May 1st, 2012
Bearing Witness - A guest blog by Anita Krajnc, Co-Founder of Toronto Pig SaveBearing Witness to Help We Animals
“When the suffering of another creature causes you to feel pain, do not submit to the initial desire to flee from the suffering one, but on the contrary, come closer, as close as you can to him who suffers, and try to help.” – Leo Tolstoy, A Calendar of Wisdom
Bearing witness is the beginning of awareness. You see realities by being present. The distressed animals are here and now right before your eyes. You refuse to turn a blind eye! You look, you come closer, and you try to help the individuals before you.
Toronto Pig Save holds weekly vigils. We bear witness to the pigs in transport trucks on their way to Quality Meat Packers slaughterhouse in downtown Toronto. You can immediately discern confusion, fear, and pain in their captivating eyes and in the scratches and gashes on the bodies of these gentle souls from rough handling. During transport in summer’s extreme heat and humidity, pigs gasp for air, make horrid vocalizations, and foam at the mouth. Some die of heat stroke and heart attacks. During winter’s dreadful cold and added wind chill on the highway, pigs huddle for warmth and comfort. Many develop frostbite and hypothermia, and some – incredibly – freeze to the side of the trucks.
Looking at the pigs, touching their snouts as they push through the air holes to nudge and sniff our hands, hearing them grunt to communicate with us and each other, strengthens our resolve to do all we can to help them.
Jo-Anne McArthur’s images, posted here on We Animals, are a testimonial to her vivid experiences and a call-to-action. She writes: "We must bear witness to suffering. It creates fire in our hearts, and a desire to change that suffering. Not just a desire, an absolute need. When you connect with those who suffer, you have to act. Please don’t be afraid to bear witness. It will change your life. And it will change the lives of those who suffer. I know that most people don't really want that kind of change in their lives. It's scary. Please step beyond your fears. I will go with you! For the animals, for the environment, we need this change.”
The connection made with these innocent and defenseless animals will occupy your brain. They will make you a part of them – We Animals! It is natural to identify with their suffering and their plight and to want to help them. Bearing witness can be life-changing. It can motivate you to make a major commitment. It may even result - as in Jo-Anne’s case - to your devoting your life to their liberation.
PTSD and bearing witness as a group
Volunteering to bear witness to animal suffering can be a source of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PSTD). During Jo-Anne and Karol Orzechowski’s trip to Laos in late 2011, they witnessed many caged, emaciated and starving macaques being bred for laboratory research in North America and Europe. Having to leave them behind in these deplorable conditions caused them acute pain.
This witnessing of extreme cruelty and injustice, while being unable to help individuals seemingly within your reach, tears you apart, as Tolstoy described in his first visit to a slaughterhouse: "Long before this, when reading that excellent book, The Ethics of Diet
, I had wished to visit a slaughterhouse, in order to see with my own eyes the reality of the questions raised when vegetarianism is discussed. But at first I felt ashamed to do so, as one is always ashamed of going to look at suffering which one knows is about to take place, but which one cannot avert; and so I kept putting off my visit."
Bearing witness as a group, or taking unforgettable photos for the world to see as Jo-Anne does, is a source of strength, helping to address the problem of PTSD. Sue Coe, an animal-rights artist, is a strong advocate for witnessing as a community: “For the animals it’s like looking into the sun too long—you’ll go blind. So, if you have any feeling for animals, if you are in a slaughterhouse you will go blind—in the way that you cannot deal with it—and, so, the more we see of these images, we cannot see them in isolation. We have to see them as a group because if you take it in isolation it becomes … a form of madness. And that’s why we as a community need to witness this as a group, and share this, and that’s part of the end of murdering of animals… that’s part of the end of it.”
Bearing witness together touches the collective spirit. It nourishes community support while sustaining the activists and building the movement. The public and even workers involved in animal slaughter can be positively affected and moved by love-based approaches to witnessing, so critical to building a massive, grassroots movement for animal rights and social justice. It also makes the individual grow stronger, as Ramakrishna recognized in the nineteen century: “But my heart has grown much, much larger, and I have learnt to feel [the suffering of others].”
Many have experienced this strengthening and transformation since the founding of Toronto Pig Save. I have acted as witness more than ever in my life, yet—paradoxically—I feel stronger than ever. When Jo-Anne shares with others what she’s witnessed through her indelible photography and activism, we envision eventual, resultant social change and We Animals are all stronger!
Being active in the struggle against the extreme animal, environmental and human exploitation pockmarking the world, helps dissolve one’s depression. Change happens when we create grassroots, mass-based, democratic movements with shared leadership that show solidarity across species as well as borders.
Let's keep building this global compassionate movement until it encompasses everyone!
Joanne O’Keefe, a Toronto Pig Save activists, says: “Look into their eyes together with us and strengthen your dedication to fighting for them with all your heart. Look into their eyes and know you’re doing the right thing by exposing the truth to others.” Join us!
Join us in bearing witness. Help make this a Gandhian, love-based, mass movement like the civil rights movement. Join us on the streets and on Facebook, Twitter, and other social media. Encourage others to become involved.
In the words of Asmaa Mahfouz, a young woman who helped ignite the Egyptian democracy movement, “You know your own social circle, your family, your friends, tell them to come with us. Bring five people or ten people… and talk to people and tell them, this is enough!”
Bearing witness is about being altruistic and showing kindness and compassion. There is nothing to gain but the spiritual strengthening about which Ramakrishna and Tolstoy write. It’s the selfless kindness that nonhuman animals regularly show in their sympathy, generosity and forgiveness, as Professor Marc Bekoff testifies in The Emotional Lives of Animals
. It gives new meaning to the word human – we become part of We Animals.