While most of the Mercy Junction crew was in Fort Benning, Ga., participating in the annual vigil to protest School of Americas and the Stewart Detention Center this weekend, a couple of us who remained behind in Chattanooga decided to stand against oppression and violence in our own backyard.
What was reinforced for us, was, when you challenge business — even on the tiniest, most local scale — you are challenging the real power.
Several of us involved in the ministry are vegan and Mercy Junction has worked closely with Southeast Voice for Animals on past events. Southeast Voice for Animals organized a small demonstration on Saturday afternoon to protest conditions inside the Koch Foods chicken slaughterhouse. The demonstration was on a public sidewalk in front of the slaughterhouse and consisted of six people handing out leaflets to the very few random passersby in that part of the city on a Saturday afternoon.
It was the first time in anyone’s memory that an animal rights group had staged a demonstration of an agricultural industry in Chattanooga. There’s the annual demonstration against Ringling Bros. Circus’ visit to the city, but protesting the slaughterhouse is in an entirely different — and new — attempt in Chattanooga. One reason is that more than 2,000 people in the city are employed between two chicken slaughterhouses, and the mass farming and slaughter of chickens is a $5 billion industry in our state.
I’ve been at my fair share or protests and demonstrations, and in my experience, six people passing out leaflets on a sidewalk on a Saturday afternoon usually garners little attention from the authorities. There might be a police car cruise by at some point, but that’s about it. And this demonstration in particular was poorly promoted. There was a Facebook event posted on Southeast Voice for Animals’ Facebook page, a page that has about 250 followers, and about a half-dozen people shared the event on their personal pages.
The national non-profit Mercy for Animals had released an undercover video earlier in the week depicting atrocious acts of cruelty inside the slaughterhouse. Those in Southeast Voice for Animals have talked for years about our concerns for the chickens taken to and killed at the city’s two slaughterhouses, but hadn’t really found a way to take action. Despite the lack of time for planning and promotion, we felt the release of the video was the time when we should finally do something — weak though it may be.
All of that to say, that’s why we were really, really surprised by the police presence our little demonstration garnered on a sunny afternoon on a public sidewalk. Don’t get me wrong, the police didn’t interfere with our demonstration. The one officer who actually spoke to us let us know they were just driving by to make sure we were OK. But, it was their presence that spoke volumes.
What I already believed was just reinforced for me by the way the demonstration unfolded.
When you protest business, commerce, corporations — even in the smallest of ways — you are challenging the real power.
When we arrived in the area of the slaughterhouse Saturday afternoon, there were two police cars already at the back of the slaughterhouse, which remained stationed there — on the private property — throughout our demonstration. A third remained stationed at the front entrance.
Another police car parked across the street for at least the first half hour. And among the various police cars that drove by during the demonstration, two cars stopped in the middle of the street, the one officer rolled down his window to tell us that they were just checking on us.
It has been suggested to me that the police who were at the demonstration may not have been on the city’s time clock during the time they were protecting a billion dollar industry from six people with two cardboard signs. Apparently, private businesses can pay off-duty police officers to provide security while driving city-owned cars and wearing uniforms that identify them as city officers. Whether the city was paying the officers to be there, or the corporation was paying the officers to be there, both scenarios present problems for me. Either way, the officers protecting the private business were in uniforms and cars that identified them as having the government’s authority behind their actions.
What I already knew, but had reinforced on Saturday — at what was in all other respects the most boring, most non-eventful, most benign protest in which I have ever participated — is that the “green scare” is very real and police function to protect capital. Real power isn’t held by the government or elected officials, though they are oftentimes used to maintain the status quo. Real power is in the hands of private businesses and corporations.
If you have any doubt, just try challenging them in the smallest of ways and see how many police cars show up.