Surveilling the slaughter: can activists bear the emotional weight?

Friday, 17 June, 2016

Andy Davidson reports on the visceral experience of meeting pigs being sent to slaughter during Manchester Pig Save’s vigil, and how painful emotion can galvanise others into action.

Today, when animal activists ask you to support animal rights, they are asking you to take action. 

That action is going vegan.

It’s a choice: a choice that requires the participant to think differently, to eat differently, to wear different things and to treat animals differently. There’s a new wave of animal activism that wants to make that option as attractive as possible. One of those groups is Manchester Pig Save, a group that galvanises activists into witnessing animals sent to slaughter via a loving and inclusive approach to community organising. So how does protesting outside of a slaughterhouse make veganism appear more attractive? I attended their all day vigil outside Tulip Meats Ltd in Ashton to find out.

I will always remember the moment I decided to go vegan. Something clicked in my brain, like I’d found the missing jigsaw piece that completed the puzzle. I soon involved myself in animal activism. With activism you are faced with the horrors of animal farming – as an emotional person, this weighs heavy on my shoulders. While I’ve found ways to alleviate this, when focused on a particular piece of activism it can still become very upsetting. Which is why, at first, I was hesitant about attending the vigil.

I have attended protests before and always found them a positive experience, though I had done nothing like this. I have never visited a slaughterhouse, where roughly 10-12 truckloads of pigs are carried through each day. Could I participate in this type of activism without regressing to negativity, and how would that help other animals if we are aiming to demonstrate that veganism is an attractive, positive choice?

On my arrival I was greeted warmly by the activists. A marquee was in place for some inspirational talks while a catering team handed out vegan sausage rolls, soup and sandwiches. It could have been mistaken for a small festival.  I met up with Andrew Garner, a primary organiser of Manchester Pig Save, and talked about the aims for the movement.  He spoke about how the movement was born to “raise awareness of what (humans) do to animals for the food industry”, to place “a magnifying glass on slaughterhouses in the UK” by protesting outside of them and “bearing witness” to what the pigs are going through. Bearing witness is a phrase activists use when they have an intense emotional moment when interacting with the animals being sent to slaughter.

I wondered if activists could bear the emotional weight of such a moment. 

I asked Andrew about this and about how their project differs from more modern thinking that promotes positivity, not pain. I told him my hesitations in attending. “It’s definitely an issue we are trying to address,” he begins. “A lot of people contact [us] saying it’s amazing what you’re doing but I couldn’t do it myself. It’ll be too emotionally draining on me; I might get too angry, too upset. But we’re a big strong group and we support each other”. 

This rang true with me, as their collective and welcoming attitude allowed us to stay positive throughout the day. Of course nothing could have prepared me for my own encounter with the pigs, and it came early on in the day. As the first lorry full of pigs pulled up, we surrounded it to take pictures, videos and to have our own time saying goodbye to them.  

“Posting these connections [with the pigs] on social media has greater effect for family and friends than just posting a generic video or picture,” says Andrew. It’s this that made me think how successful this movement can be. Everyone has a circle of friends or family they can affect. Take into account the local population around the slaughterhouse and the coverage Manchester Pig Save has received in the local press, then you can quite easily see how more of these movements can attract huge attention. 

“When it’s your own family member, your friend, outside a slaughterhouse in Manchester, it makes it so much more real for people and they can’t ignore it as much,” adds Andrew. 

As 10 to 15 activists moved to one side of the lorry, I pulled round to the other side to have a private moment with the pigs. At first I thought I was going to cry on the spot, but I didn’t. Instead I just said ‘sorry’. I apologised over and over again. I had been holding that apology in for a long time. It may be one apology out of thousands I feel I owe them, but right then it felt like a weight was lifted from me. One pig turned and stared right at me. I felt my stomach tighten and I felt sick inside.The emotion then poured out of me as I weakly thought about what comes next.

Andrew was right: what pulled me out of my funk was a group of individuals that had nothing but joy in their heart for the decisions they have made. Today, they wanted the workers and the public to join them. We handed out leaflets to workers leaving the building and for the most part they were polite and accepted the leaflet. We handed out vegan sausage rolls and cakes to people stuck in traffic, we jumped up and down in the rain, we were respectful and polite to everyone. Veganism began seeming more and more positive to outsiders.

Manchester Pig Save have already had great success with local coverage, and have instigated many people to go vegan. Liverpool Pig Save and Essex Pig Save are now also up and running. As Andrew says: “the goals are to inspire more people to be compassionate, go vegan and become more active in making the world a better place for animals.” 

To find out more about Manchester Pig Save, visit their Facebook page.

By Andy Davidson 

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