Saturday, January 15, 2011

The Lonely Fight is Always Worth It

Gwen Dunlop is a vegan from Toronto who is on a mission.

Each Sunday, she appears outside the buildings that house Toronto Abattoirs Ltd. and Quality Meat Packers Ltd. and holds her own one-woman vigil to speak out against what happens inside of those places.

She started this vigil on December 13, 2009, and has been at it day in and day out ever since then. As Gwen writes on her Blog:
My vigil takes various forms but mostly it entails meeting the truckers as they arrive, witnessing the unloading of the females of the pig species, (called sows by some, who I call my soul friends and my tribe) and then seeing the truckers (who have no option but to pass right by me, my conscience and I hope and I know, in some cases, theirs) turn out of the driveway on route to wherever home is, to sometimes far-enough-away parts of Ontario.

Her Blog truly is one of the most powerful I have ever read. Gwen is brutally honest about her experiences. She is also humble. She writes without a hint of self-aggrandizement. She has engaged in lots of soul searching over the past year-plus. Her experiences have been a compelling mix of harrowing, boring, pathos-filled and intense. She has been yelled at by angry truckers and workers at the slaughterhouses. She has struggled to stay true to her beliefs and not let the violence she witnesses on a regular basis erode her humanity.

The most powerful passages on her Blog discuss her experiences during her vigils. Gwen writes:

I don’t always or only stand in the same place. I have had deeply meaningful, if not at times, intense interaction with the truckers, “super” visors, security, police, City of Toronto public workers (who share the same driveway), residents from the area, one of the care-takers of the numerous feral cats having sought refuge nearby, passers-by and even on one occasion, a waiter from a nearby restaurant. I’ve heard personal stories and extended hugs to someone who came across me and was moved to tears by what I was doing, but moreover through hearing the cries of pain and terror, of the animals themselves. I have had a slaughterhouse worker scream at me: “Who are you…some stupid, f’ing, psycho bitch?” only to very quietly say moments later: “I have nightmares you know…we all do”.

I have seen the inside of the holding area, the ugly red welts and deep gashes near sensitive parts of the animals’ bodies, their precious behinds fire-engine red and sore. I have seen the pile-up of bodies of those who didn’t survive transport, who I originally hoped might have found some modicum of comfort with each other until the realization set in that they were dead. I’ve run up one of the ladders attached to the holding compound and with my head stuck in a truck, screamed for leniency regarding the severity of the beatings. On at least a few occasions, I’ve lost my composure and done my own fair share of screaming, (I am no saint) raising my voice not in anger but as an appeal for humanity, theirs and mine.

The cynic might ask: What good does Gwen do by going out and conducting a one-woman vigil? What has she changed? The pigs still get slaughtered. The meat still goes to market wrapped in plastic and styrofoam. The killing continues. The system remains unchanged. So why do it? Why show up each day and hold these vigils? Why not simply concede defeat and move on?

Years ago, in 1958, World War II veteran-turned-pacifist Albert Bigelow sailed his ship, the Golden Rule, to the atolls in the Pacific where the United States was conducting atomic tests. He and a small group of his pacifist friends put their lives on the line - and put themselves in harm's way - to speak out against the insanity that was the arms race.

When they did this, back in 1958, it was a very gutsy thing to do (hell, it would be a gutsy thing to do now). This was back in the depths of the Cold War, when anticommunist hysteria had reached a fever pitch, and few people dared protest the arms race.

But Bigelow and his friends took that risk. Did they stop the insane escalation of nuclear arms? No. Did their actions halt the tests in the Pacific? No. So exactly what good did they do?

Right after Bigelow's daring protest, Dissent - a tiny, humanistic monthly magazine run by Irving Howe and other anti-Stalinist left-wing intellectuals - published a piece that explained the importance of Bigelow's protest. The article's author, Martin Oppenheimer, eloquently wrote:
If, as they admit, their effort may bring no real change, why do it at all? . . . They did it because they could do no other, because no one else did it for them, because politics failed to do it, because the hour was late and because they had to. Effectiveness had little to do with it. This was the individual act undertaken against a state and a condition which seemed omnipotent; above all, this was propaganda of the deed, one's physical body thrown into a void where no other bridge seemed to exist. (Source)

Today, 53 years after that article appeared in Dissent magazine, Oppenheimer's words could also be used to describe Gwen Dunlop's actions. Sure, she is not going to single-handedly stop the slaughter. Yes, pigs will continue to die in huge numbers to satisfy the human demand for a kind of food that is not necessary for our survival. The insanity will continue.

But in this tiny little corner of a huge, dark, cold universe, one woman is taking a stand. A candle is flickering in the wind. One person is standing against the madness. On a few occasions, she has even been joined by others who have come out to show their support. Thus, a few more candles are lit.

Does this create a revolution? Maybe not. But imagine how much darker, how much emptier, this universe would be if that one little candle weren't lit. If there is any hope of stopping the tragedy and the madness that surrounds us, it comes from the Gwen Dunlops. Great changes have always come from the lonely, the weary and the discouraged, who somehow find, within themselves, the courage to fight for their beliefs, even against impossible odds.

Especially against impossible odds.

1 comment:

  1. Great post. Gwen Dunlops is a true inspiration. Thanks to her (and to you for informing others about her).