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The Reality of Animal Rights Activism

It’s not all self-righteousness and self-acclaim as some would have you believe. It’s a tough bloody slog, mentally and physically. In 2012, I made the conscious decision to go vegan after a pretty harrowing and disturbing experience of watching the film ‘Earthlings’ ( with my wife. Since you’re reading a vegan magazine, I’m going to assume you have most likely seen this powerful documentary BUT on the off chance you have not…Earthlings is a powerful, overwhelming production by Shaun Monson. Narrated by actor and animal activist Joaquin Phoenix, flanked by a haunting soundtrack by Moby, also a well-known animal rights campaigner and world famous DJ. As I’ve covered in my other non-vegan columns over the past year, Earthlings truly broke my heart. I’m not really a crier, not really someone who physically becomes upset; however with every scene my entire body trembled and shook.

Now, everyone is different. Not one person the same. In appearance, in mind, in body and when it comes to veganism, despite the memes, the right wing biased media and the internet as a whole…NOT EVERY VEGAN HAS THE SAME MINDSET, we simply share a belief system that animals should not be exploited. At least that’s how it begins. I will openly admit, I find a vast majority of folk are so taken aback by what happens to animals in factory farms and the like, that it has clouded their judgement of how to vocalise their opinion.  Take Gary Yourofsky as a great example. But that’s another rant for another day.

My point is as follows…some vegans have become human haters, some vegans have gone self-righteous, some vegans simply just stop eating animal produce and others, like myself, start going to vegan events and talking about how you can approach the idea of veganism to non-vegans in a positive way. At least I used to, but not anymore.

When I was first going vegan, I never had this mind frame, I simply wanted to not eat or wear animal products, but like an activist group now full of friends I’d trust with my life, I wanted to do more, and I wanted to do it pretty quickly. As stated above, I later went and performed at Vegfest, NEVFest and the like, but that was not what I originally decided to do. I wanted to be an activist and help out these animals who were being oppressed as best as I could, as legally as I could. But letting out a load of cows from a dairy farm was illegal. Walking into a zoo and letting out all the tigers was too, and also dangerous. It was then that my mind cast back to my old job at Lush, a vegetarian company that I hope will one day become fully vegan. Yes, that shop that you can smell down the high-street. A company that never paid me what I was deserving of, but a company I hold so close to my heart for the human rights and animal rights campaigns it prides itself on.

In 2007 they had a charity called Sea Shepherd come into my local Newcastle store, campaigning against the use of shark fins being used in food alongside other ocean wildlife. I always admired what they did and had kept in touch with goings on since I had left the job and through my transition to going vegan. Sea Shepherd UK is a registered marine conservation charity whose mission is to end the destruction of habitat and slaughter of wildlife around the UK’s coastline and across the world’s oceans in order to conserve and protect ecosystems and species. Sea Shepherd UK uses innovative direct-action tactics to investigate, document and take action when necessary to expose and confront illegal activities committed against marine wildlife and habitats. By safeguarding the biodiversity of our delicately balanced oceanic ecosystems, Sea Shepherd UK works to ensure their survival for future generations. I liked the “radical” idea they had that the ocean should be left on its own, in its deep blue gut with its wildlife.

It was here I had hoped to find my home for animal activism. I sent off 4 volunteer forms and chased up Rob Read and David Scott who I had met through certain Lush events. They were letting me in whether they liked it or not! Eventually they did get back to me. I did a few local outreaches and also a few gigs where bands such as Architects, Heaven Shall Burn and Parkway Drive had allowed us to go and speak to the general public and raise some money for campaigns. But I was desperate to get onto a campaign, not to talk about them. Sea Shepherd had been running a campaign against companies such as USAN fisheries, a wild salmon company from Montrose, who had been shooting seals directly in the head WITH A SHOTGUN, because they were eating salmon. So killing things because they cost you money basically. As a left-wing, animal rights campaigner, this was something I had to get involved with. The campaign lasted almost three months and the volume of volunteers wanting to help meant we could spread them over weeks so everyone stayed fresh and could volunteer equality.

I put myself down for a week in May. I was apprehensive of what I was going to witness, but equally excited to be making, hopefully, a difference to those innocent animals’ lives. Once you’ve seen something like Earthlings you feel like nothing will knock you, or challenge your emotions too much, but on that Tuesday I saw, as my friends sat beside them, USAN take out a shotgun, walk across cliffs and start shooting at seals. Typically it was the one time Rob and Anna (the leaders of the campaign) had left the site, and for barely 10 minutes and suddenly the shotgun came out. The law at the time was that they could legally, yes legally, shoot 27 seals a year. This practice was also audited by, guess who, the company themselves. So before we arrived, God knows how many they actually killed, let alone shot at. This was only also allowed of course if no one was in the way of the gunshot, which of course, people were, such as my friend Richard. It was one of the brutish things I’d ever seen. I couldn’t quite believe my eyes that people were shooting at a creature so beautiful, one I was almost in awe with, because of money. Not that I didn’t believe in what money and profit could make people do, but that it was actually happening. It shook me. It shook my friends Justin, Willow and Richard.

Richard who was at the forefront of it all, trying to capture the illegal footage on camera. Unbelievably the gunmen had rang the police at this exact moment (there is footage online). “We have Sea Shepherd, environmental terrorists here trying to stop us from carrying out our legal work”. Now forgive me, but environmental terrorists? They had a gun pointed right at the environment! Mental. Richard was later taken by the police and held in a cell and interviewed. The fishermen were led away and the gunshots stopped. The whole incident shook me. Just like Earthlings. That night, as I lay in a bed in Gardenstown, I began to wonder why I had put myself through seeing such a thing. Such brutality that built up so much anger and upset inside of me. Then I remembered… Because those seals needed us, when in fact, they shouldn’t. Because if the oceans die, so to do we, and I’ll forever stand up for them, and for it.