Why the masks? A reflection on Anonymous for the Voiceless

Anonymous for the Voiceless is a crew of animal activists in Melbourne raising awareness about the ‘meat’, dairy and egg industries. Every Saturday for several months they have been in Melbourne’s CBD showing people what happens to individuals in the Animal agriculture industry. To do this they use video footage largely shot in Australian farms (courtesy of Aussie Farms, PETA, and other groups).

In Animal activism the use of footage showing industry practices is pretty standard. Anonymous for the Voiceless have added a unique aesthetic style and meaning to this method through the use of Anonymous symbolism. I think its an interesting form of awareness raising and have joined the group several times to help out.

Somewhat surprisingly I have heard the method and the aesthetic being criticised by people from outside and within the movement. The criticisms commonly include:

  • Showing violent video footage in the streets is possibly damaging to potential viewers, unnecessary and too aggressive. It’s nothing but a shock tactic.;
  • Why use the Anonymous masks, it seems cowardly to hide behind them; and,
  • It’s irresponsible to show the footage in such a way because kids can walk past and see it.

anon-voiceless2As someone who has spent time with the Anonymous for the Voiceless crew I’d like to provide my perspective in regard to these criticisms. I share my thoughts not in an attempt to shut down any criticism (I think constructive critique of our movement is vital in order to do a better job for animals!), but rather to provide a personal account of what I find good about this method of activism.

Critique 1: Showing violent video footage in the streets is too aggressive.

Response

  • Many people have no idea what happens to others to satisfy their food choices and the Anonymous for the Voiceless demonstration helps create awareness. It is an opportunity for people to be exposed to footage that they would otherwise never see. There is no cajoling or goading to make people stop and watch, they are free to do as they please. They have the choice to watch or walk away. Many simply walk past without a second glance, others stop and watch for 5-10 minutes.

Critique 2: Why wear the masks?

Response

  • There are people who deal with public engagement and outreach who are not wearing masks. The masks are symbolic and aesthetic. They represent the thousands of anonymous people who are standing against the violence and oppression of non-human animals in factory farming. We stand there not only as ourselves but as a movement against the atrocities perpetrated against non-human animals.
  • The mask make it more comfortable for the public to stay and watch the videos for longer periods of time. It also hides any facial reactions and possibly judgement that people might feel. The activist becomes an impersonal symbol and prop, rather than someone judging others.
  • Many vegans are intimidated to be involved in advocacy because of the aggression and negativity others express when they speak about the abuse of animals. The mask allows a barrier to protect volunteers from this negativity and to help them become comfortable and confident in their advocacy. There are people who have never done advocacy in the group who started with an anonymous mask and now feel comfortable to interacting with the public without the mask. That is a win in my books!
  • When 8-12 people are all standing in a square with masks on it creates a fantastic aesthetic and spectacle. Many people come from a long way down the street to see what’s going on only to stay, watch and engage with the footage.
  • Another wonderfully benefit of the Anonymous symbolism is that it has helped create a connection with the wider anonymous community. A group of Anonymous activists who support many justice issues have been introduced to animal rights and now include animal advocacy in their repertoire of causes.

Critique 3: It’s irresponsible to show kids this footage.

Response

  • Anonymous for the Voiceless demonstrates in public space and it is up to parents to monitor what their children see. Many families come up and discuss the footage with their kids, others walked straight past. It is their choice. No one is ever forced to watch the videos. Although, my observations suggest many kids get the message more than adults. They often ask their parents questions about what they see, and I will always remember the gentle words of a small boy who said ‘sorry pigs’ as he was moved along by his dad.
  • It is arrogant to think that younger people are not capable of thinking about and comprehending this issue. The abuse being shown in the footage is what most children will be contributing to because of their parents choices. Many parents are forcing their children to become complicit in the mass abuse, torture, oppression and killing of other individuals. If a child sees something they disagree with and then makes a choice to not be involved in it we should respect that choice. I know many vegans who as children learnt where animal flesh comes from and made the decision to stop eating it, from as young as 5!

From behind the mask I have seen many sharp intakes of breath, half turned heads and pained looks of conflict as people recognised that the footage they are viewing is something they contribute too. Most encouraging is when someone makes the decisions to go vegan after seeing the demonstration. That’s what makes it worthwhile for me.

anon-voiceless1

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3 thoughts on “Why the masks? A reflection on Anonymous for the Voiceless

  1. This is a well written and well thought out piece! I’m hoping to participate in a demo this weekend, and reading what you wrote here actually gives me strength to do it.

    Cheers from Boston, Massachusetts

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