Last night I watched Richard Attenborough’s ‘Gandhi’ on Maori TV. In an early scene, Gandhi as a young lawyer in South Africa, was opposing the unjust laws that his Indian community were subject to. He had called a rally in the Transvaal to publicly burn the certificates that every ‘coloured’ had to carry and produce on demand by any policeman who asked to see them. In the film, no sooner had Gandhi dropped his certificate in the furnace, than the police charged. He was brutally knocked to the ground, cracking open his skull. Then, with blood running down his face, he inched himself along the ground, picked up one of the fallen certificates, reached up slowly, and dropped it in the furnace….
When I watched the determination and steadfast commitment showed by Gandhi (superbly played by Ben Kingsley) I couldn’t help identifying it with the cause that I am involved in, that of the rights of non-human animals. Although we are a small minority, we too are having a widespread effect, and not only for other animals. Gandhi said something else that I am pausing to consider: “A small body of determined spirits fired by an unquenchable faith in their mission can alter the course of history.”
Lonia, Betty, Possum and I were joined by friends from Wellington – Samantha, Steve, Charlie Earthling, Sandy, Atom, Callum, Francesca and Luke – and our Elin from New Plymouth.
We had a yummy pot luck lunch at my house before heading to the sheep and bobby calf slaughterhouse. It is the beginning of bobby calf season but we didn’t see any bobbies arrive today. We did see some sheep, pulled in a small trailer by a couple driving a ute. I have encountered these people before. Last time I asked if I could buy one or two of the sheep to save them from slaughter, and they laughed at me. Today when I knocked on the passenger seat window, the woman just shook her head, not even looking at me, and even before I opened my mouth. I suppose they knew what I was going to say…. I felt sad. They were such fine animals; young, dignified and healthy looking, with clear, alert eyes. I wouldn’t have hesitated to pay for them, and look after them until I could find a forever home. But today also, it was not meant to be. Those beautiful sheep will all be dead now.
At the second slaughterhouse, we got up on our stepladders and played relaxing music via Bluetooth speaker for the cows waiting in the pens. Atom, a vegan since the 90s, and a very convincing and articulate voice for the animals for many years, was nevertheless at his first vigil, as was Callum. I don’t know what they felt about it, and I understand that this type of action isn’t for everyone. But speaking personally, meeting the animals face to face, photographing their sweet, innocent faces, trying to comfort them, and telling their story on social media is dear to my heart. As an action it may well be less effective than sharing vegan recipes on facebook, for example. But sharing photos of plates of food is not who I am. On the other hand, bearing witness to injustice and cruelty, not looking away but trying to help, goes to the very heart of who I am as a human being.
Something else happened today at the slaughterhouse that needs to be recorded. As I stood on the grass near the driveway wearing the Regan Russell t-shirt my friend Rob gifted me, the pig truck driver stuck his head out of the window: ‘Hello you f##king old mole’ he spat! Betty was standing next to me, a little behind, and we both giggled.
The next thing I knew the enormous truck was coming right at me, and quite fast at that. I’m not exaggerating this; at least half a dozen of the others saw it, Possum, Elin and Samantha got it on video and Francesca yelled ‘Watch out!’ I didn’t get out of the way because I didn’t believe the driver would be so stupid as to deliberately try to run me over. Betty tried to pull me out of the way just before he stopped, no more than half an inch from where I was standing. He was obviously trying to scare me, using his huge truck as a weapon, but he came dangerously close to hitting me.
“You will be reported for this” I said to him, a little shaken. I couldn’t help thinking how easy it would have been for another activist to have become a casualty, like Regan, of an angry pig truck driver…
I could write a lot more about violence and misogyny, but I won’t. I’m tired. Activist friends, we need to be careful when we bear witness at slaughterhouses and other highly-charged situations. Gandhi believed that when Right was on our Side we would always succeed, and I kind of believe that myself. But that doesn’t mean that everything will go smoothly along the way, and nothing bad will happen. We have to be vigilant all the time.