Anyone living in a metropolitan area has seen activists standing on the side of the road holding signs, protesting, and handing out pamphlets. When humans see problems in society we have a natural desire to speak out so that we can share our knowledge and concern with others. Thanks to the United States Constitution we have the right to peaceful assembly and protest, for now anyway. Although many states are attempting to undermine this right with legislation, fight the power.
Activism can manifest in many ways and for many reasons from political fears to equality issues or concerns about impending legislation, but it’s not all protest and pamphlets. Maybe you’re out shopping and find an animal rights sticker on the package of hamburger you just picked up, or someone has placed a “speciesism” sticker on a stop sign near your home so it now says “Stop Speciesism”. Or, you see posts from someone on your newsfeed sharing a petition or an article and urging you to take note instead of scrolling on by.
Why do people scroll past a post urging them to make lifestyle changes that will literally save Mankind? Why do they drive by a group of displaced workers on strike and not care? What causes a large group of Americans to agree that it should be legal to run over protesters? Could it be a lack of empathy or a lack of understanding?
At its core, activism is education. These people are trying to get in your head and change your mind about something important to them, but who are they and why do they care? Activism plays a role in the life of every ethical-vegan. From protesting animal testing to posting on social media, we are all doing what we can to help liberate the tortured souls behind the fence and wake those who fund this madness.
Activists sacrifice so much more than is seen on the surface. It’s easy to see an activist has sacrificed their time to stand on the street and spread this message of compassion. They’ve sacrificed their money to make signs and print pamphlets or set up an informational booth. But, the emotional sacrifice of the activist remains unseen. I interviewed Joshi Abbott, an ethical-vegan activist and a co-organizer of Anonymous For The Voiceless in the Cincinnati area to help the world understand the perspective of an animal rights activist, this is what he had to share (warning, this interview contains graphic depictions of factory farm animals):
For my readers, please tell me a little about yourself. Such as your age, education, a little about your upbringing.
I’m 37 years old. My education consists of high school and just a bit of college. I was raised in a middle/lower class neighborhood in Ashland, Kentucky where I still live today. My mother and my two grandparents were my family growing up. Although I don’t live in Cincinnati, I definitely consider it to be my second home. A lot of activism I participate in is in the Cinci area. I plan on moving there as soon as possible.
When did you decide to go vegan and why?
It was March 2013, I had just watched a pair of bulls being castrated without anesthetics. I had to ask myself, “Is this really something I wanted to pay people to do?” I was a vegetarian from when I was 15 until I was 25. What made me start eating flesh again? I’m not sure, however, After I started eating meat again, I was constantly sick with chronic complex migraines and even filed for disability. After witnessing the bulls and taking notes with my migraine journal, I knew it was time to go vegan for good. Two months into veganism, my migraine frequency was cut down by 95%. And my conscience felt 100% better but I knew I had to get active.
I can imagine seeing those bulls abused in that way had an impact on you. While many people claim that this is not common, it’s easy to see that isn’t the case when you search livestock forums and read their comments. What prompted you to eat a vegetarian diet at 15?
Well, honestly just the fact that I loved animals and I didn’t want to eat them. At the time I was Buddhist but I don’t think that had much to do with my decision. I quit religion when I was 18 but stayed ovo-vegetarian (I was lactose intolerant) for many more years.
So, from 2007-2013 you did consume animals? What were some of the justifications you used at the time?
I think I used a sense of nihilism to justify my ‘just eat and wear whatever’ attitude. I was in a bad place, the friends that I once counted on and knew well had turned to opiates like many people my age. I, however, did not but I did have a sense of failure which I believe prompted my fall into the apathetic viewpoint. Something I could never do now. Veganism and in turn, abolitionism is a gift that keeps me from spiraling down into moral ambiguity.
That’s an interesting journey to finally living a vegan lifestyle. What effect did adopting a vegan lifestyle have on your relationships with family and has it affected your social life too?
It was difficult with family. That’s an understatement, it was impossible for the others around me to even relate. In my teenage years, I had managed to convince a few of my friends to go vegetarian and then later even plant-based. But this time, was so much different, I had no support group to go vegan with. Honestly if it wasn’t for the community and the great activists I have met via social media, I would have felt very alone, even with the relative ease of finding delicious vegan food.
Luckily, my mother is now sympathetic and my girlfriend is vegan. I took the Animal Liberation Pledge, so I never sit down at a table with anyone eating animals anymore. If someone treasures my presence enough to eat a vegan meal with me; I’d be glad to make my mango curry dal with blue lotus (insert plant milk) masala chai on the side.
I have had a similar experience since taking the pledge. Holidays and family events have become non-existent for me. When I took the pledge, I was under the mistaken assumption that my family would choose to spend time with me rather than continue their consumption of animals in my presence. I was wrong. What does speciesism mean to you?
Like the Paul Farmer quote: “The idea that some lives matter less is the root of all that is wrong with the world.” Speciesism embodies the idea that humans are somehow by some means on a higher plane of existence than all other life.
This is fundamentally false because no matter what traits we can name that humans possess that non-human animals don’t it will harken back to ‘well some humans don’t possess that trait either’. For example; humans are the most intelligent species. What about the humans who like people I have cared for, cannot care for themselves and have limited mental capacity. Is it okay to treat them inhumanely or use them as we see fit?
Why do you think people have such a hard time relating speciesism to racism or other forms of discrimination?
Because people are stuck in their bubble of what’s good and what’s evil and unfortunately sometimes this is motivated by a sense of tribalism, be it by the news agencies or political affiliations. While doing the walk for compassion in Cincinnati, we were confronted with an angry anti-abortion advocate, followed by people hollering from cars that we should ‘be protesting for women’s rights, not the animals’.
It’s the political hot button issue that easier to address than the beginning of all our prejudices which is speciesism. I believe that when confronted with the right choice people want to do good. Rather than let every issue become Orwell’s 5 minutes of hate, we should step back and be mindful of our precious seconds on this earth.
What do you think about “happy exploitation”?
There really isn’t any such thing as “happy exploitation”. Exploitation is the opposite of abolition and liberation. If a person uses a monkey to get a coconut out of a tree and ‘rewards’ that monkey with a sliver of banana it’s still slavery. This is no different than giving a plantation slave animal guts to eat as “payment” for picking three bushels of cotton. The individual’s freedom is paramount and that is what abolitionists are trying to gain for all animals.
What about K-9 police dogs or other “working” animals?
No. Animals’ lives are not ours any more than another person’s. So to use a “working” animal is still servitude without individual sovereignty.
What is your stance on pets and rescue animals?
I am completely against the breeding of any species. If you have a carnivorous pet when you turn vegan, like a snake, then I believe it is your duty to still feed it the required food. But rescuing carnivores after you turned vegan is a strict no-no to me. I read somewhere that up to 18% of meat industry profits are for pet food.
I have a dog myself, that I rescued from a county shelter. She had bald spots and a couple of tumors and was just a large 50-pound pup. After I had her tumor removed by the veterinarian, I started feeding her V-dog. She’s now a healthy 85 pound, 16-month-old, plant-based doggo that is my bestie!
I rescued a 12 year old poodle last year. He has one tooth, he’s mean and bites everyone who tries to touch him. He was at death’s door, severely underweight and losing all of his hair. The Humane Society was giving him wet food since he has no teeth. But, he doesn’t like having a dirty, wet face and won’t eat when stressed, so they were starving him. I found a recipe for senior dog food that I turned into seitan. It’s soft enough for him to chew with his tooth, and dry enough for him to keep his face clean. He’s at a healthy weight with a shiny coat now. But still bites people if they give him the chance. Except me, I think he reveres me as his savior so I get a pass.
How about neutering and spaying? Do you feel it’s a responsibility we have as humans, or is it violating the animal?
It’s a person’s responsibility. Even if you rescue an animal like a cow or pig one of the worst and most dangerous things you can do is leave them vulnerable in that way. One, we don’t need to breed, we need to adopt the millions of pets that are just left to fend for themselves. Two, a lot of animals can become miserable or even cause themselves injury when in heat or rutting.
I have a friend that runs a sanctuary and he had to have a bull nurtured to stop the cow from causing damage to himself or the other animals. Yet, when he shared the experience with social media some purists called for him to cut off his own. Mind you, this was a bull he saved and nursed as a baby so it wouldn’t get slaughtered at a dairy.
Horseback riding and honey, how much do you hate the topics and why?
I only hate it because people want to pick and choose which types of exploitation are okay but none are acceptable in any form. Horses are broken down and their bodies literally fall apart being the ‘beasts of burden’ for humans, who have zero need to abuse them. Plus, it encourages by extension, the horse-racing industry which is in no way better than dogfighting. High fatality rates and slavery and abuse is ever-present.
Honey bees are so smart that they dance out directions for nectar sources from miles away for their comrades. They produce honey (via multiple regurgitations) for one reason and one reason only to feed their pupae and winter stores. To exploit and kill them for their production is nothing less than a genocide.
Have you ever intentionally killed an animal? Such as hunting?
When I was a young boy (5 years old) I was smashing roly-polys or sow beetles when my mother caught me. At the time, she was heavily influenced by the eastern religions and asked me, “How would I feel if that were me or if I had to experience the death of everything I killed?” I had no answer but even at five years old, I understood that those (technically, crustaceans ) beings existed just like me.
Now, even when I find insects or arachnids in my house I usually let them go outdoors. But some actually are regulars, like cave crickets and European house spiders, in my primitive basement all year round. The only hunting I’ve done is herping, looking for reptiles and amphibians. My dad used to try to make me go fishing when I was young but I’d just get bored and walk the trails.
Tell me a little more about your philosophy on activism and how you try to make a difference with your voice or talents?
My philosophy on activism is I do what I can. Whether it’s being an advocate for the animals online or getting out and handing out vegan starter kits. I believe veganism is the least we can do, we should all be activists for liberation. I would like to take it further and really empathize that if all vegans were activists we’d have liberation sooner rather than later.
I agree. Sitting back with our mouths shut helps no one. Its like people making excuese for their racist grandparents. We must actively address these societal shortcomings if we expect to make a change in the world.
What do you think is the most effective form of activism?
All of them. But we should put our bodies where our mouths are. If we want liberation for all animals there’s a war to be fought on the animal’s behalf. Whether it’s speaking the truth at a cube, having a vigil at a slaughterhouse, stealing piglets out of ‘dead piles’ at factory farms, saving and raising babies at a sanctuary or chanting at the circus to name a few. Being Vegan is being human, we need to be human and then some. Putting our bodies and our truth into the world.
Most people don’t know what a dead pile is or how the unused carcasses are destroying the environment.
Please tell me more about the group Anonymous for the Voiceless and your role within the organization.
Anonymous For The Voiceless was started in 2016 in Melbourne, Australia by Asal Alamdari and Paul Bashir. Their main inspiration was a street activist group called The Earthlings Experience. The Earthlings Experience would show footage of the documentary Earthlings on laptops and TVs while some participants held signs that read messages such as “Watch To see Why We Are Here.”
A/V expands upon the Earthlings experience with a variety of footage and outreach to talk to people about abolitionist veganism.
The cubes of truth are fundamental to A/V. They are very well organized activists clad in black, in groups of 2, 4, 8, 12 and so on, into the hundreds. At large events we participate in a cube with Guy Fawkes masks on, simply standing in a statuesque stance and holding a Laptop or tv with footage of factory farms, Slaughterhouses, vivisection labs, etc.
The cube and its members are the main draws to passersby. Once someone sees the footage and shows interest in learning more, one of the volunteers on outreach will approach and them questions and give them answers to theirs. This is where A/V differs greatly from other types of activism. We aren’t chanting or shouting but doing a static demonstration that lures the curious in.
I have been purely amazed at the number of people who walk away knowing they will be vegan and possibly an activist after speaking with one of us and seeing the footage. I’d imagine it’s like watching the most beautiful nebula come to life. It’s seeing a moonflower open in hyper speed.
Are Cubes of Truth something anyone can do?
Absolutely. The Cube is also great for people who want to be activists but are somewhat shy because we can always use volunteers in the cube whether to hold signs, TVs or sit at a table at a Vegfest. Life is great when you know you are doing your best for all life and this is the type of activism for anyone.
I recently became a co-organizer of Anonymous For The Voiceless and I’m somewhat new to organizing with A/V. As mentioned before I helped organize a save, anti-war and even petition drives. This is a whole different and honestly much more welcoming arena. But we have to find good spots, events and of course great activists.
So it’s not all chanting and protesting?
Not at all. I am in the cube or on outreach, or wherever I’m needed. Often as an organizer, I will do outreach but when someone needs a break or wants out of the cube, I’ll mask up and go in. When I first started out I was used to the ‘hold the sign’ and chant type of protest so I was uncomfortable doing outreach. I still cherish the opportunity to spread the truth of veganism and abolitionism by holding a screen with footage on it.
I also had a really awesome organizer, Stacy Adkins, who I learned a lot from about outreach just from listening to her conversations with people. And since I’ve learned to mix different styles into my outreach all the while using the Socratic method of dialogue.
Is there a time you remember seeing someone make the connection during your activism? A moment where you felt you’d succeeded?
Yes, during a few cubes of truth. Sometimes, it’s the images on the screen and it takes little probing from me to get the person to see it. For the truth about animal exploitation and liberation is not just my truth, it’s theirs to have also, it’s a universal truth.
Sometimes a question may spark them to come to a veganic conclusion. I once asked a lady watching footage of a dairy cow getting kicked, if “she’d intervene if someone did that to a cow on her street?” She replied “Yes!!! How can I help this stop?” The vegan truth is not far from the human golden rule. It is the golden rule.
What has been your favorite animal rights campaign and why?
That is one I have to say, any campaign that advocates abolitionism I support. Some campaigns that are considered animal rights I don’t support at all. Such as reductionist campaigns or Meatless Mondays. Live Vegan every day and get out and be active with your activism is the campaign I support.
Do you participate in any activism related to human rights? If not, why focus your efforts on animals?
I used to be an avid anti-war advocate and I participated in gay rights campaigns for over a decade. However, the former became somewhat convoluted because of politics, the latter although somewhat successful is still stalled in my part of Kentucky. I feel that all of the isms and prejudices start with speciesism and that non-human animals cannot advocate for themselves.
Essentially, society has a problem with exploiting and oppressing others. Whether its another gender or race or species and you think we must address the root cause. That makes sense to me.
Please tell me about your experiences performing undercover investigations.
It’s the hardest work I’ve ever done in my life and to be honest I could probably write a book on it. When documenting the horrible hell that is factory farms, the human in you can’t help but want to destroy these places and take all the babies out.
The hardest part is having to push that mommy cow away, that just had her baby taken away and just wants love and to bathe you like a calf. Or the calf that moos so you’ll let him suckle your fingers like his mother’s udders. Knowing his fate and having to accept that. Or watching as baby piglets have no room to even defecate like a former colleague of mine commented: “it’s like being chained to a toilet with 100 roommates.” Can you imagine? And if you don’t grow fast enough in those conditions they’ll bash your head up against a wall.
This is why we must fight and we must liberate when we can! I liberated 6 piglets from one facility known for feeding the runts back to gestation crate confined mothers. It’s one of the bravest things I’ve done. I couldn’t help but do it. Five are alive today and some of the most lovable babes.
Where did you perform the investigations?
I was a private investigator documented mainly pig farms in Western Kentucky and southern Indiana mainly and later some dairies in New England. Along the way, I documented some ‘free-range’ turkey farms. I hung cameras in the dairies and in slaughterhouses to capture abuse.
Although I was there at night collecting footage for different organizations, I have never worked for the factory farms or slaughterhouses. I was offered a job to go undercover but I was told I would be on the kill floor at JBS in Louisville and have to possibly kill pigs. I refused despite the higher pay and exposure opportunities. I can’t work that job, I’d hate myself.
At first, I worked with another PI but later on most of my work was done alone and I would have to work in the wee hours of the morning. I have a non-disclosure agreement with the organization, so I can’t share the organization I worked for or the exact locations but I can share my experiences as a PI and also any pictures or info I had before working with them.
Unfortunately, the organization I worked for ended up being a lot more welfarist rather than abolitionist and they deleted almost 2 weeks of my work in Fairfield, Vermont because that dairy company supplies an influential company.
These pictures are the type of conditions I documented. The piglets crammed into dirty, inhumane conditions, the pile of ears they ripped off runts that they smashed on the killing wall to keep track of them. I don’t know how to put that into words. This was in 2018 before I got grants to do investigative work:
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Do you think sensational activism, such as PETA campaigns with naked models or people covered in blood, etc, are effective? Why or why not?
Yes. Any activism that brings any awareness to anyone at any time has its place. I’m not a member of PETA. However, I support anything that will bring about animal liberation. Even illegal open-rescue or A.L.F. actions are good. Remember, that what is legal
Is not always just and what is illegal is sometimes required. I support hunt saboteurs and any campaign that brings about real change.
How do you feel about vegan products such as Gardein, Impossible and Beyond Burgers, Boca, etc?
I like them. Not everyone hated meat or hamburgers or whatnot before going vegan. The easier it gets to go vegan the better. I know we have a split in the vegan activist community going on with impossible burgers. I’d love to see a report based on the utilitarian effect of impossibles.
What about lab-grown meat? Are you opposed to it or do you applaud it, and would you eat it?
I’m opposed to them and no I would not. The fact that animal tissue still has to be harvested to produce the products to me is still animal exploitation.
Animal testing… where do you stand? Do you take medications or use products that we may not otherwise have without animal testing?
I’m against vivisection. But I do take one medication that at one time was tested on animals. If and when I get a migraine (I rarely get them since becoming vegan) I may take an OTC pain reliever, although some don’t have animal products I fear they may still be tested on animals unnecessarily. I honestly prefer a dark room with an ice bag inhaling lavender but I’ll take an OTC if it’s that or the emergency room. One thing to keep in mind with medications and even fertilizers (my garden is veganic though) is that once liberation is mainstream, no one will be exploited so there will be no more testing or dung or gelatin. It just wouldn’t be feasible, instead of animal dung and gelatin, there will be plant compost and tapioca starch.
If you could sit down with any person alive today and convince them to go vegan, who would it be and why?
Jeff Bezos, especially if it would change all of his business dealings to vegan businesses.
What do you hope to convey to both vegan and non-vegan readers by sharing your story with me?
I’d really like to at least let people know that people who do the undercover and PI work could be suffering tremendously. We are horribly prone to PTSD, we aren’t desensitized to death. We didn’t grow up killing. This experience is a shocker, to say the least, from the first scent of dried blood and feces encompassing the dead pile, to the very last sight of an animal experiencing extreme torture.
I haven’t been able to do investigative work for three months now. Every night I have terrible nightmares about my experiences at the factory farms. It’s traumatic to witness such things, but I have a supportive friend helping me to push through. I urge anyone reading this to watch Earthlings if you haven’t. Educating yourself is so important, but seeing it on the screen is nothing like being there, it stays with you.
The perspective of another vegan is refreshing, its motivating, and hopefully its inspirational. If you’re interested in getting active in the community and spreading a message of compassion and change, there are many avenues you can take. Click here to contact Anonymous for the Voiceless and find a Cube of truth near you. For ideas on other ways you can perform everyday activism check out this link from PETA. Meetup is another great resource for finding animal rights groups near you. Your activism can change the future, get out there and make a difference!