Oakland, California, is a haven for social justice. When we see injustice, we take to the streets. I’ve attended numerous protests over the years — from Black Lives Matter rallies to disruptions of Trump speeches. Until recently, the most violence I had faced was at the Trump rally where attendees railed against me as a queer woman of color. On Monday May 30, 2016, though, I met violence at a very different sort of event: a Bernie Sanders rally. More than a dozen of my fellow activists with Direct Action Everywhere (DxE) and I attempted to access the stage to hoist a banner, the sort of nonviolent action that has been used by numerous movements and which Bernie Sanders says he supports. Instead, we were manhandled and one of us beaten by the Secret Service. Why? The banner called for a group that is conspicuously overlooked by progressives — nonhuman animals.
Bernie says he is progressive, but it’s hard to advocate the ideals underlying progressivism in a way that does not support animal rights. If we believe in equality and freedom from violence, then if a being suffers the same as we do, we have no reason to treat that suffering any differently. Scientists, as enshrined in the 2012 “Cambridge Declaration on Consciousness,” assure us that the animals we eat largely suffer the same. The view that animals deserve equal respect is no longer a fringe view: 32 percent of Americans now support equal rights for nonhuman animals. Yet Sanders has never touched on this issue, and his record suggests why. Sanders has an intimate relationship with agribusiness, accepting over $300,000 in this campaign and aggressively supporting outdated subsidies for the dairy industry. True, Hillary Clinton also receives support from agribusiness, but as the most progressive candidate in the race, it is Bernie’s job to speak out.
Increasingly, the answer to the plea for animal rights is to call for higher animal welfare. This, though, is a shell game. Friends of mine who have gone into the most “humane” farms in the country — suppliers to Whole Foods, for instance — have found conditions resembling those on factory farms. I have personally seen a backyard hen named Soyrizo suffer from the same woes as industrial hens, wincing in pain as she endured an impacted ovary from excessive egg production. After seeing the violence that greets animals on even the best farm, I have concluded that we need more than piecemeal reform — we need legal personhood and rights for all animals, and we need our candidates to call for that. Animals are currently treated like objects; they need to be treated as rights-holders.
I don’t believe that Bernie Sanders or other progressives who ignore animals mean harm. People of conscience are pacified by misleading welfare standards offered by corporations and governments. Deep down, though, we do not believe it is okay to kill our dogs and cats. What’s different about chickens or pigs?