Animal rights activists focus on Wisconsin

By: - October 11, 2019 6:33 am
Animal rights activists march in Milwaukee (Photo courtesy of Direct Action Everywhere)

Animal rights activists march in Milwaukee (Photo courtesy of Direct Action Everywhere)

Animal rights activists are promoting the idea of an animal bill of rights with protests in 26 cities worldwide, which launched last weekend. Milwaukee was the only city in the Midwest targeted by  demonstrators, who assembled outside Gov. Tony Evers’ Cream City office on Saturday, October 4.

The demonstration was part of a Global Lockdown For Animal Rights. Balaji Venkatesan, a regional organizer with Direct Action Everywhere, told Wisconsin Examiner that “the intent was for us to go over to the governor’s office and deliver a letter asking him to either make a statement, or have a discussion with us regarding this. And see where the discussion leads us.”

Global demonstrations took place from September 29-October 5 and included protests, and lockdowns of a Whole Foods store. “Activists in Wisconsin are standing in solidarity with activists worldwide,” reads a statement from the grassroots organization Direct Action Everywhere (DAE).

Animal rights activists march in Milwaukee (Photo coutesy of Direct Action Everywhere)
Animal rights activists march in downtown Milwaukee to hand-deliver a letter to Gov. Tony Evers office in the city. (Photo courtesy of Direct Action Everywhere)

Venkatesan said the reason the group “chose Milwaukee to kick start the Midwest,” was due to Wisconsin’s progressive past.

“When it comes to social justice issues, Wisconsin has been on the forefront of passing legislation,” says Venkatesan. “Animal rights is a social justice issue, because it’s not just the animals that are suffering. Whether it’s the undeniable connection to climate change, to pollution, to human health.” Wisconsin has also struggled to manage farm pollution, which often contaminates water supplies.

Activists in the area recently conducted a raid on farms  that supply Whole Foods, Venkatesan told Wisconsin Examiner. “There were a bunch of activists that went in there in September at this egg laying hen farm, and rescued some which were in sick and desperate conditions. Out of the eight birds that they managed to get out, before authorities came to stop them, only one of them survived. The other seven were too frail, or in such bad condition that they had to be put down.”

Activists then named the lone survivor Rose, and have dubbed their campaign “Rose’s Law.” Direct Action Everywhere is demanding that lawmakers pass or support an animal bill of rights. In 2018, California put Proposition 12 on the table, or the Farm Animal Confinement Initiative. It sought to ban the caging of egg-laying chickens by 2022, as well as requiring more living space for other farm animals including  cows and pigs. Lawsuits from massive U.S. meat farming trade groups have been filed against the state as retaliation for these new regulations.

The animal rights debate in Wisconsin touches on conditions in some zoos, to the use of test animals like monkeys for university research, and the state’s agricultural industry. Bolder activists have also entered Wisconsin farms, either undercover or storming in with groups, to document conditions and release animals. A demonstration in California days ago, during which activists locked down a Whole Foods store and chained themselves together, resulted in dozens of arrests.

“There are many cities which are participating in civil disobedience,” says Venkatesan. No arrests were reported during the Milwaukee protest, and DAE is awaiting a response from Wisconsin’s Governor. But arrests and stiff punishments are common consequences for the more aggressive forms of animal-rights activism. That’s  why part of Rose’s Law aims to secure “the right to rescue,” explains Venkatesan. Some activists may face felony charges, or lengthy prison sentences for entering farms and removing animals.

“What we’re asking is, at a minimum, that lawyers and investigators go in and if they find these conditions then regular people, like us, can walk on these farms and rescue these sick or injured animals and take them to veterinarians. Where they can be treated, and then from there take them to a sanctuary where they can live the rest of their lives without being in harm.”

Venkatesan encourages supporters to work on a state, and even city council level to help introduce animal-friendly policies. “We completely understand that not everything is going to be feasible at this time, the way our food system is. So there’s a broader conversation that needs to happen.” Nevertheless, he tells Wisconsin Examiner, “if authorities are willing to sit with us and talk about certain parts of the law that they should be willing to implement, then we are definitely open to that collaboration and discussion.”

Meanwhile, DAE and other animal rights groups aren’t planning on toning down their tactics. “We intend to escalate these tactics,” says Venkatesan. “Including civil disobedience, lockdown, other methods used in the civil rights movement. We definitely intend to carry this on.”

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Isiah Holmes
Isiah Holmes

Isiah Holmes is a journalist and videographer, and a lifelong resident of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. His writing has been featured in Urban Milwaukee, Isthmus, Milwaukee Stories, Milwaukee Neighborhood News Services, Pontiac Tribune, the Progressive Magazine, Al Jazeera, and other outlets.