Regan Russell’s death by a transport truck carrying pigs to slaughter has affected many in this community and new activists have joined the movement because of her death. “That is part of Regan’s legacy—a lot of animals were saved in her name. A lot of new people went to vigils. There were worldwide vigils when she died. I watched the livestreams and there was a woman in Chicago who went to a vigil in the middle of the night because they do vigils at live markets and sometimes the animals are brought in at night. She said, ‘I’m here. What brought me out was the horrific death of Regan.’ I found that so moving. Regan has inspired people around the world to do more.”
Before Regan was tragically killed, Animal Save Movement requested a meeting with Fearmans (where Regan was killed) because there were concerns about Brussells’s aggressive truck drivers putting the activists at risk. They even petitioned the owner to come up with a safety agreement, but their requests were ignored. The Ontario government also bears responsibility for passing ag-gag Bill 156 two days before Regan was killed, which made the truck drivers even more aggressive.
There were several activists at Fearmans the day Regan was killed—all put at risk because of the diabolical driver who stopped his truck in the wrong lane, forcing the activists to bear witness while standing between the truck and a lane of traffic on a busy street. Once the activists had moved back to the sidewalk, Regan stepped out on a green light to cross the entrance to Fearmans, which is when the truck driver accelerated into a right turn from the outside lane and struck her. One activist saw the horror unfold before her eyes. How does one live with that memory? How does one move past it?
Anita shares, “I think the way she’s coping is through activism. The psychologist said to take time off, take time out to heal and then come back. And that’s what she did. I think most people took time out. We asked all the witnesses not to come to vigils. Some of them insisted on coming back sooner. I think organizing for the animals is something that helps with healing as well.”
Activism is difficult and often thankless work, but it’s the primary force for change. As Margaret Mead said, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”
Those who attend vigils are briefed before, asked their names, and debriefed after the event. Books are recommended, such as Aftershock by Pattrice Jones. The community takes care of and supports each other; they socialize and take part in lighter forms of activism, such as vegan outreach and attending VegFests. Anita adds that she feels the success they achieve also plays a role in balancing the trauma they experience with street-level activism.
“From the day they’re born, animals are traumatized. When we bear witness, we witness just a small part of their lives and it’s devastating and traumatic for us. We take on some of that suffering just by learning their story. That’s how the world changes. If we look away, if we’re oblivious, then that story is not told, and the injustice continues longer. So, unfortunately, social change takes suffering. In terms of trauma for activists, there’s no question we’re suffering from secondary trauma. What counteracts that is community.”
With Regan’s death, the fervent hope is that it will not be in vain. “When there’s such horrible tragedy, you act; that’s the counterpoint to it.”
Anita, along with Jenny and Peter McQueen, have written Regan’s Principles:
R: Respect everyone including the animals, activists, the public, and employees of the industry.
E: Every interaction with the public needs to be positive. They just haven’t come around yet. You are an ambassador for a new just and nonviolent vegan world.
G: Give everyone the opportunity to hear and learn about what we are doing.
A: Always be disciplined and take care of each other.
N: Now that Regan is gone, may her teachings be your guide. Take people under your wings and bring them to bear witness.
Animal Save Movement has a code of conduct for its activists, and it’s something they put into practice when faced with haters. “When we started, we were very much informed by Leo Tolstoy, Gandhi, and Martin Luther King. The idea is you return love for hate, kindness for meanness. If you return hate for hate, what happens is you add more hatred in the world, and it just becomes this vicious circle. But if you return love for hate, you’re more likely to change the dynamic. It really de-escalates things. That’s our approach, and it keeps the focus on the animals, on building community rather than right vs. wrong.”
Anita is proud that Animal Save Movement is seeing an increase in representation from the BIPOC community. “Because I taught social media strategies and tactics, I know that if you run comprehensive campaigns with five or more tactics, you’re more likely to win. One winning tactic is to have a representative organizing team. You reach more audiences that way. That’s why we’re successful in Mumbai. Varun, our Director of Digital Media here in Toronto is from India, and he knows people that I don’t have a connection with. We all have our own networks based on our backgrounds and our experiences. By having a representative team, you can reach into all these areas, which is very exciting for us, and it’s better for the animals. I’m one person in a big team.”
If you want to become active in the animal rights community, consider attending a vigil even if you’re not vegan. As Anita states, many people are convinced to give up animal products after bearing witness their first time. It’s powerful work.
Here are other ways to get involved.