My 'Animal Awakening'
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FROM Randy Shields
April 2019

36 years ago (April 24, 1983) I had my "animal awakening."

Randy Shields art
A Cow and Her Boy 25” x 16”

36 years ago (April 24, 1983) today I had my "animal awakening" just as all the young people in Cubes every week that I work with are having theirs. Comrades, know and share your stories. Here's mine...

Madison WI - April 24, 1983

In the beginning, there were strangers. One by one we picked them up in Columbus, Springfield, Dayton, Indianapolis... going to Madison, Wisconsin to protest the “infliction of pain to elicit information”—the torture and superstitious non-science of animal experiments.

Driving and driving past the gray of Gary and Chicago, the world in delicious color again in Wisconsin. Driving and driving past over around through inconjunct perpendicular parallel to road kills slaughterhouses farms labs shelters pounds puppy mills—I never knew how much killing this country can comfortably contain.

The next day the assembly site is incredibly bright, four thousand hearts heat up and beat as one, thumbs up from people sitting in windowsills where archangel Gabriel blows out “Shock the monkey tonight!” Organizers pass out strips of black cloth, armbands to symbolize the killings in the lab, cops everywhere, supposed bomb threats, someone corporeally in charge says via bullhorn to form four lines to march down the street, everybody up front dressed in black.

Empowerment is not knowing anybody, not being anybody, but knowing instantly that this is what you were made for and going to the front. Screams from the back relay up to us: “We’re five blocks long—pass it on!... We’re ten blocks long!...” Now the lines are fourteen blocks long, four thousand strong chanting shouting marching clapping drumming. CBS NBC ABC churn away... yes, we’re coming out.

We stop for a moment before turning the final corner to the lab. Several of us volunteer to be coffin carriers, not realizing that we’ll get to see everything: that today is the birth of the animal rights movement and the thousands of faces who pass will go back to the hinterlands and build it fast, up from nothing. We turn the corner. More cops cameras security guards. And two wooden coffins in the street near the primate lab door.

The isolated pasts of thousands light up the day. I see my own little wildfire: the kinder-veterinarian bringing home stray cats and injured birds, the flaming arguments with adult hunters, then one day while our cat was dying we heard the receptionist say the reason our vets were away—a hunting trip to Montana.

Two lines now, two by two they go by, silent but for crying, and drop the armbands in the coffins. On and on they come, it seems like everyone in the whole world is turning that corner—young old radical conservative, some walking dogs (with black armbands on their paws), people on crutches and in wheelchairs (sign: Mankind?), the deaf, the disabled, people sobbing. America, we’re showing you something you rarely see—what’s good in you; justice here, mercy there, all the daring revolutionary pushes and pulls into a better world. On and on the armbands float down. People with cancer (sign: Don’t Do It In My Name), signs speaking for animals around the globe, this is the Mobe, the Mobilization for Animals—today protests in Melbourne Wellington Brussels Oslo Paris Manchester London Geneva Munich Boston Cape Town Atlanta Barcelona Heidelberg Stockholm Davis Marseilles The Hague Edinburgh and others, on and on like they’ll never stop. Now I realize what I want out of life: this passion, this rightness, this thing I can live or die with and get behind 100%; give it to me, pour it in me because I am opening up.

Everyone passes. We pick up the coffin: unbelievably, profoundly heavy these little black armbands, this weight of death—no one calculated the heaviness or considered that we might not be able to lift it. Far behind, out of sight from the last of the straggling marchers, we carry the coffins through almost deserted streets. Feeling lighter, I could keep walking and walking right out of this world. I imagine we’ve entered a new land of veganism and no hunting, trapping or vivisection, as if all our animal-saving and animal-dying lives were a dream and this was the real world, the good world... Walking and walking on a sunny Sunday in Madison, Wisconsin... What’s that music? Drums—you always hear the drums first. I don’t know the song but we follow the music to the commons area on campus. Wow! Jesus! We’re entering a triumphant city of teeming dreaming laughing feasting chatting napping laying embracing dancing human beings. We carry the coffins up on stage as the band plays then lose ourselves among four thousand friends. Everything real and imagined, everything I ever doubted the existence of, everything inside me blows out in inexhaustible fire in a billion directions.

I am at home everywhere.

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