Sunday 25th January saw the national Animal Rights Coaliton meeting (ARC) take place at the Beesley Green Community Centre near Manchester. Attendees came from as far afield as Birmingham, Nottingham, North Wales, Leeds, Lancashire, London, Swansea, Coventry and of course Manchester. There was also a representative of the Mexican Animal Rights movement who attended to see how the process of Animal Rights activism in the UK was organised.
Notable absentees it would seem, refreshingly, were PC Plum and his camera wielding hordes, due to the heightened threat of terrorist activity in the town of Balamory perhaps?
Kicking at 10am with a chance to form and strengthen bonds between AR activists from across the country, the event drew in excess of 50 people, both human and canine. Far from presenting an image of a movement in fear, licking it's wounds following recent high profile trials, including the sentencing of a number of SHAC activists for conspiracy to blackmail and the start of Mel Broughton's retrial, the mood was on the whole upbeat, positive and imaginative.
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As activists drifted in in numbers, the room was soon full of lively discussion about recent and upcoming actions. There were stalls promoting ongoing campaigns such as SPEAK, SHAC, Coalition Against the Fur Trade, World Day for Animals in Laboratories, Captive Animals Protection Society, Veggies Catering Campaign, All Lov and Lib and more. Food was expertly provided by Green Garden Cafe, a not for profit, vegan social enterprise who work with young people and even Coventry City Council. Vegan cakes came from Manchester's Victoria Sponge Cake Experience!
At about 12:30, the meeting proper began with an introduction to the Coalition for new attendees and introductions. The meeting was split into two parts, first giving chance for discussion within the group about general issues people felt of importance, before going on to discuss specific dates for forthcoming actions which are detailed below.
The first point discussed was the recent trial of the SHAC activists and the seizure by Kent Police of the Indymedia server due to the trial judges personal details being published (although swiftly removed as per the Indymedia guidelines). This was generally viewed as a continuation of a well trodden path of intimidation, and neither the seizure nor the trials had triggered any large-scale effect on support for animal rights amongst existing activists, although newcomers could be put off in fear of heavy prison sentences. Concerns were raised about the insecurity of PGP encryption as it was believed by some to be a factor in the gathering of evidence for these trials. The general view was that the best form of security is still to talk face to face with people you know and trust about sensitive issues.
The discussion then moved it's focus to how AR activists are perceived by the public and how this could be improved in order to draw more sympathy and support for it's goals. It was felt more effort could be made to self moderate any particularly ugly behaviour and this was the responsibility of everyone. Later in the discussion it was proposed to use more humour and ingenuity in demo's to make the issues seem less radical and more approachable to newcomers and the public at large, a tactic well proven by recent Climate Change and EDO campaigns.
Innovation was the order of the day as new and more oppressive measures are brought in, new approaches are needed to counter them it was noted. Even that dirtiest of words, compliance, was suggested as a way to 'call their bluff'. To try and beat them on the grounds of reasoned and rational argument within the bounds of the law to attract new and more moderate members and to not scare them away.
Closer cooperation with other campaign groups was also suggested, as many share common aims such as the climate movement, with veganism touted as an effective measure to begin to counter runaway climate change.
Coordinated FITwatch tactics were also discussed (obscuring the view of Forward Intelligence Team cameras, or filming them back), although it was noted that this remains a fairly grey area of law, and that it may constitute obstruction of police business as shown in a recent trial. Simply not wanting to be filmed (and who does outside of Hollywood/Albert Square?) may still form a reasonable defence in this field according to some. A recent trial of climate campaigners collapsed when defence film of evidence gatherers showed that they were in fact with-holding evidence.
Other suggestions and ideas for future actions ranged from trying to get Gordon Ramsey to agree to a vegan boxing match outside Claridges (!) to a mass rollout by local groups of free food days, proven as a fantastic tactic of engaging in a positive way with the general public, most notably in Nottingham and London. Who wouldn't want good quality, free vegan food offered to them, even subtly laced and accompanied by information about going vegan and other AR issues it was noted.
The use of fancy dress costumes and more fun activities to rid the movement of it's public and media reputation for extremism and violent action. The advantages of this are twofold - first it's hard to imagine someone as a 'terrorist' when they're dressed as a six foot bunny, and also the police are likely to look and feel a little ridiculous arresting them!
The discussions then dealt with smaller, more localised issues before coming full circle back to the recent SHAC 'trials'. It was opened for debate the consequences of the two guilty pleas that were made and the perceptions of this that people may have. The question that was raised was whether this implied that there definitely was a conspiracy, therefore prejudicing the other defendants assertions that there was not and so their not guilty pleas, or whether the group's solidarity had been compromised in some way. The unanimous consensus was that there was no doubt whatsoever in the movement that no deal was made by those pleading guilty at the expense of the others. They were not 'sold out' for a reduced sentence, but it was decided that the 'evidence' the police were showing to the court was blown out of context and inherently biased (surprise?) This meant that the only viable option was a guilty plea and a reduced sentence. It was felt that had the other defendants been shown the all of the late submissions of 'evidence' at the beginning of the trial, they may too have followed suit, knowing that this was being manipulated to fit the police version of events rather than expose the truth (what conspiracy?).
Support for these, Mel and all other AR prisoners being detained was stressed as being of the utmost importance and details of how to contact the prisoners can be found on the Vegan Prisoners Support Group website.
As is traditional in the struggle for animal rights, it is again the time for activists to pull together, dust themselves down and continue the struggle with renewed energy and enthusiasm.
Following a break for the various needs of the group (ie nicotine, caffeine, sosmix etc.) The agenda was set for forthcoming actions and these are listed here as dates to add to the diaries not just of existing AR activists, but to new members who are needed as the lifeblood of the movement.
Saturday April 25th : National Rally for World Day for Animals in Laboratories
A huge unified march through London for the abolition of Vivisection. Routes and permissions are in place for a march and rally and a large turnout is required to distribute flyers and information. People are asked to help provide transport for those attending from all areas of the country and the working group for organising the event would welcome new members. Details can be found at http://www.wdail.org/ and interested groups are advised to check regularly for updates.
Friday February 27th : SHAC City Shakedown
Targeting Barclays and other financial backers of HLS, this demo is of huge importance, both to show support and solidarity for those recently convicted and also to prove to the powers that be that support for the closure of HLS is as strong as ever, if not stronger. The share price for HLS has dropped by 80% in the last 3 months and everyone is looking for that final show of public support that could see them finished for good. The demo is on a Friday as financial institutions are closed at the weekend (and they call us slackers!) but a plea went out for anyone within 100 miles of London to make a special effort to attend. Those who are too far away to attend the main demo are asked to organise regional initiatives aimed at financial supporters of vivisection at HLS. Further details can be found at http://www.shac.net/action/demos/city_shakedown/.
Ongoing and ever present : SPEAK CAMPAIGN, Oxford
Prove that the arrest and incarceration of Mel Broughton has not brought the SPEAK campaign to it's knees. Weekly demonstrations in Oxford are ongoing throughout the year, but a particular focus is at the universities' degree ceremonies. This year, these are taking place on the 7th of March, 9th and 23rd of May and the 13th of June. Protesters against the brand new torture chamber that has been built at the university are asked to gather at 10:30. There are usually several ceremonies during the day, staring at 11am, 2pm and sometimes 4pm.
These demonstrations are particularly important to the campaign against animal testing at Oxford university as they cause huge embarrassment to the 'fine old institution of the established order'. They may well be the single most effective tactic in the fight to force the closure of the lab and so as much support as possible is needed on all of these dates (plus it's a chance to get right up some tory nostrils).
Of possibly the greatest importance of all is the senior ceremony on the 24th June, where honorary degrees are conferred to visiting 'dignitaries'. This is the showpiece event for the entire Oxford University calendar and so will be most embarrassing to them. Spread the word as far and wide as possible about this one! Further details for the SPEAK campaign can be found at http://www.speakcampaigns.org/.
Campaigns Against Animal Circuses : Nationwide Animal circuses are now starting their UK tours and all local AR groups are asked to co-ordinate campaigns aimed at highlighting the abuse and working to end animal use in circuses. Leaflets and other materials will be distributed to all groups planning protests outside animal circuses. More information from http://www.captiveanimals.org/.
11th-13th April : Zoo Awareness Weekend : Nationwide
All local AR groups are asked to co-ordinate campaigns aimed at raising awareness of the plight of animals kept in zoos. Leaflets and other materials will be distributed to all groups planning actions against zoos in their area. This being the Easter bank holiday weekend, it is likely to be the busiest day of the year for them and so the best possible chance to show the public the truth behind the cages. More information from http://www.captiveanimals.org/.
Thurs 5th - Sun 8th March : Crufts Demonstrations : NEC, Birmingham and nationwide
Abandoned by the BBC, left to fend for itself by the RSPCA, it's that time of year to show the Kennel Club what you really think of the parade of mutant dogs being bred for this 'competition'. Local activities are encouraged on Thursday - Saturday, leading to a national demo on the Sunday, which is traditionally the focal point and busiest day. Suggestions have been made for fancy dress (dog costumes aplenty being the obvious choice) to get the media eye but plans for this are currently at an early stage so keep checking the usual websites for further information. Public, media and corporate support for this event is heading into meltdown and so it is up to all AR activists to step up the pressure and see it put firmly to the back of the kennel for good.
6th, 7th, 8th February : Earth First! Winter Moot : Brighton
A good chance to spread the word about the plight of our fellow animals to what will be a very receptive crowd. Respect for the earth and respect for animals go hand in hand so people are needed to man stalls and generally preach to the converted, hopefully raking in a few more active and inspirational hands to the deck. Includes planning for the EF! Summer Gathering.
Actions in progress : those currently being planned with further details to be announced.
Proposals were made for the following events, although planning is at an early stage so any details and dates are subject to change. If anything grabs your attention then pull together with the organisers and as many as you can muster to help get them off the ground.
Saturday 16th May : Veggie Pride : Birmingham
Proud of being Vegan? Prove it by marching through the streets of Birmingham with other like minded and compassionate people, ending up at a rally with music and general good naturedness. Mirroring other annual events in Rome, Paris and New York, Birmingham has been chosen as a central point for all in the UK to attend. Help is always needed with organising and details can be found at http://www.veggiepride.org.uk.
28th - 31st August : ARUK2009 National Gathering
A chance for groups from across the country to meet, share ideas and unite against the dark forces of animal cruelty. Details currently at very provisional stage. Follow progress via http://www.veggies.org.uk/event.php?ref=1502.
Probably in June : AR2009 International Gathering
Last years event was held in Sweden and it is proposed that this years will be in Norway. A chance for groups from around the world to meet and form stronger links. A strong UK contingent is hoped to attend.
23rd Feb : Mass Multi Issue Protest : London
Campaigning groups from all areas including AR, anti war and climate change protesters are planning to converge on mass to protest about the 1sq km exclusion zone that has been flung around parliament, forbidding legal and rightful protest against the wrongdoings of the powers that be. As many people as possible are needed for this to be effective so please spread the word to any protest groups you encounter. [editors note - further details rcvd later: see http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=50370964433].
Also of note on this date is the opening of a shiny new Barclays branch in Sheffield. Hmm, don't they own a large number of shares in HLS?
2nd April : G20 Meeting : London
There will be a strong anti military/environmental group presence at this event but it is important that the links between animal abuse and capitalism do not drop off the radar. There is a 'Dissent 2009 UK Discussion List', in preparation for UK support of protest action in response to G8 summit in Italy in 2009, at https://lists.riseup.net/www/info/dissent2009uk
Future Animal Rights Coalition Meeting
Finally, since the ARC meetings happen about 4 times per year, the next one will most likely be around Sunday 5th April. A venue has ye to be decided but a throw of the dice means this will likely be in the south-west of the country. To keep up to date with this, watch out for local announcements or visit http://www.veggies.org.uk/arc.htm or subscribe to the mailing list at http://lists.riseup.net/www/info/arc-uk