Maggie Salter

Bearing Witness

I went to my first vigil over the summer where we were bearing witness to cows on their way to slaughter. There were a lot of things going through my head that day – so many things I wanted to do – but as soon as that first truck heading to the slaughterhouse stopped, all I can remember was watching all these activists, with the best intentions, run up to the truck, trying to get up to the front to take pictures and videos. To my disbelief, it actually began to remind me of a zoo. I know these pictures and videos were to document the animals’ suffering, the hands poking through the bars were all intended to show compassion, and all the tears shed were out of love, but these animals had already been through so much, and they’ve only known the worst in humans. So, isn’t it reasonable to believe they’d be afraid of us?

Now, don’t get me wrong, I didn’t write this to take anything away from bearing witness or the activists that go to vigils because they are genuinely some of the strongest people out there, but when done in the wrong ways, I think we can accidentally cause more distress than comfort. If you put yourself in the animals’ place, a hot metal box covered in feces, slipping around and bumping into others that are stuffed into the same foreign place as you, it’s scary enough. Also, consider that this is probably your first time ever leaving the only place you’re familiar with; imagine a sudden onslaught of hands and phones of dozens of creatures you don’t know. The trip from the farm where they were raised to the slaughterhouse is overwhelming enough without all the excess stimulation we bring when we start pushing boundaries.

To put it simply, I wanted to write this story not to bring a negative image to bearing witness but to show a different side of it. To show that we might not all have the same experience and that we might not all take away the same thing. This was only my first experience at a vigil, and I could have a completely different experience if I went again. Different circumstances could leave me thinking of it in a totally different light. I went into it expecting to leave crying, heartbroken, and outraged. I had this idea in my head of what I was supposed to do, what was supposed to happen, and while some of those things did happen, I also left with some insight I wasn’t expecting. You can’t base what you’re “supposed” to feel or think on someone else’s experience. Take everything with a grain of salt because it’s okay to feel things differently from someone else.

Lastly, I just want you to remember (in the case of bearing witness) we are there for the animals. We are there to show them love in their last moments, so we need to be mindful of their feelings instead of getting wrapped up in what we think we’re supposed to be doing.