Revolutionary Process and
by Nicole Atwood
One day an "animal lover," out of curiosity, stops at a frozen pond to investigate bright flags sticking out of muskrat mounds and finds leghold traps stuck deep in the nest of reeds and mud. Fortunately, the traps are empty, but she can't help but think of the potential victims. She pulls up the stakes, holding the traps secure and takes home as many as she can carry. She feels a mixture of fear and excitement, but overall she's happy knowing that at least the traps in her garbage will never kill an animal.
This, in the simplest terms, is an ALF action-destroying the physical property of an individual or business to benefit an animal, either directly or indirectly. The "animal lover" may become an activist, and as an activist, she'll protest and work to educate others, but in her mind remains the memory of destroying the traps, the small victory.
There is a theory that the reason the use of "violence" by political groups has not caught on in the U.S. to the extent it has in other countries is because most Americans believe that there are agencies and institutions that exist to peacefully resolve conflicts, and that this belief is a barrier against participating in political violence. Perhaps in relation to animals this theory collapses, and it is here that the existence of the ALF can be explained. Crimes of enormous proportion against animals are commonly ignored by the legal system. Battery cages and veal crates are accepted as "normal agricultural practice." Billions of chickens and turkeys are denied even the illusion of humane slaughter. Birds, mice and fish in laboratories are denied the most basic of legal protections. In some states, animals in farms are specifically written out of laws against cruelty.
Of course, opposition-the desire to make a fundamental change in society by throwing oneself against the atrocity of animal abuse-is the right thing to do. The debate over the ALF has never been a question of what is morally justified. How to best bring about change, though, is open to debate. Everyone involved in the animal liberation movement has doubts about the effectiveness of their actions and is searching for the best way to fight animal abuse and exploitation. Most people find the answer is that different tactics and strategies fit different contexts and that one way to defend animals does not have to replace other types of activism. Perhaps the biggest debate is over so-called violence versus nonviolence. There are no arguments for or against either approach that would prove it is universally superior or inferior to the other, or that one will inevitably have really good or really bad effects.
To the defense of the ALF, it is certain that the ALF has rescued animals. Well-thought-out releases from fur farms and liberations from research labs have saved animal lives that you can count. Destroying a slaughterhouse or a fur-farm feed wholesaler does not save animals in an easily quantifiable manner, but may save animals nonetheless through monetary loss, inconvenience, fear, etc., that may dissuade one last breeding season or spur an exploiter's early retirement. "Violence" or "terrorism" has long expressed the most important social, religious and historical forces in this country and in others around the world.
To be fair, much of the criticism of the ALF is justified. The ALF is not revolutionary. It will not bring about fundamental change in society to benefit animals by itself. But ALF actions can be a part of a revolutionary process and can have very important and necessary effects for animals who are suffering.
The ALF has not been proven ineffective. What has been pointed out is that acts borne out of frustration, impatience and impulse do not bring results. In "Making Our Actions Count," in the #9 issue of No Compromise, Dari Fullmer wrote that "direct action without strategy is useless." Although random actions may not be entirely useless, the point of choosing targets strategically is important. Direct action activists have to set priorities and be careful to make each effort count. Realistically, we are all limited in the time and energy we can commit to activism (of any kind). We only have a few chances; actions should be more than just symbolic-don't sit in jail for breaking a window at your local McDonald's.
Research and planning are essential to be effective. This should mean fewer actions, but bigger, more focused actions intended to weaken or remove a vital link in an animal abuse industry. Activists must get to know their local animal industry and the role it plays at the national and local levels. An industry is made up of many different levels, from the farmers, the animal transporters and the slaughterhouses, to the processors and down to the retail end. Also included are industry research centers, promotional groups, industry publications, advertising agencies, etc. Every larger community in this country has at least one company that plays an important role in the larger industry, making the abuse and exploitation of animals profitable.
The Western Wildlife Unit of the ALF in the early 1990s, as well as some recent actions targeting the fur industry, showed us the way. By targeting the research that kept the fur industry prosperous and the fur feed co-ops that provide assistance to farmers, they attacked a weak link in the industry, making an enormous impact. If they had chosen to target the retail end and instead destroyed fur stores, they would have made the evening TV news, but insurance would likely rebuild the store and the industry would be little the worse. Within an industry, for the most part, the results are not worth the risk to attack retail outlets.
What industry should the ALF target? Is it better to target a greater evil (such as the meat industry) or plan for a greater impact (by hitting the weakened fur industry)? Setting priorities is another important step in successful strategy.
The meat industry: Internationally, the U.S. is the world's largest exporter of bird carcasses and other animal "products." Com-panies like Tyson and Hormel aggressively target overseas markets. Nationally, the meat industry is equally overwhelming. Huge companies like IBP, ConAgra, National Beef Packing and Perdue Farms kill billions of animals every year.
There are approximately 5,000 commercial poultry and livestock farms in the U.S., approximately 300 large meat-packing plants nationwide and another 6,000 small- and medium-sized meat-packing facilities. Fighting the meat industry statewide or regionally is the only realistic option. The livestock haulers, the auction yards, the slaughterhouses and farm supply companies are examples of vulnerable links at this level.
What are the weak industries? We're familiar with fur, but there's also horse-slaughter, the veal industry, foie gras, dog-racing and circuses with animals, among others. For example, circuses remain extremely vulnerable to sabotage. The few dozen circuses that remain in this country are dependent on their means of transportation. A few (empty!) destroyed trucks can stop a circus in its tracks, literally. Many of these circuses survive performance by performance (season by season), and the loss of revenue due to canceled performances could seal their end.
ALF actions are dynamic and inspirational. The ALF can interrupt the dreariness of everyday campaigning with drama that reveals the animal rights struggle at its most essential level, if only for a short time. ALF actions can be a symbol of the revolutionary potential of our movement. The anonymous activist who destroyed muskrat traps acted out of moral duty without thinking of educating the public or hoping for media attention, and, if only temporarily, refused to accept the confines of the law. This ALF has great potential.