The third annual March to Close all Slaughterhouses was held in Sydney on June 4. The march is part of an international event that began in Paris about 10 years ago.
This event is both a solemn reflection on the abuse and exploitation suffered by millions of animals every day and a celebration of the increasing number of people choosing a cruelty-free lifestyle around the world.
Former Triple J presenter and member of punk band Frenzal Rhomb Lindsay McDougall gave this speech at the march.
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I want to start by taking you inside the life of a living being in a slaughterhouse.
She was born here or near here. She's never been anywhere else. Grew up here, running around these fields. Was fed here, became mature here. Her parents aren't around anymore, though they never really were. But she wasn't alone, she spent a lot of time with others just like herself. Not quite family, not quite friends.
She vaguely remembers happiness, but that is a distant memory. These days, it's just death and pain all around her. She's seen so much, heard so much on the inside of those heavy doors.
Every day it's the same. It's crowded and hot. There's nowhere to escape. There's nowhere else to go. It's all she knows. There are brawls, scuffles, violence. The more powerful ones brutalising the weaker. No one notices. No one does anything. There's no one coming to help them.
A couple like her died last week. She saw hooks through necks, or bodies crushed in machines. She can't remember exactly, it all blends into one bloody mess.
Sometimes, as the sky darkens, she wonders if this is all there is. If this is as good as her life gets, or if one day she'll make it out of here. Or will one day she be the one on the end of the hook or between the clutching cogs of the machine.
It doesn't seem fair. She's a living being. A living, feeling being.
But that is the life. The dark, horrible life, of a human being who works in a slaughterhouse.
Now don't worry, I care about non-human animals too. Deeply. When I went vego and then vegan back in the '90s — incidentally, before it was cool — I didn't know anything about the lives of slaughterhouse animals. Or maybe I did, but it was at arm's length — a scene in a movie or an article in a newspaper. It took a bunch of people who knew better to educate me, to lift me out of my innocent ignorance.
I grew up in the Sutherland Shire, less than an hour from here. Sydney was a city, even then, full of vegetarian options and vegan menus and your choice of various bean and nut milks and activated almonds. Actually no, activated almonds have nothing to do with saving animals. If you activate an almond you're saving yourself, not an animal.
Anyway, because of where and when I grew up I was lucky, I had opportunities — to meet like-minded people, to get together, educate, organise, to be here on a freezing Saturday.
What do you think it's like living in Corowa? Or Merungle Hill? Thirty-eight per cent of households in Corowa live on less than $800 a week; 33% below $600 a week. This is households, whole families, not students doing an Arts degree and living in a sharehouse in Camperdown. This is a place where 30% of people leave school at the end of Year 10.
So what? You did that too. Yeah, but you're here. Look around us. Sure it's expensive and cut-throat and Mike Baird makes you go to bed at 10pm every night, or to the casino. But you've got opportunities. These people don't. Or they're not being told about them.
Of course, that's just the people who were born there. Some abattoirs have up to 70% of their workforce on 457 visas and secondary visas, which offer no security and leave them open to abuse and getting ripped off because without that job, it's hard to stay in the country. Of course, as a result there have been reports of those workers being paid even less than the dwindling home grown workforce.
Of course, in these places, the horrible stuff does not just happen at work. It's not just a lack of opportunities — it's downright unsafe. There is a map on the NSW government website that has broken NSW into local government areas, and coloured them in darkening shades of blue depending on the level of domestic or family violence there.
Sydney's not too bad, although I imagine around the casino it gets darker. As you go outside Sydney the blue colouring gets darker and darker, as more people are committing more violence against their own families.
That is a messed up place to live. There's nothing else to do, you don't have the escape of cities or universities and you're more prone to violence or having violence done to you. There's nothing to do, you're getting angry, bored and violent. And then, guess who's hiring?
But those companies that own the slaughterhouses don't care about their workers. Workers go just above cows and lambs and pigs and chickens on the list of stuff they can abuse to make more money.
You've heard the stories. All the jobs requiring any "talent" are now done by machines. You're just standing there chopping or gutting or on some other brutal part of the line. The line has to keep moving, 24 hours a day — faster and faster.
We are rightly outraged when we hear stories of animals not being "correctly killed" — as if there could ever be such a thing — or lying there dying while the blood of their brother and sister animals drips on them from overhead. But forget about the animals, these places don't even care if their workers get hurt.
Injuries cost money. Reporting injuries costs money. There are signs that say "Zero injuries in a week and you get a free BBQ". Which is a whole new level of wrong in itself.
These companies are obviously not in the "humane" slaughter business, they're not even in the "humane" employment business.
So, I guess what I'm saying is “Yes, I'm with you,” I want violence and cruelty towards all animals to stop. All animals.
One thing about becoming vegan the way I did is that I learned how to educate myself. For example, I learned that being vego isn't enough, so I went vegan. But I also learned that if you care about animals, you have to care about humans. We are animals too, and a lot of us, for very similar reasons to our non-clothes wearing and non-talking animal friends, are being exposed to cruelty and violence.
Meat-eating people like to use the argument "If you close the slaughterhouses, what will you do with all the animals?".
And sure, we'll have to work that out — although I reckon the animals will be okay; they get on remarkably well without us — but what about the humans? The workers who, through no fault of their own, are inside those killing buildings. Pushed inside in a figurative sense the same way a cow or pig is literally pushed in. Forced to be a part of that bloody machine, with all the physical and mental problems that go along with it.
We cannot even treat our returned soldiers properly when they come back from a war. These people are shooting, killing, slicing, boiling, skinning and eviscerating living things all day long, until they themselves are spat out at the end of their usefulness.
People who learned their trade on oil rigs or coal mines have skills that can be used on solar farms or wind turbines or a giant hydro-electricity plant. They have skills that will be useful in a future utopia. But what about the women and men in slaughterhouses? What are they going to do? Put a bolt through a potato? Boil the skin off a pumpkin? Actually that could be useful...
Anyway, we all know why we're here. We are chanting loudly. But the thing is, vegans can sometimes be very focused on the horror they're fighting and forget that there are other humans wrapped up in it who are affected. And it can make us look a little bit like dicks.
The thing is, we don't need to look like dicks.
It's becoming clearer that we've got the upper hand. They're getting scared. The best pie in Australia, as awarded three days ago, is a vegan vegetable curry pie! Officially the best, according to some non-vegan website. Did you see Kochie's reaction on Sunrise? Sure he's a greedy commercial TV shill, but he was outraged — because we're getting the message across.
Last year the best burger in the US was also vegan. People are realising that being compassionate does not mean being boring, or earnest, or being a prick about it. Being compassionate and cruelty-free means living a great and full life, and simply wishing the same for all living things.
So, let's close the slaughterhouses, we all know that's the right thing to do, and more than likely will happen. But let's remember, when we're talking and chanting and marching about saving animals, to include all the animals. To include all of us.