RE: my new self-published novel Orange Rain:
Read about/purchase my novel here:
RE: my new self-published novel Orange Rain:
Read about/purchase my novel here:
This is from the 1,600 page handwritten novel I wrote in prison, called The Liberators. It is an epic political thriller about a group of underground animal liberationists. Context: CJ Barry, the president of a University animal rights group, has been subpoenaed to appear before a Grand Jury, in Los Angeles, that is investigating an arson committed at his school. There is a massive protest outside the Federal Building, and a famous vegan mega-pop-star (kind of like a Chrissie Hynde-type, but even bigger) named Zander Huxley has written a song about animal liberation, called Song for the Liberators, which she sings at the protest (this is all fictional). Here is what she sings….
The animals trapped miserable in their cages
And everyone just sits around and waits.
Except for those brave, masked sages
Who break in and liberate.
“Carpe noctem,” they say, “seize the night.
We’ll don our black clothes and masks
And for the oppressed we will fight—
As we set about our righteous freedom tasks.”
“Our soaring hearts will not be tamed,”
Their primal warrior cry;
“We’ll watch their buildings go up in flames
Until the very day we die.”
So free the animals
Or support the ones who do.
Free the animals
It’s up to me and you.
Yeah free the animals.
Let ‘em say what they might.
Free the animals—
Search your heart, you’ll know it’s right.
“Liberate! Until the day we die!
Liberate!” Their ceaseless freedom cry.
For more information on National Animal Rights Day III and our incredibly powerful and touching public ceremony, during which several dozen compassionate southern Californians stood in formation and held the dead bodies of animals who died in slaughterhouses because of sickness, overcrowding, heat exhaustion, et. al. and were therefore “unfit to eat”, please see my dear friend Kara’s wonderful vegan feminist blog post on her Vegan Rabbit WP site, National Animal Rights Day 2013 Activists Share Their Stories.
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!
Posted on the WP blog of Dr. Steve Best; written by my ally in support for strategic sabotage, Usnea–someone with whom I did relief work at Common Ground in New Orleans’s 9th Ward after Hurricane Katrina in December of 2005.
By Usnea, Earth First! Journal, 2011
I state without fear—but with the hope of rallying our collective courage—that I support radical actions. I support tools like industrial sabotage, monkey wrenching machinery and strategic arson. The Earth’s situation is dire. If other methods are not enough, we must not allow concerns about property rights to stop us from protecting the land, sea, and air. Today, more than ever, the Earth needs our effective action using all the methods of resistance at our disposal. Radical actions and radical movements grow out of supportive cultures. Let us once again build a strong supportive base for them.
Don’t get me wrong. During the Green Scare, in which dozens of activists were incarcerated, our movement got seriously screwed with, and we have had some extremely hard times because of the outstanding repression we have faced for the last six years. I want to remember…
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This post brings together two seemingly disparate topics which in reality connect well together. I’m putting them in one post because I happened to do the two separate things on the same day (UC Davis animal research protest with the Open the Cages Tour and a nature and arboretum walk).
First we got our protest on at the despicable California National Primate Research Center; there were young activists in their 20s like myself, and people who have been protesting vivisection since before many of us were born (perhaps it’s long past time we as a ‘movement’ reevaluate the tactics we support and advocate?). A great mixture of old-school and new-school coming together.
One of the tourers got some good messages out there as he was interviewed by two separate local channels (I don’t know how much they actually showed–my guess is not-much, but such is the way of the world). He was eloquent and concise, although I do wish he’d talked not just about primates, since rats and mice constitute 95% of the animals used in vivisection, and they suffer unfathomably as well; of course, it was a protest focusing on the Primate Research Center, but there’s nothing wrong with mentioning the millions of beautiful, sweet little creatures (I’ve had rescued pet rats for the last 5 years, and they’re wonderful and amazing companions!) who aren’t even covered under the already-pitiful and rarely-enforced Animal Welfare Act. That’s right, the AWA excludes all rodents, so they’re basically like naked soldiers walking into a nuclear test range.
I also got to get a little megaphone time; I already have what they call “megaphone mouth,” meaning the ability to make my voice very, very loud, so I’m hoping the monkeys in their tiny cages could hear me calling for their freedom from their Nazi imprisoners deep behind the walls of the torture chambers.
Tonight the Open the Cages Tour will be having an Animal Rights workshop in Seattle, and tomorrow there will be a protest at the University of Washington. Then it’s farther on up the Best Coast to Vancouver! Here is their tour schedule.
After that, I met up with a friend from college, Kirsti, whom I haven’t seen in nearly three years. She’s a major plant enthusiast and has a degree in Biological Science with an emphasis in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, so she taught me a LOT about plants; usually I’m the one telling others about the natural features of an area, so it was very nice and humbling to be schooled; hopefully I can impart some of her impressive knowledge to you, Dear Reader. First we went to the Yolo Bypass Wildlife Area, just outside Davis, where we saw some lovely flowers, snowy egrets and a great blue heron, red-winged blackbirds, and swarms of beautiful dragonflies above our heads.
Kirsti says: “Most people think that the sunflower is a single flower, but actually it is a composite of numerous florets (small flowers). Each single outer petal is actually a sterile floret, and the real flowers are arranged in the center in a beautiful Fibannochi pattern to maximize packing of seeds after they are fertilized.” So cool! I never knew that–had no idea.
“This showy orange flower is a south African plant called Wild Dagga. The plant’s modest water requirements and ability to attract hummingbirds makes it a popular ornamental in the Central Valley and Southern California.”
“[This] succulent is a hybrid of Echeveria elegans and it is being showcased in a garden filled with hand-picked “All Stars” chosen by the Arboretum Master Gardener staff for their ability to flourish in Davis and the Central Valley with minimal upkeep.” I referred to the Echeveria as the “dancers” because the flowers look like they’re swing-dancing!
I was a little conflicted about posting a single non-native plant picture on this blog (the Wild Dagga), but Kirsti can provide a scholarly interpretation of the arboretum’s general ecological soundness; obviously it has value in teaching people about plants, but you always have to ask, At what cost? Like how zoos can teach us about animals, but at a horrific cost to the animals and our own psyches (on this topic, I cannot more highly recommend Derrick Jensen’s beautiful, heartbreaking book, Thought to Exist in the Wild: Awakening From the Nightmare of Zoos). But this arboretum is a good one. As we come nearer and nearer to a post-oil world, learning about and propagating plants is becoming immeasurably important. I’ll let Kirsti take it away!
“As climate change threatens the [Central] Valley with increasing water shortages, the Arboretum emphasizes the practice of xeriscaping, aka green landscaping– or designing gardens that use plants that reduce or eliminate the need for irrigation. [emphasis added]
“Using native plants is one obvious tactic, as they are already adapted to the particular water needs of the region, and their presence supports the myriad insects, birds and other organisms that exist in the native community. Although most exotic plants tend to require more maintenance or water than natives, the Arboretum has done a great job of identifying specific drought-resistant exotic plants from other countries that synergize with the Central Valley’s climate.
“Invasive species are a real problem because they compete with native species for space and resources and might possess novel qualities that allow them to proliferate out of control and wipe out scores of native species and communities in their wake. Although some exotic plants may be beneficial in green landscaping, it is important to remember that these seemingly isolated plants start as source population for spreading beyond your garden, and this may have tragic consequences to the local ecosystem. In the interest of protecting native communities, the real focus should be on landscaping with native plants that are relatively beneficial to the native community in the event they escape beyond your garden.” [emphasis added]
Beautifully rendered explanations, Kirsti, thank you so much for your input!
This book was released five years ago, but it’s still great and still very timely and I want to promote it, so this is my short review of it.
As the World Burns: 50 Simple Things You Can Do to Stay in Denial, by Derrick Jensen and Stephanie McMillan, Seven Stories Press, 2007.
As the World Burns is a graphic novel about a world becoming increasingly unlivable. Dams choke rivers and decimate fish populations, factories spew toxic garbage into the air and water and soil, and enormous swaths of open space disappear to the death-marching “progress” of industrial civilization (sound familiar?). And we’re supposed to fight this death machine by recycling? Taking shorter showers? All the while, aliens from outer space have descended, and bought off the rights to what’s left of Planet Earth’s natural resources from the torture-loving, zombie-faced U.S. President in exchange for large amounts of gold. The aliens begin gorging themselves—literally—on the forests, rocks, mountains, fish, and everything else in the natural world until almost nothing is left. And the president’s corporate masters are not happy about it…
The novel traces the philosophical evolutions of many disparate human characters—young adults, mainstream environmentalists, a nature-loving wanderer who may or may not be Derrick Jensen—and how they come together, both conceptually and physically, to rise up with appropriate levels of resistance and stop those who are killing the planet. For the nonhumans, there is never any question. The crows, the polar bears, the raccoons and fish and one-eyed “vicious terrorist” bunny who escaped from a vivisection lab, don’t have the luxury of waiting patiently for the revolution to come, for the shackles of civilization to be gradually lifted. They don’t have air conditioning, water filters, or laws to protect them; they feel the brutal effects of industry and human development every day, in their bodies, in their psyches. For those with the steel-toed Shaq-boot of civilization on their necks, there is no tomorrow.
As the World Burns is a gripping, hilarious, heartbreaking tale. I cheered and I cried when the one-eyed bunny returns to the vivisection lab and exacts revenge on his tormentors. We could all learn something from the “terrorist” bunny, and the rest of the nonhumans in the story. They never stop to question whether their actions are “moral,” legal, or fit into a rigid dogmatic philosophical doctrine (also a product of civilization, a concern that just doesn’t exist in the natural world). Freedom is all that matters.
As the World Burns is rife with Jensen’s acerbic wit. McMillan’s drawings are fabulous, too. It is necessarily less in depth than Jensen’s usual long, winding, piercing analyses. In a way, this is a blessing, since this makes it much more accessible to those not well-versed in anti-civ ideas. Get a copy, spend a few hours being entertained and inspired, and then pass it around to your friends. You just might plant the seeds of revolution.
You can buy it from your local used book store, or directly from Derrick Jensen (and check out his great website while you’re at it!).
I get right up against the fence and stare at them. So many of these 1000-plus-pound animals in such a small space. Dozens in each bullpen. They are literally knee deep in their own squishy, sloppy excrement. With the nitrous oxide, methane, and other pollutants that are so highly concentrated in the area from cow farts, burps, and shit, it’s no wonder the rates of asthma and other respiratory illnesses are so high in local schoolchildren.
Exploiting animals doesn’t just hurt them; it hurts humans, especially children, and the environment too.
There are some workers toward the back of the property moving around random junk with a bulldozer. I try to just look like a curious wanderer (which is ultimately what I am in all my life, so it’s not too hard). Swinging around to the other side of the stockyard, I see a small lot next door with a shack or shed on it. Behind this, right on the other side of a rusty chain link fence, there’s a tall steel pole with a horse tied to it on a very short rope. She’s extremely emaciated. I stare for several seconds, making sure the camera gets a good look. Make a mental note to tell Frank about it. Then I move on, scanning the bullpens for sick and/or downed animals. I get close to the steel-barred fence again, the better to see deep into the lot. Up ahead, right by the fence, someone catches my eye. A young cow, a juvenile, lies there panting after his mates have departed out of fear. I step closer. He raises his head slowly to look at me. But still he doesn’t get up.
I whip out my cell phone and redial Frank. “Hey. I think I may’ve come across a downed cow.” I explain the symptoms. If there’s an animal who can’t stand up to reach water, the owners are legally obligated to bring them water and have a vet see them. At the very least, we might be able to get help for him.
“See if you can make sure,” Frank says.
“Let me try one more thing.” I reach between the bars and thrust my hand toward the young cow, saying, “Hey!” Finally he gets to his feet, slowly, reluctantly. I feel bad about bothering the poor guy, but it was worth it to be certain. “Never mind, Frank. Guess he was just really tired from the heat and everything.” That was heart-wrenching. But it’s nothing compared to what’s to come.
The goat and sheep stables are at the front of the property, between the auction shed and the parking lot. An open fence leads to this area. I step through and stroll around, investigating the pens. They’re maybe 40 feet long and 20 wide. There are anywhere from 20 to 30 animals in each pen. I make sure to scan each one slowly so the video will have good shots of every one.
Suddenly I’m surprised by movement in my peripheral vision. I turn. Approaching me from down the line is a tiny black lamb, no more than six months old. She must’ve squeezed her minute frame between the bars of a fence. I pick her up. She weighs as much as an average cat, and feels even more fragile. Her curly wool is dark, like spilled ink. But it feels like goose down. Her face is tiny, perfect, the quintessence of purity. This lamb is adorable, one of the sweetest and most lovely little darlings I’ve ever come across. She doesn’t struggle at all in my arms. It’s as if she came to me to save her. Get me out of here; I’ve seen what they do to the others. They already took my mommy.
And that’s my first instinct: to just turn and run to the parking lot, hide somewhere until Frank can get to me. But that would blow my cover. I’d never be able to come here again. And Frank mentioned something about the City Council considering shutting the whole place down, because of its prolonged negative history. That would be a huge victory. And showing them a bunch of persistent violations would certainly help the Council’s case.
Yet it would be so easy. Just run–or even walk, nonchalantly walk to the parking lot and wait for Frank. Boom–her life is saved. So that even if nothing comes of the camera footage, at least one individual will have her freedom. I want so badly to do it. You have no idea how badly I want to do it.
But, hateful as it may be, I must think long-term here. It’s fucking hard to do with such a beautiful, helpless baby animal in my arms. Because I know her ultimate fate is to be used for her wool and milk, forcibly impregnated, her babies stolen away from her, and then when her milk production declines to an inefficient level she’ll be slaughtered for meat. Her life violently stolen so that a handful of people can have a particular type of meal. Goddamnit. It’s so fucking hard, but I have to remain in character. I call over to one of the workers, another Latino in flannel, who’s cleaning out (to a degree) a nearby pen. I hand the lamb to him. As she passes from my arms, something inside of me seems to leave with her. Something tangible. A little piece of my humanity, perhaps, never to be regained no matter how much I do.
I will forever feel responsible for that individual I could have (no excuses–should have) saved, forever beholden to my mistake. Fuck the long run. The future is uncertain. But right then and there I could’ve saved her, an absolute certainty. It breaks my heart to hand her over–out of my loving arms and into ones that are utterly indifferent. And still, years later, it breaks my heart to think about. I wish so badly that I had gone ahead with my first instinct. That I had saved her. She is almost certainly dead now. I’m so sorry, sweet girl–nameless lamb. I’ll never forget her delicate little body in my arms. Let her memory live on through me to help subsequent generations of animals. It is the only way I can possibly atone.
The afternoon is gathering itself toward dusk. Everything takes on a lavender hue. Normally it would be beautiful, but here it just makes the gates, the sheds, the fences and troughs and knee-deep shit even more insidious. There’s a green dumpster nearby. Frank told me to check inside any of them for dead animals. He has seen that before–dead goats and turkeys just tossed in the dumpster like pieces of garbage rather than living beings. But all I see inside is beams of wood, trash bags, various detritus. I breathe a sigh of relief. I don’t particularly want to see any more dead animals today. Little do I know that the worst by far is yet to come.
The deepening twilight tells me it’s almost time for people to load up their new purchases. One of the most important things for me to witness; the process can be both cruel and illegal, depending on the manner in which it’s done. I head back toward the auction barn. From the breast pocket of my denim jacket I pull out a pack of American Spirit cigarettes I borrowed from my roommate. I’m not a smoker at this point (except occasionally when I’m drunk), but it’s a good excuse for a person to be milling around outside–anywhere, at any given time. I position myself across from the sheds where earlier I heard all the tormented squealing of pigs, in front of the bathrooms. I light up a cigarette and take periodic puffs, trying to make it last long. I glance around with what hopefully looks like casual interest. All kinds of Chevy and Ford trucks (America–FUCK YEAH!) sit with engines idling, waiting for their turn to load up their new “property.” The thick black funk of exhaust is heavy in the air. A baritone chorus of burr-burr-blumb-blumb-blur diesel engines drowns out most other noise. Each truck has trailers of various sizes hitched up in back–from little open-air ten-footers all the way up to 30-plus-foot grated steel monstrosities.
A commotion breaks out nearby. Apparently a goat has gotten away from wherever he was supposed to be. He’s a beautiful animal. Black and white and brown bristly fur, with thick curved horns. Two men hold onto them. The goat bears down with his head, trying to resist. But they overpower him, dragging him backward by the horns. His hooves scrape and grind against the gravel with loud kshhh kshhh kshhhhh sounds. The three of them disappear behind the trucks.
Now there’s a trailer backed up to one of the pens, which has a white-boarded ramp for the animals to walk up so they’re approximately level with the floor of the trailers. Several workers begin herding a bunch of sheep toward the ramp. One of them has a long black stick which he uses to smack them on the butts when they try to go off in a different direction. There’s a drop-off from the top of the ramp to the low bed of the trailer. The sheep have to be pushed off–they won’t willingly jump down several feet. They land with loud thuds, some of them crashing down in a jumble of tangled limbs. The last sheep is the most resistant of all. She noticed how it went with all her fellow prisoners. She struggles against the workers, moving around the pen like a deft boxer, evading their grips and wallops. Finally they force her onto the ramp. Still she sets her feet and refuses to go. A worker rears back with his big booted foot and plants a stiff shoving kick squarely in the bulge between her rectum and vagina. She bleats and falls forward. But the trailer didn’t back up all the way; there’s a two-foot gap between it and the edge of the ramp. The sheep falls, flailing, half-on and half-off the trailer. Stuck in the gap. She struggles. I grit my teeth, forcing myself (with difficulty) to stare on disinterestedly. I take a big drag on the Spirit. So big that it burns my throat and I nearly start coughing. That wouldn’t be good. Given that all the workers seem to be Spanish-only Latinos, I’ve never been this okay with the deportation of non-legal citizens. Slaughterhouses and all of the animal-exploitative industries (except for vivisection) hire tons of “illegals” because they’ll do these horrible things that most Americans want no part of. And they’ll do it for extremely shitty pay. They’ll do what they have to in order to survive, to send money home to their families, and there is honor in that–but not in brutalizing helpless animals. We countenance and encourage this, as well as the cruelty, when we demand cheap meat and milk and eggs and cheese.
They’re finally able to wrest the sheep onto the truck by grabbing and wrenching up on her wool. They slam her down angrily onto the wooden truck bed. Nearby another truck with a long enclosed trailer backs up to another loading pen. This is going to be a big load, so I want to get it on tape. As the driver/purchaser hurries around to the back of the trailer, I approach. “Hey there,” I say, gesturing to his trailer. “My dad’s thinking of gettin one a these. Whatsit, a 28-footer?” A wild guess.
“32,” he says. A white guy, rare at this particular auction site. Jeans, blue and black flannel, shades and a ball cap. Good thing about the shades, too–this way mine won’t look so out of place in the dusk.
“Oh, okay. Whatcha loadin up?”
At first I don’t understand him, as is often the case with me (too many damn rock concerts, sticking my head against too many giant goddamn speakers). My first instinct is to say, What? But I catch myself. It might give away my out-of-placeness to have not understood him. “Ah. Mind if I watch?”
“Go head.” He starts pulling squeaky steel latches on the trailer to open it.
I play back his earlier answer in my head. After cross-referencing the perceived sound with names for farm animals in my encyclopedia of the mind, realize that he said hogs. Now I get why I didn’t understand him at first: I expected an answer like cows, chickens, turkeys, goats, sheep, or pigs. I’m not used to thinking of pigs as hogs. To me it’s a derogatory term, like swine or kike or nigger.
The back of the trailer is opened and ready to admit its prisoners, its slaves of flesh. A gate lifts at the front of the pen and pigs of all sizes bolt out, from 200-pound big boys to juveniles the size of beagles. A worker follows them. He carries a long black rod. I assume it’s like the one inside the auction bullpen, used for smacking and herding them.
Another worker back in the shed coerces out more and more pigs as the ones before them are forced up the ramp and into the truck. But some of the pigs are too scared. They group together at the edges of the pen, trembling violently. They’re all high-pitched, terrified squeals. I stick my face between the wooden boards of the pen, ensuring that my shades have an unobstructed view. Quickly I realize it’s not just a stick the Latino in the pen carries. He doesn’t hit them with it; he prods them with it, and they positively shriek in shock and pain. It’s zapping them with jolts of electricity. I’m horrified, sick to my stomach. But I can’t look away. It’s the least I can do for them. What I want is to hop the fence, punch the worker in his throat, and jam the shock rod up his asshole.
But instead I just watch. Maintaining an air of passivity. The electric prod often just scares them into corners more than anything. Instead of abandoning it as ineffective, he just becomes more vicious. The sounds of those tormented pigs, so human in nature, will forever haunt me. Finally the worker gives up on the prod and starts using his body and feet to get them up the ramp. He kicks pigs in the stomach, the backside, the groin. One solid kick lands in the face of a small juvenile. The last pig, the worker snatches his tail and drags him by it, picks him up by just that little squiggly bit of pink flesh and hurls him into the truck. I bite back the tears and rage that so desperately want to pour forth like magma stopped at the top of a volcano for identification by Vulcan.
Now that they’ve all been loaded up, the truck owner shuts and locks the steel back doors of the trailer. I walk around the side and peer in through the steel slats. It is just about as wrenching inside as out. The thing is packed literally to the point of overflowing. Every single individual is being squeezed on all sides by the bodies of others. Some of them have to climb up on top of the mass of flesh and stay up there because there’s just no room for them. The squeeze is too intense. One pig screeches and flails, standing atop the others, freaking out. The pulsing sounds are cacophonous; everybody is terrified, panicking. One of the larger pigs nearest the edge sees me staring through. She stares back, her big scared blue eyes so very human-like. Help me, they say. Please make this stop. But once again I have to forsake the fates of these individuals, hoping that it will assist in the greater good of the future. But what if I’m–we’re–wrong? What if freeing these individuals and torching this modern equivalent of the cattle cars to Treblinka would produce the most good? If that’s the case, then somebody has to do it. And if everyone keeps passing the buck, no one will do it.
My phone rings. I step away, snuffing out my cigarette on the ground. It’s Frank. “Hey,” he says, “I’m in the parking lot. Come out here.”
When I climb into his truck, he says, “There’s this truck I want to follow. You down?”
I grin. “Hell yeah.”
It’s a small yellow pickup with an open-topped trailer attachment. I recognize it from a video on the sanctuary’s website, which showed a sheep in horrendous pain; the trailer was so packed that a cow had one of her feet on top of the sheep’s face. Her eyes bulged from the pressure. She bleated in agony. This time the trailer is filled solely with sheep, about a dozen of them crowded and huddled together. The truck exits the grounds and turns left. After waiting until the truck is about a hundred yards away, we follow.