Practical Issues > Things To Do > Activism
Death in the Trenches

printer friendly

From a real 'ground soldier' of our movement. God bless you Wayne.


June 7, 2009

On February 27, this message was posted by Wayne Hsiung of Chicago to Vegan

Outreach's Adopt A College email talk group:

I witnessed a death two days ago. I am trying my best to get that image out of my mind, but I'm going to write about it here in the hopes that writing will be a catharsis.

An hour before I was planning to head out to leaflet, a friend of mine, Dan Dunbar, called me up and said that he had spotted a stalled transport truck with a downed dairy cow inside. I drove out to meet him.

I arrived to witness a grisly scene. The poor girl was collapsed on the ground inside the truck, in a 3-inch-deep cesspool of feces and urine. You could see her wide, terrified eyes staring into nothingness, her entire body quivering ever so slightly. But she was making no sounds. The other cows had trampled her broken body; she had bloody wounds and bright red lesions that were clearly visible through the filth. Her udder was swollen to many times its normal size. We noticed a ghastly sliver of flesh on a gate mechanism above her. (It was later suggested to us that this might have been her tongue. Cows tend to lick the sides of the truck, in search of moisture, but when it's a frozen mechanized gate, that desperate attempt can have tragic consequences.)

As we stood witnessing this terrifying scene, the truck driver sat in his car, on the phone, no doubt cursing his misfortune, to have two broken "machines" (the truck, and the cow) on the same trip. The other cows had already been removed to another truck, which left our poor friend alone in her quiet torment.

In the abstract, we all know about the billions of individuals suffering and dying all around us. We all have seen footage and images from the concentration camps we euphemistically describe as "farms." But nothing has quite the impact as seeing an innocent die before your eyes. I've witnessed the tortuous death of an innocent victim a few times before, and that is a few times too many.

It HAS to stop.

My friends, this is the enemy. The fear, the pain, the utter desolation ... our non-human brethren have done nothing to deserve such a terrible fate. And yet that fate is cruelly forced upon them, over and over and over again ... an endless procession of torment and death, a procession that sometimes may seem invincible to change.

Whenever I lose hope for this movement, whenever I am feeling overwhelmed by the weight of the oppression all around us, I just look around me a bit more carefully. And when I look a bit more carefully, I see something different and even beautiful. I see the inspired stream of emails coming in from the [Vegan Outreach Adopt a College email] list. I see a few dozen people standing on a frozen Chicago street, calling clearly for animal liberation. I see a passerby's pained expression of empathy when she stops briefly to look at a sign. And when I see these things, I see that our enemy can be defeated, that the holocaust raging all around us can be stopped, and that our vision of a just and peaceful world for all animals can become a reality.

Our poor friend died that day, on the filthy floor of a bloody transportation truck. We witnessed her body go cold, and her eyes stop moving. Her entire life had been enslaved and twisted by violence and prejudice. But I think that, despite her cruel death, she had moments of peace and joy the sweet smell of a new and unexpected food, the gentle touch of a rare worker who had not been desensitized to pervasive industrial cruelty, or the fresh taste of cool water on a hot summer day. Of course, much of her life was torment. That cannot be denied. But because of people like you, and because of brave activists all over the world, from San Francisco to Chicago to Amsterdam to Moscow, her torment will not be forgotten. And some day soon, those few moments of peace and joy, that our poor friend experienced ever so fleetingly, will no longer be just moments.

All of these thoughts were sifting through my mind as I headed out to leaflet a couple hours later than I had expected. My mood was somber. I could still visualize, and indeed feel, the terror in my poor friend's eyes, as she wallowed, slowly dying, in torment and filth. And when I arrived, I looked around: I was alone on a cold Chicago street.

But I didn't feel alone. Because I thought of the hundreds of activists on this very list, the many thousands who have rallied for the rights of animals in cities across this nation, and the millions all over the world who have spoken and stood for the rights of oppressed classes, in a centuries-long struggle for equality, justice, and freedom.

All of you inspire me. All of you give me strength. All of you give me hope. And for all of our superficial disagreements and differences, for all of our human pettiness and peccadilloes, the common vision and passion we share -- of a just and peaceful world for all of us on this planet -- makes me glad and proud to call each and every one of you a friend, a friend in the fight for liberation.

As to the leafleting itself? The traffic was low at Robert Morris College. I don't remember any interactions of note, perhaps because I wasn't my usual self. But at a moment when I should have been drowning in despair over the suffering I had witnessed, isolated on a cold street, facing an oblivious or outright hostile public, I did not feel despair.

I felt hope and kinship. And I have all of you to thank for that.

There will come a day when the animals are all free. I don't know if it will happen sooner or later, but I have no doubt that it will come. And when that day comes, the world will look back on our times, gratefully, for the brave work that you do, for your passion to stand for those who cannot stand for themselves, and most of all, for your hope ... your hope in a movement where it is so easy to wallow in despair.

But this email has now gotten much longer than I had anticipated. So let me conclude with a quote by an activist much braver and better than myself:

"I come to say to you this afternoon, however difficult the moment, however frustrating the hour, it will not be long...because THE ARC OF THE MORAL UNIVERSE IS LONG, BUT IT BENDS TOWARD JUSTICE."

If you are ever in despair or frustration, remember those words. Dr. King was right about his movement, and he will be right, too, about ours.

Fair Use Notice and Disclaimer
Send questions or comments about this web site to Ann Berlin,