Moral Low Ground

Our Earth

DxE Open Rescue: Working Toward ‘Total Animal Liberation’

DxE activist Tiffany Walker-Roper with Avery, a turkey she rescued from a factory farm. (Photo: DxE, with permission)

It was a busy year at Direct Action Everywhere (DxE), the Berkeley-based animal rights group working to save animals from suffering and slaughter around the world and to raise awareness among our own species of the inherent cruelty of animal agriculture.

This past year saw DxE expand into a truly global organization, with actions and campaigns big and small in far-flung corners of the globe. The group staged the first successful infiltration and rescues from suppliers of the notorious Yulin Dog Meat Festival in China, exposed the horrific lives and deaths of factory-farmed animals sold at some of America’s leading supermarkets, rescued dozens of animals from unimaginable cruelty and inevitable slaughter on factory farms throughout North America, and much more. DxE activists spoke constant truth to power and were a thorn in the side of everyone from presidential candidates to baseball players.

DxE focuses its efforts in service of “total animal liberation” in three main areas —  movement building, nonviolent direct action and open rescue. In addition to saving animals from deaths preceded by a fate worse than death — the tortured, filthy and maddeningly claustrophobic horror of factory farming — open rescue also gives voice to animals by telling their stories to the world and exposes ugly, uncomfortable truths about an industry that expends vast amounts of time and treasure trying to portray itself as humane to a zealously carnivorous civilization that is anything but civilized when it comes to the way it treats what it considers the lesser species with which it shares the planet.

Moral Low Ground spoke with two DxE activists involved in open rescue, Connecticut-based Tiffany Walker-Roper and, in Toronto, Jenny McQueen. Walker-Roper was an instrumental part of a DxE investigation of conditions at Jaindl Farms in Orefield, Pennsylvania, which for the past half century has supplied the turkeys for White House Thanksgiving dinners. Jaindl Farms boasts a 98 percent animal welfare score and promotes itself as an example of “humane” animal agriculture. However, Walker-Roper said “the welfare there was not good at all.”

“There were turkeys that couldn’t walk, couldn’t access food or water, there were turkeys getting trampled because they couldn’t walk,” she said. “They were getting pecked and in some cases they were laying there dead. You see something like that and it’s mind-boggling because these people claim to care so much for these animals yet they let them languish like that.”

McQueen rescued a pig named Madison from an undisclosed farm in North America. “Factory farms are just horrific,” she said. “If people could go inside and see what I’ve seen they wouldn’t only stop eating meat, they would have nightmares.” McQueen was emphatic when pressed about whether a carnivorous culture would really give up meat when exposed to the horrors of how factory farm animals live.

“Your senses are totally assaulted,” she explained. “Your eyes run, your nose streams, you hear babies screaming out all around you. You’ve got these horrendous conditions where the eyes of the pigs look so distressed; they know they can’t escape. They’re miserable their whole lives.”

McQueen is fully aware of the risks she is taking when undertaking rescues in a nation in which, under the Animal Enterprise Terrorist Act (AETA), such activism is officially considered a form of terrorism punishable by potentially lengthy imprisonment. AETA, which was signed by President George W. Bush in 2007, was pushed through Congress with bipartisan support and the backing of biomedical and agribusiness lobby groups including the Animal Enterprise Protection Coalition (AEPC), the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and the Center for Consumer Freedom (CCF).

“We could be arrested, we could even face jail time,” acknowledged McQueen, who bristles at the “terrorist” designation for nonviolent activism in service of a more humane future. “We’re not terrorists, we’re just trying to bring awareness that a portion of the animal kingdom is going through hell,” she said. “We think we’re on the right side of justice and the system should act accordingly. We’re a nonviolent movement. We don’t cause any upset, we’re completely nonviolent.”

For Walker-Roper, the risk is well worth the reward. “[Rescues] feel really good because you look around and you see the most unbelievable things,” she said. “Seeing and feeling it and smelling it all around — when you get an animal out of this, it’s very rewarding.” However, she added that “it’s also heartbreaking because you can’t take all of them. I wish the whole world was one big sanctuary and we could just let them all out.”

Both activists admitted that convincing people to stop eating animals is a daunting task. “That’s why we do these rescues and tell these stories because we want people to be able to make some kind of emotional connection and realize that what’s happening to the animals is wrong,” said Walker-Roper. “We give rescued animals names; that makes them more individualized and for some reason people do connect with that.”

One of the turkeys rescued by Walker-Roper was named Avery. The activist wants people to know that turkeys are “very affectionate” and are “usually friendly and have the ability to show love toward each other and toward humans.”

“When I rescued Avery, she showed me a lot of love when I held her,” she recalled. “She rested her head on my chest.”

“We have to get through to the public that the pink, cellophane-wrapped food they’re buying in the supermarket is a real baby, a real mother,” stressed McQueen. “The human race needs to understand that animals are not here just for our food, entertainment and fashion.”

Walker-Roper and McQueen are looking forward to continuing their open rescue activism in the coming year. “This year we established three open rescue teams,” said Walker-Roper. “We want this to spread and become its own network. It’s very much a grass roots thing.” McQueen points to DxE’s 40-year action plan that envisions an end to slaughterhouses by the year 2060.

Wayne Hsiung, who was body-slammed by San Francisco Giants left-fielder Angel Pagan after he and another DxE activist ran onto the field during a Giants game at AT&T Park in September to raise awareness of the cruelty inherent in the hot dogs enjoyed by so many sports fans, even envisions an eventual constitutional amendment enshrining animal rights. But for now, DxE is working to establish more open rescue teams to save even more lives in 2017. “I’m excited to work with DxE towards that,” said McQueen. “The movement is growing rapidly and our voices are becoming more powerful. We want people to join us.”

To learn more about DxE and open rescue and how you can help realize the goal of “total animal liberation,” click here.

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