Regan’s Vigil (Photojournal)
Updated: Jul 1
Written by Dale Adam
Tyres. Tall, cascading, dusted and grey. Quickly swallowing the world, when viewed from a danger-close, head on perspective. The sight of a tyre consuming the world itself is a symbol to animal activists of perils inbound, and the decision about whether to stand one’s ground…or move aside. As of late, to animal activists, one’s world being consumed by a tyre is a beacon of all dangers having passed, and silence and darkness having risen to claim the waning sky, as crying pigs and hot metal fade away.
On the 23rd of June 2020, North East Animal Save held a memorial vigil at Linden Foods Slaughterhouse, Newcastle, for two reasons: To bear witness to the desperate souls who would pass through their gates, and to pay tribute to Regan Russell, who died in Ontario, Canada, doing exactly the same. From the written perspective of a NEAS organiser, as well as that of the Vegan Night School, here is an account of that day.
Prior to the Coronavirus, 0630 at a save vigil meant a rendezvous of tired voices, and groggy eyed hugs between comrades in activism, more commonly known as family. 0630 brings both a sense of togetherness in witness, and loneliness; for one watches animals enter the slaughterhouse by watching the whites of their eyes pass through the gates, however one bears witness by watching and interacting, with the constant awareness of what will be inflicted onto the tormented souls inside the trucks, once they leave one’s grasp. To bear witness is to be alone, because bearing witness always happens in the mind, and the mind is always alone.
Togetherness however, breaks through. For at each passing of the tyres and each closing of the gates is an emergence from your mind into the warm greetings of those who have just been alone at your side the whole time. In your collective, momentary, successful journey to hell and back, into the mind of an animal for which Earth is hell… and back, you are together.
Because of social distancing however, this first 0630 since lockdown began felt rusted, out of practice, and far too lacking in the warm embrace of a friend. Unnatural. Together, however, just as much as always.
We weren’t even at the slaughterhouse gates when the first behemoth rolled in. 0635
The slats were far too high for us to see the animals unassisted, and so our governmentally restricted merry band of 6 took to 5 selfie sticks and one DSLR, in order to catch a glimpse.
Through our cameras, we saw a preview of the only images ever taken of these animals by those who believe all sentient life to be above commodification. The animals didn’t know that, of course, the only life they’d ever know was destined to end on the underside of a bar code. As the slaughterhouse was already full when we arrived, the ‘ALEC B. STOREY’ decorated truck parked on the pavement outside the compound to wait, while the sun beat on.
Minutes ticked by, and even with the worst view in the house, I came to realise that the animals were becoming panicked. The hot sun burned at my skin, and I looked at the dark blue, metal, crammed-full-of-large-animals-truck that sat perched before me. I contemplated what it must be like for those imprisoned within.
If cows had the same rights as dogs, now would be a good time to start breaking windows. With very little wind, the truck stood.
It began to emerge just how bad of a condition the animals were in, covered in each other’s waste- a sight far too common at vigils- and panicking further, they began to become more desperate to see what was outside of their oven prison. A few minutes later, I decided that I’d captured all that I could from the pavement, and it was only when I walked into the road to see the other side of the truck that I saw just how desperate the cows had become to get away from the sun.
Crushed against metal bars by other cows in their overly crammed trailer who were simply trying to reach breathable air, all they could do was look out at the emotional photographer below.
Pleading eyes made us traitors. Our silent refusal to break apart trailer doors when it couldn’t possibly be clearer that such an act was being begged of us would haunt us, just like always. Who were we to put our own freedom and career prospects ahead of those whose death was impending? The answer is, activists who know that they can do more good with physical and financial freedom than they could behind bars. At least, this is what the mind sorrily tells the heart, to the heart’s fiery refusal.
The last image taken of this animal prior to the slaughterhouse CCTV, the cow which we shall reluctantly, resentfully, with gritted teeth and burning hearts refer to by her industry given name as animal 1669. A lone, bloodied ear, injured through repeated crushing against the truck bars by equally desperate bodies. I took this image at 0653
After that picture, we faced a stark reminder of the second reason we were there; to honour an activist who was crushed by the tyres of the same trucks at whose base we stood. Inside the slaughterhouse compound, a driver with a similarly sized vehicle and a wicked sense of humour fired up his rig. I had been hugging tight to the truck so that traffic could get by, and he saw his chance.
I turned to face him as he left the compound, and I was met with a smile, a smile that he carried as he pulled his heavy goods vehicle into the lane in which I was standing, and began to close the gap between the two trucks with me trapped between. I’ve had close calls with trucks before, I’ve even been hit hard by a few, but this was new. This was less like a head on, full on, frontal attack, and more like an inescapable scene from Indiana Jones. Momentarily, the trailers became moving walls closing in, aided by truck wheels at my feet, devouring the Earth and drawing closer.
He pulled the rig into rest window to window with the blue truck, roughly 3ft-4ft between the wheels. Once I’d overcome the momentary, primitive but overwhelming urge to climb up and pull him from his rig, I gathered myself and walked out ahead to document what had just happened, and that’s when I saw that his smile had turned to a grin.
Intimidation tactics with a smile, 0654
Funny, that as an organiser and seasoned activist with the Save Movement, I’d never been toyed with like this, until the first vigil following the first death of a save movement activist anywhere in the world. Did he know? It was all over my news sources, and he’s in the profession that killed her, he must have. Does he see me as his enemy? Was this incident a demonstration of what he’d like to do? Or simply a game?
How could I know, but what I know is that this still isn’t about him. It isn’t about me, and even though we held a memorial for her, it isn’t about Regan. This is about the only member of this discussion that doesn’t have a seat at the table, the table coated with a film made from her rendered bones- animal kind, the non-human variant. The fact of the matter is that animal agriculture is the main narrative to the mammals of planet Earth, over 90% of global biomass is made up by two factors, humans, and animals raised for human consumption. We have grown the population of enslaved animals and destroyed the population of the creatures, upon whose land we choose for our slaves to reside that we now own the dominant population on this planet, the captives.
The reason that Regan Russell stood in the road during a heatwave, a pandemic and violence in the streets, whilst so much of the population took shelter in their homes was so that somewhere along the line from artificial insemination to slaughter and dissection, someone got to look these animals in the eyes, these animals who are kept overwhelmingly in the dark and out of view, hidden behind a wall of artificial lighting, ammonia riddled barns and corporate red tape. Her reason for standing in the street where she was murdered under the weight of hot metal, to the sound of crying pigs was so that perhaps our species could look at the innocent beings inside the monster that we’ve created and see the error in our ways, through the eyes of the ghosts in our machine.
We held our minute’s silence for Regan, we fought her fight, and as an organiser I was forced to take Regan’s death as a notice to change our protocols for the safety of our volunteers. For that, Regan, I say thank you, the moral of your story is that we shouldn’t have to wait for death in order to protect life.
“There are things we would rather not know, rather not see, but some go out to bear witness, as did my dear, lovely, sadly missed friend, Regan Russell, on a hot morning in June, never to return. May she take earned rest and eternal peace from all that is small-minded, mean-spirited, and cruel.
Keep Wildlife in the Wild,
-Barry Kent Mackay, of ‘Born Free USA’