It’s been a crazy couple of weeks of travel, recuperation, school work, etc. Having just returned from L.A. for the annual Association of American Geographers meeting, I thought I’d just recap a number of news items.
The most relevant for animal advocates is the increasingly public flurry of debate about ag-gag laws. Will Potter, of Green is the New Red, has been following the emergence and politics of the ag-gag laws for the last several years and regularly posts updates, commentary and information on his blog about it. I’m not going to recap the details of the state-by-state debate because Potter is already doing that on his site. But for those not familiar, ag-gag laws are state legislation that would criminalize the photography and video taping of what goes on behind industrial “factory farm” walls, as well as criminalize the undercover investigations by activists in these spaces. These undercover investigations and accompanying video and photo footage are important because they are often the only glimpse the general public has into how animals are bred, farmed, treated and slaughtered in the industrial food system. An even more widespread debate is now underway because the New York Times published an article about the ag-gag laws a couple of weeks ago. I plan to write extensively about ag-gag laws and the similar federal Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act (AETA) in my dissertation to explore a politics of (in)access in spaces of agricultural production, but for now there is lots to read in the media about this issue. Have you all been following the ag-gag debate? What are your thoughts?
In personal news, I spent the last week at the AAG conference in L.A., which is a massive geographers conference generally drawing around 8,000 geographers. It is truly massive and generally overwhelming with nearly thirty sessions happening simultaneously across three downtown hotels and lasting 5 days (each year is in a different city). I won’t bore you all with a detailed recap of each day, but I will make a few observations. Generally, I try to stick to animal/nonhuman-related sessions at the AAG simply because the schedule is so overwhelming, but this year I branched out. I definitely attended my fair share of animal geographies sessions and saw a couple of really fantastic talks (not the least of which was a fascinating talk on extending who we count as the “animal” in animal geographies — he was advocating the ethical consideration of the tick). But I spent quite a bit of my time going to sessions on topics like violence in the humanitarian present (organized by Tish Lopez), illicit commodities (in which Rosemary-Claire Collard gave a great talk on animal auctions), and a session on suffering, trauma and pain. I found myself literally moved to tears in quite a few of the sessions, which was a surprise to me. A theme across these various great sessions was storytelling — both direct storytelling of a particular place and experience of trauma (murders and disappearances at the US-Mexico border, international sex trafficking of young women, etc.) and reflections on the ethics and politics of telling others’ stories in our research. Many of these stories were heartbreaking — stories of unimaginable sadness, violence and pain. Through my own emotional reaction to this research, I found myself reflecting on the reactions of the audience to these kinds of stories. And, in particular, I was interested in how the reaction of the audience may be different (i.e., complicated) when we are complicit and/or implicated in the violence expressed in the stories. For instance, we are all somewhat implicated in supporting a capitalist global economy that enables things like war or sex trafficking, but we seem to be more directly implicated in, say, the violence against the animals used for food if we choose to eat meat, dairy or eggs. This made me think a lot about how these stories are received and how the experience of those experience pain, violence and trauma may be obscured and/or sidelined when others are reacting to these stories with guilt, defensiveness, etc.
I assume most of you heard the awful news about the bombings in Boston, and the explosion at the fertilizer plant in West Texas. Two devastating instances of death, injury and loss in U.S. news this week, along with many other local reports of violence, I’m sure. I’ve heard a lot of talk this week about “The End of Days” and questions about what the world is coming to. There is no doubt that this violence strikes close to home and shakes our feeling of safety and security. And we naturally search for ways of understanding and making sense of it. As I’ve been trying to make sense of this news, I couldn’t help but ask myself what acts of violence, death, and mayhem were going un- (or under-) reported in light of these tragedies at home. So, I did a search on other bombings and deaths around the world, and came up with this article from the Associated Press. The article, “Boston Attacks are Reminder of Violence Elsewhere,” reminds us that this week, there are horrific instances of violence involving mass deaths occurring this week in places such as Syria, Iraq, Somalia, Bahrain, Central African Republic, Afghanistan, and Pakistan. As we engage in mourning the deaths and injury occuring in the U.S. this week, let’s also include in our hearts and thoughts the 120 killed daily in Syria, the 55 Iraqis killed Monday in a suicide bombing in Fallujah, the more than 30 people killed in Somalian bombings on Sunday, the 20 people killed in the Central African Republic (including the bombing of a church), the deaths of a family of 8 in a roadside bomb in Afghanistan on Monday, the deaths of those involved in Pakistan’s elections this week, and all those who have been victims of violence, murder, rape, human trafficking, kidnapping and torture around the world. As I go through the week, I keep hearing whispers of disbelief, “These kinds of things don’t happen HERE” as if this kind of violence is normalized in other parts of the world, but not in the U.S. But the truth is that these kinds of things happen everywhere and when we bury our heads in the sand about violence elsewhere in between reportings of mass shootings and bombings in the U.S., we risk not making any change. When we do not actively work against the violence of war, the violence of labor conditions, the violence of mass incarceration, the violence against animals in every way they are used and exploited, and the violence against every distant other, we perpetuate a system so thoroughly rooted in violence that these things can’t help but continue to happen.
So, I send out warm thoughts of love, compassion and non-violence to those in Boston, those involved in the accident in West Texas, those in the Middle East and elsewhere who are suffering from loss, trauma and injury. May you all find some peace.