Moscow, Idaho: Fighting Fossil Fuel Infrastructure in the Northern Rockies

Lochsa_River_Keith_Ewing_IFG_FlickrNorthwestern Montana and Northern Idaho are renowned for the scenic drives that dissect wild landscape. So when leaving West Yellowstone to head for Moscow, Idaho, we were excited to travel the winding highways, passing through mountainous corridors, wild rivers, and densely-forested watersheds. Roads, even the scenic ones, are relatively few and far between in the region. In fact, the Northern Rockies serve as a refuge for the largest remaining tracts of roadless wilderness in the lower 48 states. So when Imperial Oil/Exxon Mobil, Conoco Phillips, Harvest Energy, and others decided to absorb this small road system into the infrastructure of fossil fuel extraction, this place became a main stage of resistance.

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Megaloads, as they colloquially are called, are massive loads of equipment to be used in tar sands extraction or refinement. They can be longer than football fields and weigh around one million pounds. Hundreds of these megaloads have been hauled through the meandering highways of the Northern Rockies in occupied Nez Perce territories over the last several years, en route to the Athabasca Tar Sands. These pieces of equipment are usually modules of even more massive refinery or extraction machinery. These lands have become bottlenecks for the entire tar sands project and the megaloads serve as a lynchpin target for the fossil fuel industry.

Land defenders and activists have seized the moment. The campaign to stop the megaloads has been led by indigenous resisters Idle No More, Northern Rockies Rising Tide, and Wild Idaho Rising Tide. Recently, the campaign has also been taken up by the Umatilla and Wrm Springs tribes, Portland Rising Tide and Rising Tide Seattle. Last year, a federal judge ruled to halt shipments of megaloads through the U.S. Highway 12 corridor, upholding the Treaty rights of the Nez Perce.While a definite victory in the campaign, it has forced companies to develop a new route and industrial corridor: North on U.S. Highway 95 through Moscow, Idaho.

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When we rolled into town on Monday, Wild Idaho Rising Tide (WIRT) had been working round the clock to respond to an Idaho Transportation Department announcement on Friday that Bigge Crane and Rigging Company would be hauling the largest megaload yet through the region. Within hours the Fight or Flight Tour joined Nez Perce land defenders and Wild Idaho Rising Tide in the streets of Moscow to protest the oncoming megaload, part of a hydrocracker involved in tripling tar sands production at the Montana Refining Company owned by Calumet Specialty Products Partners. This module alone measures 311 feet long, 21 feet wide, and 16 feet 8 inches high and weighs 926,000 pounds.

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After joining the crowd in downtown, we were asked to scout the convoy and relay information on its position. We drove down the rural highway south out of Moscow. Within a few minutes we were driving alone in the dark, surrounded by still fields of wheat, dimly mega1lit by moonlight. Then we saw the bright, beaming lights on the horizon, creeping towards us along the rolling hills. As the convoy approached, we could begin to sense something ominous. But only when it was directly upon us could we see its enormity. Surrounded by flaggers, pilot vehicles, Idaho State Police, push and pull trucks, and trailers, the shipment convoy seemed at least ¼ mile long. It sluggishly crept towards us and towards the protesters in Moscow. As we circled it to take pictures, the police wasted no time and detained us along the side of the road. We watched it pass, proceeding to Moscow.

megaIn Moscow, the megaload was met by dozens of protesters, land defenders, and members of the Nez Perce tribe. The police swarmed the streets in huge numbers and stood along the side the roadway, declaring that no one could enter the streets. As the megaload passed, the police stood between it and us while the crowd chanted and shouted in resistance. As it left the streets of Moscow north, many protesters left to follow it towards its next stop. As of this writing, the protests continue…

copcop3The following day, Wild Idaho Rising Tide hosted our workshop at The Attic. Upon suggestion from our hosts, we decided to tailor this particular workshop for the very persistent and dedicated community in Moscow. We engaged attendees in a Strategic Direct Action training to discuss the basics of direct action, action planning and roles, soft blockades, technical blockades, and the legal system.

risingtideAfter the training, we discussed our future working relationship with Wild Idaho Rising Tide and networking in the Northwest. From the coast to the Northern Rockies, we can stop the megaload shipments. We can halt the equipment. We can stop the tar sands. We can put an end to fossil fuels infrastructure.

Entering Yellowstone: The Land, Wildlife, and Buffalo Field Campaign

We left the plateaus, canyons, and rugged mountains of Utah to travel north through the Rockies on the invite of the Buffalo Field Campaign. As we traversed the open meadows and cascading peaks of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem we could sense a transition into wilderness. The massive crags of the Grand Tetons rose eminently on the horizon, forests of lodgepole pine and quaking aspen surrounded us, and we entered the migration plains of the buffalo.

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Over the years this has been an ecosystem of contention and controversy. After decades of systematic extermination at the behest of the settler ranching industry, gray wolves were nearly made extinct in the region. In 1995, against the hostility and opposition of the sport hunting and livestock-ranching communities, wolves were reintroduced into Yellowstone National Park and central Idaho in response to mounting scientific evidence of their biological and ecological significance. Since the late 19th century, European settlers have been slaughtering the buffalo to rid the Great Plains of any competition with the growing market of cattle grazing that was the staple agricultural system of colonization and domination of the land. Buffalo extermination also served the purpose of maintaining occupation on indigenous lands and forced assimilation into Euro-settler culture.

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Today these colonizing attitudes still dominate the land. Wolves are misunderstood, scapegoated, and feared by settlers and have become the target of opportunity in recent years as the federal government has lifted protections. Similarly, the buffalo are condemned for competing with cattle for forage and subsequently harassed and slaughtered. Buffalo naturally migrate seasonally in search of sufficient forage. In winter the snowpack in the higher elevations of National Park makes foraging difficult and the buffalo historically have travelled to lower elevations, outside of the arbitrary park boundaries, in order to survive. It is here they are met with hazing, trapping, and systematic slaughter at the hands of the Montana Department of Livestock (DOL). Since 1985, almost 8,000 Yellowstone buffalo have been killed.

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It is in this climate that Buffalo Field Campaign (BFC) found its roots. Formed as a coalition of native land defenders and settler-environmentalist allies, BFC is the only group working everyday in the field to defend the buffalo, their native historical range, and their ecological and spiritual significance. BFC uses tactics that range from patrolling, to documentation, to direct action.

March 2014 blockade of Stephens Creek bison trap, which sends animals to slaughter and government research facilities.

We arrived that evening on the shores of Hebgen Lake, where volunteers were building and maintaining cabins and yurts against the backdrop of the Northern Rockies. We swiftly left with a volunteer who eagerly wanted to show us the land that they defend. As we drove along rough forest roads, he spoke with reverence for the buffalo and the wildlife that thrive on the landscape. He spoke disdain for the settler culture that is destroying the land and the animals (both wild and domesticated). He spoke with devotion to their freedom.

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After we explored the land and its stories, we headed back to camp to share a meal with BFC volunteers. We learned how they became involved in this work and they listened as we explained our tour and our backgrounds. They left to monitor and document the owls that surround the cabins and we turned in for the night. We feel asleep under a full moon, in the silence of the forests, prairies, and mountains. In this setting we were left to imagine the land prior to European settlement, domination and occupation, prior to animal agriculture, prior to trophy hunting and eco-tourism. In its place we could imagine balance and the ebb and flow of ecology, where indigenous peoples are not subjugated and can live in their traditions with the land, where cattle are not systemically transformed into commodities, where wolves are integral members of a complex food web, and where the buffalo can roam free.

bisonbullgeode001jpg-3183807_p9We would like to dedicate this post to Rosalie Little Thunder, who passed away the day before we arrived at the Buffalo Field Campaign camp. Rosalie was a Lakota leader and co-founded Buffalo Field Campaign (then Buffalo Nations) after witnessing buffalo slaughter first hand:

“Since I witnessed the 1996-97 slaughter, I have continued to be involved in the ongoing effort to stop the slaughter. Mike Mease and I collaborated and founded Buffalo Nations, whose mission was simply to protect the Yellowstone buffalo herd. Two strategies evolved and therefore, two projects also evolved. The immediate threats to the herd, demanding immediate action, was undertaken by Buffalo Field Campaign. The second strategy was to coordinate cultural approaches and seek tribal involvement.Buffalo Nations continued to function by its Lakota name, Tatanka Oyate.”

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A memorial fund has been set up in her honor. Please contribute if you can by sending a check to:

Rosalie Little Thunder Memorial Fund
PO Box 1894 
Rapid City, SD 57709

The Fight or Flight Tour Protests Delta and Tar Sands Mining in Salt Lake City

While in Salt Lake City, we were excited to visit the Boing! Anarchist Collective space to host a workshop about our campaign against Delta, the tactics of corporate campaigns, and building solidarity between animal rights and other social justice movements. Members of Peaceful Uprising, UVU Animal Allies, No More Deaths, Salt Lake Dream Team, and Boing! helped to turn the workshop into a productive discussion about how to effectively organize mass movements while staying committed to not allowing oppressive behavior.

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After the workshop we went to the Salt Lake City International Airport for a protest against Delta Air Lines for their involvement in the transport of animals to labs. We protested inside the Delta Terminal between ticketing and baggage claim, where all arriving and departing passengers could see us. Many of them took flyers, snapped photos, and told us how much they care about animals and support our work—and some passengers vowed to stop flying Delta as long as the airline supports animal torture. Several news stations covered the protest, including KUTV 2News, ABC 4, and Fox 13, and each interviewed one of the organizers of The Bunny Alliance about the campaign against Delta and the need for an end to animal research.

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Our Salt Lake City stop also included meeting with members of the Utah Tar Sands Resistance to discuss their work to stop the first tar sands mine in the U.S. and bring more support from the animal rights movement. In addition to wanting to show long term solidarity with the Utah Tar Sands Resistance campaign, we wanted to do something to further the campaign while in Salt Lake City, so we decided to visit the neighborhood of a decision-maker directly involved with Utah tar sands mining: John Waller Andrews.

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John W. Andrews at the Utah Tar Sands site.

John Waller Andrews is the Associate Director and General Counsel of the State of Utah School and Institutional Trust Lands Administration (SITLA), which recently leased 32,000 acres of wilderness in Uintah County to U.S. Oil Sands, a Canadian resource extraction company. John Andrews and other executives at SITLA claim that they are investing in tar sands “for the kids.” This messaging is intended to disguise SITLA’s never-ending quest for revenue through oil, gas, and mineral mining. In fact, SITLA contributes only 1% of the state’s annual $3 billion education budget. By using this public relations tactic, SITLA is able to maintain various devastating extraction projects while using children as shields. In reality, this project will threaten the health of future generations—poisoning the drinking water of millions, releasing increased rates of carbon dioxide, as well as destroying vital ecosystems and threatened species.

We went to the door of every house on John’s street to talk with his photoneighbors and pass out flyers about his dirty ties to tar sands mining. His neighbors were very nice and receptive and listened to our request that they talk with John about the dangers of tar sands mining to the community—and that he do his part to stop the destruction of the land, the poisoning of the water, and the extermination of the wild animals that call Utah’s eastern plateaus home.

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After leafleting John’s neighborhood, we went to his house to see if he wanted to speak about his support of deadly resource extraction. Unfortunately, no one was home, so we decided to leave a box of flyers on his front porch, in case he wanted to hand them out himself.

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We hope John realizes that people around the world—and even his next door neighbors—are concerned about the impact tar sands extraction will have on human health and the environment, and that resistance will not stop until the mining project is shut down for good.

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Fight or Flight Tour at the Utah Tar Sands Mine: An Open Letter to Animal Rights Activists

photo-7On August 7th, the Fight or Flight Tour traveled up through the rocky plateaus of eastern Utah to spend some time with Utah Tar Sands Resistance, the group actively opposing the first tar sands mine in the United States. Tar sands extraction is among the most destructive resource extraction projects in the world, digging up the earth to extract oily sands that are millions of years premature of becoming oil, to be transported by truck or pipeline to special refinement facilities that release greenhouse gases at exponentially higher rates than traditional oil refineries. These are the occupied lands of the Ute people, and the mining site itself straddles the Uintah and Ouray reservations and poses threats to these watersheds. Though the tar sands mine in Alberta, Canada, has been wreaking havoc on the planet for years—and opposition to the project and subsequent pipelines has been a focus of the environmental movement recently—this Utah mine, owned by Canadian company US Oil Sands, is the first to break ground in the United States for extraction of this toxic substance.

Earlier this month, after the 2014 Utah Tar Sands Action Camp, activists locked down to equipment, halting construction on site for the entire day, and 21 activists were subsequently arrested. They are awaiting trial, and can use your support. Find out more, and stay up-to-date with the campaign, at tarsandsresist.org

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The Utah Tar Sands Resistance camp is ongoing, and is prepared to defend the land from extraction for the long-haul. The Fight or Flight Tour is grateful for having been welcomed into their camp, for the stories they shared, and for their defense of the land from the darkest, dirtiest efforts of the capitalist system.

On a more personal note, over the last year I’ve had the chance to visit the tar sands mine site in Utah’s PR Springs twice, and the visits have helped to reshape how I think about what it means to be an activist working to help animals. These visits have also stirred a desire to encourage other animal rights activists to understand why we must care about what is happening in Utah, as well as other sites of earth destruction.

My first visit was last summer while doing a clerkship with the Civil Liberties Defense Center. I had the opportunity to assist with legal trainings at the Utah Tar Sands Action Camp and then act as legal observer during a lockdown action at the tar sands mine site in PR Springs. On the day of the action, we woke up and set out to the tar sands site in the darkness of the early morning, and the sun rose with us as we climbed the hills into PR Springs. My thoughts were first about making sure I was prepared to legal observe, but as the morning light revealed rolling canyons that met the sky at the horizon, my thoughts on legal observing shifted from making sure I was prepared with my hat and clipboard to being a part of a movement defending the life of this place from the devastation of tar sands mining.

I’ve been involved in animal rights activism for several years. I’ve passed out thousands of leaflets promoting veganism, tabled at hundreds of events for animal rights groups, organized many protests and other events… and somewhere along the way tended to stop thinking very much about how I found my love for animals as a child, a child who also loved the trees, rivers, stars, and clouds. Being out at the tar sands mine brought that back to me. On the plateaus of Utah where the mine is being prepared, I have seen antelope, deer, chipmunk, field mice and prairie dogs. And there are countless others that make the rocks of the canyons bristle with life, including bear, ground squirrels, vultures and hawks. As I first stood at the top of the mine site, looking out into the distance at the canyons and then close up at the earth that had been stripped for the tar sands, I saw that the relationship between defending the wild and fighting for animal liberation is endlessly intertwined—and that animal rights activists must stop unwinding the two. Tar sands mining destroys the animals along with the land. The mining pollutes the water on which animals rely, contributes to global warming that is destroying animals’ habitats around the world, and rips up the ground—and the animals, their food, and their shelter along with it—only to replace it with toxic pools of tar to be burned for more pollution, and to fuel more destruction.

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Given the impact that being at the tar sands mine site had on me the first time—connecting me back with my roots as a lover and defender of animal life—I was excited to return to the tar sands mine site as a part of the Fight or Flight Tour. In doing this tour, one of our goals is to not only to bridge the gap between the animal rights and environmental movements, but to show that  the gap shouldn’t exist in the first place. I have had animal rights activists ask me why they should care about the tar sands mining, unable to see the connection between the impact of resource extraction and an animal rights movement that’s come to be largely defined by vegan consumerism, and I want every animal rights activist who questions why they should care about a piece of the earth being torn apart to stand on the edge of a tar sands mine, or a clearcut forest, and to think about what has been lost. On one side of these lines birds sing and critters scurry between trees; on the other side is silence and devastation.

Although I know that every animal rights activist will not stand over the tar sands mine at PR Springs, our visit as a part of the Fight or Flight Tour—done largely in furtherance of an animal liberation campaign—can hopefully push other animal rights activists to consider what kind of fight they are engaged in for the animals. An animal rights movement that praises giant corporations for offering vegan items but does not actively support the protection of wild nature and animal habitats is effectively perpetuating the corporate greed that leads to the devastation of the earth and ignoring a chance to save animals and the wilderness they deserve.

Many amazing activists are currently working to save the animals and the land at PR Springs—and beyond. As animal rights activists, we need to stand in solidarity. Please start by visiting the website of the Utah Tar Sands Resistance and learn about their campaign; the impact the tar sands industry has on the environment, animals, and the indigenous people; and how we can all—and must all—be a part of the fight.

For the earth and its animals!

Fight or Flight Tour joins Rocky Mountain Animal Defense Alliance in Denver

While in Denver the Fight or Flight Tour hosted an evening workshop at NOOCH! Vegan Market to talk to local activists about the Gateway to Hell campaign and how they can plug in to the campaign against Delta Air Lines with their local organization, the Rocky Mountain Animal Defense Alliance (RMADA). RMADA formed after The Bunnies Alliance’s Winter Gateway to Hell Tour and have been active in the campaign to stop the transport of animals to labs. The evening also included a legal workshop and a discussion on building coalitions with other social justice movements. Thank you to everyone who came out to the workshop, including members of RMADA, Stop Animal Exploitation Now, and local activists.

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The next day, on August 6th, the Fight or Flight Tour and Rocky Mountain Animal Defense Alliance held a protest at the Denver International Airport outside of the doors leading to the Delta ticket counters and right next to an outdoor Delta baggage check. Activists handed out leaflets to travelers and Delta customers as they held signs exposing Delta Air Lines’ and Air France’s partnership in supporting animal cruelty at laboratories around the world.

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Join RMADA in Denver to get involved in the international Gateway to Hell campaign and be a part of the global effort to stop the transportation of animals to laboratories.

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Fight or Flight Tour Brings Supplies to Owe Aku on the Occupied Lakota Territories

When we first collectively sat down to organize this tour, we all desired to create a network of grassroots animal liberation and earth defense activists. So much of the movement has become funneled into the corporate model of so-called advocacy. These organizations host lavish events, entertain celebrity sponsors, flirt with media exhibitionism, and leverage donations at every turn. Yet where are the measurable gains for animals?

This is not our movement. We entered into this tour trying to create a grassroots alternative that located the animals’ struggle as the nucleus of the movement. It is their movement. We are not the “voice of the voiceless.” They kick and bite and scream and cry and fight for themselves with much more passion, urgency and authenticity than any animal activist can imagine. Our work is solidarity. The role of the grassroots animal liberation movement is to call attention to their stories and their struggle for freedom. We’ve been touring from city to city attempting to drive this message home. As radical activists, we also must understand that animal exploitation does not exist in a vacuum. The suffering of animals can be traced to social institutions and structures that are propped up by the oppression of countless peoples and communities—capitalism, colonialism, patriarchy, the prison industry, and structural racism, to name a few. We believe it is therefore the work of animal liberation activists to strengthen our relationships with the communities affected by these systems, and to create a mass movement through coalitions. To do this, we advocate for solidarity. Just as our work for animals is solidarity with their struggle, our work for other struggles must be solidarity as well.

From the beginning of the Fight or Flight Tour, we have been collecting financial and supply donations for Owe Aku, which in Lakota means “Bring Back the Way,” and their efforts to defend the land and sacred water. Through Owe Aku, the Lakota have been preparing indigenous resistance to the Keystone XL Pipeline by organizing direct action trainings all over the occupied territories of the Great Plains. These trainings, collectively called Moccasins on the Ground, have made alliances such as Idle No More, Indigenous Environmental Network, Tar Sands Blockade, Great Plains Tar Sands Resistance, National Lawyers Guild, and more. The Lakota have made a call of resistance:

“Lakota People, and many other Red Nations people, we have painted our faces. Our allies up north have painted their faces. For sacred water, for Unci Maka [Mother Earth], for our generations. As people of the earth, our coming generations have a right to sacred water, no policy, no corporation, no politics should be more important than that… We are in a time of prophecy, our collective action will be significant, with all the love in our hearts, we must all resist this destruction, and stand for sacred water and Unci Maka.”

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The Fight of Flight Tour supports indigenous resistance and frontlines communities who defend the land from the settler state, climate change, and colonial infrastructure. We have been organizing a supply drive to support the work of Owe Aku for several weeks, collecting small and large donations along our tour route with the intent of bringing what we collect to Lakota land. This past Monday, we drove to the Pine Ridge Reservation, site of the Wounded Knee Massacre at the end of the so-called Indian Wars, the 1973 occupation of Wounded Knee by the American Indian Movement, and the 1975 shootout between AIM and the FBI that led to the framing and imprisonment of Leonard Peltier. These are the occupied territories that have been home to many stories of resistance. Today the resistance continues.

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We were met with warm welcome by Owe Aku upon our arrival and were encouraged to set up camp for the night as guests on their land. After settling in a bit, we shared stories about our tour, discussed the ongoing occupation and genocide in Palestine and its parallels to the occupation and genocide on so-called North America, and were shown how over 50% of the land is leased by the Bureau of Indian Affairs to Eurosettler cattle industry for grazing and subsequent destruction. Perhaps most memorably, we learned from the NaCha (traditional clan leader) about our role as white settlers in the process of decolonization and the importance of solidarity with indigenous resistance. We then sorted through the donations we collected and helped to create an inventory. Before turning in for the night, we enjoyed a beautiful thunderstorm cascading across the sky, bringing much needed rain to the land and the life that depends on it.

Water is sacred to the Lakota and they have taken a stand to defend it. Animal liberation activists must follow suit and take a stand of solidarity against the colonialism that is destroying the land, its people, and the animals that call it home.

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We want to thank Owe Aku for inviting us to their land and for being so welcoming. We also want to thank everyone who made a donation during our supply drive. These little acts of solidarity are seeds of a mass movement for collective liberation.

Workshops in Bloomington, IN and Peoria, IL

We left Cincinnati on Wednesday morning to head towards Bloomington, Indiana for an early afternoon workshop and discussion. Bloomington has a rich history of being a pocket of radicalism in the Midwest, and the community is still going strong today. Boxcar Books and Community Center, a volunteer-run community space and radical bookstore, graciously hosted our workshop. In addition to providing space, radical literature and activist information for the Bloomington community, Boxcar is also the home of the Pages to Prisoners Project. Pages to Prisoners is an all-volunteer effort to encourage self-education behind bars and provide free reading materials to prisoners across the United States.

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The Bloomington community stimulated a really thoughtful discussion surrounding long-term prisoner support and solidarity, state repression, and organizing in spite of corporate and state opposition. The conversation was insightful and critical, and highlighted many of the gaps in our current approach to prisoner support and solidarity against repression. Many agreed that we need a more holistic and strategic approach to provide long-term care for those that experience incarceration and trauma induced by the state, and an understanding that we must continuously organize, form coalitions, and adapt to the changing circumstances of repression in order to sustain healthy and resilient movements.

From Bloomington we left for Peoria, Illinois to join a vegan potluck and discussion hosted by Peoria Area Voice for Animals and the Peoria Area Peace Network. Peoria is home to longtime network of anti-war, peace, and international solidarity activists who are getting active for animals. We had very fruitful discussions about corporate pressure campaigns and the importance of building strategy with clear, attainable goals in mind. We also ate some awesome food prepared by the hosts and other guests.

Keep an eye on Peoria. The folks in the room had a lot to share, and some have been involved in a long history of resistance to state violence and repression. We are excited to see what kind of animal activism comes out of the area next!

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