Protesters ‘bear witness’ to advocate veganism

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Those driving around Woodland in the past few months might have noticed groups of individuals on the side of the road, advocating against animal products. Occasionally, they have approached trucks of livestock coming into town taking part in their particular kind of vigil.

Last week, the turnout was lighter than previous outings, with two activists and a dog along the Interstate 5 northbound off-ramp. During red lights, the activists would go up to cars, offering information and in some cases dialogue as the traffic waited for green.

Toby Zelt was one of the two holding signs, and acted as a spokesperson for the group she and her fellow protester Emily Rezentes were a part of, Portland Animal Save. The group is one of 130 worldwide branches of the Save Movement, Zelt said. The organization takes on the role of “bearing witness” to animals headed off to slaughter.

“That’s what makes this group different from other activism groups, that we bear witness to cows, chickens and pigs when they are on their way to slaughter. We see their faces, we look into their eyes,” Zelt said.

The act of bearing witness has the protesters approaching trucks carrying livestock and viewing the animals, often taking photos or videos of their protest. Zelt was careful to mention that the activists make an effort to stay within the law, obeying traffic restrictions.

Last week, there weren’t any livestock trucks passing through, so the two were sticking to talking with those stuck in traffic. The group has been periodically protesting in Woodland since its formation in December of last year.

Response has been mixed, with both obscenities and shouts of praise lobbed at the sign holders.

“I’m here for the animals, and no matter how many say something not nice, I’m going to stay here, so I try to tune them out,” Zelt said. 

She reasoned that those showing support were people who had done their homework.

“We know that the people who are giving thumbs-up and saying ‘yeah, I’m with you,’ those are people who have educated themselves about environmental destruction, and animal agriculture being the main cause of climate change. They know that,” Zelt said. “They know the conditions of the animals and how inhumane they are.”

Apart from inhumane practices and environmental degradation, Zelt also cited the effects of animal products in diets as leading to health problems.

One of the focal points in Portland Animal Save’s campaign is Walt’s Wholesale Meats, a meat processor in Woodland that generates much of the livestock truck traffic at the center of the protests. Zelt said there wasn’t a specific reason to pick Walt’s other than it being part of the meat industry.

Walt’s Wholesale Meats had not returned a request for comment as of press time.

Zelt said for some of the other Save groups there are agreements in place with local law enforcement and meat businesses where there is designated time for the protests. As of now, there isn’t an agreement in place locally, she added.

“We just want to see them. We want to send them love,” Zelt said, adding that their goal was not to directly target Walt’s or any other business in order to hurt their profits.

Locally, the city’s law enforcement has not had too much of an issue with that type of protest. Woodland Police Chief James Kelly said his department has seen “minimal” protesters, commenting that “they’ve been very peaceful” for what he has encountered.

Kelly is relatively new to the force as he started in the position June 8, however, photos from past protests on the group’s Facebook page from earlier in the year show Woodland police making contact with at least one protester.

As to the possibility of dialogue, Kelly said that as of last week no one from Portland Animal Save had contacted him. He added that he was “certainly not opposed” to having some sort of agreement.

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