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britches’ day: making our own holidays

April 21, 2014

Part of my journey as an activist has been learning to make my own holidays and embracing my friends and fellow activists as family. Sometimes this takes the form of alternative holidays, as I have previously discussed in the case of thanksgiving. Sometimes it means making new holidays.

For me, World Week for Animals in Laboratories is a holiday. The first demonstration I ever organized was for World Week and I have been an activist ever since. This week is a week to reflect and regroup. World Week begins this year with the 29th anniversary of the liberation of Britches, an infant macaque monkey, from a University of California Riverside laboratory.  In honor of the day, Progress for Science held a vigil in honor of Britches. We held our vigil in the neighborhood of a woman who experiments on and kills monkeys at the University of California Los Angeles. The ceremony opened with some words, followed by a few minutes of silence. Then the floor was open for people to share. Poems, songs, and letters were shared and together we mourned.

Below are the opening remarks I wrote for the ceremony as well as audio of a poem I wrote and read during the service. I hope that they touch you in some way and you find your own way to act up and get out this week for the animals in labs. Let’s make sure that another 29 years does not pass before vivisection ends.

Opening Remarks to a Memorial Service in Honor of Britches.
Los Angeles, CA , April 20, 2014

Thank you all for coming to this memorial service in honor and memory of animals in labs. This service is named in honor of Britches, a macaque monkey who was cruelly tortured at the University of California Riverside in 1985. 29 years ago today, Britches, along with 467 other animals, was rescued by brave human animals who broke the law in order to unlock their cages and take them to safety and freedom.

It is fitting that this year this anniversary falls on Easter. For Christians, Easter celebrates the resurrection of Jesus Christ—this holiday gives Christians hope, reminds them that there is rebirth, and that they can be saved.  In a much more tangible way, however, which stretches across race, creed, and religion, Britches the monkey was resurrected, from a place much worse than the still calm of death. Britches was taken from an unspeakable hell. He had been taken from his mother at birth, his eyes crudely sewn shut, a sonar device, emitting terrifying noises strapped to his head—Britches likely had no hope, because he had had no experience less painful than this. He had nothing tangible to hope for. But Britches was saved. He had a personal resurrection from the worst torture, into the loving arms of an adoptive monkey mother.

In the Christian resurrection story Jesus dies at the hands of humans and is resurrected by a divine being. Britches too, suffered at the hands of humans, but no god intervened, it was humans who saved him. We come here today not just to remember those who suffer and those who are lost but to remind ourselves that it is people, including us, who need to fight this injustice.

Today is the beginning of World Week for Animals in Laboratories. It is a week to remind us to reflect on the work we did last year, to take action now, and to regroup the animals’ congregation and army so we can continue fighting and advocating for animals in labs and other human-made atrocities. We must do this until every cage is empty.

We are here tonight in the neighborhood of Edythe London, a UCLA employee, who experiments on monkeys for money. A sea of us, juxtaposed against just one of her. She can cause so much misery but with dedication and persistence we will prevail.

Today we hold a memorial service in honor of Britches. We also hold this service to honor his rescuers and those who continually put their freedom at risk to give others a chance at a life worth living.

But mostly we hold a memorial service today for the millions of other animals who suffered this year at the hands of vivisection. For the rabbits, chinchillas, rats, dogs, cats, ducks, fishes, goats, lizards, cows, hamsters, guinea pigs, nonhuman primates, mice and the many others who are kidnapped from their homes or bred into lives of misery without purpose, while more viable scientific alternatives exist. We are here for the millions of nonhuman animals who suffer as part of a broken system that creates no cures but generates profit for a few.

We are here to take a moment from our fight, to let down those walls we have had to build around our hearts to have the strength necessary to wake up each day amidst such violence and keep fighting and advocating and pushing and pulling and talking and writing and chanting and leafleting and bearing witness. For tonight, we will take a couple bricks from that wall away and will let our hearts truly feel who it is we are here for. We will remember that Britches was less than a fraction of a fraction of a percent. Because he was freed. He was not unique in the torture that he suffered, millions of animals around the word suffer such horrible violence each year. It was in reaching freedom that Brtich’s story was unique.  Tonight, our hearts will be open and we will let them beat and ache and bleed for each individual animal who has suffered or is suffering now, whose life has been unvalued by any human but us. Tonight we acknowledge each of them, we open our hearts to them, we remember them, and we mourn.

Recording of “To the Animals in Laboratories,” a poem





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