is that this is not aimed at those remote cultures dependent on traditional hunter-gatherer lifestyles for their survival. The absolute majority of the oppression of non-human animals takes place in industrial facilities where domesticated animals are exploited for food, clothing and vivisection. This is where our efforts should be aimed. The difference between us and those traditional cultures is also that we, willingly or not, have been pushed beyond such a relationship with nature. From here, we can only go forward, and with what we know, with what we can do, there is no reason to revert back to a way of life that in any way harms other animals. We already have an immense debt towards nature, and we can live immersed in its beauty without causing any more suffering.

Despite all this, it would be unrealistic to expect everyone – or even just all anarchists for that matter – to become vegans tomorrow. Everyone has their own capabilities and constraints, and only they can know how to best turn theory into practice. This is also not the aim of this text. Rather, it is a plea to take that first step by recognizing veganism as a natural extension of anarchism, to start engaging with the idea of a society free from all animal exploitation and to start finding ways to take steps in that direction in practice. We can draw experience, strength and courage from our overlapping struggles, instead of letting them divide us. But to do that, we must be uncompromising in our questioning of unjustified hierarchies, authority and violence, and be prepared to also listen to those whose voice is otherwise not heard. There is nothing unique about human suffering. There is nothing necessary about our exploitation of other animals.