Animal rights activists are protesting on Northern California ranches. Sometimes they go beyond their First Amendment rights and break the law."
That message was delivered loudly and clearly to nearly 100 people who attended a workshop at Shone Farm in Santa Rosa last week. Called "Beyond the Fence Line" (see "Cage Match," Oct. 24), the event on Oct. 29 was sponsored by the powerful Sonoma County Farm Bureau. By the end of the afternoon, it was pretty obvious—to some attendees, anyway—that there is anti-activist collusion underway between the Farm Bureau, its friends and allies in the county, and local law enforcement.
Many regional ranchers clearly think that animal-rights activists are a menace to them and to society. The Farm Bureau agrees. The ranchers and the bureau may be well-meaning, but the fiery language used to describe animal-rights activists is likely to widen the divide rather than help residents interested in this issue to come to a common understanding.
For her part, Tawny Tesconi, executive director at the Farm Bureau of Sonoma County, condemned recent protests at local chicken farms as "domestic terrorism." Brian Sobel, from Sobel Communications, echoed her cry as he too lambasted "domestic terrorists." Sobel didn't mean pipe-bomber Cesar Sayoc. And he didn't mean Robert Bowers, who shot and killed 11 people at a Pittsburgh synagogue over the weekend.
Understandably, farmers don't want protesters to disrupt their livelihood. But it doesn't help to demonize animal-rights activists as "terrorists." Nor did it help matters when Troye Shaffer, from the Sonoma County District Attorney's office, stood at the podium and called the demonstrators "ne'er-do-wells," a prejudicial statement if ever there was one—especially given the mass arrest of 68 protesters and the fact that, as of last week, the district attorney was still sorting out the charges.
The animal-rights activist group called DxE has made shoppers and eaters aware of factory farming and the inhumane conditions in which animals are raised and slaughtered. One rancher at Shone Farm encouraged everyone "to run clean operations."
Indeed, more time and money should be spent on running clean operations than on fences, gates, surveillance, arrests and prosecutions, which will only exacerbate an Us vs. Them mentality that already exists—and that shouldn't. The Farm Bureau and law enforcement officials ought to be accountable to all of us, not to special interests with deep pockets and the ear of local law enforcement. And please, no more inflammatory language.
Jonah Raskin is a frequent contributor to the 'Bohemian.'
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