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Archive for December, 2010

Between the biting cold, the forlorn street, and the building’s pedestrian traffic at a disheartening holiday low, I feel I am finally ready to lay this project to rest…for now, at least. The hours spent in solitude out there have given me plenty of time to question the efficacy of my efforts and  at times even  to lament my somewhat impulsive planning (choosing winter over spring, including a holiday week and semester break, etc.); but more importantly, I’ve had ample time to contemplate redoubling these efforts for next time. However that may manifest itself. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed every moment spent chatting with those who bid me the honor, constantly learning, enjoying the company of friends, meeting new ones, and experimenting with this medium of communication and protest.

This is far from over. The mainstream media seemed to not care enough to cover my humble project, but who needs ’em anyway? In the past few days I have done interviews for a documentary film on veganism in New Orleans, and another for a podcast called Vegan Radio. The latter should be available shortly after the start of the New Year.

I want every one to know how inspiring such a project can be, and beseech you all to try something like it. I’d like to thank every individual who came to visit; my amazing friend who provided the initial spark, encouragement, and help to hatch this outrageous plan; Michael at SAEN; Jeff at the Humane Society of LA; all who organized and participated in solidarity actions around the U.$.; and those courageous individuals who showed themselves unafraid to heed their conscience and question their colleagues’/bosses’ unethical atrocities on the animal kingdom. Little thanks to “philoshophy guy,” who gave me more of a headache than any constructive criticisms. A begrudging “thank you” to the dude who stole my phone, only to return it after he tried unsuccessfully to secure $40 (yes, this really did happen, Officer “I Appreciate Your Honesty”. Duh. What’s more unbelievable — that I would fabricate such a story for the purpose of “internet banter” or that I simply wasn’t interested in providing the university police with a profile/description of some  harmless individual?! ).

Remember, comrades and conscientious objectors, that just because we use (or may have used) a procedure developed ostensibly “through” [sic] animal experiments does not make us perpetrators of the violence inflicted on these beings. This is the lucrative paradigm of the research world — as enforced by the NIH and FDA, and lobbied for by powerful pharmaceutical giants — and a shrewd way for those whose salaries depend upon animal research grants to deflect accountability. (As a matter of fact, as an individual who has laid awake nights haunted by the images of laboratories and terrified animals, such a spiteful sentiment evokes more than a little resentment.) We did not construct these concentration camps, and we do not order these animals’ executions.* Our responsibility lies not with which procurements of modern medical technologies we use — any more than our being treated for hypothermia would subject us to complicity with the Nazis who developed said data from experiments on Jews. Where our responsibilities lie is in stopping the system that perpetuates institutionalized animal abuse. For if we do not try to stop the horrors, we can, indeed, count ourselves as complicit as the “good Germans” who did all in their power to numb themselves and ignore the smoke stacks rising in the distance…

Remember it is not a matter of procedure but a matter of systemic oppression. So when those who abuse animals assure us that their methods are humane, when they tell us they care for the animals they exploit, here is my rebuttal:

“The worst slave owners were those who were kind to their slaves, and so prevented the horror of the system being realized by those who suffered from it, and understood by those who contemplated it.” — Oscar Wilde, The Soul of Man Under Socialism

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*Just the other day, a woman told me how for seven months she “sacked” the unwanted animals by gassing them with CO2. (The phrase “sacking” is indicative of the disconnection implicit in animal experimentation: it’s short for “sacrifice,” otherwise known as “murder” — thus, “sack” is an abbreviation of a euphemism.) She told me, “It really stressed me out. It made me feel really guilty.”

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Pouring wax from my vigil candle into cement cracks, I ponder why sidewalks are laid out in square grids, like large tile blocks. Is it  psychological engineering, the way supermarkets design their stores’ floor lay outs to “steer” consumers through the aisles and subsequently maximize profit? Like the way McDonalds purposely utilizes ugly, uncomfortable plastic chairs to discourage visitors from staying too long? Sitting in public space for four hours every day allows one much time to cogitate on such matters…

Over the course of my “field research” demonstrating against animal research at Tulane, I’ve noticed women exude a far greater receptiveness to my ideas than men. Now, I would hypothesize that under our heteronormative patriarchal society, men are socialized to exhibit confidence and strength; while women are socialized to be more meek, the “done to” (or mere sidekicks) rather than the “doers”.  This would thus explain why more women would take a flyer (and by extension, criticism) than men.

How to work through this dilemma? Well — going on an incredibly perceptive tip from my pal and “colleague” M—— (a longtime Vegan Outreach leafletter) — I simply applied a gender monkeywrench: When a self-assured male would wave off my attempts to hand him a flyer, I would insinuate — as politely and nonaggressively as can be — that he just might be afraid.

Observe one case study we conducted:

Me: “Hi, sir”– as you can see, I first lightly stroke the male “test subject’s” ego,  before proceeding with the next question: “Would you care for a flyer?”

The male test subject replies, “No, thanks,” and proceeds confidently along on his trajectory.

Me: “There’s nothing to be afraid of; it’s just information.”

Male test subject, reconsidering, proceeds to turn around and accept a flyer.

After he entered the building, I turned to my two lady comrades on the sidewalk and performed a little victory dance! It’s, like, social science!

Granted, there are many effective sound bites one could employ, depending on whom you’re trying to communicate to. Versatility is crucial. For example, I’ve received similarly positive results when I began using the standby “I think these animals deserve better” or “I think these animals are worth fighting for” after each initial rejection. One person (a woman, not surprisingly) upon hearing such a sentiment, similarly halted in her tracks and accepted a flyer. Different strokes for different folks. Or to quote an administrator at my high school in grotesque response to my fruitless campaign to abolish dissection: “There’s more than one way to skin a cat.”

But I like to think that, by casually suggesting the notion of fear to unresponsive men, I am “killing two birds with one stone” (figuratively speaking, of course!): challenging the social stigmas of gender norms while also fighting for animals inside laboratories! Double trouble!

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My first video dispatch, taken by the notable Francis N. Blake. Live from the trenches. Repeat after me, as I sing Peter Gabriel’s refrain: BIG TIME! I’m on my way, I’m making it…

(Brief note: I meant to say “demonstrating against the experiments…”, rather than “against the animals they use for experiments.” For why on earth would I protest against animals?! Poor syntax.)

I had this funny conversation the other day, which — granted — wasn’t all that funny, actually. Humor lacking humor: an odd paradox, I know. Call it irony. After all, we live in a very strange and complex world…

“You know, I’ve been up there [in the labs], ” a Tulane employee told me. “And it’s not as bad as you’re making it out to be,” indicating my ever-controversial sign.

“Well, for example, what kind of experiments are done up there?” I asked, curiously.

“Well, there’s one experiment where they put mice in a little cage” — hmmm — “and then a belt brings in a lit cigarette and puffs smoke at them to test how long before they get cancer from second-hand smoke.”

Oh. Shucks. Now that I think about it, that’s not so bad, after all. I mean, never mind the sociopathology implicit in breeding countless animals to intentionally poison them with carcinogens in a lab until they develop cancer  (or on another front, these multibillion-dollar corporations manufacturing and manipulatively marketing these drugs to the public, despite their direct correlation to lung and other cancers)…But the research is necessary! It saves lives!

I have to say, I was a little dissappointed by the attendance for the potluck this afternoon, by the way. Only one person showed up: me. Yep. But I had some visitors later on in the day, keeping me company out there in the misty rain.

It’s crunch time. Time to start counting down the twelve days of Christmas…

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So “word on the street” is, Dean Benjamin Sachs has claimed, according to one student,* that the image depicted on my poster is “fake.” I wished to resolve this matter like an “adult,” but Mr. Sachs — whom I happened to run into for the very first time this morning — showed himself unwilling to meet me halfway.

“Hey — are you the dean?” I asked — a good conversation ice-breaker, I thought — as he exited the building. Well, icy is right. He ignored me. At least the president of research Laura Levy offered a smile. The kind a person might bestow upon a wild animal they’ve just stumbled into in the woods, perhaps, shifty and devoid of verbal exchange — but a smile, nevertheless!  “Can I speak with you for a minute?” I tried again, as he lingered at the corner. Nadda.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned in the last two weeks, it’s that persistence — to rewrite the old adage — makes the heart grow fonder. So when he returned, I gave it another shot, polite and nonthreatening as ever : “What do you think about what I’m doing out here?”

I liked his answer. He just scowled, and kept walking! Yep. He actually scowled at me! Kind of rude, but also…kind of flattering. After all, it’s known that the tens of millions in grants given by the National Institute of Health [sic] each year fund not only animal research but also pay for “overhead” — administrative costs among them; thus, it’s safe to assume our friend Benny, being an administrator himself (and not a low ranking one, at that), is on that tip. For the record, I’ve tried my darnest not to alienate or threaten anyone; but if my passive, nonconfrontational presence does so regardless, I can rest easier knowing I’ve at least upset the “right” people…

So I’ll try to break it down, briefly: the picture, as seen on the right, is of a rhesus macaque monkey. Or technically, it’s a picture of me holding a picture of a rhesus macaque monkey, but you knew what I meant! (All I gotta say is, thank jah/ god/ buddha/ krishna/ allah you were born homo sapiens.) Now, certainly it’s no secret: Tulane University houses hundreds of rhesus macaque monkeys — mostly at their Covington primate center. In the above photograph, taken from inside a laboratory at MIT about a decade ago, the monkey has electrodes implanted in his head — an unfortunately common procedure in neuroscience experiments — to “map” brain functions. Neural activity is monitored while researchers provide the primate with some sort of stimulus, or —  in other more cruel cases — while shocking or burning him. Probably the former in this picture, though one can’t be sure. Either way, his head is restrained, as you can see, so he can not opt out of the experiment, as I’m certain he would have liked to.

What I’m trying to suss out is which aspect ol’ Dean thinks is fake. Does he believe the monkey is a life-like mannequin? Or maybe he thinks, like Edward Taub alleged upon exposure by PETA for the heartless demon he is, that an animal rights organization staged the photograph? Alternatively, could Dean Sachs believe such an experiment, in all the brutal history of research, has not been performed? Or just that Tulane, owning one of only eight primate centers in the country (obviously no puny players in the field), has not performed it? Because I believe, on all accounts, he would be false, false, false, and false. As a matter of fact, those Silver Springs monkeys I referenced in the link above, who spent their final days imprisoned on Tulane’s Regional Primate Center in Covington, were (contrary to the promises made by the NIH) subjected to one last experiment there before being murdered. That experiment was — you guessed it! — brain mapping!

Here’s some food for thought: the communist government tried to suppress the memory  of Jan Palach (and thus the context of his death), a Czech dissident who immolated himself in 1969. The government exhumed his burial site and attacked public mourners. Though I acknowlege that the powers of Tulane haven’t plugged me up with electrodes and tortued me for speaking out (maybe if I were a “lower” species — then I’d be fair game), I don’t think it’s too much to draw a parrellel between the way Dean Sachs and others who make mad profit off animal exploitation wish to silence individuals who expose it to this sort of government repression of the past (and in some cases, present). I don’t know — refusing accountability, fortifying animal research labs with not only locks and alarms but a cold speciesist ideology, painting me (in whatever context) as a  fibber to the student body… It could, in some light, seem a little — um — fascist…

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Yet if my interaction with the dean rated as a 1, then the one which I had with a specific surgeon the other day would definitely be a 10, with contentious debates (such as the one today, where the outlandish claim was made that the rates of diseases like diabetes have gone up because “animal welfarists” keep scientists from doing more thorough animal studies) ranking somewhere in the middle. The man in scrubs read the text on my flyer intently for quite a while, before handing it back. “I can’t take one of these. Pigs were invaluable to my training in surgery.”

“Yeah, but you didn’t just operate on a pig and then become certified as a surgeon. You shadowed other surgeons and did other types of training, right?”

“Well, yeah, that’s true.”

I told him that I believed these animals have the capacity to feel (physically and emotionally) and to think. Duh.

“Well, yeah, they’re highly intelligent. Pigs are actually more intelligent than dogs — most dogs, at least.”

“Exactly,” I replied. “And I think that using them against their will — whatever the scientific insights might be — is unethical.”

He thought for a while, and finally said, almost somberly,”You’re right.” I couldn’t believe my ears. But he continued: “It is unethical.”

We introduced ourselves, and I asked him to help me make a difference for the animals inside this facility. We parted on very good terms. As he was climbing into the passenger seat of his ride, he picked up a dog that had been sitting there. He looked over at me and, cradling her, said, “Pretty hypocritical, huh, Derek?” 

 A realization. Incredible.

You want the truth? I’m actually dreading the approach of day 30…

_____________________

*I am quoting a student, not the Dean, whom I have never spoken to, so authorities can promptly lay to rest any claims of libel.

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Dear readers — I bring glad tidings of how my campaign has been progressing. In between chasing my wind-buffeted signs down the street, trying to keep from catching hypothermia,* and stategizing how to maximize my approachability, my days have been — I dare say — enjoyable!

The amount of support has been indescribable. And I’m not even talking about from the local AR community or my friends, though these are indeed encouraging. What has inspired me most of all has been the support I’ve received from those studying and working inside the center. Those with whom I never would have otherwise engaged — current and to-be vivisectors, med students, immunologists, geneticists — beginning to ask questions, listening openly to my opinions, debating.

Although Saturday saw a drastic decline in activity around the facility, it proved one of my favorites so far. Partly due to the euphoria of warmer weather, and probably also because weekends are less hectic than during the week, a disproportionate number of individuals stopped and spoke with me extendedly about my campaign (justifying right there my reasons for holding steady even on the weekends!). In one instance, I held a flyer out to a young man in a lab coat heading inside, clearly trying not to acknowledge me. His eyes caught the paper and he stopped, his expression indicating an internal tempest.

“I can’t take that,” he said. “I’m in the middle of doing research.”

Here’s the part where I could have become self-righteous, telling him he should repent or else face the metaphorphical hammer of “Vegan Justice.” But I tried a different approach, with the two most diasrming words I could muster: “I understand.” After all, so many of these aspiring researchers feel they have to “play the game” in order to get their degree, or to get funding — the axis around which the medical world, unfortunately, rotates. But animals’ lives, I reminded him, are no “game” and there is no ethical end that justifies such brutal means. 

“I understand what you’re doing,” he said, as he continued through the door, “but I cannot support it. Animal research is my livelihood.” Well, at least he’s more honest than most vivisectors, who spout off the rehtoric about “saving human lives” and all that jazz.

“But you know it isn’t right. You know that they have feelings — and that they suffer.”

Before the door closed, he gave me a look that said he understood as much, and added, in a resigned tone — “But so do we.”

And though we disagreed, I knew I had struck a chord inside this man, made him reflect — maybe even reconsider — what he was doing. When I saw him leaving later that day I offered to continue the conversation, if he wished to. He replied, sincerely,”I’ll think about it.”

It has really got me thinking about the potential of the consistent, nonconfrontational approach to protest. Like the Civil Rights Movement’s lunch counter demonstrators, I say we as radicals and forward-thinkers must continue to develop, and try out, strategic models to change oppressive  institutions in our world, like others have before us.

So here’s my request: Pick a course of action. It can be your own 30 day protest (or you could keep this one going, just sayin’…), an encampment, hunger strike, whatever! Reclaim space and then utilize it to the extent of your imagination. Push yourself to undertake bold and inventive acts. I promise you, if nothing else, you will find it incredibly rewarding. And others will support you.

In other news: Potluck II ruled. We’re about due for Bring Your Animal Friend Day. A million and one thanks to my new friend, the kind med student, who — completely unsolicited — brought me a Veggie Delite from Subway! And to my other who replenished my dwindling stock of flyers that one day. Seriously, contrary to what the university police who read this blog might think, I’m not making this stuff up! And to all those who risk their positions and reputations by offering me support out there: I admire you for remembering that there are things worth standing up for.

“Never stop questioning — the unexamined life is not worth living”

______________________________
*A really interesting and topical read about the
ethics of using data extrapolated by Nazi doctors

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So, following up on the campaign’s daily drama, the craziest thing happened yesterday. As you read in the last installment, my phone was swiped on the sidewalk a few days ago. Well, today a guy approached me outside the building out of nowhere and pulled my stolen phone out of his coat pocket! He gave it back to me and then expected me to pay him $40! I didn’t. No way, jose. No bueno.  After refusing (with support from my brawnier, more assertive companero), we simply shook hands and he skulked away. So I have my phone back, which is excellent, but the whole scenario was just kind of…bizarre.

I’ve been eroding the initial resistance to my campaign one flyer and amiable conversation at a time.  Like telling that kid today with the haircut, sunglasses and overcoat  that he looked like John Bender a la the final shot of The Breakfast Club. A real pleaser, I’d say! He took a flyer.

Anyway, onto relevent subjects…A surgeon also approached me and told me how unnecessary it is to perform surgery on live pigs in the school’s trauma training course. He said Tulane owns the simulator, that it provides a superior teaching tool, and that he’d refused to touch the pig at all during his own training! We’re talking about a surgeon here! Man, if only Dean Sachs could hear this! I mean, it makes sense. After all, no med student operates on a living pig, then is given a scalpel and told, “All right, time to do your first human surgery! Good luck!” There is plenty of shadowing and additional training involved. Lots of institutes of higher learning have phased out the use of pigs; maybe Tulane should follow suit.

So often the response from those I’ve talked to who experiment on animals has been a defensive, “animal research saves” standby, citing the inferiority of non-animal models and animals’ invaluable (albeit non-consenting) contribution to the field of medicine. I feel this is merely a mechanism to deflect attention and not confront the very obvious ethical dilemma of their job — but fair enough. As someone who didn’t go to med school, I’ll entertain for a minute that maybe I am slightly unequipped to argue the scientific merits of vivisection — only that purposefully inflicting pain (yes, even “anesthetized” animals experience profound mental and emotional suffering — not to mention that 100% mortality rate) on a being with a will, feelings, and personality all her own is unjustifiable. “Might makes right” — in addition to arbitrary speciesism –forms the basis of these scentists’ ideology, unfortunately (for the animals).

But I’d like to help explore vivisection’s scientific irrelevency, as well. Thus, with the help of a brainstorming partner, I’ve devised a proposal to Tulane’s animal research community: Let’s hold a public debate on the scientific merits of animal research in the School of Medicine’s first floor auditorium. There are plenty medical professionals who are a part of PCRM — former vivisectors, in fact — whom I’m sure would love to discuss how much of this research is vital and how much is sham. If researchers believe their work is so “invaluable,” why not be accountable for it in the face of such a growing number of people calling it into question? I say we challenge them to prove, openly, how much experimentation is actually necessary and how much is dictated by profit. I’d love to make this happen, and I think many studying and working at Tulane would be interested to attend as well. These researchers either don’t know or don’t want to acknowledge the amount of opposition to animal exploitation within their institution, and if they fail to step up to this challenge, they prove that their methods are neither scientifically sound nor dignified. If you’d like to help, get in touch at 30daysforanimals@gmail.com.

Thanks to all my visitors, providers of hot tea, and supporters. Amazing conversations, y’all. That’s all for now.

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This project gets better each day, I swear…

Besides allowing my unattended phone to fall prey to a thieving drug addict (no, really: I spoke to the guy on one of my friends’ phones, during which he tried to charge me the cost of his “product” he traded to get the phone plus “interest” to get it back!), I’m really enjoying my daily routine. It’s been interesting, to say the least. I had a conversation with one older fellow cradling a staff, not affiliated with Tulane, on his way from the public library. He told me he was down with my cause, but wandered back a minute later.

“But you know,” he said, like an afterthought, “the only thing that’s gonna make a difference for those animals is the Messiah.” I told him he should keep praying and said, “But I’m not going to wait for the Messiah; I’m going to try to do something because there are animals dying every day inside there.” (After all, ol’ JC hasn’t made an appearance in, you know, 2000 years!) He thought for a second and then replied, “Oh, yeah. That’s true.” 

Greeting familiar faces, “formalities” like debating with researchers and giving out flyers, making new friends…It’s almost like I work there! By day six, the campus cops call me by name and friends inside bring me treats; by day thirty, Tulane will have, like, offered me a job or something!

Seven strong, we held down the sidewalk in front of the THSC sidewalk on Friday and had lunch. Seeing us chowing down, I think Tulane  students and staff were a little confused — like, “Food?! I thought it was a protest!” And the answer is yes: it is a protest, a vigil, a picnic, or whatever we want it to be!

Red beans and rice, vegan mac n’ cheeze, Zapps, beautiful homebaked carrot cake…Maybe not a feast worthy of the Theoi Daitioi but certainly a venerable offering of sizable splendor! The potluck went so well, in fact, that — by the (vegan) powers vested in me —I hereby declare every Friday at noon an official picnic day henceforth! (Weekend warriors, fret not: you, too, can enjoy midday consumption of mass quantities when you visit on Saturday and Sunday if you’d like! Plus the holidays are coming. Soy nog, anyone…?)

Almost one week in, and already the implications of this thing are blowing my mind! With the help of the wonderful Michael Budkie of Stop Animal Exploitation Now!, some animal rights folks nationwide have stepped in to lend their support for my campaign. Here is a list of national actions that have springboarded from what I am doing: 30 Days for Laboratory Animals events calendar! I also just received word that there will be a vigil outside the UCLA animal research lab on Decmember 13th in solidarity with you-know-whoooo…Uh huh. Your boy.  I’m so flattered I’m actually blushing! UCLA has seen consistent pressure from the animal rights movement for a while now, and activists have been arrested for demonstrating there.  Thanks to these awesome folks in Los Angeles for making this happen, and if you live in the area, please support them!

Stay tuned.

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