An animal rights organization has been interrupting Bernie Sanders rallies by shouting pro-animal slogans and holding up signs that read, “Animal Liberation is Social Justice.”
In one video of the event, protesters chant, “Animal liberation now!” and Sanders’ supporters boo them and chant back “Bernie! Bernie!” One supporter can be heard yelling, “Get outta here!” Another remarks, “Get a life!” In another video, people throw things at protesters holding up a sign explaining that “Animal Liberation is Social Justice.” When the sign is ripped away, the crowd cheers. Sanders responds by sarcastically remarking, “As I was saying…” In another video, protestors hold up a sign that reads, “Get Big Ag Out of Politics.” The response is the same–no noticeable support from the crowd, protesters removed by security, and Sanders ignores it.
This group of protesters aims to disrupt people in public spaces to force the issue of animal rights onto the international agenda. This article isn’t about the effectiveness of such disruptions though. Objectively, I would need to poll the 250,000 people who watched one of the videos of the interruption and everyone who attended the event and read press coverage of it to determine if it swayed them positively, negatively, or not at all towards animal rights. Love them or hate them, such disruptions have been part and parcel of American democracy for more than 200 years from The Boston Tea Party to Occupy Wall Street and Code Pink’s protests during congressional hearings.
I started working on Capitol Hill for an environmental lobby group the same year Bernie Sanders arrived at The House of Representatives in 1991. He was aware of the scourge of animal agriculture then–the historic March for Animals happened just six months earlier in D.C. As a member of the U.S. Congress for 25 years, he continues to be fully informed on the issue today.
As I’ve detailed here, Senator Sanders is no friend to farmed animals. In fact, he proudly displays on his website his passionate support for the dairy industry and votes in favor of subsidizing farms that slaughter animals with taxpayers’ money. Sanders uses deceptive words like “family farms” to dupe less discerning voters who don’t realize factory farms with 100,000 animals crammed in cages are also called “family farms” by politicians. More than 99% of animals raised for meat in the U.S. come from factory farms.
Sadly, despite his abysmal record on farmed animals, he remains the lowest hanging fruit on the compassion tree of the three remaining candidates. Thus, if people want to protest the denial of animal rights, it makes sense to hold such protests in an arena with people most inclined to listen–candidate included. Apparently, not so much given the reactions in the aforementioned videos.
Thus, the reaction to the protesters by Bernie Sanders and his supporters warrants discussion.
Let’s begin with Sanders. How could Sanders show that he really is a man of the people and not just another Washington politician? He could listen and respond. By now, he knows the protesters’ agenda. Imagine the good will it would build and how impressive it would be if he said, “Please don’t boo these people. While you may disagree with their approach, they are doing what I did during the Civil Rights Movement. They’re taking a stand for something greater than their own self-interest. That is not a crime. I hear them. I will do what I can to advance the cause of animal advocacy, especially in animal agriculture. Let’s applaud people for standing up for their beliefs.” Imagine. Instead, Sanders replied by saying, “We don’t get intimidated easily.” If he took the time to listen, he would quickly learn nobody is trying to intimidate him. These protestors are trying to force the issue of animal rights into the news as they do here. But as you can see here, Sanders is shockingly dismissive and disinterested in his response to the protests complaining that they detract from the real issues that matter. You heard right–Bernie Sanders said animal rights do not matter.
Now let’s talk about the people in the crowd. They jeer, chant over the protesters instead of showing interest, throw things, and yell at the demonstrators. Looks like a Trump rally. What kind of liberal progressives act in this manner when people are explicitly expressing concern over a “social justice” issue? They literally labeled the sign “social justice” issue. Their lack of interest does not speak well for them, their “revolution,” or their torch-bearer. For a group of people who wave the tolerance flag, they would be well-served to follow their own advice.
Agree or disagree with the protesters’ approach, the reaction speaks volumes about Sanders and his supporters. Why are these people so angry that their fellow citizens are exercising their free speech to advocate for an issue greater than their own self-interest? If such protests so offend the sensibilities of Sanders’ supporters, perhaps they should disavow their own candidate who Chicago police arrested for protesting, charged with resisting arrest, and found guilty.
In these particular protests at political rallies, should animal advocates support Sanders with his dismal record on farmed animals, the degree to which it conflicts with the heart of his message, and his close-minded reaction to the protesters? Or should animal advocates support the animal rights protesters speaking on behalf of farmed animals even if they may prefer a more subtle approach? Given that choice, I’m with the Bernie from the 1960’s on behalf of civil rights and the animal rights protesters today because I don’t see a notable difference other than the animal rights protesters don’t resist arrest.