The City of Berkeley Just Condemned Dog Meat (Animal Rights Series)
Four reasons this is huge news for animals.
Four months ago, I was sitting in a Yulin prison, recovering from a beating I took at the hands of dog meat traders.
Four hours ago, I was sitting in the City Council of Berkeley, as an initiative spearheaded by Direct Action Everywhere (DxE) became a reality: the first resolution in the United States condemning the killing of dogs for food.
The words of praise by the city council members were incredible. Councilperson Kriss Worthington applauded Chinese activists for leading the campaign against dog meat. Councilperson Max Anderson passionately argued — in the face of questions from other city council members about “why this is Berkeley business” — that Berkeley has always taken stands against global injustice.
“They said the same about fracking. But saying ‘it’s not our problem’ is exactly the problem. If it’s wrong, it IS our problem.”
I was nearly in tears when I bowed my head and thanked Anderson for seeing that animal liberation was a social justice issue. I told him that his words, along with testimonials by DxE activists Cheryl Ching, AJ Hill, Paul Picklesimer, and Matt Johnson, were decisive in winning the votes we needed to pass the resolution.
Anderson shook my hand and said, “I have rescue dogs. I get it. Keep doing the great work.”
But this wasn’t just a rare feel-good moment in Berkeley politics. It was a historic moment for four reasons.
1. A flagship American city entertained the notion that killing animals is inherently a form of abuse.
The memo circulated to the city council, shaped by discussions with DxE, stated that killing is wrong regardless of whether it is “humane.” This is a huge sign of progress when the rest of the world is buying into the hypocrisy that is “humane slaughter.”
2. DxE’s Yulin campaign was for ALL animals… and it still won.
Our campaign against the Yulin dog meat festival was unapologetic in drawing parallels between abuse of animals in the United States and abroad. Indeed, we rallied under the hashtag #YulinIsEverywhere and simultaneously released a rescue of a baby pig from an American farm. And while we settled for a resolution that focused on killing dogs, early drafts of the legislation condemned the killing of ALL animals for food. We didn’t win rights for all animals, yet, but we got the issue on the table.
3. DxE’s campaign was anti-racist… and it still won.
Contrary to campaigns that demonize foreign communities, our campaign operated in solidarity with the local Chinese activists who are fighting the dog meat trade on the frontlines. Instead of exploiting racism to condemn foreign “savages,” we challenged racism, elevated a community of color, and built a powerful coalition for anti-racism and animal rights.
4. DxE won a short term victory… while also establishing our path for long term change.
I’ll be writing soon about how local “movement centers” have been crucial to progress for social justice. For now I will simply say that symbolic victories such as this Yulin resolution are the first steps in DxE’s Forty Year Roadmap to Animal Liberation. The entire city council of Berkeley heard, for perhaps the first time in history, numerous Berkeley residents state that animals are not ours to kill, eat, or uset. Cheryl Ching noted the ties between oppression in the US and oppression abroad, and Matt Johnson made clear that we must work just as hard to stop violence against animals here at home. Public dialogue like this will give us openings for more change in the future.
We won a campaign, in short, while maintaining the two most attributes for effective incremental change.
First, effective incremental change must be sustainable. With a burgeoning mass of activists and vegans coming to Berkeley, we have the movement we need to back this resolution over the long term. (Indeed, we had more people at the city council meeting than perhaps any other group at the meeting, despite having only 2 hours notice to mobilize!) Contrast this with the foie gras ban I worked on in Chicago circa 2006. Because we did not have a true animal rights movement in Chicago, the ban was reversed a mere 11 months after it passed.
That won’t happen with DxE in Berkeley.
Second, effective incremental change must build momentum for future change, i.e. create domino effects. The behind-the-scenes negotiations, private discussions with legislators, and public meeting testimonials around our Yulin resolution have laid the groundwork for future legislative work in Berkeley. Warning labels on meat (e.g. “An animal died by violence for this product.”), sanctions against humanewashers, and, yes, even a complete ban on meat in Berkeley… all of these outcomes become feasible as a result of this resolution.
So what’s next? First, we we will go broader. We are immediately reaching out to our chapters across the world to ask them to pursue similar legislation. If cities across the world show solidarity with Chinese animal rights activists, the government will be forced to act. Tens of millions of dogs and cats will be spared.
Second, we will go deeper. We will use the Yulin resolution to push further change for animals in the city of Berkeley. After all, if the entire city can come together to say that killing dogs for food is inherently abuse, then surely we can say the same for other animals?
Only time will tell if these efforts to broaden and deepen our campaign will succeed. But today’s victory — by a grassroots, all-volunteer movement that has paltry resources — shows us that Margaret Mead was right.
Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.
Want to get involved? DxE is a grassroots network focused on empowering you to be the best activist you can be. Here are some steps you can take.