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April 2004
Still Evolving

By Michelle Walsh

I would like to say I am a believer in nonviolence at all times. In fact, I used to believe that love and compassion were the only tools one needed to effect change. I have read all of Gandhi’s books and as I sit here at my computer, a black and white photo of his smiling face is looking out at me. Somewhere deep inside, I long to be the person who believes as Gandhi did; to live my life with compassion, understanding and total forgiveness for those who harm our animals and earth. I cannot honestly say that I have reached that stage of evolution yet. As an animal rights activist, the issue of violence and nonviolence is one that is always at the forefront of my life and heart.

After much tossing around of the issues, I can say without hesitation that I am a firm supporter of the Animal Liberation Front (ALF) and similar groups that use direct action to save the lives of animals and/or destroy property that is used in the torture of animals. I believe that as long as no living being is harmed, then it is justified. The prevalence of institutionalized animal abuse over the last century has shown that animal abusers are not driven by morality, but by money. Despite legitimate protest, the exploitation of animals and the environment will continue as long as there is money to be made. While many consider the destruction of property an act of violence, I do not consider the destroying of the concrete and metal killing machines whose sole purpose is the destruction of innocent life to be a violent act. However, if there were even a minute possibility that a loss of life could result from such property destruction, I would stand firmly against the action.

The ALF carries out direct action against animal abuse by rescuing animals from fur farms, laboratories and other houses of torture. They also cause financial loss to animal exploiters, usually through the damage and destruction of property or the act of setting free their “product”—the animals. Their goal is to save as many animals as possible and to physically disrupt the process of animal exploitation and abuse. The long-term goal is to force animal abuse companies out of business. Activists take all precautions not to harm any human or animal, thus the group describes themselves as “nonviolent.” Many disagree, and will protest that they are indeed violent because their actions destroy property and cost business owners hundreds of thousands of dollars.

In my opinion, those working as part of the ALF are true heroes. While the ALF and similar animal rights groups have been labeled as “terrorists,” I cannot fathom how saving lives could ever be considered an act of terror or violence. Recently, parallels have been drawn between the treatment of animals and the treatment of human beings during the Holocaust. This year, PETA launched a controversial ad that drew the connection between the two and the book, Eternal Treblinka by Charles Patterson, drew attention to the issue with its release in 2002. Pointing out the connection caused a furor among many people. As a person who values human and animal life equally, I cannot help but view fur farms, slaughterhouses and animal laboratories as modern day concentration camps for living beings who don’t have a voice. The ALF has the following credo: If we are trespassing, so were the soldiers who broke down the gates of Hitler’s death camps. If we are thieves, so were the members of the Underground Railroad who freed the slaves of the South. And if we are vandals, so were those who destroyed forever the gas chambers of Buchenwald and Auschwitz.

I wish that animal abuse, torture and murder would come to an end through more peaceful means and that the destruction of property or machines was not necessary because such things didn’t exist. Sadly, I don’t think the human race has reached a stage in our evolution where animal abuse and torture will end by negotiation. In the meantime, I am thankful that there are groups out there working to save as many animal lives as possible. In the fight for animal rights, when there are literally millions of animals tortured and imprisoned on a daily basis, physical action is usually the most productive course.

I do not believe that all hope is lost when it comes to peacefully solving our problems. When it comes to the ideals and philosophies of Gandhi, I am hopeful that there are areas where nonviolence and compassion can overpower more destructive forces. One of my heroes, Julia Butterfly Hill demonstrated this beautifully when she engaged in a two year tree-sit to save the ancient Redwood tree, Luna, and surrounding forest. Under verbal and sometimes physical attack by loggers, Julia displayed compassion and forgiveness toward them at all times. I hope that one day we may all be able to feel such compassion on a daily basis and that the word violence, in any form, will be rendered obsolete.



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