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Occupy Wall Street: The Interconnected Movement for Social Justice
Occupy Wall Street: The Interconnected Movement for Social Justice
Over the last several years, many of us at VFA have noticed a somber decline in levels of progressive activism, not limited to Pittsburgh alone, but extending throughout American society as a whole. Less and less people became available to organize at meetings, while general attendance at actions, rallies, and protests shrank - whether the demonstrations were against notoriously abusive animal circuses, fur stores, oppressive sweat shops, or environmental destruction. A learned helplessness sunk over us, perhaps due to several crushing defeats or victories that grew into disappointments resulting with overall feelings of deflation and disempowerment. A growing hopelessness of self-dooming realizations that our individual actions didn't create the desired outcomes to abolish the abuse of animals for entertainment and fashion, or to free workers enslaved in factories and preserve planet Earth. Even the most once-diehard activists resigned themselves to the minimal action of an online petition, the click of a button. Should, could we persevere?
Then something monumental happened. Fed up with the current system of corporate power controlling their lives and their government which had created a vast economic inequality in which the top 1% of the country owned everything while the remaining 99% of the country went ignored, many having nothing or close to nothing while struggling to survive, a few hundred protesters gathered at Zuccotti Park in NYC, reclaiming the space and declaring an occupation of Wall Street. While their occupation met a rough start, the ideas resonated clearly with the majority of a struggling population, and the idea spread. Within weeks, the Occupy movement captured the attention of an entire nation and suddenly the spotlight shifted to the societal problems caused by the concentration of wealth and power. In just a month's time a full-fledged movement formed and spread rapidly across the country, spurring the occupation of over 900 cities (including Pittsburgh!). The Occupy movement went global as cities from Madrid to Melbourne launched Occupy protests of their own. The tide had shifted; the squeaky wheel of change oiled and spun.
During this great awakening, a renewed, invigorating spirit that makes one feel more alive has met the air. You can feel the sense of hope returning as people are starting to once again believe it is possible to create a better and more humane world. This has always been the change Voices For Animals has worked towards. As part of our mission, VFA has long recognized that human and nonhuman animal oppression and exploitation are interconnected. As we are all individual sentient beings with our own thoughts, feelings, and experiences, we all have an interest in living free, being treated justly and kindly, and finding and experiencing our own pleasures and happiness. Unfortunately, we live in a society that does not value life as much as it values power and money. This means under the current system, all human and nonhuman life is seen as expendable if it comes in the way of making a profit. This is seen repeatedly in the form of companies dumping hazardous chemicals in our air and water, in wars being fought over control of oil, or in children being forced to work long hours in dangerous diamond mines. This unspoken rule especially applies when it comes to nonhuman animals, as entire multi-million dollar industries are built on animal abuse and exploitation: corporate agribusiness, the fur and leather industry, animal research, and animal entertainment, amongst the biggest profits. Rational people are often outraged and upset to hear a story regarding a single incidence of animal cruelty on the news, but these individual acts do not compare to the magnitude of suffering created via institutionalized animal abuse, where literally billions of animals are tortured and killed in the name of mass profit. Animal advocates are already quite familiar with the immense harm and devastation caused by corporate greed.
What many may not realize is that these sentiments were also echoed by the protestors occupying Zuccotti Park. Amongst the long list of grievances against corporations expressed in the Declaration of the Occupation of New York City is this: 'They have profited off of the torture, confinement, and cruel treatment of countless nonhuman animals, and actively hide these practices.' Furthermore, it also declares this statement: 'They have poisoned the food supply through negligence, and undermined the farming system through monopolization.' It appears that the Occupy Wall Street protestors are well aware that both human and nonhuman animals alike are abused and exploited by the same greedy and powerful forces! In fact, when we closely examine the industries themselves we see these interconnections of exploitation. Animal agribusiness not only inflicts immeasurable suffering on billions of animals, but it also greatly depends on immigrant labor, taking advantage of the workers' vulnerable position to pay them pitifully low wages and subject them to extremely dangerous working conditions in slaughterhouses (the worst in the country), where severe injuries and loss of limbs are commonplace due to the exceedingly fast production line speed. The pharmaceutical industry not only claims the lives of millions of animals every year but also thousands of human lives due to the disastrous and fatal side effects of drugs released to market after they 'tested safely' in animals, ignoring the fact that drugs have different effects between species, and especially between human and nonhuman animals. Perhaps the biggest connection of all, the pollution and ecological devastation wreaked by the animal agribusiness industry and many other industries harms both humans and nonhumans alike, as we all depend on a living, healthy environment in order to survive.
Efforts to eliminate or even diminish these interconnected forms of exploitation, however, are constantly undermined and blocked, due in no small part to the fact that corporate power has taken control of our government. Multinational corporations can afford to hire expensive lobbyists for legislation that protects their own interests and profits, but most often hurts the public good. Unlike the rest of us, big business has unlimited access to politicians, and it can directly influence them in the form of campaign contributions, a power that was strengthened even further through the recent Citizens United case. Therefore, any politician who dares to go against the corporations could find themselves out of a job in the next election, and there are not many politicians who are brave enough to risk this. This corporate-government partnership, also known as a corporatocracy, is an unyielding force that rules over the rest of us with an iron fist, so we find ourselves fighting to just keep the basic freedoms and rights we have, such as the right to live in a clean and healthy environment, as evidenced by the recent push by oil companies to build the Keystone XL Pipeline, or in the struggles to stop hydrofracking and mountaintop removal mining. This corporatocracy will quickly squelch any effective effort that threatens corporate profits by passing laws to make these actions illegal. For instance, when animal advocate groups released video to the public of a series of undercover investigations and open rescues that revealed the atrocious cruelty occurring on factory farms, states started passing laws to make it illegal to photograph or take video of any agricultural operation. Thanks to the industry-created and quickly passed Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act, any activist who is found to significantly affect the profits of an animal enterprise can be arrested as a domestic terrorist, despite the fact that this law is clearly unconstitutional and represses freedom of speech. Similar laws exist for any activist who commits civil disobedience on behalf of the environment. The situation is analogous to striking at the branches of a tree, only to find them grow back stronger and more resilient than ever. This is why the Occupy movement is so important, because they came along and had the clarity to point out the concealed, should-be obvious solution: strike at the root.
Now the corporatocracy has reason to feel significantly threatened, and it is now that we have the greatest potential to change the system and create better lives for all. The corpotocracy is dependent on an unaware public in order to keep operating. Once humans catch on to the fact that the corporatocracy is rigged, the system will unravel upon itself. We are excited and privileged to see the budding of such a movement NOW, when it is most needed and long overdue. Now we just need to pull the threads and help the unraveling!
One of the most common complaints regarding the Occupy protestors is that they possess a million different causes and don't present any coherence on what they want. The reason this mindset is so popular is because our society tends to separate, fragment, and compartmentalize everything, so it appears as though division exists amongst the group and everyone is present for their own individual issues. This is a false understanding of the world however, because the reality is everything is connected and interrelated. You cannot affect one part without affecting the whole. Think about it carefully and you will find this to be true. This is why when humans cause harm to the environment, to the animals, to other humans here and around the world, to the public good, we do it at our own ultimate and collective peril. This is also why the Occupy movement is not a hodgepodge collection of unrelated causes but is in fact focused on one issue, one great big giant issue! In fact some may even say it is THE issue. That issue is global social and economic justice for all, and the many sub-issues that fall under its banner, including but not limited to environmental protection, human and nonhuman rights. Most any cause that the activists of the Occupy movement are espousing connect right back to the main root issue.
Those involved with the Occupy movement want the same thing: A more, just, sane, equitable, and compassionate world. Everyone has different ideas on how to get there, but just by discussing the issues, educating each other, sharing ideas, and collaborating together, we can learn from each other, consider new possibilities, strategize on a plan of action, and figure it all out together. It seems the shifting global paradigm towards justice and solidarity in the world has finally arrived.