United Poultry Concerns June 26-27, 1999


The conference grew out of a debate that appeared in two issues of The Animals' Agenda on the use of legal vs illegal actions, and strategic violence vs strategic nonviolence as animal liberation methodologies (Katie Fedor, Freeman Wicklund). Although "direct action" implies illegal activities, the term was more broadly interpreted at the conference in order to explore and encourage additional and alternative philosophies and approaches. Some of the presenters discussed bringing animal issues into the schools (Zoe Weil) and the churches (Norm Phelps) and taking the vegetarian message and plight of animals creatively "to the street" (Pam Rice). The importance of affirmative speech on behalf of animals, as opposed to an apologetic mode of discourse--"I know I sound like a nut, but . . ."-- was presented (Karen Davis), along with the importance of conducting a well-organized action of whatever kind (Debbie Leahy, Rich Griffin). Kim Stallwood and Dean Smith talked about the history of direct action in Britain and in the United States, its pros and cons (in their respective views).

Issues of Direct Action were particularly illuminated by two different videos that were taken of recent animal rescues. Patty Mark, a presenter from Australia, showed her team's highly organized ministering to and rescue of battery-caged hens. The video showed the hens' faces up close. This powerfully captured their suffering and the gentleness and firmness of the rescue team, who make a point of contacting the police and getting arrested, thereby putting factory farms visibly on trial before the public and in the courtroom.

In contrast, Miyun Park showed a video of a break-in rescue at the University of Minnesota by the Animal Liberation Front. This video showed rescuers dressed in black "batman"-like outfits and masks. The various animals being rescued from the research laboratory were filmed at a long distance angle. Whereas the Australian direct action showed suffering, empathy, compassion, a trained team, and extremely skilled use of the camera, the ALF video captured a less mature, more egotistic, less compassionate-looking rescue: there was no involvement between the ALF rescuers and the animals they liberated as there was between the rescuers and the hens in the Australian video. Conference attendees overwhelmingly chose the Australian operation and the style of activism it embodied over the characteristics depicted in the ALF operation. Attendees were virtually unanimous that the Australian video was a model of the kind of activism that, aired, would move and educate the public, whereas the ALF video, with its batman outfits and focus on the masked rescuers instead of on the animals, would have an opposite effect on mainstream viewers. (Another difference was the screams of hens entrapped in wires and manure in the battery facility, and the rescuers' effort to extricate them, vs the antiseptic laboratory setting of the University of Minnesota rescue, where the cruelty is harder to convey.)

The conference brought face to face some key activists who have disagreed philosophically and strategically about the use of violence, working within the system, and so forth. It put these people together in the same room, in some cases for the first time. Advocates familiar with philosophic disputes aired on the Internet, but uncertain of where they personally stood, had a chance to meet, hear, and question opposing activists. A passionate, sometimes heated, but never hateful atmosphere prevailed. Respect for all presenters and viewpoints was shown throughout the conference.

Certain issues that were aired were (and can only be) unresolved, such as whether vandalism is a form of violence or whether the definition of violence should be restricted to the infliction of injury on living beings as opposed to damage to objects--vandalism. A significant distinction, with apparent consensus, was that between stealing (inanimate property) and rescuing (innocent victims).

Presenters raised questions concerning outspoken criticism from within the movement of philosophies and practices that are, or have come to be, renounced by those critics. For example: "We've decided that ALF rescue operations are not for us (anymore), and we think it shouldn't be for the rest of you either." A point about direct action is that it is already a tactic which involves law-breaking, and thus requires justification. When animal rights advocates attack direct action, they are saying to the public, "Yes, I support rights for animals, but not at the expense of the law." It makes the public, who tend to feel that animal liberation is a fringe issue anyway, think, "Gosh, even some articulate supporters of rights for animals don't think it's a big enough deal to support law- breaking." Bruce Friedrich asked: Would we really find abolitionists denouncing the underground railroad or members of the Confessing Church arguing that Anne Frank's family should be given up, in the spirit of openness? (Material in this paragraph is from Bruce Friedrich, "Presenting a United Front: The Power of Cohesion in the Struggle for Social Justice"). Such questions exemplify the key issues that were raised and debated at the conference--issues which the conference was designed to bring forth.


Roundtrip Airfare $2,673.00
Patty Mark from Australia $1,635.00
Freeman Wicklund from MN $354.00
Katie Fedor from MN $484.00
Richard Griffin from Boston $200.00
Catering of Vegan Dinner for 95 people
Saturday, June 26, Sunset Beach Inn caterers
Motel Accommodations
11 speakers ranging from one to two nights
Half-page ad for Conference
The Animals' Agenda Mar-Apr
Sundry other expenses including camera-ready ads,
mailings, Chesapeake Bay Bridge
($20 roundtrip from Norfolk International Airport),
lunch, snacks, coffee, sodas, etc.
Total $7,382.00


Evaluation forms were mailed with business reply envelopes immediately following the conference to the 94 participants (excepting UPC president, Karen Davis). Participants were asked: what did they find most valuable and why; what did they find least valuable and why; their overall estimation; the effect this conference would have on their future activism; topics they would recommend for future UPC conferences; additional comments. Twenty-six people have replied as of August 18, 1999. Every reply emphasized the value of the conference for the movement and for that individual personally. The majority urged that a conference be held again next year and/or annually. Several people considered the highlight the opportunity to meet and mingle with our sanctuary chickens and ducks. A few people wished there had been more food. All in all, the evaluations are an endorsement for future conferences on specific themes such as achieving movement unity, "Animal Pride," getting our message into the schools, and the role of sanctuaries in animal rights.

Future UPC Forum Under Consideration

United Poultry Concerns is considering a conference in 2000 on "The Role of [Farmed Animal] Sanctuaries in Animal Rights." Issues to be discussed would include 1) purchasing animals such as "spent" hens or factory-farmed turkeys for the sanctuary and publicly admitting this method of obtaining them; 2) illegally rescuing animals for the sanctuary and publicly admitting this method of obtaining them; 3) the primary goal of the sanctuary: public education including tours vs giving a home to abused animals and perhaps restricting or avoiding tours out of respect for the animals' privacy; 4) Considerations before starting a sanctuary, including kinds, numbers, mixtures, and sizes of animals. 5) Adoption policies and procedures including (a) accepting animals into the sanctuary who have been rescued illegally and (b) criteria for adopting out animals including follow-up oversight of adopted-out animals and retrieval of animals found to be improperly cared for by the adopter; 5) vegetarianism as a policy and program component of the sanctuary.

This conference would be a Saturday conference at (probably) the Sunset Beach Inn, about 20 minutes from United Poultry Concerns. It would conclude with a Sunday morning visit to United Poultry Concerns' chicken sanctuary and a Sunday brunch. It would probably be held in late Spring. Presenters would be directors of sanctuaries such as Farm Sanctuary, Pigs Sanctuary, Poplar Spring Farm Animal Sanctuary, Humane Farming Association, Wilderness Ranch. (This is a provisional and hypothetical list only, at this time.)

The next conference will charge a higher registration fee: $50-$100 (instead of $20) and have fewer presenters (4 or 5 instead of 13). In addition, the Sunday brunch will be catered by local activists who have already offered to do it.

United Poultry Concerns is grateful to the following organizations and individuals for their financial assistance for the 1999 Forum for Direct Action for Animals: PETA, American Anti-Vivisection Society, Fund for Animals, Zoe Weil, Debbie Leahy, Kim Stallwood, Franklin Wade, Liqin Cao, Jean Lauren, Miyun Park, and Pamela Rice. This list includes those presenters who graciously assumed their own travel expenses. United Poultry Concerns wishes to thank everyone who attended the conference and who contributed financially and otherwise to its success.

United Poultry Concerns, Inc.
PO Box 150
Machipongo, VA 23405-0150

(Review: UPC Forum on Direct Action for Animals - June 26-27, 1999)