What happens when you walk on a plane to North Carolina
NOTE: I’m writing every day in memory of Lisa, who died on October 13. Not all of these posts will be sent out by email, and some I may write from jail/prison, as I go to trial on November 29. So if you want to follow this journey, visit the blog every day. I’ll try to post by 10 am each day, but occasionally, I’m sure a post will be late.
North Carolina is a state controlled by the ag industry. It has the broadest ag gag law in the nation. It’s Republican-dominated legislature has passed legislation preventing local citizens from taking legal action against factory farms that pollute their air and water. And it’s home to the single largest slaughterhouse in the nation, and perhaps the world — Smithfield’s massive fortress of death in Tar Heel, North Carolina. That slaughterhouse is a place where disease and pollution have spread like wildfire, workers have been assaulted for daring to unionize, and countless animals have been eviscerated alive.
And so, when you hop on a plane to North Carolina, as a “radical” animal rights activist, you don’t expect a cheery welcome. But that’s exactly what I’ve received every time I’ve come to this state.
“Are you Wayne?” a woman asked me, literally on the first row in the plane.
“Yea, I am! So nice to meet you.”
“I know your work. Thanks so much for everything you do.”
The couple who greeted me on the plane, and who spoke to me afterwards, were consistent with a surprising experience I’ve had in North Carolina: warmness, even for my supposedly “radical” animal rights beliefs. The people I’ve met over the years at the Asheville Vegan Fest — including Denise Bitz, who will be testifying at trial — are some of the most passionate animal rights activists I know. Locals have given us tips, and even pointed us to specific facilities, as we’ve investigated the state’s massive animal farming industry. Even the corrections officers in jail, back in summer 2018 when I was arrested, listened intently when I described the consciousness and suffering of goats in meat production. (They started calling me “the goat man” but in the most respectful and positive way one can imagine that term being used.)
This couple in the airport was no different. One, Korina, was a consultant for a number of major nonprofit organizations. Another, Andy, was a retired high ranking officer in the US Navy. Both are North Carolina residents, through and through. And both care deeply about the suffering of animals.
“You can’t look back once you’ve made the connection,” Korina said to me.
This trial is about many things. The plight of animals. The need for rescue. The personhood of animals. But one of the most important things that will be tested is our faith in the people of North Carolina. I believe, based on my experiences in this state, that these are good people. Fair people. Compassionate people. And while many of them probably will not immediately embrace animal rights — and some may even choose to imprison me in the next few days — I am very confident, based on my experiences in this state, that public attitudes are changing in the right direction.
This trial, in other words, is a gamble in which we are placing our faith in the people of this state. If we win, we will prove that compassion is a universal value. If we lose, we will, at a minimum, see where we are, and where we need to go. But we will also support the people of this state who do believe deeply in compassion, like Korina and Andy, to continue speaking strongly, even in the face of adversity.