An Interview with Animal Liberation Prisoner Peter Young
First off, I want to thank you for the statement you gave at your final court hearing. Being in that courtroom and hearing it was one of the most inspiring experiences of my life, and I think a lot of the other folks thought the same. I don't know if you noticed, but there were so many people there supporting you that we had to sit on each other's laps! What were you thinking during the hearing when all those fur farm scum were talking? Were you happy to see so many supporters?
Coming through the door into the courtroom that day was like stepping through the looking glass. From the cold concrete-and-steel cell with a dozen convicts exchanging tactics on the best way to dispose of a weapon, 20 feet east to through an obliquitous door to a cheering crowd. It was a tremendous send off to prison. Most impressive was hearing later that prior to the proceeding, the crowd recognized that having 50+ animal liberation supporters together was an opportunity not to be wasted, and that an anti-fur industry demo was held outside the courthouse. This, I was told, was covered by the media and broadcast on Madison news=stations that evening. It is in this way I feel these human-centered efforts are best utilized - as something to be capitalized on to bring attention to even greater injustices. Even as a prisoner, I struggle with exactly how many resources and people we should devote to prisoner support , something that affects such a relative few, while billions die behind the scenes. Yet from the experience of incarceration over the last year, I have noticed the tremendous mobilizing effect of people being imprisoned for acts of conscience.
I would say that over half of the mail I receive is not from people taking time out of fighting for animal liberation to write me a letter of support, but form timid vegetarians who had never considered veganism or aggressive action in defense of non-human animals. And perhaps through my case these things will become part of their lives, even something at the forefront. This is what is important for me to see in any support effort taken on my behalf - that my situation be used as a springboard to more important things, or a gateway issue on the way to bigger fights. This is not to say in any way that prisoner issues are not important, only that they are best addressed in conjunction with issues of wider scopes. This was what was most wonderful about my sentencing - the demo, the statements on the conditions animals endure made to the media, and even just the networking which occurred at the after-sentencing party. I would never wish for someone to hold a bake sale defense fund benefit without putting "Why Vegan?" pamphlets on the table, I would never want an article written on my case without explaining the injustice which drove my actions, and I would not have wanted 50 people to drive from out of town to attend my sentencing without disturbing the peace. For efforts this side of a UW lab raid, I think it was an afternoon well spent.
And while the savages testified, my primary thought was that after all the blood they've spilled, the lives they've taken, after I am dragged to prison and they leave court to kill again, after it all - we will get the last laugh. the demise of their barbaric reign will happen in my lifetime, and I will be there to spit on its grave.
You've talked about being inspired and informed by punk and hardcore music, particularly vegan straightedge music. What does vegan straightedge mean to you today? How have your feelings about it changed over the years?
The vegan straightedge scene is directly responsible for the course my life has taken. Although I sit in a federal prison, this is nonetheless the highest of compliments. All praise and credit is given to this movement for providing the spark that ignited an internal revolution in me many years ago. One from which I would never recover. It was bands like Culture, Framework, Green Rage, and Vegan Reich which confronted me with the crime of my inaction. Patches and singalongs are never enough. The day I mark as my joining of the animal liberation movement I was skating the streets of Seattle, listening to Raid, and something in me broke. The fate that would have awaiting myself and the animals had I continued as an inactive vegan stood to be far more horrific than prison. Hardcore taught me urgency. It taught me anger, and it taught me to point fingers. Without these elements, little is accomplished. I remain vegan and straightedge to this day.
Straightedge remains to me a crucial line in the sand, holding back degenerative effects of drugs and alcohol, and just as important, the degenerative effects of the culture that surrounds them. The numbing effects of these substances and the destructionary nature of the party scene make intoxication not just "a great way to have fun", but an effective way to keep large numbers of people docile and ineffective. As is the case with television, computer games, and various fashionable internet networking sites. While I myself am not entirely guiltless, it continues to be a disquieting trend, watching people with passion and conviction drown in artificial distractions, limiting their potential and dealing out precious moments of their lives to the transient sensory pleasure of marijuana, "The O.C.":, and scene message boards. I'd like us to pretend our lives are worth living and not merely passing through.
And veganism is of course the single greatest step one can take to end the single greatest injustice in the history of our world - the 10 billion animals murdered each year for food, clothing, and science. This is not a symbolic boycott but a movement.
Vegan straightedge today... With the experience of 12 years of observation and participation, I have one major criticism of the movement. It is something that has always been there, an unmentionable flaw that few care to highlight, but it must be said, and I say it not our of contempt but hope for our evolution: The problem with vegan straightedge is that everybody is talking and nobody is walking. The problem with vegan straightedge is a problem of credibility. The most visible and influential people in our movement are those in the bands promoting vegan straightedge politics. To look honestly at those spokespersons of both past and present, I believe we can make the honest assessment that we are not putting our most credible foot forward. The face that we are showing our newer adherents and the world at large is, truthfully, setting the bar far too low.
Those making up the face of vegan straightedge are not making themselves credible as vanguards of a new movement. Consequently, their armchair approach sets a low bar for vegan straightedge as a whole. We are too comfortable making our music our activism. Even the consumption of the music gives the illusion of participation in a liberation movement. It would bring our fight to another level to see the most visible faces of vegan straightedge take their politics into the world and start making waves. Organize demos, open rescues, creative outreach efforts. With the influence newer bands have over newer adherents, they could build an incredible activist movement locally by fliering for upcoming activist events outside of the hardcore scene. The ripple effect through the scene of seeing band members back up their lyrics with action would inspire countless others to do the same. When politics are limited to lyrics and lifestyle, we have a scene. When we take those politics into the world and start to tear it down - we have a movement. Let's make vegan straightedge a movement.
How can we both acknowledge and transcend the conservative and moralistic limitations of vsxe in the past (homophobia, anti-choice, tough guy shit)?
No one should live life looking backwards. No one, no scene. The baggage we bear is dead weight, and should be discarded. If we speak and live in opposition to that which we despise, I see no value in dwelling on mistakes of others from our past, for we are reborn. Remember we are speaking of statements and songs from very young people pressed onto cheap plastic and poorly copied publications 10+ years back, no regrettable military offensives against beer drinking civilians or generations of imposed slavery against homosexuals. We can move on from Abnegation. Picking at the scab prevents it from healing.
Why the vsxe scene lives in terminal guilt over Vegan Reich going Muslim while scenes have much greater points of shame on their records is not clear to me. Before dwelling on a 15 year old article in Vanguard, let's strive for consistency and remember all scenes have, on their records, many a blemish. Punk rock began with the Sex Pistols and Ramones and has recovered just fine. '88 Hardcore was about as subversive as a Boy Scout not finishing his brussel sprouts, and for this we have long since atoned. I don't wish for the ghost of a bad Chokehold interview to haunt me when claiming vsxe any more than I want to live under the dark cloud of Tony Hawk's "Got Milk" ad when skating to the beach. This is not to say lock the closet where we hold our skeletons. Just that we might do better to stop kicking a long-dead corpses and rebuild our threat from the ground up.
I cannot move on without stating that I feel 2 of your 3 items from the Vegan Straightedge Hall of Shame are greatly overstated. I have never known homophobia to exist outside of Hardline, a movement the size of which was always greatly exaggerated. Forgive me for never being the most accomplished show going scene socialite, but my window into Hardcore has always presented to me nothing but a staunch anti-homophobia stance. It is furthermore my take that the "tough guy" tag is grossly overused, applied unfairly to 1) militant animal liberation or sxe lyrics, and 2) band members whose only crime was dressing clean cut, being on the heavy side, and looking mean on stage. There is no question that "tough guy" dancing was and is a problem, one I would like to see cleansed from the scene forever. I'm as intolerant of obnoxious machismo as anyone I've ever known (and my mental health in prison suffers greatly because of it), but I can think of only rare examples of bands or people being called "tough guy" where I didn't feel it was misapplied. Again, forgive me for perhaps not socializing enough to get an accurate read on things. However, I just can't get behind labeling Earth Crisis lab rad lyrics as "tough guy". I just call those awesome.
In short: Reject, Reinvent, Rebuild.
How does animal liberation relate to other struggles (for example, anti-prison or eco-defense campaigns)?
They are joined as being among the most pressing injustices we face. At their base, these are timeless struggles. While we could spend lifetimes to bring together all liberation movements, I abandoned this agenda long ago. These struggles are linked, and it pains me to see people who do not extend their awareness outside of one issue, but our time is short and lives are being lost. No longer do I have faith in the logic of an argument bringing large numbers to a unified struggle. The tireless push to "bridge movements" has been a colossal failure every time, resulting only in inviting halfhearted activists into circles they are not committed to.
Through our unity dream, we serve to water down struggles with fraudulent people, adding weak links to the chain. Anyone who moves a struggle forward should be welcome, those who hold it back should be shown a different door. While this position is terribly unpopular, it is the product of much experience in failure at forcing counterproductive efforts for the sake of "bridging movements". I have seen the folly of bringing new wave anarchists into organizing sessions for animal rights demonstrations and other such strategic errors made with good intentions. And from it I've seen the effects of pouring tar on a decently running machine. Arguments over "consensus", static over an imprecise gender or racial breakdown of participants in an action... at what cost do we pursue unity? There should be nothing but inclusiveness, respect, and cordial exchange of ideas right up to the point of action. and when it's time to make things happen, we all must be on the same page. I wish for everyone to see the connection between the struggles you mention, but more than this, I wish for them to fight those struggles in which they will be most effective. At the end of the day, I care not for holding hands with everyone who maybe doesn't think Bush is a wonderful human being. At the end of the day, I care about saving lives. At the end of the day, I care about what works.
In our correspondence you've talked about getting a lot of unsolicited mail from around the country and around the world. What are some of the funniest or strangest letters you've received?
There is so much. By my rough math, we're speaking of 1300+ pieces of mail over the last year of my incarceration. As to where to start, I'm at a lose. There are those pieces that are disturbing: an old women's photo of her ferret dressed up as a small child, another who felt I would see it as a sign of affection that she dug into my life so deep she knew what high school I went to and where my father lived. There are those that bring me back 10 years: the letters from the vocalist of one of my favorite mid-90's vegan straightedge bands, and my first girlfriend who I have not spoken to since 1996. There are those I would rather have never received: word that a friend has died, the AP story from which I learned 11 activists had been indicted for actions including the torching of a slaughterhouse. There are those I can only humbly call flattering: an attendee of the New Age Records showcase reporting that during their reunion show Outspoken had dedicated their last song to me and a myspace message from one of the better know "girl groups" requesting a benefit shirt to wear every night on tour. There are those that learn the shortest route to the trash can: every person who ever haughtily demanded to know what I was doing in a Starbucks the night of my arrest, and a "let's be friends" letter from the man who had given sanctuary to codefendant and snitch Justin Samuel in San Diego for years. And there are those I don't know what to do with: all those from people writing to inform me that the FBI had just come to their door seeking information about me, to the woman who had assaulted her roommate and went to jail for one month when he tore up a letter from me. One thing will be certain for the remainder of my imprisonment: the 5:15 mail call will always be the best part of my day, and whether joyous or revolting - it will always bring a surprise.
Finally, there have been a lot of arrests lately on the west coast related to alleged Earth & Animal Liberation Front actions, with many former activists turning snitch. What advice do you have for the prisoners who chose not to collaborate and to all the people who are working to support them?
My first advice would go not to the prisoners themselves, nor their supporters, but to the defendant's friends and affiliates. In the wake of an arrest, the essential first step must be to end the gossiping. End the speculations. Stop doing the FBI's work by feeding them even the most seemingly benign information. Discussion, even in private, travels - anything, must be urgently avoided. In prison, they call this "dry snitching" - informing on another in an indirect fashion. When the heat is on, to whisper the most insignificant rumor or fact about a person under indictment should be regarded as we would regard speaking that information directly to an FBI agent. There is too much on the line to take a liberal stance on this. Gossip can literally be a deadly weapon.
To the accused, i would offer them what I wish someone had offered me. Not a "look on the bright side", "everything will be ok" pep talk as is so often offered by well meaning supporters, but a serious breakdown of prison life and what to expect. While it may be something no one wishes to talk about , none of us are in a position to assess whether the accused can realistically expect to be found guilty and go to prison. Only the defendants and their attorneys can make that assessment. And many of them may in fact know they are going to prison. I hope very much that this is not the case, but it may be so. And the best thing we can do for them is demystify the next stage of their lives, be there to connect them with people who have experience in prison life and can answer questions, from what security level they can expect to be housed in, to prison etiquette, food issues, mistakes to avoid, and much more. For the NW defendants specifically, it may be too early for this topic, but there is a point where it should not be ignored. There is much I wish had been communicated to me, from the ease of eating vegan in federal prison to the generally relaxed atmosphere of federal prison. My belief in the justness of my actions has brought, from day one, a comfort that's bigger and more important than a few years in their worst prison. Come what may. This satisfaction did not put to rest the thousands of questions I had about life in prison, questions that are certainly running through the heads of many political prisoners in jail at the moment. Were they to be given the truth, they would rest much easier. I have been on the phone this week with an activist on his way to prison, offering my 14 months of accumulated knowledge as I wish someone had done for me. No one wants to mention the possibility of prison until it's too late. This is why I will always offer myself as a resource to anyone under indictment. I will always be the person to let those people currently awaiting trial know, on the subject of prison, the fantasy is often worse than the reality.
Lastly, to the supporters working for those on the inside: please keep them informed. Nothing gets inside prison walls that you do not mail them. I would cite as my biggest complaint during my pretrial phase and on the present day that information relevant to my case was not communicated to me. From information on people being questioned about me to mainstream news articles on those on my case, I was simply kept in the dark on far too much. Please inform those on the inside of even the most minute detail pertaining to their case. If the Center for Consumer Freedom sends out a press release on their case - tell them. When someone is subpoenaed to a grand jury investigating those things they are changed with - give them their names. If a 13 year old girl in Kansas writes a poem on her livejournal profile in tribute to them - mail it in. Keep them informed. Such information will not only bring the peace of mind of knowing they are being updated on everything happening outside, the information you give them can be crucial for their defense. If the information is too sensitive to be communicated directly to a prisoner, hand deliver it to their lawyer. NEVER assume the accused knows something already. I learned of my recent South Dakota charges two weeks after the fact from a letter reading something similar to "bummer about your new charges." I'd never run to a telephone so fast in my life.
This interview appeared in issue #2 of Total Destruction: straightedge fanzine against the ruling social order. Copies can be ordered for $2ppd for a single issue or $10ppd for 10 copies from the following address.
838 E. High St. #115
Lexington, KY 40502