Direct Action Everywhere
Direct Action Everywhere (DxE) is an international grassroots network of animal rights activists founded in 2013 in the San Francisco Bay Area. DxE activists started with disruptive protests but now also use non-violent direct action tactics to further their cause, such as open rescue of animals from farms and other facilities and community building. Their intent is to build a movement that can eventually shift culture and change social and political institutions. DxE activists work for "total animal liberation" and the creation of a law requiring "species equality."
DxE was founded in 2013 by a handful of people in the Bay Area who decided to protest inside restaurants and stores, rather than outside, which was more typical of animal rights protests. DxE co-founder Wayne Hsiung had been investigating slaughterhouses for ten years prior to founding DxE with the goal of scaling up open rescue and other forms of non-violent direct action.
DxE's first action occurred in January 2013. Six activists demonstrated in front of a meat counter at a Sprouts Farmers Market, contending that the items being sold there behind the counter were not food but "the torment and suffering of billions of our friends in factory farms and slaughterhouses."
DxE continued organizing protests inside restaurants and stores, citing the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and ACT UP as influences. In August 2013, DxE activists organized the Los Angeles side of an international multi-city protest, The Earthlings March. Approximately 40 cities and varied activist groups participated in the march.
In October 2013, in response to a viral video produced by Chipotle called The Scarecrow, DxE organized in-store “die-ins” at three San Francisco Chipotle restaurants. DxE argued that the ad, which advertised Chipotle’s purported efforts to create a more natural and humane food system was “humanewashing,” which animal rights activists describe as marketing efforts intended to disguise the inherent violence of using and killing animals for food. Within a few weeks, copycat demonstrations were executed in Chicago, Los Angeles, Phoenix and Philadelphia. DxE responded by creating a platform for coordinated global days of action under the “It’s Not Food, It’s Violence” message.
DxE has continued with internationally coordinated monthly days of action. In addition to Chipotle, activists have also targeted other grocery stores, restaurants, clothing stores, zoos, circuses, and labs. The original actions were organized around the San Francisco Bay Area. By December 2014, DxE's network had grown to at least 90 cities in 20 countries.
Whole Foods campaign
Beginning in the summer of 2013, DxE activists Wayne Hsiung, Chris Van Breen, Priya Sawhney, Brian Burns, and Ronnie Rose began an investigation with an aim to start DxE’s Open Rescue Network. DxE selected U.S.-based natural foods grocery store Whole Foods Market as the target of the investigation because the company allegedly “actively shap[es] the public’s view of animal agriculture with false marketing.”
The activists selected Certified Humane Whole Foods egg supplier Petaluma Farms in Petaluma, California as the target of the initial investigation. At one point, activists encountered a diseased hen who had collapsed and was struggling to breathe and removed her from the farm. They named her Mei Hua (Chinese for “beautiful flower”) and made her recovery a centerpiece of the ensuing campaign and imagery. Another farm owned by the same company was later the subject of a similar video filmed by a former employee. When asked for comment about that particular break-in after DxE's release of their initial video, the Sonoma County Sheriff's Department stated that a full investigation was underway, but that the farm appeared to be performing at "industry standards."
DxE released a 19-minute video of the investigation, “Truth Matters,” on YouTube and Facebook in January 2015 and received coverage in several international media outlets, including the New York Times and Mother Jones. For several weekends following the investigation, and every month thereafter through early 2016, DxE chapters in several dozen cities organized protests inside Whole Foods stores, challenging the company’s “Values Matter” advertising campaign. Whole Foods announced new egg-laying standards shortly after the release of the investigation video.
Over the course of 2015, a larger team of activists investigated Diestel Turkey Ranch, one of only three companies, out of over 2,000, to achieve a 5+ rating on the 1-5 scale used by the Global Animal Partnership, Whole Foods’s animal welfare rating scheme. Activists recorded video apparently at a Diestel-owned farm in Jamestown, CA, showing filth, overcrowding, and birds dying as infants. Diestel added a brief mention to its website of its Jamestown farm following the investigation.
DxE released another investigation in November 2016 into Jaindl Farms, a Whole Foods farm that has supplied the White House with Thanksgiving turkeys since the 1960s rated in the 98th percentile of animal welfare according to an animal welfare audit. The activists released footage of birds with mutilated beaks, struggling to walk, and crowded to the point of repeated trampling. Two Huffington Post reporters visited the farm on invitation of Jaindl's owner and found that while severe injuries were uncommon, turkeys had visible sores.
In November 2015, DxE became one of the most visible backers of a new action known as the “Liberation Pledge,” with co-founder Wayne Hsiung authoring a piece in the Huffington Post announcing the pledge. According to the website liberationpledge.com, the pledge is as follows:
"The pledge is simple:
One: Publicly refuse to eat animals - live vegan.
Two: Publicly refuse to sit where people are eating animals.
The pledge was considered controversial upon release, including criticisms regarding food justice concerns and by potentially isolating vegans who take the pledge. Several prominent figures in the animal rights movement, including Anita Krajnc of the Toronto Pig Save and Keith McHenry of Food Not Bombs took the pledge, with McHenry declaring, "We must stop the eating of animals." Wanyama Box creator Nzinga Young defended the Liberation Pledge, writing, "when I spend time in safe spaces with sacred people, I don’t want to see carnage."
In July 2016, DxE released an investigation into Farmer John, a Hormel subsidiary and supplier to Costco, Safeway, and the LA Dodgers based just outside of Los Angeles. The investigation documented the use of carbadox, an antibiotic identified by the FDA as a carcinogen and recommended for removal from the market. The activists argued that similarity between animal and human biology inevitably led to potential crises like antibiotic-resistant bacteria.
Following the Farmer John investigation, DxE activists repeatedly interrupted LA Dodgers baseball games to protest the team's touting of Farmer John's "Dodger Dogs" hot dogs. Activists in LA, Colorado, and the San Francisco Bay Area jumped on the field during plays at several games with banners declaring "Dodgers Torture Animals" and "Animal Liberation Now." The activists tied their protests to Farmer John, protesting the promotion of "torture and death of animals."
DxE followed up its Farmer John investigation by investigating a cage-free egg supplier to Costco. Costco had been a key leader in the 2016 trend of food companies committing to shift to a cage-free egg supply, but, according to DxE, the investigation raised questions about the state of animal welfare after that shift. In response to the video released by DxE, the supplier claimed that the activists had committed a "break-in and trespassing" and that "The video does not show what truly goes on in our barns and appears to be staged for production effect". All birds inside the farm were destroyed due to the contamination risk the activists had introduced into the farm, according to the supplier. Activists staged protests at Costco stores around the country following the investigation.
Open rescue expansion
In December 2016, DxE open rescue projects began expanding beyond the Bay Area when members in Toronto released an investigation of a pig farm. The project was followed up by an internationally coordinated rescue with animal advocates in Sweden, Germany, and Australia. In April 2017, DxE activists in Colorado conducted an investigation of a cage-free Sprouts Farmers Market supplier.
In 2017, activists with DxE entered Smithfield Foods-owned Circle Four Farms in Utah and performed an Open Rescue on two piglets subsequently named Lucy and Ethel, which triggered an extensive multistate FBI hunt for the two baby piglets. A video taken by DxE that coincided with the Open Rescue at Circle Four Farms has been called inaccurate by a spokesman for Smithfield; the video purports to show mistreatment and abuse of animals at Circle Four Farms. In November the same year, a group of DxE activists, which included actress Alexandra Paul, claimed to expose animal cruelty and neglect at Zonneveld Dairy, a Land O'Lakes dairy supplier based in California, which included "young calves living in filthy hutches, unprotected from record low and high temperatures between 19 and 110 degrees Fahrenheit, suffering from pneumonia, diarrhea, open sores, maggot infestations, and infections." The team of activists performed an Open Rescue on one sick calf, later named Roselynn.
In September, 2017 DxE organizers attended a small-scale poultry processing class at Long Shadow Farm, a 6-acre farm in Berthoud, Colorado specializing in pasture-raised chickens. Led by DxE Organizer Aidan Cook, under the name of "Denver Baby Animal Save" the group entered the property masquerading as volunteers and took three chickens, after asking to hold some of the birds and being assisted in doing so by the farm owners' 8 year old daughter. Opinions on the actions vary, with DxE organizers and members claiming to have "rescued" the birds, while the farm owners considered it "theft". A DxE spokesperson stated that "even if the animal rights group could have saved more chickens by purchasing them, the group opposes buying into a system that hurts animals." Two of the chickens that were taken were carriers of mycoplasma, a highly infectious respiratory disease in poultry. The Larimer County Sheriff's Office is investigating several felony allegations including trespassing, attempted theft of livestock and theft of livestock.
In May 2018, a Utah prosecutor filed felony charges against six DxE activists stemming from an undercover investigation into brutal conditions on a turkey farm in Moroni, Utah which serves as a supplier for Norbest. The DxE investigation found "tens of thousands of turkeys crammed inside filthy industrial barns, virtually on top of one another." The activists rescued three turkeys suffering from disease or injuries and were on the brink of death. The charges include two felony theft charges that carry possible prison terms of five years each.
One of DxE’s most central campaign topics has been its ongoing campaign against companies who claim to sell products with superior animal welfare standards, such as Whole Foods Market, Chipotle and small family farms. Through investigations, public statements and writings, protests, and livestock theft, DxE has alleged in many cases that such companies are lying about the actual conditions on their farms and/or suppliers’ farms. DxE also believes that it is impossible to raise and kill animals in a humane way.
DxE’s leaders include a number of students of social science and DxE organizers aim to use social science in persuading others to join their protests and self-proclaimed rescues. DxE has published articles on the evidence for nonviolent civil resistance based on the work of political scientist Erica Chenoweth, the importance of social ties based on the work of sociologist Doug McAdam, and the importance of mobilizing masses of ordinary people based on research by network scientist Duncan Watts.
Activists and writers associated with DxE have criticized the animal rights movement’s contemporary focus on creating individual vegans and celebrating consumer products like vegan ice cream rather than focusing on activism and changing social and political institutions. DxE argues that the individual focus is less effective than trying to change institutions, since the individual focus does not lead people to do more once they stop using animals personally. Instead, DxE argues that activist groups should push people to take action so that the movement grows more quickly. Activists with DxE have argued that nonviolence is in principle a practice of anger toward systems and compassion toward individuals and that a protest movement will be more successful by focusing on governments, corporations, and other institutions rather than making individual consumers defensive by attacking them personally.
DxE’s blog has argued that consumer vegan options also distract from the actual threat to animals, allowing companies that are hurting animals like Whole Foods to avoid criticism and leading animal rights activists not to take action against them. In a debate with Rutgers philosopher and animal rights theorist Gary Francione, DxE co-founder Wayne Hsiung stated that “activism, not veganism, is the moral baseline.”
Wayne Hsiung cites as an inspiration for DxE the work of Patty Mark, an Australian animal rights activist and founder of Animal Liberation Victoria (ALV). ALV activists popularized the tactic of going into farms in the middle of the night without disguises and filming the conditions inside. The tactic stands in contrast to the more common form of investigation in the U.S. animal rights movement in which an investigator poses as a farm worker to film using a hidden camera. Open rescue activists emphasize that their approach allows the portrayal of individual animals’ stories since activists can focus on animals in the farm, and to rescue animals who would otherwise die of disease document their recovery. It also touts open rescue as a form of activism anyone can undertake, offering the possibility and goal of thousands of open rescue teams across the country.
Open rescue has been criticized by one such smaller, "humane" company that has been the target of DxE's use of the tactic. Petaluma Farms, a distributor of eggs for Whole Foods, was investigated and the subject of a highly publicized campaign and open rescue of DxE's. Jonathan Mahrt, an employee of Petaluma Farms and son of Petaluma Farms' owner Steven Mahrt, said that "My dad’s take is that it’s a sad day when farmers and ranchers have to be concerned about security."
Inspired by both activist networks and street theater groups such as Improv Everywhere, DxE mobilizes masses of activists to creative protest in prominent public spaces. Early actions in DxE’s history include a guerilla poem, a “freeze” at a prominent mall, the disruption of a screening of American Meat with the stories and images of companion animals, and numerous other creative efforts.
Notable network-wide protests have included an effort in the summer of 2015 to incorporate dogs, cats, and other companion animals into protests as a symbol of human support, connections, and equality with animals. DxE also issued the #DisruptSpeciesism and #DogMeatPlease viral video challenges in September 2014 and 2015, respectively, which garnered social media fame when videos by DxE organizers Priya Sawhney, Kelly Atlas, and Jenny McQueen went viral.
Public event disruptions
Activists within the DxE network have undertaken a number of prominent disruptions of public figures. In August 2015, Iowa activist Matt Johnson asked New Jersey Governor Chris Christie about his veto of a widely supported bill banning gestation crates for mother pigs that the public widely regarded as cruel. Johnson also asked Christie about his prosecution of animal rights activists (see Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty) and general opposition to the cause. When Christie rebuffed Johnson’s questions, Johnson leapt on stage with several other activists and a banner demanding “ANIMAL LIBERATION NOW.”
Johnson staged similar disruptions along the campaign trail, including at Iowa campaign events by Ohio Governor John Kasich and former U.S. President Bill Clinton and an appearance by former Hewlett Packard CEO Carly Fiorina at the Iowa Pork Producers. Fiorina replied to Johnson’s protest by condemning him for protesting for animals and not the lives of unborn children. Several activists from Iowa and Indiana also interrupted a Republican family values forum on the eve of Thanksgiving and the release of DxE’s Diestel Turkey Ranch investigation video.
In January 2016, activists interrupted a speech by Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf at the 100th anniversary of the Pennsylvania Farm Show, saying that there was no reason to confine and kill pigs, chickens, and cows when it was not okay to do that to dogs or cats. DxE activist Zach Groff has stated that DxE aims to ensure that any event or public figure “promoting violence against animals” is the target of a protest interruption.
Direct Action Everywhere has received criticism from vegan and non-vegan consumers, and the shops and farms they have targeted. Benny Johnson of the Independent Journal Review has called their protest tactics in Berkeley "bullying" in regards to graphic Berkeley protests in the summer of 2017. Alice Waters, proprietor of the Chez Panisse, was a target of some of these protests and called them an "outrage" and that the DxE protestors "need to do their homework". On the subject of these protests and the protesters' knowledge of humane food, the Director of Operations for Certified Humane, Mimi Stein, said in an email to the Washington Post that “DxE is attempting to undermine consumer confidence in products which are in fact ethically produced and businesses working in good faith to reinvigorate a very desirable traditional business model...Shame on DxE!”
In May, 2018 Hsiung and four others were charged in Utah with burglary, livestock theft, and engaging in a pattern of illegal activity (felonies); and engaging in a riot (misdeameanor). They were identified after posting high-quality video online of taking pigs from a Smithfield Foods facility in Beaver County, Utah.
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