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Cube of Truth: The changing shape of animal activism

The Aussie Farms scandal has re-ignited the decades long debate between farmers and animal activists, but has anything changed? According to animal activists, aggressive confrontation is a tactic of the past. Today, it’s all about peaceful actions.

Sombre music echoes through the commercial centre of Sydney’s Pitt Street Mall on a drizzly Saturday afternoon. Images of Australian slaughterhouses flash across handheld televisions. As shoppers pause to take a second look at the horror filled screens, members of Animal Rights Activism Sydney ask them – “have you seen this before?”

This is called the Cube of Truth, a tactic pioneered in 2016 in the Melbourne CBD by a group known as Anonymous for the Voiceless. The method is used to expose farming practices and influence people to become vegan.

“We just show the truth and let the truth speak for itself,” said Andy Faulkner, an active member of ARAS. “And the industry is scared about the truth getting out.”

Truth and transparency are core issues addressed by the Sydney based activism group. ARAS was formed early this year as an umbrella group for nine local animal activist organisations.

Kai McBeth, the coordinator of ARAS, describes the organisation as a “grassroots movement that aims to show the public the reality of what is not being shown among the meat, dairy and egg industries.”

Animal activism in Sydney is not a new social movement, however many of Sydney’s activists believe there has been a change in the organisation of their individual groups, and their approach to the general public.

McBeth said that there has been a move from confrontational and aggressive activism techniques towards a peaceful and open approach. “My initial impression, it was a negative impression, it was people screaming on megaphones and people throwing blood on themselves and all that,” he said. Sydney street veganism has become more focused on engaging the public individually in social conversation, McBeth said.

Local Sydney activism has distanced itself from supporting and campaigning for larger organisations. Members of ARAS and other local activism movements believe larger organisations, specifically the RSPCA, have too high a tolerance for animal cruelty in Australia.

The founder of the organisation For the Love of Wildlife, Donalea Patman, said that powerful political organisations will often try to curb activism. “You have to question the fact that the reason people have to take action is that the responsibility has not been taken by the government or industry,” she said.  

Both Faulkner and McBeth are critical of the RSPCA and the Australian Government for working in tandem with the animal agriculture industry. “All they are doing is putting a sticker on their murdered bodies saying RSPCA approved and pretending like they are checking up on all these farms,” said Faulkner.

Simon Marks, the President of Animal Voices at the University of New South Wales also criticised the RSPCA, claiming that “at the RSPCA conference they would talk about microwaving cow’s heads as a way of stunning them for slaughter. No animal organisation should be talking about stuff like that.”

With the creation of Animal Rights Activism Sydney, both McBeth and Faulkner believe this collaborative move will enable awareness of animal cruelty to spread further.

Faulkner explained that prior to the Cube of Truth, “chalking” was a popular method among Sydney activists. The link to a website of the graphic animal slaughterhouse movie “Earthlings” was written onto pavements around the CBD.

Now, technology is the new way forward in street animal activism. The tactics used by the movement utilise portable television screens or laptops powered by battery packs. “Being able to run a relatively simple set up that we have, we can show people hours of current Australian slaughter footage that we could never convey to people otherwise,” McBeth said. He explained that social media has also been vital in mobilising the movement.

Sitting outside Thoughtful Foods on UNSW campus, Marks shared his experience of “Truth Walking”, a method he explained only aims to generate awareness rather than convince people to become vegan. “We had TV’s powered by battery packs in backpacks, then we went around Chinatown for their New Year, because it’s the Year of the Pig. We had footage of how pigs are treated and their screaming. We went outside restaurants with these TV screens.”

Displaying images of your food being violently killed is not always met with positive reactions from the general public. Faulkner explained they are often mocked or ridiculed. “People have a belief system which is in place since they were the age of two that they must eat animals, drink cow’s milk and eat eggs. When they’re confronted with this, they can react differently.”

For Faulkner, the deep association Australians have with the consumption of animal products is an inaccurate cultural belief. He said “we’ve reduced animals to sandwiches and shoes, at the moment people aren’t seeing someone at all. They are just seeing the thing on the shelf.”

The ARAS activists agree that the media plays a large role in the public perception of vegans and animal rights. The cruel practices in the animal agriculture industry is the reason the media continues to demonise activists, Faulkner said, as “vegans are portrayed as extremist, militant, crazy or weirdos” who fabricate accusations of animal cruelty.

The publication of an interactive map by the Aussie Farms organisation earlier this year garnered recent media attention to the animal activism movement. Deputy Premier of New South Wales David Littleproud has been vocal against the actions of animal activists on farmers, deeming it “an attack map for activists.”

“The information they’re publishing is publicly available, but because they’re doing things that they don’t want people to know about, they’re angry about it,” Marks said. McBeth agrees that the anger is misdirected, that “it’s what often happens – we victimise the group that really aren’t the victims and to be quite frank, they’re the oppressors.”

Donalea Patman agrees that activism is still needed to tackle government blindsiding of the cruelty among animal agriculture. “The industry has been given 30 years to regulate and get its act together but it still is being exposed for abhorrent cruelty,” she said. “So of course activism has to step up until changes are made.”