Photo Credit: Daniel Turbert
On February 5, at 3 in the morning, 62 animal rights activists from 269 Libération Animale invaded the Sicarev slaughterhouse in Roanne, France, and blocked the production line for more than 13 hours. Fifteen activists positioned themselves on the snow-covered rooftop, set off colored smoke bombs and unfurled their banner.
The rest of the activists penetrated the building, hunkering down in the long, narrow passageway used to move live steer forward to be stunned, hoisted and butchered. Packed tightly together, dressed all in black, they pumped their fists defiantly, chanting loudly in French, “Sicarev! Murderers! Justice for animals!”
The occupation of the slaughterhouse was broadcast live on Facebook while vegan activists around the world cheered them on in real time.
Battle cry from the front: An urgent call for direct engagement
“The animals who are here with us do not want to die in better conditions,” said one of the activists, reading from a text. “They want to live!”
Exhorting worldwide animal protection advocates regarding their ineffective passivity and “welfarist attitude,” and directly addressing those who purport to be animal lovers, the young, female activist read the prepared statement by 269 Libération Animale:
You, who claim to defend them, isn’t it high time you resisted by their side? This is where the victims are and where we ought to be, between them and the knives. Confrontation is necessary in order to politicize the fight against speceisism. We can no longer rely on soft, public outreach to consummers and marches as the only method of resistance. We must stop believing that inoffensive strategies that are far from the victims are going to get results, that things are just going to change by themselves. The situation is getting worse by the day and non-human persons are in agony while indifferent humans refuse to come resist by their side. At great risk, we are determined to complete our 10th slaughterhouse blockage. We are here because justice is more important than our personal comfort. Let us show the government that the issue of animal cruelty is an urgent political matter and we will not stand by while three million animals who are murdered each day [in France] deserve more than mere marches that are authorized by the state. It is time we altered our methods to match the utter evil we are fighting against. It is high time to construct a veritable opposition movement to confront the system of oppression.
The objective of this nonviolent assault on Sicarev’s facility was to expose the terrifying reality of abject cruelty in slaughterhouses, and for the first time, to successfully paralyze the operation of a slaughterhouse by blocking the production line. No animals were killed that day and workers walked out because of the takeover of the facility.
The activists were eventually extracted by police and were arrested for trespassing. They face serious charges, including fines and possible prison time for interfering with the operation of a business.
A deeply disturbing video taken during the event, showing what is left of the animals who are killed at the Sicarev slaughterhouse daily, was posted on their Facebook page. The video, which does not show any live animals, reveals circumstantial evidence of the extreme violence that animals endure there. It is a crime scene of immeasurable magnitude, replete with piles of severed hoofs, large bins of bloody, disemboweled organs, mountains of bloodied hides and a heartbreaking shot of a lone horn, cut off of a steer’s head, lying next to a bloody drain.
On both sides of the Atlantic, a rising tide of anger
Anti-slaughterhouse protest at Smithfield Packing Plant in Tar Heel, North Carolina, where 33,000 pigs are murdered every day. (image: Daniel Turbert)
Meanwhile, across the Atlantic in North Carolina, just days earlier, an animal rights activist was brutally beaten by police at yet another slaughterhouse protest. The activist, Anthony Collini, who was “arrested for resisting arrest,” was violently slammed to the ground and punched by several law enforcement officers so hard in the face and head that he had to be hospitalized for a concussion, contusions and sprains. The video of the police brutality has since gone viral (see video below).
“It was horrible,” said Dacia Thorson, organizer of Rise Up, Shut it Down. She had gathered her group of around 300 animal rights activists from around the country to protest outside Smithfield Foods pork processing plant in Tar Heel, North Carolina, the largest pork-producing plant in the world, where over 30,000 pigs are killed every single day.
About the assaults, Thorson said she felt saddened that individuals standing up for the rights of innocent beings from barbaric, outdated traditions are met with brutality themselves when coming from a place of peace, love and compassion. “It is a war of ethics and morals,” she said.
Lorrayne Hurley, one of the activists who witnessed the incident of police brutality, told me the “cops were slapping at faces, slapping at phones, cordoning off public property.” She said several of the officers admitted that they were hired by Smithfield for “security.” She also stated that the activists’ goal was merely to offer some water and comfort to some of the thousands of pigs transported to the processing plant that day.
Gestation crates at a Smithfield factory farm. Jewish Nobel Prize laureate Isaac Bashevis Singer is one of several writers who have drawn the comparison between the treatment of animals and the Holocaust.
There were 12 arrests. All posted bail and were ordered to return to Bladen County District Court on February 16.
Ryan Phillips, an activist from Williamsburg, Virginia, told me there were more than 30 law enforcement officers on the scene and that no one knew who were police and who were Smithfield security guards. We may never find out about this shady relationship between the multibillion-dollar Chinese-owned meat company and local law enforcement because Smithfield wouldn’t answer my calls and the sheriff’s office refuses to answer the question. But they don’t deny it either.
Smithfield is one of the biggest polluters in America and is profiting while destroying lives all around with its enormous toxic lagoons full of blood, puss, ammonia, antibiotics, urine and feces. Smithfield is hated by workers (who just recently got the right to unionize), hated by neighbors who have to suffer the toxic environment, and has been punished with millions in penalties, the highest ever, by the EPA for serious environmental violations. Smithfield rakes in revenues of $14 billion per year. But its Chinese billionaire owners don’t pay workers much for slaughtering pigs—$10 an hour.
Security guards detain activists in Tar Heel, North Carolina. (image: Daniel Turbet)
Watch this drone footage of the toxic Smithfield “blood lagoons,” which are the size of football fields:
Smithfield protester. (image: Daniel Turbet)
Basically, Bladen County is floating on a 500,000-acre scab of pig blood, urine and feces. You can smell the stench for miles and hear the pigs scream in terror and pain. Evidence of the systemic abuse and mistreatment of animals at a Smithfield facility was recorded during a 2010 undercover investigation conducted by the Humane Society of the United States.
I have been on the front lines of the animal rights movement for over 25 years. I’ve been gassed at point-blank range, spit on, shot at with rubber bullets by high-powered air-rifles, beaten, sued, gotten innumerable death threats and watched a fellow activist get her calf blown off by SWAT police right next to me at a bullfight protest in southern France. And yet, I’ve never felt this hopeful because I know in my veins that I am in solidarity with the Smithfield and the Sicarev protesters.
This is the social justice cause of the century, as significant as every social justice movement in history. We are still in the cradle, but it feels good to remind ourselves that it took less than 1,000 men to storm the Bastille and topple the monarchy.
“We must stand between them and the knives.” —Tiphaine Lagarde
We must become ardent students of history to fully utilize the tactics, strategies and methods that have propelled social justice forward. This system of oppression against other species has to stop. We are running out of time. It is our duty to act.