Over the years I’ve noticed a negative trend in the way activists, specifically animal rights activists, conduct their protests; more aggressive, theatrical, often destructive or violent, and more about the “action” than the “cause” the group hopes to address. Nothing illustrates this more vividly than the events that unfolded in late May by a group called DxE (Direct Action Everywhere) targeting one of our Sonoma County egg producers.
DxE singled out a producer who sells to a high-profile retail outlet. Claiming their concerns were for the safety and welfare of the hens, they gathered over 300 demonstrators and incited a media circus. It was later learned that not one of the demonstrators arrested for their crimes were from Sonoma County. In fact, if you watch DxE’s video or observe the social media posts that went viral during the incident, it appears that many of the protestors were from other states and countries. The organizer knew he had the opportunity to gather people together who were attending a national conference nearby, so he looked for an undeserving target and found it with a Petaluma egg producer. This Farm Bureau member simply was in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Not only did the group’s leader and some of his protestors trespass, they broke into locked barns, followed no biosecurity protocols, and failed to properly handle and care for the chickens that they stole. According to the group’s leader, they had secretly entered the property previously, breaking in at night, walking amongst the livestock, filming, and stealing several animals. The property owner only became aware of the incident when DxE released public allegations during their protest.
Before illegally entering the property, the group never bothered to contact the business owner by phone or email, though they claimed they did. The protestors refused to leave the property even when it was explained they could be exposing the hens to dangerous foreign pathogens from members of their group that were backyard farmers.
The group made numerous false allegations throughout the “production” of their protest that was live cast for over three hours on Facebook. The Sheriff’s office responded effectively and tried to help the farmer and group leader reach an agreement. However, when the producer suggested they discuss the group’s concerns civilly and offered a chance to properly tour the barns, these peaceful gestures were refused. The situation came to an end when almost 40 members of the DxE group were arrested.
How do we prevent this from happening again? And, more importantly, why do these protestors think it’s ok to violate a property owner’s rights? The answer is simple. Prosecution. These protestors need to be charged for breaking and entering and theft. We need every one of the protestors who stole a chicken to have a felony on their record. To accomplish this, we need to work more closely with law enforcement and the DA’s office to provide the tools they need to fully prosecute actions like this. Will this stop activists from protesting? Likely not, but it would discourage lawbreaking behavior and offer more protection for farmers, their property and the animals.
To help our local agriculturists better prepare themselves to deal with future activism, the Farm Bureau is developing educational workshops and resources for its members. Please stay tuned and make sure you receive our weekly member e-blasts and watch for more information in the Farm News. If you would like to add your email address to your membership, please email Susan@Sonomafb.org and she can assist you.