The Save Movement is a loosely-connected global activist-force that holds peaceful vigils outside slaughterhouses, meeting the transport trucks and trailers that carry farm animals to the place of their untimely death.
The movement started in 2010 with Toronto Pig Save and from there, first slowly, but then faster and faster, spread around the world. There are now over 300 Save Movements – in Canada, the USA, the UK & Ireland, Australia, continental Europe – including my home country the Netherlands, Hong Kong, and South America – and that number is still growing. Instead of working as an organization with centralized control, the vigils are locally-organized gatherings of mostly vegan animal rights activists at a certain time on a certain date, coordinated by affiliated Save-groups. Not only slaughterhouses are targeted, but also live auctions and livestock markets.
The key objective of The Save Movement is to ‘bear witness’ to farm animals in their final moments before they enter the world’s abattoirs to be slaughtered, “to raise awareness about the plight of farmed animals, help people become vegan, and to build a mass-based, grassroots animal justice movement”.
The Save Movement’s philosophy is inspired by people like Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King and Leo Tolstoy. In the words of the latter:
“When the suffering of another creature causes you to feel pain, do not submit to the initial desire to flee from the suffering one, but on the contrary, come closer, as close as you can to him who suffers, and try to help him.”
Many of the local Save Movements have a special arrangement with the targeted slaughterhouses, so the truck drivers will stop for a few minutes to allow the activists to ‘meet’ the animals that are about to be killed, without increasing the anxiety or stress to the animals.
At the Boxtel Pig Save, not far from my Dutch hometown, we sign in at the gate with employees of VION, a large international meat producer, get a badge to be on the property and are assigned a curbside spot on their parking lot where trucks will pull up and open the latches so we can interact with and hydrate the pigs.
Also at De Hoef Calf Save we are allowed on the property of the halal-specialized slaughterhouse, but outside the main gate.
That ‘meeting’ is more than petting the animals, reassuring them and giving them water to drink as a last act of kindness. It is acknowledging their lives, bearing witness to their fate and at the same time saying good-bye, but also trying to comfort them and showing them love for the one and only time in their generally short lives.
Many activists try to put into words their horror and regret at what other humans are doing to these victims, assure the animals their lives do matter and that they will not be forgotten, while at the same time affirm that they will keep on fighting until this unnecessary, barbaric practice comes to an end.
There are other purposes to the vigils. As the trucks carrying pigs, calves, sheep or chickens halt, either voluntarily or blocked, outside the slaughterhouse gates, activists take photos around and inside the trailers to document the conditions the animals experience. Like the documentation gathered by cove guardians and monitors of the Taiji dolphin slaughter and captivity, or the undercover footage taken at factory farms, powerful images of what ‘we humans’ do to other living beings, travel lightning-fast around the world via traditional and social media. The goal is to inform consumers on how their supermarket purchase or restaurant order of meat is produced and to convince as many people as possible to – first – adopt a vegan lifestyle and boycott the animal agriculture industry, and then commit to a life of activism. Bearing witness is not just an option, it could be argued that it is a duty!
Slaughterhouses in general do not advertise their presence – they prefer to operate in the shadows – remember the McCartney’s “glass wall” quote. So, especially if the chosen slaughterhouse is located near a busy road, placards and banners can expand the scope of the vigil to making the public aware to the fact that the slaughterhouse exists in this location, and what is being done to animals brought there.
In the Dutch town of Apeldoorn, a VION pig slaughterhouse and an EKRO calf abattoir are located on opposite sides of a busy thoroughfare, where the placards are greeted by car honks and thumbs-up.
There is also a personal side to bearing witness. Every vegan has likely seen the suffering and deprivation farm animals undergo, either in online clips or during screenings of documentaries like ‘Earthlings’. Some might have held up the photos on posters or the videos on laptops themselves during vegan outreach events. None of this can prepare you for standing eye-to-eye, face-to-face with a pig, cramped into a truck with his or her ‘brethren’; the pig examining you in the same way you look at him or her; you will be able to read the confusion, the insecurity, the fear, in his or her eyes; hear it in the screams.
There is something incredibly powerful about meeting these victims of our global carnist culture, not on a computer screen, but in person. Seeing these animals right before they die is something you will never shake; it changes you, it removes any speciesist boundaries you might still harbor, it reaffirms you in your veganism and activism, presses on you the urgency of this cause. It makes you stronger as a person, more determined, but also more authentic as an activist.
It reinforces in you the conviction that these animals should not have to depend on our kindness or compassion, to not be treated as a renewable resource, having value only relative to human interests, but that their inherent value should be respected and protected, based on moral rights transformed into laws, as a fundamental justice.
Vigils connect you with like-minded individuals. There is a sense of community that you might miss in daily life with your carnist family, childhood friends or colleagues. Sharing this experience might at the same time comfort and inspire you.
Never forget, however, that this is not about us. It is about the animals.
People sometimes ask if ‘Save’ is not the wrong word-choice as at most vigils no animals are directly rescued. The Save Movement, however, justifies its name by inspiring ‘passive’ vegans to become full-blown activists and non-vegans to choose a cruelty-free lifestyle. Every new vegan potentially means the saving of dozens to hundreds to thousands of animal lives. It truly is a SAVE Movement.
Join a SAVE movement near you!