I shivered in the December air. “Mad World” played in the background, and I watched from afar as curious bypassers slowly circled the formation of masked individuals. The group, consisting of a dozen people, stand shoulder to shoulder in a square. Some hold laptops, while the others hold signs that read “WATCH TO SEE WHY WE’RE HERE,” and “TRUTH.” A man stopped and stood near me, leaning in to ask, “is this about Donald Trump and fake news?” A closer look at the laptops would indicate no, not at all.
Anonymous for the Voiceless is an animal rights organization that holds demonstrations in 358 cities around the world. The volunteers in Nanaimo make regular appearances downtown, gathering crowds with their mysterious display known as the “cube of truth.” All donning the infamous Guy Fawkes masks, they show documentaries on laptops depicting the truth within slaughterhouses and showcase examples of animal abuse, violence, and death. Outside the “cube of truth” stand a couple outreach volunteers who answer any questions of passersby, and hold conversations about the positive effects of veganism. After their two hour demonstration, I sat down with two of these workers, Lars van’t Hul, Caleb Paisley, and another volunteer who participated in the cube that day, Jo Ross.
I asked what they tell people who walk by and have no idea what’s going on.
“We talk about the ethics behind making a change in their diet choices. We just want to have a conversation about how easy [veganism] is, how to go about it, and what some of the reasons are behind it. I think it’s very effective because the cube itself, being very artistic, draws people in, and then the footage we show tells the story,” said van’t Hul.
“It’s about taking a step back and thinking “what are we doing?” I have not heard a rational argument to continue [harming animals] yet. There isn’t one. Part of the process of doing the outreach is to ask a lot of questions so that people can hear themselves out loud and then contradict themselves. Some people will talk about animal rights and yet they’re not vegan or vegetarian,” said Ross.
“If we have a discussion with someone, we often use the Socratic method, which means we ask questions that basically lead to them making the conclusion for themselves—that this is wrong, and veganism is right. Instead of throwing facts and figures at you, you’re getting there yourself and making a conscious decision, so it’s up to you to do better as you know better,” said van’t Hul.
“They’re watching the screens, and their initial reaction is ‘I hate that, or, I don’t agree with that.’ The next question we ask is ‘do you eat animal products?’ and then, as if a light goes on in their head, they go, ‘oh, shit.’ We have to explain to them that by purchasing those products, they are supporting what’s happening on the screens,” said Paisley.
“Not even just supporting it, but you’re literally facilitating it,” said van’t Hul.
“We want to break down the comfortable words like ‘humane slaughter,’ because a lot of people get sucked in by those words—’free range’ and ‘grass fed.’ We want to show them that those are just marketing words and that’s why we have the signs that say ‘TRUTH,’ because people aren’t given the truth. They’re given what the industry wants them to hear. If an animal doesn’t want to die and doesn’t need to die, what is humane? The definition of humane is having compassion. If we were to truly have compassion and truly use that word ‘humane,’ we wouldn’t be killing the animal in the first place, because killing someone who doesn’t want to die isn’t very humane,” added Ross.
I then brought up the fact that the first time I had ever seen a cube of truth taking place and wasn’t aware of what it was, I was intimidated by the masks and didn’t go near the group. I’d only ever seen those masks before on the Internet in videos about government conspiracies by the group Anonymous. I asked why they chose to wear that particular mask.
“Theoretically, we could wear different masks, but it’s symbolic to remaining anonymous. We are just the messenger, it’s not about us, it’s about what’s happening on the screens. Say we weren’t wearing masks—people would feel like we were casting judgment on them,” said Paisley.
“There is an association with the [Guy Fawkes] masks with protest, and standing up, and speaking up against—I don’t want to say authority, but blind authority, because in a sense, that’s what we’ve done with animals. We’ve accepted what we’ve been told. The [Guy Fawkes] masks also tie into that theme of questioning what we’ve been told and taught. I hope when people see [the masks] it sparks something in them to think something’s not right,” said Ross.
We spoke about the many different documentaries available for viewers to educate themselves on veganism. For Lars, it was Earthlings that turned him; although I’m not vegan, Food Inc. made me the vegetarian I am today. There’s also Forks Over Knives, What The Health, and Cowspiracy, all of which are on Netflix. Leonardo Dicaprio’s documentary Before The Flood educates viewers on the environmental impact choosing to eat meat makes.
“We just hope people make the connection—racism, sexism, speciesism—it’s another “ism” that we need a social injustice movement to eliminate. World hunger could be solved. If we took the grain that was fed to cattle, we could solve world hunger fourteen times over. Part of doing the outreach is getting a handle on how to reach that particular person. It might be the environment, it might be health, but at the end of the day, I think everybody is concerned about starving children.”
Paisley added, “We do get that question, actually. People ask us, ‘You’re out here defending animals, but what are you doing for starving children?’ We tell them it relates to that in a huge way. Everything that’s wrong with the planet ties in with this issue, and there is something about veganism that ties in with every single person.”
“Whatever compels you to veganism, it opens doors to all these other reasons which make you able to stick to it. I think a lot of people aren’t able to stick to it because of social pressures, and also not being educated. That’s also something we work on. Every single person who does outreach, we make sure that they have been in the cube before and they’ve heard us talk. We give them videos and information on how to go through the structure to compel people to go [towards veganism],” said van’t Hul.
He continued, “A couple weeks ago, we had a lady turn vegan on the spot. Today she came back and brought her kids with her. Her decision to introduce veganism to others through [Anonymous for the Voiceless] is so meaningful to us. Being able to actively participate in making the world better and changing other people’s minds is so powerful.”
He eyed up my salad sitting in front of me, the salad I chose to order instead of a grilled cheese sandwich.
“We have to acknowledge the fact that not everyone is going to go vegan on the spot. Sometimes you just have to plant some seeds and let it grow with time. I mean, it’s in everyone’s hearts to not do harm,” he smiles and shrugs.
You can find the Anonymous for the Voiceless group in Nanaimo by joining the Facebook group AV Nanaimo. You can also find the organization on Facebook by searching Anonymous for the Voiceless, or @anonymousforthevoiceless on Instagram. Feel free to email <team@ anonymousforthevoiceless.org> with any questions you have about how to join the team for future cubes. Check out their website at <www.cubeoftruth.com>, where you can find plenty of resources on how to start a new vegan lifestyle.
Before we finished our vegan lunches, Jo had one last comment to add:
“If we can live in a world, without doing harm, if we can save the planet, if we can stop world hunger, all with one easy solution—because it is pretty easy, it’s not as difficult as people make it out to be—then why wouldn’t we? Why wouldn’t we? That’s what I want people to think about.”