This is from my official writing website. Please check it out! Follow! Thanks =)
This is from my official writing website. Please check it out! Follow! Thanks =)
The new issue of The Animals’ Voice magazine is out, and my narrative nonfiction piece about doing undercover stockyard investigations is the COVER STORY!! This is the biggest thing ever for my writing resume =)
This past week is 10 years since my brother’s suicide. Here’s a blog post I wrote last year about him and his life and death and the effects they had on me and my life.
Hey everyone, I’d love for you to check out my official website-blog for my writing! I do mainly fiction novels and narrative nonfiction, but I dabble in everything. High-concept, darkly funny, social-justice-oriented, wild, daring stuff. I’d love for you to check it out! Thanks =)
I meant emotionally, you dirty bird! Jeez.
Anyway, I had this amazing interaction yesterday. I was getting off the freeway and there was a homeless guy I’d seen before in the same place; his sign said, “VIETNAM VETERAN. NEED WORK. ANYTHING.” I didn’t have any cash so I jammed my hand into my change slot and grabbed a handful and called him over. The light’d turned green, so I was blocking traffic. He limped over on his cane and I said, “Sorry, this is all I have, hope it helps!” He was extremely grateful, like one would think inordinately so. His profusion of gratitude made me feel even worse that I didn’t have food to give him. So after shopping at Trader Joe’s down the street I went to a nearby Chipotle and bought a vegan burrito (brown cilantro-lime rice, black beans, salsa fresca, hella guacamole) and a peach-orange juice. I hurried back to the offramp but he wasn’t there! So I drove around the neighborhood and found him slowly walking down the street. I pulled into an auto body shop’s parking lot and hurried out of the car with the jumbo burrito and glass bottle of juice. “Hey man, remember me? I brought you some food, you hungry?”
Immediately he was taken aback. “Oh yeah, I’d love some food!” He was probably late-50s, with a wicked handlebar mustache (a la 1970s Nick Mason, perhaps a contributing factor to my fondness for him).
“Great!” I said. “It’s a vegan burrito, so no meat or dairy, but trust me—it’ll fill you up, and it’s healthy and delicious!”
He took the offerings like they were bricks of gold. I was startled to see that his ocean-blue eyes were beginning to tear up. This gave me full-body chills, as often happens to me, perhaps oddly, when I have a meaningful interaction with a stranger. “Oh man this is so great, thank you so much.” His voice warbled. I started tearing up a little too. “I’m just tryin to get by, hopefully next month they’re gonna get me a place to stay and take care of me.” He was crying openly now, and even more touchingly, didn’t seem to be embarrassed at all. And for you cynics, I detected no drugs or alcohol in his system. He was just another man, down on his luck, and profoundly touched by what he perceived as tremendous generosity on my part (I don’t see it that way; I just see it as doing some small thing to help a suffering fellow earthling).
I asked him if he meant the V.A. (Veteran’s Administration). He said no, he’s waiting for his disability to clear. “I went to ‘Nam in ’69 and took shrapnel in the leg.” With his metal cane, he tapped at his shin area, emitting a metallic clanking.
“You don’t have to prove it to me, I believe you,” I said with a smile.
“Hey, thank you so much brother, I really appreciate it.” His voice still shook and tears ran down his cheeks and in that moment I felt both touched and extremely sad that this simple, routine gesture on my part was met with such incredible gratitude—because it demonstrated the probable uncommonness of his receiving such gestures. I always try to carry food with me in my car for such occasions. I remember when I lived in San Francisco and took MUNI to work, there was always an older woman standing by the stairs when I would emerge onto the street, and I gave her one of my snack-bananas or oranges every morning.
He shook my hand and then embraced me hard. “God bless you.”
I let that one slide—people like him deserve to have that hope, even if it’s in all probability specious. “Hey, it’s no problem, really.” I was smoking a cigarette, so I asked him if he smoked, if he wanted a couple. He said that would be great. He tucked them into his pocket, gently, a sweet treat to savor later.
I mentioned that I was just coming out of some hard times myself, that I recently got out of prison after two years. “Oh man, that’s terrible,” he said. “I did a year and a half myself a long time ago. Even one day is too long! But I shot a cop, so I was actually lucky.”
My eyes widened. “You shot a cop?”
“Yeah, it was an accident—he kicked the door in on the wrong house and I was sitting on the couch and fired, but it was just buck shot.”
“Well that’s still pretty awesome, most cops are bastards.”
Now it was his turn to be surprised. “Yeah man, they really are! It didn’t used to be so bad, but it’s getting worse and worse.”
“Most of em are thugs, you know, give one person a gun and power over other people and most of them are going to abuse it.”
He hugged me again, sniffling. “Thank you so much, brother, happy holidays and New Year.” His voice trembled violently at this, and I intuited that he had family he wouldn’t be seeing this holiday season, and yet still he wished me—young, privileged white kid—happy holidays. I don’t particularly care about the winter holidays, but it was still so sweet of him. I was tempted to tell him about my fourth novel, Orange Rain, the main character a legless Vietnam vet burning for revenge on those who wreaked havoc on his life, but I thought it would be kinder of me to not make my homeless friend think of those pernicious gut-wrenching memories any more than he already no doubt does.
“Hey,” I said, “it’s my pleasure, dude. Try to stay strong and know that things will get better, okay?”
More fresh tears. This was walloping me emotionally (and him too, apparently). “You too. Thank you so much, man.” He held up the aluminum-foil-wrapped burrito and smiled. “I can’t wait, this is gonna be so great.”
I gave him one final hug, which he gratefully accepted and returned. I said, “Try to stay warm and take care of yourself.”
A tear rolled from his quite-beautiful eyes and down his cheek. “God bless you, young man.”
As he limped off and I climbed into my car, I called out one last thing, something I pretty much never say to anyone: “Thank you for your service!”
“Hey, I was just doin what I had to!” It was clear to me he’d been drafted into that horrible, murderous, unnecessary imperialistic war. He saluted me. I saluted back with a smile, and drove to the next light and stopped at the red to flip a U. Then I saw what, strangely for me, may’ve been the most touching part of the whole interaction.
He was waiting for a green light so he could cross the street. He was down on one knee, both hands gripping the head of his cane, head bowed.
The disabled veteran was thanking his god for me. For my simple gesture. As much as I loathe religion, I couldn’t help but be profoundly touched by this sign of gratitude (even if it was directed at the wrong individual, ha!)—it was symbolic of how much what I did meant to him, even though spending 8 or 10 bucks or whatever was essentially nothing to me. My eyes welled with tears and I smiled in a way that I’ve rarely smiled as of late, as I’ve been struggling with deep depression: the kind of smile that involves not just your lips but your eyes too.
Never think that a small act of kindness on your part can’t have a monumental effect on a person. It was clear to me that I made his night and had a profound, maybe even lasting impact on him. I don’t do these kinds of things to get something in return, but to touch and be touched in this way is phenomenally gratifying. It’s the very reason I decided at twelve years old that I wanted to be a novelist: to touch people emotionally, to get them to feel more strongly, to live more passionately. The dominant culture—industrial civilization—doesn’t want us to feel; it tries ruthlessly to deaden us inside, turn us into unfeeling drones. And it is dreadfully successful at it. Because only a people who are largely dead inside emotionally could go about making the economy function, be good consumers, “good Germans,” as billions of sentient animals are savagely slaughtered for nothing more than pleasing people’s taste buds, as thousands of children starve to death every day while we First Worlders discard literally tons of perfectly good food, as the world burns amidst a mass extinction of animals and plants; only people who are all but dead emotionally could sit idly by, or, if we do resist, we do so weakly, partially, only giving tiny bits of our hearts and lives to the struggle, as these and a million other absolute atrocities occur on a sickeningly pervasive, incessant basis.
So feel more. Give of yourself more. Live with greater passion for the things you love. Because resistance to the genocidal, ecocidal, omnicidal dominant culture begins in our hearts and increases exponentially the more we FEEL and SEE. After that, together, our power to effect change is truly boundless, and limited only by our timidity and ineffectuality and silence.
Written by me, Jan Smitowicz, and simul-posted with Negotiation is Over!
It was the summer of 2007 and things were getting hot in the Los Angeles animal rights world. At the end of June, an incendiary device was left under the posh BMW of a UCLA primate vivisector, Arthur Rosenbaum. It failed to ignite; even so, the Federal Bureau of Investigation was offering a $110,000 reward to any information leading to the arrest and conviction of those responsible. A reward of $60,000 (UCLA contributed $30,000 to each of the reward offers) was still being offered for a similar incident from the prior summer, when an incendiary device was left on the porch of a different UCLA primate torturer, Lynn Fairbanks. The FBI claimed the device—which also failed to ignite—was left on the wrong porch, that of an elderly neighbor. How bad that looks for the radical(s) who performed the action, right? I’m confident it’s a complete fabrication by the FBI–it wouldn’t be the first time (see COINTELPRO).
During World Week for Laboratory Animals in April of 2007, a federal agent was putzing around trying to hand out fliers to activists at UCLA about the incident and the reward money. Most of us didn’t even take the fliers. We don’t know shit, leave us alone! We were pretty fresh off a relatively short but intense—and successful!—campaign against the POM Wonderful juice company. Southern California activists performed frequent and noisy home demonstrations against the corporation’s CEOs and various executives. POM was funding animal research on rabbits and baby mice (which included depriving the latter of oxygen for 45 minutes to induce severe brain damage) to try and show how their juice could help with erectile dysfunction and Alzheimer’s.
I was president of Irvine Students Against Animal Cruelty (ISAAC) at UC Irvine, but I cut my home demo teeth on this campaign. Vice President and company spokesperson Fiona Possell resigned from the company, citing pressure from animal rights groups (that was us!) It was at her classy home in Santa Monica during a home demonstration that a neighbor punched a female protestor in the face—police were nearby, and it was caught on camera, but nothing was done. No surprise there, as the police exist largely to enforce the status quo and protect the rich and powerful members of the dominant culture. In addition to our protests, the Animal Rights Militia (ARM) claimed in December 2006 to have tampered with several hundred bottles of POM Wonderful’s pomegranate juice on the East Coast, and that anybody who drank one of the contaminated bottles would get diarrhea and vomiting. The communique stated, in part,
“If people who want to hold a sign and shout to get out the truth about what’s happening inside places that confine and inflict pain and cruelty on animals are being thrown in jail and harassed by the government, we will fight that much harder from the underground, where it’s safer than holding a sign and yelling the truth” [emphasis added].
Whole Foods pulled ALL POM Wonderful from their shelves; on January 16, they announced that they would cease selling the juice at all of their stores nationwide starting April 1. The very next day, the company announced that they would cease all animal testing. This campaign is a perfect, quintessential example of how aboveground, legal tactics and illegal sabotage can work beautifully in concert, even when there is an absolute firewall between the two—no connection, no crossover in knowledge or personnel. But that’s not what this essay is about.
This essay is about one particular day of demonstrations around Los Angeles. I merely discussed the aforementioned to set the scene, to show the level of intensity and police interest and intimidation against our aboveground, legal, (supposedly) constitutionally-protected free speech. Whenever underground actions happen, the authorities get so frustrated because they are almost pathologically incapable of catching saboteurs. So they come after those who are doing legal activism, so they can at least suppress something! Several houses of activists had recently been raided in the LA-area. Because of this and other repressive measures by the police, the organizers of this day of demonstrations decided that we would do it Black-Bloc style—wearing all black clothes and using bandanas or masks to cover our faces. This served a dual purpose: to hide our identities from the blueballed cops, and to display our solidarity with the faceless, nameless animals being tortured and killed for profit and nothing more.
We met in the late morning at a park-and-ride lot off Mulholland Drive in North Hollywood, right next to the 405 Freeway. As we were milling around waiting for everyone to arrive and figure out carpool logistics, one of the activists pointed across the massive ten-lane Highway to another parking lot: there was a guy in a pickup truck, staring at us through binoculars. An undercover cop or investigator. “Looks like the heat is already here,” somebody commented. We had no idea just how hot it would get.
The first demonstration was a short and relatively bullshit-free one at the Westwood home and neighborhood of a UCLA vivisector. Then we moved on to the apartment building of the head of Los Angeles Animal “Services,” the umbrella for all animal shelters in the county—which euthanized approximately 50,000 dogs and cats and other companion animals a year (and then sold their corpses to rendering plants, which boiled them up and sold the fatty gunk to factory farms for cows and chickens and others to eat—if you eat animal corpses, you literally could be eating someone who ate your dear euthanized companion animal—puppies on your plate). There were a few cop cars at the demo, but it was still relatively quiet. Then the LA Sheriff’s Department helicopter showed up and hovered way up overhead, watching us. A fucking police helicopter, for about fifteen (15) activists! We headed for Santa Monica, our last destination for the day, and that’s when it started to get really crazy. Each of the four carloads of demonstrators by now had an undercover tail, probably hired by UCLA. The police chopper was also following us across the sprawling city. One of the cars was pulled over leaving the demo and Coby, then about 82 years old, was given a ticket for not wearing her seatbelt (it was broken, she couldn’t wear it). They were detained, held up for nearly an hour, thereby eliminating their ability to attend the final protest.
Me and the rest of our carload were getting pretty goddamned annoyed at being followed, so we decided to try and shake the bastard. We blasted through red lights, screeched around corners, zipped down alleys, parked and hid in a driveway. Thought we lost him. We waited for five minutes and then emerged from the alley, only to find him right there waiting for us. Shit!
When we arrived at UCLA primate torturer Arthur Rosenbaum’s lovely blood-money house in Santa Monica, the scene literally took our breath away. It was like nothing I’ve ever seen before. His entire block was barricaded off on both ends. There was an entire line of cops in full riot gear—helmets, padding, batons—stretching across his entire front yard. Cop cars everywhere. Helicopter chopping the sky overhead. Two big city buses were parked at the end of the street; they were empty, and I don’t know if they brought the cops, or if they were there to hustle us all off to prison. Because believe me when I tell you they really, REALLY wanted to arrest us. To say the cops had hard-ons for us doesn’t even begin to describe it. Clusters of them on every corner and at each barricade. Lines of them surrounding his house. It looked like a fucking war zone, but no—just an animal abuser’s house in Santa Monica on a pleasant, warm Sunday afternoon! I counted over sixty police officers, and that was just the ones in uniform. Sixty-plus cops—for twelve activists. More than five cops for every one nonviolent, peaceful protestor. Good to know our tax dollars are being well spent to repress legitimate dissent, eh?!
They had the decibel-measuring machine ready and waiting already. We’d previously been harassed and repressed and arrested for “exceeding the allowable decibel level,” an old, obscure city law they either dug up or created just for us. They said if we exceeded 40 decibels we’d be arrested. Do you know what 40 decibels sounds like?? You’re reading this in your head, you’re almost exceeding 40 fucking decibels. 30 is a whisper, so 40 is a soft chat. We’re supposed to be allowed freedom of speech and assembly and protest, but we couldn’t even chant! So fuck it—when the heat is on, you adapt and overcome. We mutually agreed, all 12 of us, to do a silent protest, thereby eliminating their ability to arrest us (on THAT charge, anyway!). We had to be extremely careful, because they yearned tragically to arrest each and every one of us. As we began marching in step down the street with our signs, the cop with the sound measurer was literally holding the apparatus toward us, hoping the shuffling of our feet would exceed 40 decibels so they could throw us down and brutalize and arrest us. It was so utterly insane and surreal—indescribably so.
We walked up and down Rosenbaum’s block, single-file, keeping close together for at least the psychological illusion of safety and protection. An activist was ticketed by the cops for handing out fliers to neighbors because the fliers didn’t have the group’s address on it, or some ridiculous shit. Every so often we would stop and raise our fists in unison, not uttering a sound. We educated the killer’s neighbors. One of them came out of her house and walked alongside us, across the street, for a solid ten minutes, clapping and thanking us for being there, telling her neighbors that it was beautiful that we were there for the animals. Bless her heart!
When we’d get to the front of Rosenbaum’s house, where the line of riot cops stood holding their batons and trying to intimidate us like the terrorists they are, we adopted a new tactic: the entire length of his house, we stood in line facing the cops and slowly shuffle-stepped sideways, staring into their eyes through the plastic of their protective shields—our eyes, the only parts of our faces visible above our bandanas. When our line was fully in front of the house, just feet from the cops, we’d stop and throw up our fists and whisper together, “ANIMAL LIBERATION!” I looked into their eyes and whispered things like, “Do you know who you’re protecting? Do you know what this man does to nonhuman primates?”
And so it was that we spent an hour there, educating the neighbors, inconveniencing Arthur Rosenbaum (who was home—we’d see him or his family or friends peer through the curtains); I like to think that 60-70 cops and a blocked-off street and a dozen riot-gear-clad filth was far more annoying and scary than we could’ve ever been with just a normal, noisy protest! We also probably cost the county several hundred thousand dollars that day. With only about a dozen of us! Legal economic sabotage, if you will. It seems like it would be hard for the cities and the county to justify ever again spending that kind of money on a small cadre of nonviolent, legal protestors. I find it unbelievable that not a single one of us was arrested, given how badly they wanted to, and how easy it would’ve been for them to just do it and fabricate a reason, and how much money and person-power they were spending on us. That alone is an amazing victory for us. I’m proud of my fellow activists that day for not backing down from the inferno of heat that surrounded us. When that kind of repression comes down, it is a clear message from those in power that we are being effective. That is the time not to back down, but to INCREASE the pressure on abusers.
As activists for compassion in the thrashing endgame of industrial civilization, to use a phrase of Derrick Jensen’s, it will become ever more important for us to constantly reevaluate our tactics and our targets and our focus, to constantly be open to adaptation in the face of repression. Obviously we wanted to have a loud rowdy demonstration, but we couldn’t—so we overcame the heat and found a way to be effective nonetheless. The repression is only going to increase (see, for example, everything that people like Camille Marino, Tim DeChristopher, Rod Coronado, Chris Lagergren and so many others have gone through or are going through.)
Let this one day and the climate surrounding it be a lesson to all who see the Holocaust of animals and the Earth and aren’t content to be “Good Germans” and let it happen without resisting. Adapt. Overcome. For the animals, for the Earth, FOR THE LIBERATION OF ALL!