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WAYNE HSIUNG: He put his freedom on the line to rescue animals, now wants to be Berkeley’s next mayor

Wayne Hsiung, as co-founder of Direct Action Everywhere (DxE), worked to build a social movement that would expose the cruel living conditions for animals in industrial farms.

FRANCES DINKELSPIEL: In 2016, Wayne Hsiung moved to Berkeley with the explicit intent of using the city as a lever for the liberation of animals. From a group home on The Plaza Drive in Berkeley’s tony Claremont district, Hsiung and others in Direct Action Everywhere (DxE), the group he co-founded in 2013, worked to build a social movement that would expose the cruel living conditions for animals in industrial farms around the nation. Through protests, shaming meat-eaters in restaurants, clandestine entry into animal farms, high-profile arrests and a sophisticated use of social media, members of DxE have fought to “normalize veganism and animal rights,” according to the group’s “Forty-Year Roadmap to Animal Liberation.”

DxE’s ultimate goal: To pass a constitutional amendment that ends the “institutionalized exploitation of non-human animals.” The amendment would grant animals “legal personhood.” Hsiung and DxE members selected Berkeley as the place to root the organization and build the movement, ultimately creating one of the operation’s largest and most active chapters. Building power at the local level is one of DxE’s tenets, as it believes the most successful social movements start in one location, secure success there, and then go viral, according to the roadmap. For DxE, Berkeley has been that place… DxE’s roadmap sets a target of 2025 to ban meat in Berkeley, although Hsiung says he has backed off from that goal…

With Hsiung as DxE’s head — he said he stepped down from leadership in 2019 but continues to be a member — the nonprofit grew dramatically, both in Berkeley and around the world. There are now 54 active chapters in 20 countries, according to Matt Johnson, DxE’s Bay Area press coordinator. In the Bay Area, there are 195 DxE members, he said, with another 100 people joining in for specific events. One community house in Berkeley has spawned a handful of others. DxE runs the Animal Rights Center, the first of its kind in the nation, in the city-owned Telegraph Channing Mall in the Southside neighborhood. It serves as an organizing and educational hub…

Hsiung has been arrested numerous times while protesting what he considers atrocious conditions at farms. He currently is facing 17 felonies and eight misdemeanor charges in connection with actions at pig and turkey farms farm in Utah, a goat rescue in North Carolina, and two poultry farms in Petaluma. Hsiung has said he faces as long as 85 years in prison if convicted, but told Berkeleyside he doesn’t think that will interfere with his ability to serve as mayor… Around 100 DxE members are facing felony and misdemeanor charges around the U.S., according to Hsiung. In 2018 and 2019, DxE spent $286,740 on “legal advocacy” expenses, according to the group’s 990 federal tax forms…

Now Hsiung, 39, is running for mayor of Berkeley… Has Hsiung discovered a new passion for municipal politics? He has never served on a city commission, but he has worked as a lawyer and a community activist for decades, skills he has called on in running his campaign. He hasn’t been a regular at City Council meetings but he has mobilized an army of 200 volunteers to knock on 26,000 doors and place green and white lawn signs seemingly everywhere — on telephone poles, stop signs, windows and lawns. Or is the controversial leader of DxE running to fulfill a years-long goal of bringing his animal rights group mainstream?

Another objective in DxE’s roadmap is “placing as many supporters as possible in the city council of a seed city.” One other current high-ranking member, Paul Darwin Picklesimer, part of DxE SF Bay Area’s elected core organizing team, is a candidate for District 5 on the City Council. “When you are trying to change the system as a whole, the best way to change it isn’t serving on a commission,” Hsiung told Berkeleyside in a Zoom interview on Monday. “It’s by mobilizing community members, ordinary citizens. This is what I have done”…

Hsiung said he is not worried about the felony charges he faces. He said his lawyer told him there is no way he and the others will be convicted. California has a law that allows people to intervene when they witness animals suffering, he said. In addition, the pandemic has slowed down the progress of cases in courts, and Hsiung said he didn’t think a resolution would happen any time soon. If he is elected, however, Hsiung said he will consider cutting a deal with prosecutors — if his constituents think he shouldn’t fight the charges.

Hsiung described his arrests as being part of a long history of civil disobedience done in the name of a higher good, like those arrested while fighting for suffrage or for civil rights. While he said he had been arrested 20 times, he noted that recently deceased Congressman John Lewis had been arrested 40 times. “We are not going to change the political system nationally unless we change it in Berkeley,” he said. SOURCE…


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