I have decided not to accept speaking engagements at conferences if DxE is also on the platform. The major reason is that I believe it works as a cult. I don’t want to be the draw that brings a vulnerable person to an event to hear me, and they become introduced to DxE.
DxE stands for Direct Action Everywhere. It is a group based in Berkeley, and closely associated with Berkeley Organization for Animal Advocacy, a University of California organization that facilitates DxE access to the university, the Berkeley Animal Rights Center, and Vegans of the Bay, which provides a form of social media recruitment. DxE became well known by its street theatre, its interruption of people dining on dead animals at restaurants, its protests at grocery stores. Last year over 40 people, including two people who were in the top leadership, left the DxE network. They issued “Steps to Healing Our Community,” as a way of reaching out to reform DxE.
To any present DxE members who are reading this: I know it is difficult to consider that DxE is both a counterproductive organization for your activism as well as cult. Your experience and your commitment will make you want to reject criticism of the group. I would ask that you read one of the general articles on identifying if you are in a cult that you can find at the end of this blog.
About DxE, you can ask yourself:
· Is there a sense that there's so much work to be done “for the animals” that you feel pressured to spend most of your free time working on DxE projects and attending DxE events?
· Do you feel guilty for having a job outside the movement or because you don't do enough "for the animals"?
· Do you feel you can never do enough for DxE?
· Are you spending most or all of your free time with other DxE members, either working or socializing?
· Do you spend time with friends who are not in DxE? Did you take the Liberation Pledge (that you would not eat with people eating flesh), and did this result in you not seeing friends and family you otherwise loved?
· Do you volunteer/ work with other animal rights organizations or do you only spend time on activism with DxE?
· Have you put aside your discomfort with some actions/activities or tactics because you believe you must do that "for the animals"? Are the events you attend really about the animals or about obedience to the organization?
· Have you set aside your own gut feelings in favor of the judgment of the group's leaders?
· Have you come to believe that only this group can “save” the animals?
· How is the leader referred to? Is any one leader seen as essential to the animal liberation movement? Is any one leader called an “angel,” or “the key to animal liberation”? Is it thought the DxE cannot function without this specific leader?
· Though a process suggests that dissent is encouraged, have you noticed what happens to people who dissent about a topic, or in a manner, that the leader does not like? Is there a fear and suspicion inculcated of dissenters who have become labeled “infilitrators” or is it implied that they are “mentally unstable” or “shit-talkers”? How does the leader interpret dissent? Has the leader ever investigated those who disagree?
· Do you know who raises the money, as well as who controls the money?
· What are the bylaws of your group and who can change them?
· Is conflict resolution consistently followed?
· Can you state clearly the purpose of the organization, its activism, and its relationship both to animal liberation and veganism, the daily enacting of the ethics of animal defense?
You should know that DxE has adopted church like tactics to build community, not just singing songs and houses where members lives together, but more importantly “DxE Connections,” appears to be modeled on the Mormon Home Teaching Program. Imagine your name on a spreadsheet with detailed info about who from DxE you met, what you did, how it went, and with a list of every event you attend. Imagine being in competition with others for the most DxE events you attend. Without realizing it, you are simultaneously being monitored and funneled toward a certain kind of activism with just one group.
As we know from many right-wing churches, a closed community—in which there is veneration for a male leader, where there is actually no freedom to disagree, or to succeed at challenging leadership—is a community that is cultic. The practice of call-in culture and the use of the language of restorative justice hides the fact that keeping everything internal for DxE has led to secret keeping, sexual abuse, and enables an undemocratic decision making process. They lack the potential to truly enact restorative justice and true problem solving; things that should be discussed, explored, exposed, are instead treated in a way that closes off dissent.
It is immaterial whether the leadership recognizes that they are a cult and has worked to establish DxE in this manner or has inadvertently created this cultic organization. The results are the same. The corollary to loyalty to a leader is public denunciations of those who have dissented. Dissent is punished by demonizing, marginalizing, retaliating and harassing the dissenters. I am concerned about the culture of fear I repeatedly heard that functions to suppress dissent and the dissenters.
There is no one answer to activism for dismantling animal oppression. Whenever it is claimed that any organization is irreplaceable, or is the most important one, or is the answer to animal liberation, we are in problematic territory for it cannot be so. Why? Because there are diverse ways that animals are oppressed, and diverse ways in which animal oppression intersects with other social oppressions, (see Aphro-isms, Sistah Vegan and Neither Man nor Beast for instance). No one organization is the answer, especially ones with an unchanging core leadership.
DxE is not original in its activism; what it does has been done by other animal rights groups. In the past few years DxE has moved into Open Rescues. Open Rescues, first enacted by Patty Mark in Australia, was introduced to activists in the United States at a conference on direct action in 1999 organized by United Poultry Concerns. Virtual reality—another emerging tactic—has been developed and used by other groups.
The move to the more popular and news-grabbing “Open Rescues” has introduced new problems. What happens to the animals “saved” in Open Rescues? Have animals died through their rescues? Are the sanctuaries to which the animals are taken given the financial support that the animals will require? Who monitors the decisions of where and who to rescue? What sorts of criticisms by DxE have now occurred against sanctuaries?
Besides the issue of relationships with sanctuaries, in some areas, DxE has been accused of usurping, hijacking, and/or bashing activisms by local grassroots organizations. Failure to respect the tactics and practices of independent grassroots organization is a sign of lack of solidarity.
There is nothing DxE is doing that other groups aren’t doing. There is nothing DxE is doing that it innovated doing. If you believe your organization is both original and irreplaceable, yet the facts suggest otherwise, your loyalty may have been obtained as a result of something other than its ostensible purpose.
It is hard to see the world differently than the dominant culture. Because of our beliefs about the oppression of animals we may feel alienated, depressed, lonely, or isolated. We are all committed, in one way or another, to building community to overcome these feelings. Community also provides a place to land for those beginning to question the dominant culture. But in deliberately recruiting vulnerable people, DxE offers them a closed cult community, not a liberating one.
I have been accused of suppressing the voices of women of color by even considering refusing to speak where DxE is speaking because these women would be disinvited by my actions. But problematically over and over again as I researched this, I heard this statement, “DxE is not a safe space for black people.” In addition, I heard reports of the tokenizing of brown and black women of color by DxE. To this, it is countered that many key people in the organization are people of color. But, especially in the United States, as Pax Ahimsa Gethen points out, “while all PoC are subjected to white supremacy, black and brown folks in the U.S. have a very different experience of racism than those of Asian descent, and those experiences need to be listened to and respected.”
If you recognize your experience in one of those descriptions of cults in the links, please know that there is life after DxE and that there are people who will support you in your departure. Don’t wait for the current core leadership with their charisma and control to change: Just walk away. You are capable of organizing your own groups and doing the kinds of work that are important to you. If you support Open Rescue you can do Open Rescue. If you support picketing grocery stores, you can still picket grocery stores. It will not be a tragedy for the animals if DxE dies, and it would not be a tragedy for animals if the current leadership were forced out. The only thing that will happen if DxE doesn’t exist is that we won’t have people damaged by their practices anymore. I have talked to many activists who have left DxE. One thing I heard repeatedly, “I find it hard to believe that I once…”
It’s not that I won’t appear with someone I disagree with. In the animal rights movement, I have done this for decades. It is that I won’t facilitate their abuses of vulnerable young animal advocates who stumble upon DxE and think they have found the answer to their emerging activism. I cannot allow my speaking to enable their recruitment.
My boycott of these events where DxE is also a speaker may seem counterproductive, as it silences me. But this is the direct action available to me.
Are you in a cult?