Earlier this week, I witnessed a pigeon get run over by a car. Eric and I were in the car on our way to get some dinner and we noticed a pigeon in the middle of the street, wings flapping, struggling to right herself, clearly injured. In one instant, we took in the scene — the struggling bird in the middle of the street, feathers scattered everywhere. In the next instant, a car came whizzing by — oblivious to this creature’s plight — and flattened the pigeon into the pavement. The bird was dead. None of the other people around seemed to notice. The driver who killed the bird didn’t even brake; they just zoomed on, racing to get through the traffic light before it turned red.
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I’m not sure when exactly, but some time, years ago, I entered into a state of perpetual mourning. I’ve talked to many activists and thinkers about this topic and most agree that when you open your eyes and see the world in all its violent messiness, when you see your own implicatedness in others’ suffering, when you see the colossal task before you of working against this suffering, you mourn. Mixed with this mourning is anger and disbelief (maybe a twinge of apathy and hopelessness) and if we’re lucky, sometimes, hope. Through all of this, though, there is mourning.
When I read Judith Butler’s books Precarious Life and Frames of War for the first time, I found language to understand this state of perpetual mourning. Grief is not merely a self-indulgent practice in wallowing in our emotional responses to devastating circumstance. Grief is a political statement. Grieving someone whose life and death is typically seen as ungrievable makes a statement that that individual life and death had meaning and value outside the system of capitalist accumulation. To mourn the pigeon run over by the car is to make a statement that all animals — even those commonly dismissed as ‘pests’ — are individuals with lives and deaths that matter. To mourn the cow used for dairy in her last moments before she collapses and dies at the auction yard makes a statement that her life was important. That these individuals were important. Not as producers of milk or a source of ground beef, not as ‘pests,’ but as fellow creatures making their way through the world.