It’s late on a Sunday night in downtown Los Angeles when we set off in the dark, with some trepidation, to attend a pig vigil outside Farmer John’s slaughterhouse in Vernon organised by the Save Movement. I’m travelling with my business partner, Sally, and we’re in LA for Vegan Fashion Week and to meet with other influential people in the vegan community.
That’s how we met Jonathon Ohayon, founder of F.A.K.E. (Fashion for the Animal Kingdom and Environment) and the world’s first vegan fashion museum, who invited us to the pig vigil. I’d heard a lot about pig vigils, had seen the footage on social but always felt attending wasn’t for me. However I was definitely curious and it felt important we attend.
But let’s back up a little. The Save Movement is a global grass roots movement, founded in 2010, where people “bear witness” to the suffering of animals on their way to slaughterhouses. The vigil we attended, the largest of the Save Movement’s globally, is organised by the Los Angeles Animal Save. Its founder, vegan activist Amy Davis, held her first vigil event in December 2016. The monthly event quickly became weekly and now includes cows and chickens as well as pigs. Amy has a powerful vision:
- + To have thousands of people turn up to a vigil.
- + Vernon Avenue shutdown to only delivery trucks and activists being able to bear witness to both sides of the trucks.
- + Mainstream media coverage with the end game being LA Animal Save dissolving as the farms and slaughterhouses have converted to plant-based food production.
All this would leave Amy free to move onto the next social justice problem she would like to solve.
While Amy (who has a young child) wasn’t in Vernon with us on the night, we texted and she introduced us to her animal rights activist husband, Shaun Monson, filmmaker of EARTHLINGS and UNITY as well as co-producer on DOMINION documentaries. Shaun has been heavily involved with running the vigils and Amy credits him as an integral part of its growth.
Amy Davis, Founder LA Animal Save
Which is how we find ourselves outside Farmer John’s slaughterhouse solemnly walking in the dark (the floodlights are usually on, but turned off whenever a vigil is held) alongside a building displaying a larger than life mural of “happy farm animals”. It feels macabre and is a stark reminder of the marketing ploys used by the meat industry to convince consumers that farm animals breed naturally, live outdoors in the sunshine, and happily and willingly trot off to a humane death.
We round the corner and find around 70 people gathered, standing silently and peacefully in groups. While scanning the crowd for Shaun, we hear cries from the crowd of “truck, truck” and suddenly everyone swings into action. Large water containers with pumps are handed out, overhead lights switch on and a large double decker truck full of pigs pulls up beside the gathered crowd. Amy has secured the support of the Vernon Police Department so an officer is present to ensure that everyone stays safe.
Some people step forward with lights so those filming (sharing images from the night is an important part of sharing the Save Movement’s message of compassionate and peaceful protest) can get better footage, while others carry water bottles for the pigs. Offering the pigs water takes priority over filming. Shaun tells us that the trucks can travel across two states, which means the pigs on board are deprived of food or water, possibly for days .
When I’d watched footage from other vigils, I’d always wondered if the pigs would be frightened by the people gathered around the trucks. But I now saw this was not the case. These intelligent, inquisitive animals, while bewildered, engaged with us. They seemed desperately thirsty and searched out the water, while others just stepped forward and made contact. Looking into their eyes, I felt an overwhelming sense of hopelessness. Feeling raw emotion, I turned to Sal who had tears streaming down her face and was unable to speak.
Because of the growth of the Save Movement, truck drivers now stop for several minutes allowing those present to film, offer water, compassion and most importantly, bear witness. On any given night, there can be just a few trucks or many. We saw five over three hours; four stopped. Shaun explains it is very unusual for a driver not to stop, and when one doesn’t it takes t took everyone by surprise. Despite being asked politely to “back up”, the driver ignores the pleas. Having the police in attendance increases the likelihood of the trucks stopping.
While the footage people capture at the vigils is haunting – our images are shot on our iPhones – nothing prepares you for the reality. The smell, the sound – grunting and squealing (which later sound more like screams as the pigs are unloaded off the truck inside the slaughterhouse) – the physicality. It’s a total sensory overload.
Shaun is incredibly generous with his time and knowledge – we’ll be sharing the interview soon. When asked if the vigils work, he felt very strongly, yes. Not in the sense that less pigs are being slaughtered, but because of the growing awareness and concern of how animals are treated, and that vigils are peaceful and the impact they have on people who attend is quite profound. All of this leads to conversations, education and ultimately change.
Having had a few days to digest the events of the night, I’ve been thinking about what makes these vigils so successful. Personally, I can immediately see the effect – I posted images from the night to my personal Facebook page and was surprised by the number of questions I received and the conversations it started. As a grass roots activity, the success also lies in the Save Movement keeping authenticity, compassion and peace at its core.
For me, the experience prompted feelings of absolute hopelessness (that I was powerless to stop these pigs from being slaughtered) as well as feelings of hope. Hope because I met so many other intelligent, compassionate humans – who shared a common goal; to end this. It is these conflicting emotions that I keep coming back to.
Amy’s advice is this:
“For anyone thinking about coming to a vigil, but perhaps being a little afraid, just come. Just come and bear witness one time. Make yourself drive down, park, and walk over to the crowd of people on the sidewalk waiting for a truck full of innocent animals to turn the corner.
It’s easier to be at a vigil than to watch videos or see photos. Come and see these animals in person. Relieve their thirst for a moment. Tell them that you see them, that they are not a nameless, faceless object.
Walk away knowing that you were there to bear witness to their suffering and it made you speak out for them louder in the world. Be willing to see, hear, and smell the circumstances of another being that the vast majority of the current population on this planet ignores. Know what it’s like to be fighting for justice and peace in the world.
You are stronger than you know and if you were the one trapped inside the truck, you would want someone to be there for you. Come be a part of the change!”
Having now attended one, I’m incredibly humbled by the experience and would encourage anyone reading this to seek out a vigil and bear witness. Vigils are held globally and if there’s not one near you, you could consider starting your own.
Information on LA Animal Save vigils can be found here.
Images courtesy of LA Animal Save.