12 Apr Melbourne City Centre Shutdown
It’s been five days since we saw Melbourne’s bustling city centre grind to a halt as part of the nationwide coordinated Dominion Anniversary actions, and the dust is just beginning to settle.
On Monday April 8th 2019, at around 7am, Vegan Rising peacefully occupied the intersection in front of Flinders Street Station, stopping traffic and disrupting the ordinary flow of society. As activists secured the location by locking onto vans which blocked the movement of traffic, others began to congregate on the area holding signs which proclaimed their profession and the number of years which they had been vegan. Their message: People from all walks of life are denouncing speciesism and actively standing against the violent and exploitative systems that profit from using animals. There is no excuse to continue to perpetuate and contribute to these systems of violence.
Monday’s actions saw countrywide coordination between multiple different individuals and animal rights groups, including Vegan Rising, Aussie Farms, Justice for Captives, Melbourne Sheep Save, Animals Activists Australia and Legion DX, all of whom shared an urgent message. We are currently in the midst of an animal and climate emergency and people need to wake up before it’s too late.
The actions aimed to disrupt the status quo, from the city streets to the slaughterhouses themselves, forcing this issue into the public consciousness in a way that could not be ignored. We aimed to reach the state and federal agriculture ministers, the government and the public to give them no choice but to acknowledge their contribution to systems of violence and oppression towards other animals. Additionally, the actions spotlighted the film Dominion, highlighting that the practices of exploitation that occur every minute are no longer hidden from the public and that we have no excuse not to act and rebuild a world which treats all beings as equal.
The impact of the Dominion actions was instantaneous and widespread, making the front page of local and international news with an outpouring of critical and supportive media which continues on, five days later. Animal rights is on everybody’s lips, with search terms for ‘vegan’ and ‘Dominion’ skyrocketing following the action and the film itself being viewed upwards of 52,000 times in 48 hours. Almost all major print, digital, television and radio news outlets covered the action and the prime minister himself has spoken out against us, although his description of us as ‘Green Collared Criminals’ seems more likely to act as a rallying cry than as a deterrent. With all this media coverage, both positive and negative, it seems fair that many people are asking, was this action a success? Or even, is this the right way to do activism?
Disruption as a tactic has historically been divisive, with examples such as the Civil Rights movement demonstrating that activists who embrace disruptive actions are likely to be doubted and criticised not only by the public but by members of their own movement. Disruption, as the name suggests, is a tactic that aims to polarise society by forcing an issue into the discussion, subverting the mainstream narratives in society and tilting the world on its axis to force its ugliness into plain view. As such, although it is often non-violent such as Monday’s actions, disruption will never be something that can be considered polite or comfortable as its primary objective is to inconvenience and temporarily restrict the movement of society. In this way, Monday’s actions are a perfect example of disruptive action, shutting down the ordinary operation of one of Australia’s primary metropolitan areas and forcing millions of people to have a discussion about animal rights and come face to face with the tension and discomfort that exists in society surrounding our exploitation of other species.
So there’s no question that Monday’s actions sprung from a long history of nonviolent resistance with disruptive activism being utilised by movements throughout time and all over the world, with notable examples including the Montgomery bus boycotts, freedom rides and lunch counter sit-ins during the American civil rights movement and the similar methods employed by the suffragettes which included rallies, strikes and lock-ons as just a few of their tactics. Throughout all of these movements and many others, independent strategists have determined that peaceful disruptions are a tactical goldmine, creating a rift in the fabric of society which allows new discourse to enter into the mainstream and begin to take hold. Monday’s actions follow on from this rich tradition in the way that they staunchly stood against the expected way of doing things, creating protest that operated in the way protest is meant to: by making an issue impossible to ignore by the people whose responsibility it is to make change.
In pushing the boundaries and breaking through the monotony of the urban hustle, a door of opportunity has been opened for the entire movement. With animal rights on the agenda like no other time in recent history, it’s time for the whole movement to take a step forward. It’s time for those who have been unsure to take their first steps towards fighting speciesism, for those who consider themselves moderates to share the more radical views that are stewing in the back of their minds and for the radicals amongst us to get organised and absorb the momentum from this action. Monday April 8th has come and gone but it is only the beginning. The impact continues in what we do next and it is up to all of us to take on the challenge to build this movement to its full potential.
Animals are resisting their oppression every day and their acts of courage are all the motivation we need to keep fighting. If they can fight, if they can believe there is something worth fighting for, then it is our honour to fight by their sides every day until the violence ends and our world is free.