I’ve attended one vigil. The Save Movement has been holding vigils for years with the goal of bearing witness, offering comfort and leading our world to a more compassionate place.
My reasons for attending were simple. I want to be a better activist, better able to amplify the voices of the marginalized.
But, as a human, of course my reasons were also more complicated.
You can think about numbers (or, you can at least try–math has never been my strong suit!). We know that billions of sentient, feeling, curious and brave animals are slaughtered every day so that humans can consume their bodies, and the products that come from those genetically engineered, mutilated, used-up bodies.
But what does this mean?
Looking into the eyes of a pig who, an hour from now, will be dead gave me a new understanding. The pigs on the truck waiting to go into the slaughterhouse were all different–some had clearly given up, their eyes lifeless and tired. Some were yelling and fighting, not willing to give up just yet.
“To every creature their own life is very dear” ~ Mahavira, Jain saint
As I spent time with the pigs I thought about my friends at Uplands PEAK Sanctuary in Freedom, Indiana, who are every bit as bright, inquisitive, and valuable as the beings on this horror truck.:
Petals, who we believe ran for her life from a small farm.
Isaac, who has mobility issues because his body was bred to be someone’s dinner, but who thrives with individualized care and love.
Erica, who flops over on her side for a belly rub when one of us comes near.
And Hank, the small piglet who took a flying leap off a transport truck and hit the jackpot, now spending his days rooting in the soil and napping with his friends.
I also thought about my Stellaluna at home, my best friend. Many of us can relate to the deep and abiding love for a canine companion. Luna wakes up each morning excited to be alive, to see what comes next. She gets tangible, profound joy from a breeze full of mysterious smells. Lu has taught me about being honest and true and positive. She is one of the most beautiful souls I know.
In the ways that matter, Luna is no different from the individuals waiting to go inside Park Packing.
I thought about our species which has worked so hard to become disconnected, teaching our children that this is acceptable. Believing ourselves that this is normal, natural and necessary.
This is not normal, natural or necessary.
I hadn’t anticipated how difficult it would be to watch my new friends loaded off the truck: the small girl with the brown face who’d been resting among her friends just minutes before; the pig with the eye injury; those beings so desperate for the water and the kindness we’d provided.
We sang, and we chanted – to the animals and to the workers. We spoke in English and in Spanish. The employees doing the dirty work are often people with incredibly limited job prospects; slaughterhouse work is one of the most dangerous types of employment, both physically and mentally.
When you spend your days slashing throats, what do you take home with you?
What we do to these beautiful, feeling individuals, we do to ourselves. I believe we are seeing the output of this violent and corrupt system throughout our communities and our country and our world.
Whatever the word is that describes the feeling beyond helplessness is what I felt.
If I’m honest, one of my reasons for attending the vigil was more selfish. I am not a perfect person, although I’ve spent hours and days and years wasting energy in the impossible quest for perfection. I knew that seeing those individuals and experiencing profound helplessness would somehow keep me from ever slipping out of veganism and into “ethical vegetarianism” again.
Standing on the ground that cold Chicago morning, I felt the brokenness of our world. And, yet, that feeling was strangely comforting. The mistakes of the past are a waste of time. The only direction to face is forward. I let go of the impossible quest.
I won’t forget the individuals I met that day and I continue to carry the experience with me. For more, watch my video from on the ground that cold Chicago morning:
Allison Hess holds a Bachelor of Science in Animal Behavior from the University of Michigan, a Master’s degree in Education from Indiana University, and certification in plant-based nutrition from the T. Colin Campbell Center for Nutrition Studies. As a 2018 graduate of Main Street Vegan Academy, she speaks on the horrors of animal agriculture and offers services for folks transitioning towards vegan living. Allison is board president of Uplands PEAK Sanctuary, Indiana’s first sanctuary for formerly farmed animals. Allison has lived in Bloomington, Indiana for 20 years following geographical sabbaticals to Portland, Oregon and her hometown of Cincinnati, Ohio. Website. Instagram: @allhess.