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a few notes on combatting repression

November 29, 2011

The following is adapted from a brief talk I gave before a benefit for the Free Speech 8. (If you have any extra cash these activists are currently having a fund drive to raise $1,000 by Dec. 1st  to receive a matching donation. You can donate here, even after the fund drive ends.)

 The benefit was a screening of Jill’s Film. A documentary and tribute to Jill Phipps, an effective, brave and committed animal activist. On February 1st, 1995 she was killed as she used her body as a shield to protect other animals. 


The most unfortunate side affect of the repression of legal activism is that for some it becomes either an excuse not to protest or a point of fear that discourages them from protesting. This is a problem for the movement because, for those individuals, businesses, and institutions that directly profit off or and genuinely don’t care about animals, protest may be one of the most effective legal routes to change.  But protest by itself is not enough. It must be regular, sustained, and increasingly intensifying protest. Therefore, as movement, we need not only struggle to protect animals but must also combat repression, so that we can have a formidable number of people regularly protesting the same targets.

We must also shift the way we look at cases of repression—rather than allowing ourselves to be intimidated we should find room for celebration as this repression is a sign that we are effective. Repression would not happen if we were not being effective. No company or government will utilize resources to stop a movement that they do not fear.

The case of the Free Speech 8, the failed attempt of the federal government to prosecute in the AETA 4 case, and other cases involving neighborhood demonstrations should be taken as a sign that legal, above ground neighborhood demonstrations are effective. In 2011 Nature Magazine conducted a poll of biomedical scientists and about 30% said they had been negatively affected by animal rights activists—and experiencing protests counted as a negative experience. Among those, 15% changed the course of their research away from using animal models. These tactics are working, so we can’t give up.

There is an understandable argument that it is not productive to spend time on activist cases while animals suffer. The reality is, however, that unless we do, the repression will be effective and the activism and protests will stop. If our voices are silenced we cannot speak up for animals. And if the act of silencing us has an impact on the number of people who are willing to join in on this fight, then our battle will certainly be lost.

What we need is a community that is so strong and supportive in the face of repression that repression is nothing to be feared.  I see a few ways to do this. First is understanding that you most likely will not get arrested. To test this theory out I did a (very unscientific) poll of my household. Between the three of us, we have engaged in somewhere between 1,400 – 1,500 protests. All together, we have been detained (which is when the police pull you aside, run your name, but then don’t do anything else and you are free to go) a total of 14 times, and arrested a total of once each. That means, that on average, we were arrested once per every 500 protests.

My Dad always told me I should live life based on probabilities, not possibilities. That is solid advice we should follow. We probably will not end up being arrested or even briefly detained for engaging in legal above ground activism.

The second thing we can all do is to be prepared for the worst-case scenario. Make sure someone who does not go to demos knows when you are at demos so that if you don’t come back they know you might be in jail. Give them a house key so you know that your plants, children and companion animals will be cared for. Let them know how much you are willing to spend on bail, if there is anyone (maybe a family member or friend) that might pay your bail, how many days you can take out of work, and what you boss’s phone number is. If you have medication, carry it with you so that you will have access to it if arrested. If you are prepared for the worst situation, even if it is extremely unlikely, you don’t have to be nervous.

Next, and this is the part we all need to work on, we need a community that supports each other. We need to develop an unwavering safety net so that activists with legal trouble can quickly raise funds for legal fees, and if we have money, we need to donate to those causes. We need to have an ethic at protests that if an activist is being detained we stand and support them, we pitch in to bail people out, we give people food or a place to sleep when times get tough, and we show up to court cases when we can.

This will accomplish two things. First, it will let animal liberation activists know there is nothing to fear because we will always all be there for each other. Second, it shows those who attempt to repress this movement that there is no point to it. If repression does not slow us down and if we refuse to accept it then they will stop engaging in it and we can get back to our real work of bashing in the system that confines, tortures, exploits, steals from, and murders the majority of life on this planet.

And we need to do this at every level, not just wait until the cases are huge federal AETA cases or cases with terrorist enhancements. We need to start by standing up to basic repression out on the streets—if a police officer says that you can’t be on a public sidewalk and you know you can, tell them so and stand there. When activists are prosecuted or ticketed at the misdemeanor level, make a HUGE national and international deal out of it. Free speech is integral to any free society, so shine a bright light on those who try to take it away simply because they don’t like what is being said. I truly believe that if we make a huge deal out of local repression every time it happens, the federal government will be more cautious and travesties such as the SHAC 7 case will not happen again.

Finally, we need to keep doing what we do. The norm needs to be staying in the streets, and repression should only rejuvenate and insight more protest. If you fear the small possibility that you will one day be the victim of repression, and you let that stop you from fighting for animals, you are little better than those we oppose as you have said that you value your comfort over their lives.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. November 29, 2011 6:01 am

    Excellent…shared on facebook. Thank you.

  2. May 7, 2013 2:15 am

    Hi, just wanted to mention, I enjoyed this post. It was practical.

    Keep on posting!

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