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animal rights | prisons & prisoners

Peter Young Report Back

Peter Young and Will Potter spoke at the Clinton St Theater on Thursday night. They talked about the struggle for the rights of animals, and the oppression against those of us who care about that struggle. This oppression is being orchestrated by both corporate and government officials (who are, increasingly, almost one and the same).
Both Potter and Young discussed the campaign of terror that corporate/govt forces are using against people who care about the non-human beings who share this planet with us. Potter pointed out that the recent green scare oppression has had no impact whatsoever on underground activists. He illustrated this point with an anecdote about animal activists liberating a group of rabbits, the day after the SHAC trials. They named six of the rabbits Josh, Lauren, Kevin, Darius, Jake, and Andy, after the SHAC defendants, and issued the following statement:

"This liberation is dedicated to the SHAC-7 and was done in direct response to the government's assault on them. Not a single member of the judge, jury and prosecution have the compassion, the conviction, or the courage of any of those six individuals, and they never will. In this sick culture, we know that every day the sick, the stupid, and the evil bully and destroy those who are far their better. Every lab, farm and fur animal, every poisoned wild bird, every beaten child, every raped woman knows this. The case of the SHAC-7 is no different.

But we will fight back for them. Animal liberation is an idea whose time has come and a reality that any of us can create. The government and the industries it represents hate us so much because no matter who they surveil, raid, defame or imprison, they cannot kill the idea and so they cannot stop us. And while the SHAC-7 will soon go to jail for simply speaking out on behalf of animals, those of us who have done all the nasty stuff talked about in the courts and in the media will still be free. So to those who still work with HLS and to all who abuse animals: we're coming for you, motherfuckers.

Until all are free, the night belongs to us..."

(You can read the rest of the statement here:  http://www.animalliberationpressoffice.org/communiques/2006-09-19_capralogics_shac7.htm)

As Potter noted, underground actions are alive and well, and damned effective. They do not seem to be the target of the govt repression. Instead, the corporate/govt crackdown seems to be intended to scare ordinary people away from following their hearts and minds, because corporate bottom lines are being impacted by the boycotts, protests, and changes of heart being organized by animal rights activists. Those whose profit margins rely on the deaths and mutilations of innocent animals are fighting mad, and they have the resources to buy a lot of legislation. They can afford full page ads in the New York Times which demonize animal rights activists, and they can afford to sit in the pockets of corrupt government officials. And so they do. The results are draconian new laws that consider someone who lets mink out of cages a more dangerous "criminal" than someone who rapes or murders, and someone who sends black faxes to corporate killers becomes a "terrorist" who can be sent to prison for years. Not only that, but people who merely talk about such things are very visibly going to jail all around us for the words they have spoken or written. The freedom to speak and write such things was once an almost sacredly protected right in this country. It was called the First Amendment, part of a now dead document known as the US Constitution. ("Just a goddamn piece of paper," according to some.)

The tactics being used against the animal rights movement are similar to those used against communism during the Red Scare. Such a campaign becomes effective only when we allow their insidious voices inside our heads, when we allow their "inner cops" to colonize our own minds. As in the McCarthy era, they are engineering a creeping fear that is intended to make us question our own words and actions, even for very small and simple, and previously legal, activities. (Like the way many of us worried about even attending this event, for fear that the G-men were sneaking around filming the entrances and turning our faces over to some giant database somewhere....) As both speakers made explicit, we have to fight that impulse to censor ourselves. We have to continue to speak and to act, despite the strange, creeping fear of the inner police officers that they are trying to force into our heads.

Similarly Potter pointed out, as Josh Harper did shortly before going off to prison, that many activists are beginning to question whether it is wise to continue to use low-impact tactics, like words, letters and speeches, when those are the activities that people are going to prison for, while people committing underground direct action are mostly getting away. He questioned why the FBI lists animal rights activists the "number one domestic terrorism threat," even though not one animal rights or environmental activist has ever harmed anyone at all. This paradox becomes even more bizarre, said Potter, when one considers that right wing groups are not listed at all among the so-called "domestic terrorists" on the FBI's list, even though right wing groups have actually injured and killed people. They were responsible for the Olympic Park bombing, for bombings of abortion clinics, and for the savage murders of hundreds of people, including a daycare full of children, at the Oklahoma Federal Building.

While Will Potter spoke eloquently about the overall oppression against animals and the people who care about them, it was Peter Young whose presence and words touched those of us who were there most profoundly. I have to say, I probably have more respect for this man than for almost anyone else I could name. For those who don't know, Peter Young spent two years in prison, as a "terrorist," for liberating at least 8000 mink from fur farms all over the Midwest. (Had he been sentenced now, instead of a few years back, his sentence would likely have been much longer.) At his sentencing hearing, he gave one of the most beautiful statements ever made in a court of law. I want to include that statement here, because I think it's important for people to read this. This is what he said:


"This is the customary time when the defendant expresses regret for the crimes they committed, so let me do that because I am not without my regrets. I am here today to be sentenced for my participation in releasing mink from 6 fur farms. I regret it was only 6. I'm also here today to be sentenced for my participation in the freeing of 8,000 mink from those farms. I regret it was only 8,000. It is my understanding of those 6 farms, only 2 of them have since shut down. I regret it was only 2.

More than anything, I regret my restraint, because whatever damage we did to those businesses, if those farms were left standing, and if one animal was left behind, then it wasn't enough.

I don't wish to validate this proceeding by begging for mercy or appealing to the conscience of the court, because I know if this system had a conscience I would not be here, and in my place would be all the butchers, vivisectors, and fur farmers of the world.

Just as I will remain unbowed before this court- who would see me imprisoned for an act of conscience- I will also deny the fur farmers in the room the pleasure of seeing me bow down before them. To those people here whose sheds I may have visited in 1997, let me tell you directly for the first time, it was a pleasure to raid your farms, and to free those animals you held captive. It is to those animals I answer to, not you or this court. I will forever mark those nights on your property as the most rewarding experience of my life.

And to those farmers or other savages who may read my words in the future and smile at my fate, just remember: We have put more of you in bankruptcy than you have put liberators in prison. Don't forget that.

Let me thank everyone in the courtroom who came to support me today. It is my last wish before prison that each of you drive to a nearby fur farm tonight, tear down its fence and open every cage.

That's all."

Wow. Now that is courage.

So this is the man who spoke before us at the Clinton. He spent a long time explaining how and why he became involved in the animal rights movement. "If you do anything for selfless motives," he said, "That makes you a terrorist." To that end, he got his start as a "terrorist" right here in Portland, in 1996, when he was arrested for the first time for defending the rights of animals. (He was arrested for an action at a meat packers' convention, where he had dressed as a cow and hidden under a table. During a presentation by the meat packers, he leapt out of his hiding place and climbed up on the table, where he had a sit-in of sorts....)

Peter then told a very moving tale about discovering a chicken slaughter house in his Seattle neighborhood. He described, in haunting detail, what it was like to peer through the windows to watch hundreds of chickens beheaded in a matter of seconds, right before his eyes. He talked about visiting the slaughter house in the dark of night, night after night, to spend time with the chickens before they disappeared forever into the yawning doors of the slaughter house. He spoke gentle words and offered small comforts to the condemned little beings. He fed them bits of Cliff bars through the wires of the cages, and murmured to them in the night. He stayed with them until near dawn, when the slaughter house workers would arrive. Then he would slide into the shadows and hide, while the banks of cages were hauled into the bright doorway. And then he would climb up onto a crate and watch through the window in mute horror, as those same birds that he had just offered comfort to were murdered with unimaginable inhumanity, right before his eyes, by workers whose souls were numb and blind to the suffering they caused. This, Peter explained, was where his life began. This is where he traces back the line from the person he has become, to his awakening. This, he said soberly, was the point of no return.

Peter is haunted by the knowledge that he did not save those chickens. Because he did not save them, he said, he knew he was complicit in their deaths. As we are all complicit in the deaths of each and every one of the hundreds and hundreds of thousands of chickens who will die in slaughter houses just like that one, in the time it will take you to read this article. He, like so many of us, is haunted by the knowledge that this same horror is being repeated all around us, all the time. Slaughter houses full of chickens and cows and pigs and turkeys, labs full of dogs and cats and rabbits and guinea pigs and rats and primates.... We can all hear their cries. What are we going to do for them?

Peter admonished us not to pretend that we are not aware of the suffering of innocent animals taking place all around us. "If you are not aware," he said, "It's because you don't want to be aware. Please don't pretend you just don't know. The information is out there. It's all around you." We cannot hide in ignorance.

He went on to trace his own history of awakening. He spoke of finding labs in ordinary neighborhoods. He described locating one lab that looked just like a big house, and told us how he and a friend approached the house in the night and pressed their ears to a vent, and they could hear dogs barking inside. He talked about all the ways that human greed costs innocent animals their lives, and all the ways there are to find out about these things. He described an odyssey of strange discovery, where he traveled across the Midwest with a friend, finding and surveiling fur farms. In an eerie anecdote, he told of one farm that had buildings much larger than he was used to. There was a full moon that night, and as he and a friend peered out of their hiding place on a nearby hill to watch the farm, they could see large animals moving inside the banks of cages. "What the fuck is this place?" they wondered. It took them a long time to finally see that the animals were lynx. Lynx. An endangered species, but it was (and is) still legal to farm them and kill them for their fur. "There were probably more lynx on that farm," he told us, "than are left in the wild." He said that if he had been able to save them, he might have doubled the Lynx population in North America. But he did not. He was unable to save them.

Another detail which haunts him, and another worthy goal for those of us who know about that place now. (Peter did not tell us where the farm is located, even when a member of the audience asked him. It would be illegal, I think, to share words like that now. So we are left to look up that sort of information on our own, should we care to know. As Peter had told us, though, "the information is out there." With the internet, it should be easy to find.)

Although he was not able to save those lynx, he did succeed in liberating many thousands of mink. I like to think of whole colonies of free mink, living free lives in the wild, who have Peter Young to thank. I imagine their descendants will remember, in their collective consciousness, that this one human cared enough to save them.

In discussing the reasons why he did what he did, Peter told us that it is important to bear witness to what is happening all around us. "As long as your knowledge about these things is only theoretical, as long as it comes only from words on paper," he said, "The solutions that you can imagine tend to be only on paper." Once you have witnessed the horror for real, with your own eyes, felt it with your own heart, no matter what you thought you knew about it all before, you cannot just go on as if nothing was happening as you did before. Your solutions can no longer be confined to writing a few letters. You have to do more. (This, by the way, is the point in the lecture where Peter made an unfortunate remark about people who ask him questions about why he broke laws. He referred to people like this as "the little old ladies and so forth." I will forgive him for this remark, because we all say things without thinking from time to time, and I think the stereotypes of our culture can creep, unexamined, into the language of any one of us if we're not careful. I have found myself accidentally making such remarks from time to time. Like when I use the speciesist word "pig" to describe police officers. What can I say. As I said, I have more respect for Peter Young than for almost anyone else I could name. So I will not belabor this one remark. I do want to just say, though, that some of the most rockin activists I know are little old ladies. So this stereotype, both ageist and sexist, was really inaccurate and unfair, and it bears examination. I'm sure that once he realizes that he said it, he will be more careful to keep such language out of his repertoire in the future.)

He is right, though, that seeing what is happening with our own eyes changes us. It's much harder to deny what we know, much more difficult to remain mute and complicit, once we have witnessed the real horror of what humans do to animals, to each other, and to the earth. Lifeless, heartless "laws" on paper, written to protect corporate interests without a shred of thought for the suffering those interests cause, cannot stop us from doing what is right. When we see what is really happening in the world, we can see those laws for what they really are: dead, irrelevant, stifling words on paper. Nothing more.

In discussing his ordeal with the prison system, Peter quoted another activist. "Going to prison," he said, "Is like going to the DMV. It's just something you have to do." Indeed.

This is the kind of courage and practicality that we need more of in this world. When we can break free of the fear of going to prison, the fear of the labels and the stigma offered up by unenlightened neighbors, the fear of the "authorities" who would oppress, imprison, and assault us any time our own consciences interfere with their bottom lines, then we are really free to change the world. Those willing to push the limits and do the right thing will be in good company, with the likes of Peter Young, and the SHAC 7, and all the other so-called "eco-terrorists" who came before.

Anyway, it was a really good lecture, and both Peter Young and Will Potter are worthy of praise for the courageous stands they are taking in a world where courage and character are rapidly becoming illegal. And all the people who came, who filled the theater in spite of all the fear mongering, deserve praise and respect for coming to support these activists and this cause, even while the FBI was rumored to be snapping pictures of license plates outside, and probably listening in on conversations inside. We have all shot our "inner cops," and will choose what is right over what is easy.

By the way, both Radix Media and Portland Indymedia filmed this event. So videos should be forthcoming. I believe that Radix Media has plans to put the speeches up on Portland Cable Access. And there should be a shorter vid of this event to show at an upcoming Videos from the Resistance show. Probably, it will also be available on Food Fight's website. So if you were not able to attend, fear not.

thanks for writing this 07.Oct.2007 00:02


I thought you made an interesting observation when you point out government repression is targeting ordinary folks, it was spot on.

hmm 07.Oct.2007 03:13

fingers do the walkin

Cautionary Tale 07.Oct.2007 09:52


I almost forgot to mention this.

Peter also made it clear that the feds are after information about networks and relationships among activists, and that it's just not wise to help them in this. While going after him, they spent a great deal of time and energy trying to trace and track down anyone he had ever spoken to. This was very important to their schemes. Peter then offered a very apt caution about Myspace. For those activists who still have accounts on Myspace, it bears repeating: Your words and photos and friends lists are enormously helpful to the oppressor. (Yes, alas, if you look up Peter, you will come across a Myspace account. Nevertheless....)

Peter noted that if myspace had been around at the time that he was being investigated, it would have been very damaging. The feds spent a lot of time trying to piece together the network of people who had ever known or come into contact with him, and it would have been a shame to help them out. It might also have robbed us of one of the more amusing stories that Peter had to tell, about the Keystone Feds. He said that when he was picked up, he had had a quotation written on a scrap of paper in his backpack from JD Salinger's Catcher in the Rye. Apparently, some friend of his, somewhere along the way, had written out the quote and given it to him. He stuck it in his pack and forgot about it. He had no idea how long it had even been in there. It was signed, "Holden Caulfield." Holden, you may know, is the name of the main character in Catcher in the Rye.

The Feds, upon finding the quote, immediately set to work trying to find out who this Holden Caulfield was. During the discovery process in the days before his trial, Peter was presented with a document, several pages long, detailing the FBI's search for the infamous Mr. Caulfield. (For the record, he apparently lives somewhere in Texas. It seems the FBI did, in fact, locate someone by that name and the poor man received a very disturbing visit to his home.) Makes you want to laugh... until you remember that these are the fools who hold the power to rob us of our freedom and our lives.

Anyway, I really did want to mention the caution about Myspace. Way too many activists are still, foolishly in my opinion, handing over way too much information to federal agents with their chatty and often self-aggrandizing myspace accounts. No offense to those of you who have them... but think before you type. Don't think for one moment that what you say is not being monitored. It is.