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You Are Just a Number:
Human Branding to Connect to Animal Oppression

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You Are Just a Number:
Israeli Demonstration ’269′ Presents Human Branding to Connect to Animal Oppression

From Free From Harm
October 2012

On October 2nd, three activists branded a number on their bodies as a sign of solidarity with the animals who are being kept and killed in the farming industry. The video got more than 160,000 views in three weeks.

brand, branding, oppressionThis event stems from a deep desperation many activists have and seems to come right at the time when people are more receptive to animal rights talk, as a result of all the media interest in the subject. The event was talked about throughout social networks and on the web, but I was interested in a personal view of one of the activists. I contacted Sasha Boojor, an animal rights activist and one of the three who got branded. This is an interview with him.

Sasha Boojor is 27 years old and lives in Tel Aviv. He is hoping to one day communicate his animal rights views through art.

Tell us a little about yourself and your life as an AR activist.

My memory of the transition into veganism feels a little foggy, as other events from my teen years. I felt especially miserable back then, isolated and detached from my surroundings and different from other kids. The change into veganism occurred thirteen years ago, after a vegan classmate pinned a pamphlet to the school’s message board. I then decided to take a bus to Tel Aviv and went straight to the organization that produced the pamphlet, where I watched videos about factory farming. After that, my life had a definite and unquestionable goal: animal rights.

Sasha Boojor
The idea for the 269 campaign has been with me for many years, but I never really felt it was doable until another activist named Zohar agreed to join along with several other dedicated activists — unique individuals living by their beliefs. Such a complex and intense event couldn’t be done without their time and expertise and also their ideas and planning.

What is this 269 campaign really about?

Humans are weak-minded and are influenced less by logic and more by very basic biological manipulations. For instance, we find it hard to relate to an oppressed group and easier to relate to single individuals, especially infants. That is precisely why we chose to make a calf the symbol of our campaign. Our message can be easily spread by just using this calf’s name, sadly given to him by his captors. That name is 269.

It’s funny how something so basic as sticking a piece of hot metal on a human body can create such a complex message, which then compels people to react in a novel way. It creates dissonances that they cannot just simply ignore.

What made you want to take a part in it?

Perhaps the fact that throughout my life I was very much alone helps me relate more easily to other outcasts of society (non-human animals are at the bottom of society’s totem pole). My family immigrated to Israel from the former USSR, just when it was all crumbling down. Being that we are Jewish, my family presumed to be accepted here and finally free from the racism experienced in Russia. Sadly though, that was not the case and as many immigrants know, it’s not easy to assimilate into a new culture.

The idea for the 269 project stemmed from years of built up frustration, from not been able to communicate my deep feelings of sorrow for the sickening way in which farm animals are exploited. Unfortunately, people seem to display more empathy towards an injured human and almost none at all when they encounter a non-human animal in distress and in severe pain.

Though the Nazis got many of their methods from the farming industry, it’s clear that the images evoke associations with the human Holocaust. Is that on purpose or is that just a reflection of reality? What would you say to a Jewish Holocaust survivor who was branded by Nazis and saw your video?

It’s very organic and logical that if you just strip down some layers and expose the basic structure of this [farming] industry, you can easily see that it is the exact process and madness that drives the same atrocities against humans. The Holocaust associations were not unintentional. This whole project has been on the drawing board for a very long time, but it came alive only after all the basic pieces of this project had been decided upon.

The amazing thing is, people who actually saw the depths of the violence, sadism and apathy that people are capable of are more inclined to feel empathy towards those who suffer as they did. I always think of what the Holocaust survivor, Isaac Bashevis Singer wrote: “In relation to [animals], all people are Nazis; for the animals, it is an eternal Treblinka”

Do you think this project is good for the animal rights movement in terms of PR even though it might attract negative attention — the media calling you “extreme” or “fanatic”?

It always amazes me how distorted this existence is. How much we all lack proper perspective and that includes the AR movement. Instead of working together to change the underlying problem, each group chooses a cause that fills some sort of need and no real attempt is made to build a long-term plan to make a real and radical change. Instead, they focus on closing down some negligible farm or lobbying for years on end to get some minor welfarism law passed.

In my eyes, where our movement has placed its goals is ridiculously low. We’re in a state of deep stagnation, the animal holocaust grows exponentially with each passing week and we’re still relying on the same pointless, ineffectual methods that make us such an irrelevant voice for the animals. No matter how many meat-outs you might organize outside your local Walmart, it won’t affect the bottom line: meat consumption is on the rise in India and China, two nations who have already long passed the billion people population mark, and nobody seems to think that maybe our strategy needs some reconsideration? I think it is time to beat this disastrous status quo. It’s time to take responsibility for our actions as activists and no longer think on such small scale.

I believe also that the nature and style of our protest must reflect the thing which we’re fighting against. Even though at first people might seem unaccepting of a radical message, in the long run it’s the most effective way to bring about real lasting change.

Why is this project so important?

Because it has endless potential as a drastic animal liberation message and because it has many different aspects that help break the common excuses and false rationalization people so often hide behind to avoid taking real responsibility for their actions.

What do you think about the AR movement in the present?

The AR movement is in a deep state of complacency. There are very few activists who truly organize, build and promote new ideas and campaigns. The focus now seems to be in creating a comfortable lifestyle and lead a “normal life” instead of owning the harsh words they never hesitate in spreading in regard to animal exploitation. The fact that Zohar and I had to fly Oleg here from Moscow says it all, that there weren’t enough willing activists here.

Mostly, I feel that people in Israel view veganism as a lifestyle choice and not as a struggle for liberation. There are very few activists here that can truly be trusted to help out when needed. It is tremendously frustrating and sad. I don’t have much firsthand experience with the movement in other countries, but it seems that other places have it even worse. One of our major goals is also to inspire vegans into action. It is so sad to think how much power we have as a community but no real motivation and fighting spirit for those who have no voice.

Tell us about November 1st and how people from around the world can get involved.

November 1st is known as World Vegan Day, when thousands of AR activists around the world will scream the same uncompromising and unapologetic voice that cannot be ignored and will hopefully inspire further AR events as well. The plan is to immortalize this one doomed calf, by tattooing the left arm and by staging a demonstration in several countries that will form a reminder of the branding process that was used in the human Holocaust. There are already hundreds truly dedicated activists, who will get tattooed on this day and we invite people to join us virtually by going on our website, 269life.com or Facebook page, 269life.