Animal Resistance: When animals fight back and when humans listen

Animal Resistance

In the first chapter of Animal Resistance in the Global Capitalist Era, Sarat Colling tells the story of Emily, possibly the most famous cow to have escaped a slaughterhouse.

It was 1995 and Emily was being led to her death when she hopped over a five-foot high gate near the killing floor and disappeared into the New England woods. The daughter of the slaughterhouse owner gave Emily her name and she became a local celebrity as authorities searched for her; she eluded capture for 40 days and was ultimately adopted by Peace Abbey where she lived out her too-short life and where a statue of her now stands.

Colling writes: “In her act of resistance, Emily crossed both physical and conceptual borders. … She was no longer one of the ten billion animals sent to slaughterhouses in the United States each year, but an individual whose name and face was recognized.”

The book tells the stories of dozens of cows, sheep, pigs, chickens, whales and other species who, based on their heroic actions, are given names and histories by the people who bore witness to them. And it is these stories that have the power to wake up the world to the suffering of billions of animals who never have the opportunity to have their stories heard.

And while many of these stories end tragically, others end with animals finding their way to sanctuaries like Woodstock or Farm Sanctuary, sanctuaries that are playing a growing role in not only providing a haven for animals but a place where the public can learn the stories of these animals and see them as individuals.

Colling writes: “When animals who resist are witnessed, viewed as individuals, they can have the positive effect of inspiring people to live in closer alignment with their values.”

Animal resistance takes many forms, not only escapes, but acts of coming to the aid of other animals, or fighting back against the humans who hurt them. Tilikum the tragically imprisoned Sea World orca fought back time and again, killing three humans. And this from a species that has never killed a human in the wild. Animals don’t want to hurt humans; they simply want to be left alone. and this too is getting more difficult in world that has less open space in favor of space taken for animal agriculture.

Colling notes:

Since 1970, the Earth’s wildlife population has been cut in half, yet the farmed animal population has tripled. More farmed animals than human beings now inhabit this planet, with approximately 17 billion land animals alive at any given time.

Colling notes that animal resistance has much in common with human resistance, particularly the labor movement. The human working class are often the first in line to speak up for animals because they see themselves in the plight of these animals.

In the end, each act of resistance gives us a moment to resist in kind. To donate to a sanctuary. To speak up at a city council meeting. To attend a protest. To stop eating animals.

Collins writes about a bull named Frank, who escaped in 2016 from a slaughterhouse in New York City. The celebrity Jon Stewart stepped in to help Frank find a home at Farm Sanctuary.

In a video about Frank’s story, Steward remarks that because of the nature of Frank’s escape, “This time I paid attention.” When animals break free, we take notice. While animal farmers, researchers, auctioneers, hunters, breeders, and trainers have always known firsthand about animals’ revolts, the concept of animal resistance is reaching a wide audience in the twenty-first century digital mediascape.

Indeed. Here’s hoping this book helps other people sit up and pay attention.

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PS: I should also mention that this book builds on another powerful book worth reading: Fear of the Animal Planet: The Hidden History of Animal Resistance by Jason Hribal.

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