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THE MARCH TO FREEDOM: The problem with ‘open rescue’

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The animal liberation movement is not in an advanced enough state that the benefit of this compassionate vanguard going to prison for a prolonged period outweighs what they could achieve out in the world. If we were a few well-publicized imprisonments away from making significant progress toward a vegan world it would be different, but that’s not where we are. We need to engage in activism that’s sustainable over the long haul.

JON HOCHSCHARTNER: I have tremendous respect for Wayne Hsiung. Among other things, he founded Direct Action Everywhere, which I believe, whatever its faults, was the most dynamic animal-rights group to emerge in the 2010s. But I disagree with his continued emphasis on open rescue, by which I mean publicly liberating nonhumans with the expectation of being arrested.

To be clear, I don’t think there’s anything morally wrong with this tactic. In fact, I think it’s incredibly courageous. I just don’t think it’s the best use of movement resources at this historical moment. In a recent blog post on his Simple Heart Substack, Hsiung acknowledged legal issues resulting from open rescues have sidelined him and others to a certain degree.

“After facing four separate felony prosecutions, in rapid succession starting in the middle of 2018, I took a leave from open rescue work,” he said… Hsiung goes on to note he and his comrades have since won two court cases and remain free. If he’d know this would be the outcome, he would never have stopped open-rescue work and now plans to redouble his efforts. But are we to assume Hsiung and others will continue to win all of their cases and remain out of prison? Maybe that will happen, but I doubt it.

I hope Hsiung and his comrades take the following as a compliment, because that’s what I intended it to be. I think they’re worth more to the animal movement out of prison than they are in. I’m not oblivious to the power of narrative. The sacrifice of Animal Liberation Front and Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty [SHAC] activists inspired me a great deal when I first became interested in anti-speciesism.

However, I don’t think the animal movement is in an advanced enough state that the benefit of this compassionate vanguard going to prison for a prolonged period outweighs what they could achieve out in the world… We also need to factor in other opportunity costs. How many movement dollars, activist and lawyer hours will be dedicated to organizing the legal defense of Hsiung and his comrades?…

While writing a book about SHAC, I got a better sense of this than I had previously. Many of the leaders of this campaign didn’t just drop out of the animal movement, they dropped off the map entirely. Some of those I tracked down outright refused to talk to me for fear of legal consequences. Others consulted lawyers and subsequently decided it was a bad idea. This was in relation to things they had done 20 years prior, in some cases…

Now, I don’t think Hsiung and his comrades will face the same level of repression SHAC activists did… But spending years in court and behind bars can affect people in ways they don’t expect.

Some may emerge from this experience more dedicated to the cause than ever, but this isn’t always the case. In my view, the struggle for animal liberation is a marathon, not a sprint. If we were a few well-publicized imprisonments away from making significant progress toward a vegan world I would feel differently, but I don’t think that’s where we are. We need to engage in activism that’s sustainable over the long haul.

Again, the movement should consider what these incredibly talented open rescuers — as well as the money, lawyers and activists supporting their legal defense — could otherwise accomplish for animals… However, I think there are a lot of different paths Hsiung and others could pursue that would be more beneficial than open rescue. SOURCE…

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