October 16, 2016
On Monday night, we walked into hell. On
a busy street corner, men were grabbing baby birds, flipping them upside
down, and slicing their throats. Behind them, a truck sat on the sidewalk,
filled with crates stacked upon crates of more babies. When I immediately
began sobbing at the horror of the sight, a dozen little boys gathered
around me, mocking and laughing. Someone shouted, "Kill it right in front of
her!" He swung a baby by her wings.
When I composed myself (read: put
up all the mental walls to not truly see the reality in front of me), I
joined about 50 activists who stood protesting the slaughter. Tensions ran
high, but I tried to remain calm. I walked among those swinging the birds,
They feel pain.
They want to
They are fighting for their lives.
*You* have a choice.
Some responded, "Yes, I have made my choice."
I told them the
birds didn't have a choice in having their lives taken from them.
girl, maybe 12 years old, spoke with me. She said a lot of people were
listening and having their minds changed, and she herself was torn. I asked
her if she would do it if they were cats or dogs. "Definitely not," she
answered. I told her the birds are no different. I showed her the background
of my phone, my profile picture here on Facebook, in which I'm hugging my
late love, Tabitha. I told her my best friend died in January.
tonight, you have the choice not to take someone else's life," I told her.
"But what do I do? I already have a ticket!"
David instructed me to ask
her to still use her ticket to get a bird, but give the bird to me instead
of killing her.
"I'll give her a safe home," I assured her.
"Okay, I'll find you."
I returned to the protesters, hopeful but not
Just five minutes later a figure ran toward me through
the crowd and shouted, "Here!" As she and I ran our separate ways, I called
out a stunned "thank you," clasping the trembling, feathered body in my
Vanessa and Steven led
the way to their car as I hid the small survivor behind my protest sign,
shielding her from the crowd filling the street, killing her kin.
the car, she continued to tremble in my lap, but slowly accepted pets and
water. Vanessa and Steve returned to the protest, convinced one more man to
spare a baby rooster, and then drove us home.
sits contented in my lap, preening herself and my arm. Out in the expanse of
our backyard, she chooses to stand beside me. When I go to put her to bed at
night, she cries out in panic and runs after me toward my bed, until I sit
with her as she falls asleep.
She still bears the marks of the life
Badly infected feet from days spent in filth and crammed
into a crate.
A too-big body for a six-week-old, still-peeping chick.
Anxiety from her history of trauma.
But she is one of the lucky
ones. Though she was specifically destined to be part of a religious ritual,
her fate was to be no different from the 263 baby chickens killed for "food"
in the United States each second, an incomprehensible 52 billion globally
each year. The only difference for her? She was seen. And a child had the
power to save her life.
After I ran to the car, my
partner Jay spoke with
the girl. He told her how brave she was and asked if she wanted to be an
animal rights activist. She told him her parents are extremely protective,
that she doesn't even have a cell phone or email address, but she cares
I think about cultural conditioning and how a common
justification for violence is tradition. I think about the insular community
of a religious sect and the isolation of a young girl, shielded from the
larger world by her parents, how steeped in that tradition and communal
norms she must be. But still, when she had the choice to act with
compassion, she was able to defy her upbringing and make that choice. Even
when standing amongst a defiant crowd. And if she could make that choice,
can't we all?
Can't we say that tradition is not enough to justify
traditions are not maintained by those they
victimize, but by those they profit,
and that traditions can be created
anew, traditions that are humane and just?
Standing in my lap today,
Rose--named after the little girl who spared her life--shows me we can.