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Last Friday, we at Animal Rebellion announced that we will be occupying roads near the government Department of Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (Defra) and that we will be occupying Smithfield Meat Market for one night.
This news was received positively by some members of the animal justice community, but others expressed some confusion about the new plans.
We have heard people’s questions and concerns, and we hope this post can help to clarify the change of approach for the upcoming October Animal Rebellion.
Our strategy and values
Animal Rebellion sets out to achieve system change through nonviolent civil disobedience. This system change is achieved by getting the government to listen to us. To get the government to listen to us, we need to shift the public conversation and build massive public support.
We aim to garner public support by sticking to several core principles and values. One key value is nonviolence, which offers what we believe is the best way to get the public on our side.
Another important value is to avoid blaming and shaming, as we believe we live in a toxic system where no one individual is responsible for society’s problems, and that everyone is simply doing what they believe is best in a complex world.
We also work in solidarity with Extinction Rebellion (XR), with whom we’ve joined forces as part of a Rebel Alliance.
We have a massive amount of common ground with XR, and we believe that by banding together, we can achieve far more for animals and the planet than we could otherwise.
By being part of this Rebellion, we ensure that animals are represented in the climate conversation, and we gain the ability to push for the crucial dialogue needed about a plant-based food system.
What’s happening at Smithfield?
On October 7, we will arrive at Smithfield Market, one of the world’s largest wholesale meat markets, and a symbol of the destructive animal farming industry. Thousands of rebels will occupy Smithfield’s iconic archway.
While there we will communicate our vision of a plant-based future and in an artistic intervention ‘transition’ Smithfield into a vibrant plant-based market.
We will turn this space at Smithfield into something beautiful – not only will there be an artistic, symbolic fruit & veg market, there will be an opening ceremony with a ribbon-cutting by George Monbiot, music and people’s assemblies to unite around a vision of a future where our planet’s ecosystems are protected and animals are free.
Furthermore, there will be space for sadness and loss – space to grieve for the animals who are being killed for their bodies to be sold at Smithfield, space to mourn for the wounds inflicted upon society by these industries and the climate crisis.
How we’re disrupting Smithfield
We will disrupt Smithfield – just not in a way that makes it easy for a hostile press to paint us as ‘militant vegans making life hell for struggling workers’. We are disrupting the idea of Smithfield – the idea that it is and always will be a place of death.
We are introducing the idea that Smithfield can be something better, something that supports a just and sustainable world. It is far more difficult for the media and workers to dismiss us when we are there with peace in our hearts, inviting them to join a conversation about a better world and how they can be a part of it.
Disrupting the ideology
However, we won’t only be disrupting Smithfield by setting up our plant-based market. Throughout our time at Smithfield, we will also disrupt Smithfield’s ideology through various creative, nonviolent actions.
Think along the lines of holding a candle-lit funeral procession for the animals whose bodies lay within the building, using art to ‘re-brand’ Smithfield, and so on. By using creative disruption, we can invite not only Smithfield, but also the public, to engage in a peaceful dialogue about building a better world for animals and the planet.
Furthermore, we have already done a tremendous amount to disrupt Smithfield. We told Smithfield that we would be coming. We told them we would show our vision of what Smithfield could be.
Unable to ignore us, they engaged in dialogue with us, and as a mark in the history books, for the first time in 800 years Smithfield will have thousands of animal justice and environmental advocates there showing them their future.
Why aren’t we staying at Smithfield for two weeks?
Our original plan was to occupy Smithfield for two weeks, but a number of factors led to us changing this plan…
- We need to create an environment which is relatively safe and where there is less risk of violence breaking out. Staying at Smithfield, disrupting workers from being able to feed their families (since workers are only paid for the hours they work), and having animal justice advocates constantly surrounded by animal bodies for two weeks, we felt would create a situation of high tension which could rapidly become difficult to de-escalate.
- We do not want to position Smithfield’s workers as our enemies. We want to create system change, and act in line with principles of nonviolence. For Animal Rebellion, that means recognizing that workers too are struggling under this toxic system. It means recognizing that workers do not do what they do because they necessarily mean to cause harm to animals (though we should acknowledge the role played by speciesism), but mainly because they need to provide for themselves and their loved ones. It means recognizing that Smithfield’s workers could one day join hands with us to demand a transition to a plant-based food system to build a more just and sustainable society for all.
- We want to portray to the media, and the world, that Animal Rebellion is not here simply to tear down violent institutions. Instead, we are here to transform those institutions, and unite people from all walks of life under a vision of what is possible.
- We realised that to be in line with the Movement of Movements campaigning for systemic action against the climate crisis, we need to focus as much of our resources as possible on the government. We always knew we would target the government in Westminster, and it made sense to focus on one site at a time rather than split our people power across two sites.
Due to these factors, after our overnight occupation of Smithfield’s archway, we will take the Rebellion to Westminster, where we’ll set up camp at the doorstep of the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (Defra).
The wider movement of movements strategy is to occupy Westminster and disrupt government. This is the strategy to bring policymakers to the table and demand change. We are aligning with that strategy.
We have chosen to be located near Defra because it is the government department chiefly responsible for upholding the animal farming and fishing industries which are destroying the lives of animals and the health of our planet.
Defra is key to shaping our society – its policies have a ripple effect throughout the animal agriculture industry. Not only that, but Defra’s actions have wide-ranging implications on a variety of environmental issues that fuel the climate crisis. Defra is in a prime position to instigate the changes we want to see.
How does being at Defra make a difference for animals?
Make no mistake – this won’t just be a campout outside Defra. This is a rebellion, after all. We’ll be engaging in numerous actions of nonviolent civil disobedience at Defra to make sure our message is heard loud and clear.
Beyond that, from our site in Westminster, we will be organizing actions that spread beyond government, targeting other key institutions. Some of the organizations we’ve identified as potential targets include Billingsgate Fish Market, Cargill, JBS Global and the Red Tractor.
There will be disobedience. There will very likely be arrests. There will be a clear, peaceful message that a plant-based food system is the only way forward for a just, sustainable society.
Why are we standing alongside other movements?
Of course, we have our disagreements with others who are taking part in the October Rebellion – Animal Rebellion believes that animals should not be treated as commodities, whereas some in the Rebel Alliance still hold that animals should be part of the food system.
These disagreements will have to be addressed further down the line – but for now, we choose to embrace our common ground with the rest of the Rebel Alliance – and this includes XR Farmers – to advance our common goals, with the knowledge that the science strongly favours the transition to a plant-based food system.
A movement of movements
Animal Rebellion has joined a movement of movements. Extinction Rebellion has catalysed a historic event where people across the political spectrum set their differences aside and focus on what unites them.
Only when groups across the political spectrum come together will we have the power to transform our system.
At this point, we believe we have so much more to gain by standing in alliance with other movements including XR Farmers, since we share significant common ground – we all want urgent action on the climate crisis, and we both want radical changes to be made to the food system.
What will the experience be like?
The Rebellion will be a transformative experience for everyone who attends. There will be trainings running every day. You’ll get the chance to join a team, organize actions, participate in People’s Assemblies, and help the site function smoothly.
There will be music, performances, dancing, community building activities and actions of various types. You will learn skills you might never have tried your hand at before – things like nonviolent communication, police liaising, art-based activism, arrestee support, and so on. You’ll remember this your whole life.
To have an impact for animals and the planet, to create the best experience possible for animal rebels, to make sure we get government talking about a plant-based food system, we need numbers behind this Rebellion.
We need you to take time off work, get trained up as much as you can, grab your tent, and join us on the streets from October 7. Thank you for engaging with us and for your support, and we hope we’ll see you there.
Sign up for the October Animal Rebellion in London here