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We Are All Earthlings

Off the Cuff with Tim Swartz of Direct Action Everywhere

Dec. 27, 2016
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Last Thanksgiving, a dozen activists from the Milwaukee chapter of Direct Action Everywhere (DxE) staged a funeral in Whole Foods. They laid turkey carcasses amid flowers on black cloth in the store’s meat section and told shoppers about well-documented evidence that so-called humane certified farms are anything but humane and that such labels are marketing scams. At Costco, DxE placed handwritten messages on meats with statements like “I did not want to die” and “We are all earthlings,” and directed shoppers to documentaries on the website directactioneverywhere.com. Co-organizer Tim Swartz spoke for the group.

What’s DxE’s mission?

Direct Action Everywhere is an international network of animal rights activists who use methods from past social justice movements to try to influence public opinion and the political system with the goal of achieving animal liberation. Can I quote Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.? “Non-violent direct action seeks to create such a crisis and establish such creative tension that a community that has consistently refused to negotiate is forced to confront the issue.” I think that describes the philosophy behind our disruptive actions, our main method of activism.

What do you mean by animal liberation?

We mean total freedom from exploitation and enslavement for all non-human animals. We see it as maybe the defining social justice issue of our day because of the sheer scale of it. In the food system, billions of non-human animals are killed every year and in horrific fashion. We don’t think it’s morally justifiable. We don’t need to do it. Health experts suggest that major health problems come along with it. And if you consider the environmental impact, there are many good reasons to leave animals off our plate. DxE is mostly concerned with the ethical side but we certainly see environmental injustice on a massive scale happening because of animal agriculture today. United Nations’ studies show that the impact is equal to or greater than the impact of transportation.

You hope to change our eating practices?

Take any social justice issue of the past. If you talked about gay marriage being the law of the land 50 years ago, people would laugh at you. Equality for blacks or for women was a radical idea once. What does this say about the ability of our culture to take radical ideas and over time—it always takes a lot of time—transform our culture and make us better people as a result? It’s just a matter of expanding our circle of compassion beyond our own needs. There’s no question that animals are equal to us in their ability to suffer. Just imagine if you replaced all the pigs and cows in factory farms with human beings. I think we might equate that to the Holocaust.

How did DxE Milwaukee start?

It was born from the Milwaukee Veg Expo last May in Hart Park in Wauwatosa, the first ever vegan festival here. Chicago is the core Midwest chapter of DxE and their activists came to the festival and asked us if we’d be interested in starting a Milwaukee chapter. I’d been an animal rights activist for a little over a year with Alliance for Animals and the Environment, a Madison-based organization that started in the 1980s in response to primate testing—shouldn’t maternal deprivation experiments conducted to learn about human beings make us ask, well, if they’re so similar to us psychologically, don’t they deserve more rights? Animals have an interest in freedom, just like we do. They have an interest in raising their young, just like we do. They want to live, just like we do. I used to drive by Boston Market where I loved to eat and think of rotisserie chicken and now I think of a guy in a business suit from Tyson Foods getting rich off the utter misery of billions of animals every year, off the degradation of the environment and I think: You know what? Screw you man, you’re not getting another dime of my money.

Is speciesism really the issue today?

We’re intersectional social justice activists. We’ve been involved in anti-Trump rallies. It makes sense for people who believe in human rights and equality to be concerned about animal rights issues, too.

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