Invisible Voices

a voice for the voiceless

History, Direct Action, Inalienable Rights

Listening to my headphones at work today, a song by one of my favorite folk singers came up – Utah Phillips. Utah was an interesting character, and as he was a collector of history I have always felt like I have a lot to learn from him.

Utah was an anarchist – not through theory, but through the way he lived. His heroes included Ammon Hennacy, Mother Jones, and many more people that most of us likely wouldn’t know.

Utah’s histories are people’s histories, in the same sense as Howard Zinn’s “A People’s History of the United States” – the history that we’ll never read about in the history books used in school. Folk histories.

The reason I’m talking about Utah tonight is because listening to “Direct Action” at work today (an irony a few of you might understand) I was struck by how appropriate much of what he had to say was to the Animal Rights and Environmental Rights movements right now. The AETA, the SHAC7, Operation Backfire…and everything that Will talks about on his blog, Green Is the New Red.

Will doesn’t just talk about the oppression, he also has a running theme, encouraging us to not be intimidated, to get out there and exercise our rights.

Well, Utah’s song/story/spoken word has a great example of what direct action is, or can be, and the impact it can have. And he has something to say on freedom as well:

Freedom is something you assume, then you wait for somebody to try to take it away from you. The degree to which you resist is the degree to which you are free.

The IWW, the Wobblies, those unionists we can thank for the fact that we have weekends, they believed that men and women were born with inalienable rights. Inalienable rights, natural rights…these are the terms that we use to discuss what we mean by animal rights.

The right to live, for example, is an example of an inalienable right that we, as animal rights activist, believe that all sentient beings have, and should be respected.

The right to speak is one that Utah talks about, as a right that no one can give and no one can take away…it is something we’re simply born with.

Interestingly, one of Stephanie’s posts on today was about Ingrid Newkirk, or rather it was about an interview with her in the Financial Times. I have become more and more closed to anything Newkirk has to say (how can she possibly support Breed Specific Legislation, for example), but even she gets it right sometimes. To quote Stephanie quoting the Financial Times quoting Newkirk:

But if she considers animals “equal” to us, and we are dwarfed by their numbers, is it not inevitable that their interests will ultimately overwhelm ours? “No, no, no, ‘equal’ doesn’t mean ‘the same’. Happiness for a bird is not the same as happiness for man. I’m not suggesting we buy the chicken a golf-club membership, but if he has wings, let him fly and don’t keep him in a cage. Let him be who he is,” she says.

Freedom. That elusive inalienable right.

7 responses to “History, Direct Action, Inalienable Rights

  1. sheryl, washington, dc November 11, 2008 at 4:57 am

    I struggle with PETA and Ingrid, too. As I typically say about the, “Hearts in the right place, heads up their asses.” That said, her quote is fantastic and should be read by, oh, everyone. IN THE WORLD.


  2. Stephanie E. November 11, 2008 at 11:11 am

    Same here. I don’t always see eye to eye with PETA and Newkirk, but I thought she said some wonderful things in this interview (which, of course, is why I posted it).

    Lovely post, Deb. I must go look up that song now.

  3. Megan November 11, 2008 at 1:53 pm

    That is a great quote, ‘let him fly and don’t keep him in a cage. Let him be who he is’ Its such a simple point but I think it is forgotten by many, like you say, inrelation to humans as well as animals. I think it is all to easy to take freedom for granted depending on the society we live in, which is why it is so important that we recognise the importance and validity of those who are struggling to keep hold of/attain that inalienable right.

  4. greentangle November 11, 2008 at 2:47 pm

    I loved Utah, both the sound of his voice and the words he spoke. Was lucky enough to have a chat with him once–if there were more like him, I wouldn’t be as much of a misanthropist.

  5. Deb November 11, 2008 at 4:51 pm

    @ Sheryl, very true!

    @ Stephanie, I’m so glad you posted about that interview, because I admit I wouldn’t have read it myself as soon as I saw it was about Newkirk! But she did say some really good things, and like it or not, PeTA is who most (like my coworkers) think are the spokespeople for us all.

    @ Megan, I loved that part too. And you’re right, it is very powerful in its simplicity. And yes, freedom is always a relative thing. That could be a blog post of its own! Or a book, but not one written by me.

    @ greentangle, I AM SO JEALOUS. I only got to know Utah’s music/spoken word in the past maybe 7 or 8 years, and that only because of ani difranco and the albums she produced, such as Fellow Workers. I always had it in my mind that I was going to make an effort to get to one of the concerts Utah did or the folk festival in colorado, but it never happened. I was heartbroken when he died. I am very jealous that you got a chance to talk to him! I, too, wish there were more like him. And I have always gotten the feeling through his music that he in turn was mourning the loss of those like mother jones and ammon and all the many people who he learned from and admired. You might be interested in David Rovics music, if you don’t know it already. He’s not the same, yet he’s the closest I’ve heard (aside from ani herself) who is something like this generation’s Utah.

  6. colin November 12, 2008 at 1:01 pm

    Something we often lose sight of—activsts and academics alike—are the simple enunciations of things. In getting caught up trying to be able to explain everything through one theory/ideology, trying to use big words to make ouselves or our ideas seem better than anothers, in generating abstract constructions of actual expereinces, we lose sight of these actual experiences.

    If more of us could/would focus on actual expereinces and work on simple enunciations, it might prove far more fruitful. Many others have shown this to be the case…

  7. Deb November 12, 2008 at 9:55 pm

    colin, this is what you were getting at when we were discussing not being able to see the trees for the forest, wasn’t it? Though we were talking more about how the individuals were lost sight of. Seems to be along the same lines, anyway. And you make a really good point about focusing on actual experiences. I certainly have learned more history and in a more meaningful way by listening to utah’s stories than I ever did by my history classes!

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