It is not an easy thing to look the truth in the eye even when already informed. That is what my last weekend of activism was about. I looked into the eyes of individual cows at a feedlot and saw fear and curiosity. I looked into the eye of a dead and abandoned calf and saw terror and pain. I looked into the eyes of the beings we honored for the National Animal Rights Day and saw their distress literally frozen forever.
I will never look at them the same way. I have been vegan for years and never faced their pain so virally until now. It was palpable, it was furious and it was also brutal.
I find myself at this corner in my life where major decisions have to be made. I opened Pandora’s box years ago and realized that there was no turning back. After this weekend, whatever doubts I ever had, went through the window. It is one thing to sign petitions, go to protests, but it is another entirely to be a witness and feel and see someone else’s pain.
I have been taking photos since I got my first camera about 20 years ago. As a teenager, I was inspired by a photo-journalist who visited my school. His love of his profession was at the time what pushed me to learn the craft. But I never excelled or succeeded in that direction. I consider myself a decent photographer but not an artist. But it’s ok. I love doing it anyway and I would rather tell the truth with pictures than trying to imitate some of my great friends or other great photo artists out there. That is not what I’m about.
I can still see myself walking the dirt road in the feedlot with many cows looking at me and my two friends, curious about our presence and maybe hopeful that something is being done to help them? I would like to believe that. I took many pictures that day, I tried to really see each individual and capture her face, her emotions, her life in the disgusting gulag she is interned in. I don’t know if I succeeded but I do hope that the moments captured will serve to liberate her sisters and her children.
Then we happened on the body of this baby. His tortured corpse and face displaying horror will forever stay with me, not just on pictures but in my memory. What happened to him or her? And why? I know the answer of course but it is more of a universal « why » than a purely analytical why. What has she/he done to deserve this? He/she was not even worth a proper burial.
I kept taking pictures, feeling transfixed by the sight, with the need to document, report, bring the truth to others. Wake up! Don’t you see what your actions are doing to them?
I can still remember the smell of the place and all the flies all around us. People can actually « work » in places like these? I wonder what these cows feel daily about being here. I can only know what I would feel.
We can never know how someone else really feels unless we feel it ourselves. No matter what happened last weekend, that will not change. I am not a cow, a sheep, a rat, a cat… But I am human and I have my compassion and heart open to their pain. That will not change because of my so-called human privilege.
The most important thing any of us can do is to set aside our damn egos and truly walk our talk of compassion and inclusiveness. We walk a dangerous path when we ignore our deeply ingrained selfishness and pride. Our animal brothers and sisters don’t pretend to be anything but themselves and we make them pay by torturing them. But we could also reward them by caring for them instead provided we truly change ourselves. I have met vegans/animal rights activists who are building up their egos as a bodybuilder builds his muscles. But I’m also glad that the majority of them do really care and do whatever it takes to wake up minds around them.
Changing hearts and minds is the most difficult task or this generation. Our parents couldn’t do it because it was not the right time. Our children may do it, but it might be too late. If there is to be a consciousness shift, it has to be now, not later. The animals can’t wait any longer and the Earth is running out of time completely.
Whether you carry a sign or sneak into slaughterhouses or feedlots, you must document the truth so that no-one can dispute it. It doesn’t matter if you don’t feel talented enough or courageous enough. We never know what courage we have until we take risks. That is the lesson I’ve learned last weekend when I brought back pictures of slavery.
Let’s not forget that, for a lot of people, other animals are still very much invisible and their pain even more so. That is why, in all of history, paintings, then photos have been powerful testimonies to reveal what is hidden.
And frankly, let me ask you this: what have you got to lose?
« Every successful social-change movement has involved a multiplicity of people using a multiplicity of tactics to approach a problem from a multiplicity of angles. Some people push against the bad things that need to be changed while others pull for the good alternatives. Some people work to undermine destructive systems from within while others are knocking down the walls from without. We all need to recognize that and find our place within a multifaceted struggle, being sure to be generous and appreciative of those who are working toward the same goal using different tactics. »
~ Patrice Jones
Pictures of NARD in San Francisco : https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.10152261526378138.1073741854.754328137&type=1&l=42e554a0f7
Photos by Véronique Perrot
© Copyright June 2014 – All Rights Reserved. Printing by Permission Only.