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Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Bearing Witness

Last October I wrote a blog about why I started Sonoma County Chicken Save as part of our work at Food Empowerment Project.

Since October we have been in front of Petaluma Poultry slaughterhouse at least once every month to ensure that those who drive by this slaughterhouse are unable to ignore the lives being taken there.

Over the past year, we have noticed an increase in support from people driving past and even more are stopping by to speak with us.

The one protest we did that we did not promote on social media (meaning the slaughterhouse did not have advance notice to put the barricades up) was the one where two slaughterhouse workers came out and spoke with us.

One worker told us of the horrible conditions in which they work. I also gave this worker my business card, and I was surprised when he called me two days later. He told me about the chemicals that constantly rain upon the workers and of the chickens who are still breathing after they leave the boiling water.

Tuesday night, we participated in Bearing Witness as described by Toronto Pig Save’s founder Anita Krajnc, which was inspired by this quote by Leo Tolstoy,

“When the suffering of another creature causes you to feel pain, do not submit to the initial desire to flee from the suffering one, but on the contrary, come closer, as close as you can to her who suffers, and try to help her.”

In order to prepare for this overall event, I have spent quite some time in the middle of the night and day trying to get an idea of their schedules, which seem to be inconsistent.

Different from what is seen in other places, the chickens are brought here when it is dark. I have not seen them trucked in during the day, but I have seen them bringing the chickens in starting at 11:45pm all the way up to 5:15am.

It is difficult to know if this is because many people are upset when they see thousands of chickens crammed into crates and the feathers blowing in the wind (as I write this I have to recognize that many people are uncomfortable with knowing they are partly responsible for the suffering of the chickens they eat) or if it’s because chickens are more docile at night and it makes them easier to “handle” (i.e. kill).

We arrived at midnight on Tuesday and stayed until 3am. I have been at protests which started at 5am, but this was my first that started at midnight, and I was so comforted by the activists who came to be there at such an odd and early hour. We stationed ourselves in a spot where the truck would have to stop at the red light that is actually on a busy highway, but it is quieter at this hour.

We were able to rush to the side of the truck to be near the chickens. Although to avoid us, one truck driver drove through the red light.

Every truck was different as was the placement of the chickens in the crates—some facing us, some not. But one, who I can still see, was a small chicken lying on her side facing me. I could see her baby blue eye and her exhausted face staring back at me, blinking. She was on her side and looked like she was being crushed.

This is where bearing witness becomes almost unbearable. Watching her look at me and not being able to get her out is one of those situations where you fear losing your sanity because you lack the ability to do anything, much less comprehend why this gentle little bird was about to smell death, experience even more fear, and of course, die herself.

As I sit here now, my heart hurts and my eyes burn from the idea that she was probably gone within hours of me seeing her along with so many like her—thousands of them. The image of her will forever be in my heart and mind.

And all I can tell myself is that at least I was able to tell her (and all of them) how sorry I was and that I loved her. Which I repeated over and over…

More photos:

Thanks to my female comrades for also being out there: Debbie, Sarah Rice, pinky, Lisa Nicholson, all showing their hearts and courage.

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