When Andy Stepanian and Dara Lovitz gave a talk on SHAC7 and the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act (AETA) at NYU Law School on Tuesday, most of the audience came half-expecting to hear a legal seminar (Lovitz is the author of Muzzling a Movement). Almost no one expected to laugh or cry with inspiration before the talk ended, although almost everyone did. (We interviewed Andy before this event.)
This was not a speech or a classroom teaching. Dara spoke so candidly about the absurdities of animal enterprise terrorism laws that even the law students had to start laughing with her. Andy spoke so painfully earnestly to everyone that few had dry eyes by the end of the talk. No one walked away depressed, though, as the duo were determined to show everyone exactly how much potential we all have to effect positive change, despite how much money and effort the animal enterprises dump into making us feel powerless and small.
Dara, the lawyer, spoke first. And the takeaway of her talk wasn’t “the history and overview of AETA,” but rather just how impressively unconstitutional the AETA is, and how it managed to be drafted anyway. She explained very frankly how a series of unconscionably illegal laws culminating in AETA were pulled over everyone’s eyes through passionately written passages. Passages about how animal activists victimize dying people who can only get a cure through animal testing. Passages that literally say that we owe so much of our lives to the selfless people in charge of the factory farm industry. And she put us face to face with how so many of our senators and policymakers are CEO’s and beneficiaries of devastating animal enterprises.
Dara Lovitz, left, and Andy Stepanion, right. Photo by Robyn Lazara.
When Andy spoke, most anticipated hearing intense stories about how he boldly protested the animal testing giant Huntingdon Life Sciences (HLS), and how those bold actions got him jailed as a terrorist. He nipped that in the bud right away by saying it wouldn’t do anyone any good to recall stories that make him seem so “badass” as he put it. After pointing out how much he was dressed as Mr. Rogers and that he’s remarkably un-badass, Andy spoke disarmingly openly, in an attempt to answer everyone’s questions as well as he could despite being so muzzled by legal restraints. During the talk, he was constantly torn between telling us what we needed to know, and not wanting us to be scared into silence by the information he has.
He constantly pointed out how animal enterprises want us to fall into the trap of, “Wow, did you hear what happened to Andy? It’s crazy how much the federal government, huge industries, and millions of dollars went into crushing him and his rights because of his stand against animal testing!” Andy explained how falling into that trap leads to spreading fear, and making people hesitant to take a stand because they don’t want to end up a victim like Andy. So, instead of regurgitating what happened to him, he consciously chose to cut off such stories and instead focus on exactly why huge industries and powerful policymakers are so willing to spend so many resources on fighting animal activists. The ultimate reason is that these powerful giants truly care about what people have to say, and are truly scared of what we do say, because they know we all have the power to take them down. HLS eventually admitted that Andy and the other six SHAC defendants, through their penniless protests, caused HLS to lose over $360 million and the ability to be publicly traded in the stock market. After driving this point home, Andy pointed to us all and asked us to think about how much a classroom full of determined individuals can do. Or two classrooms full of such people. Or even just you.
The biggest message of all, though, was that all the money-grubbing companies, the big industries, and the power players were immensely fearful in their paper palaces. Fearful of losing money, of losing power, of being exposed for what they are. And that love and compassion are their biggest enemies. Because an act of love and compassion towards a helpless lab animal can set you free and make you feel more love and freedom than almost anything you can imagine. And that’s simply a feeling that companies like HLS cannot afford to let anyone feel.