The Fellowship of Life
a Christian-based vegetarian group founded in 1973

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We have a dream

A report on the Smithfield demonstration and rally held on 4 December 1988

“Twenty-five years ago, a man stood before a crowd of thousands in Washington and said, ‘I have a dream’. The man was Martin Luther King. The dream was a dream about justice. That dream changed the history of an entire continent, if not the whole world. Today, we also have a dream. A dream also about justice, not just for human beings but for all creatures.”

These were the opening words of the Reverend Dr. Andrew Linzey’s stirring speech at the VSUK rally in Hyde Park on 4 December 1988. He spoke to the crowd of demonstrators who had marched from the Earls Court Exhibition Centre, where the Royal Smithfield Show was taking place, to Reformer’s Tree in Hyde Park. And even as he spoke, the rosettes were being ripped from the blow-dried, primped prize-winners of the UK’s largest fatstock show and the animals were herded from the show-ring to the slaughterhouse.

Demonstrators gathered outside the Exhibition Centre at 12.00am, with banners and posters on display. Six wreaths were presented to officers of the Royal Smithfield Club by Mr Maxwell Lee (VSUK Chairman), Mrs Kathy Silk (VSUK Deputy Chairman) and representatives of the Young Vegetarians and the Young Indian Vegetarians. The wreaths commemorated the 556.5 million animals slaughtered for food each year, and the ceremony was relayed on BBC and ITV News programmes throughout the day. The BBC cameras followed the demonstration as we marched to Hyde Park, a pantomime cow and the Big Red Band leading the way. Veggies, the catering organisation from Nottingham, gallantly ran up and down the marchers selling hot samosas and spicy potato cakes, fruit juices and puddings to keep us all going. A big ‘thank you’ to them and to the banner-bearers – especially one poor man who relieved someone else and then didn’t get relieved himself!

Leaflets and broadsheets were handed out to passers-by as we marched along Warwick Road, Kensington High Street, Kensington Church Street, Notting Hill Gate and Bayswater Road.

At Hyde Park we made our way to the area of open ground known as Reformer’s Tree, where Robin and Amanda Hoyle had spent the morning erecting a stage and PA system. Then the rally began. Maxwell Lee welcomed everyone present and spoke about the Smithfield Show – how we had turned our backs on that celebration of death, looking forward instead to the day when a small band of meat-eaters will demonstrate outside a national vegetarian food and farming show. He introduced the speakers, each of whom spoke for five to ten minutes: John Mitchell (Deputy Treasurer, VSUK), Ann Harriman (currently working with Animal Aid’s youth section), the Rev. Dr. Andrew Linzey (author of ‘Christianity and the Rights of Animals’), and Carol Royle (TV and stage actor who gives much of her spare time to helping VSUK campaigns).

Ann Harriman has been campaigning within the animal rights movement for over 10 years; former Youth Education Officer for NAVS, she addressed the rally on the subject of Choice! Choice!, as I hope you are aware (if not, where have you been recently?), is a joint campaign by VSUK, Animal Aid and the Athene Trust, for better vegetarian meals in schools. It was launched last November and has received wide attention in the media. Ann spoke of the success of the SCREAM campaign and Animal Aid’s work with youth groups throughout the country. The future of the movement is in the hands of those who are now at school and the way forward is through their education. We should be encouraged by their commitment and enthusiasm.

John Mitchell changed gear with a rather more cynical look into the future, in a speech which he described to me afterwards as one “which Ben Elton would have been proud to have written – but not put his name to”. He suggested that the Government would shortly be privatising the Green movement, and that we would all be up for grabs in the New Year. Meat-eaters would need to present a prescription upon ordering their McDonald’s burgers, to cover the hormones, antibiotics and miscellaneous other chemicals they currently consume without their doctor’s sanction. And Mrs Thatcher would finally confess that the idea that she was becoming ‘Green’ had its roots in a typing error (the ‘n’ should have been a ‘d’…). John closed on a happier and more serious note; he urged everyone to support the forthcoming Vegetarian Convention in Liverpool on 14 July, 1989.

I have already quoted from the Rev. Dr. Andrew Linzey’s speech. He echoed John’s concern for “a really Green Government” and “a day when every McDonalds will be a vegan co-operative”.

“We have a dream that one day all animals will live free of injustice and cruelty, free of mass slaughter and the butcher’s knife. We have a dream that one day animal business will be no business, that every factory farm, every slaughterhouse, every butcher’s shop will be no more and each and every battery cage will be empty…We have a dream of a world where…the starving will be fed as all the world can be fed without waging war on living creatures.”

Carol Royle fought her way out of the underground car park beneath Hyde Park to reach the rally in time to speak for us.

“It is absurd, both morally and practically,” she said, “to allow cruelty to continue to line the pockets of people who pretend that they are working for the greater benefit of mankind. We do not need to kill to live… it is merely conditioning that makes us think and act as we do – and I think that we should fight to re-educate, recondition. I believe, perhaps naively, but I do, that once we have, we will respect and love each other better too!”

The demonstration and rally received perhaps its widest-ever coverage by the media this year. The Sunday Times that day headed their piece ‘A bold foray into the lion’s den’ – “vegetarians could hardly have chosen a less edifying place to be today than the Royal Smithfield Fatstock Show. It is the nadir of the year for them… (their wreath presentation) is in the great tradition of heroic ineffectiveness. (!) Long may it continue.”

As well as the footage on BBC radio and television and ITV news programmes, (lunchtime and evening), featuring a prominent interview with Maxwell Lee, VSUK’s demo was covered by The Independent, The Telegraph, The Post, The Daily Express, Capital Radio, four out of the following five Farming Today (R4) programmes, the World Service, LBC radio, the farming papers and many regional newspapers.

The show gives us the opportunity to make the connection clear between the clinically-packaged, bloodless joints of meat on display in the supermarkets and the huge scale of animal suffering and exploitation. With our presence, it is impossible to deny any alternative to this out-dated carnivorous practice. I wanted us all to be there, to show our strength and our health in numbers greater than ever before – whether you came or not, we’d be interested to hear your views about the demonstration.

To finish on an optimistic note, did you know that this year, for the first time, an animal welfare organisation had a stand at the Smithfield Show? The Humane Slaughter Association (I know, I know, it’s hardly Animal Aid yet) were invited to take a stand, free of charge! Perhaps the meat trade is getting a little hot under the collar?… it’s a very small step, but we all know what little acorns do!

To quote Andrew Linzey one more time:

“We have a dream that one day the only thing hanging in Smithfields will not be carcasses of animals but heads of shame, the only thing running in Smithfields will not be the blood of animals, but the tears of slaughterhouse workers; and the only thing showing in Smithfields will not be defenceless creatures but human grief and repentence.”

Thanks to everyone who took part – marchers, marshals, speakers and organisers.

Gillian Egan

From the March/April 1989 edition of The Vegetarian with thanks to the Vegetarian Society: www.vegsoc.org

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