Liberate! #1-7 (1996-1997 Birkenhead, New Zealand)
Liberate! was published by Auckland Animal Action, one of the dozens of militant organizations that suddenly coalesced in the mid-90s. While the activities of the group itself were fairly moderate, the visual direction and rhetoric of the magazine was quite extreme. In it’s era this was appropriate. In these modern days of soy milk in every cafe and vegan cheese in every supermarket, talking about cutting off the fingers of vivisectors is certainly going to frighten away an audience that is already coming around. It wasn’t very long ago, however, that the late 80’s trend of moderation in activism was a clear failure. Dialogue about violence and sabotage was a necessary component of moving forward, and it is important to note that these discussions, thankfully, didn’t result in any missing digits.
Liberate! was not particularly well written, but there are some stand out articles about the burgeoning pro-direct action grassroots, conflicts between environmentalists and animal liberationists, and some entertaining imagery as well. Also of interest, given the current Canadian “Marineland Animal Defense” campaign, are the details of New Zealand’s 90s campaign against their own Marineland.
No Compromise #12-14 (1999, Old Bridge, NJ and Santa Cruz, CA)
If I had to create a list of my favorite years in animal and earth liberation history, 1999 would be in the top 5. As the movement looked towards the new millennium there seemed to be an intense urgency in the air, perhaps people felt the need to close the 20th century with a bang or leave their mark before the world ended in a technological melt down on Y2K! Whatever the reasons, direct action reached a fever pitch. Lab raids returned to the United States, the Earth Liberation Front continued it’s ascendancy, Hillgrove farm was shut forever, and everyone seemed to be preparing for the World Trade Organization ministerial in Seattle. Across the globe there was a sense that people were not going to take it anymore, and whether you were struggling against bio-technology or prisons or speciesism, chances are good that you were employing some form of illegal tactic.
No Compromise may not have covered everything going on in the global struggle, but if it was animal lib related then chances are it was covered in these three issues. From the death of Alex Slack to end of the annual Hegins pigeon massacre, you’d be hard pressed to find a more complete overview of these twelve action packed months.
Breaking Free #2 (1999, Eugene, OR.)
The second and final episode of Breaking Free has some glaring faults: jokes that are not funny, computer animation that is antiquated and was already embarrassing upon it’s release, and no shortage of bad titling choices. It also contains footage of some of the most important and influential campaigns of the era it was produced, especially the Consort Kennels and Hillgrove protests which eventually led to the international fight against Huntingdon Life Sciences. Many long forgotten ALF raids are also shown, along with the final major civil disobedience actions at the end of the voluntary arrest era of the 1990s.
Breaking Free Video Magazine #1 (1998, Eugene, OR)
Back in 1997 I was kicked out of the Liberation Collective house in Portland and moved back to my home town of Eugene. Portland was a great place for activism in those days, but Eugene didn’t have much going on… yet. So, me and an old friend decided to start an Animal Defense League chapter. Right from the start we had a tough time getting people in the streets, but we had another idea…
I grew up skateboarding, and one of the most fascinating things about that art form is how coverage of skateboarding ultimately progresses the art of skateboarding. Every time a new skate video came out kids all over the world would see new possibilities, would feel the fire lit beneath them to try new tricks, and would find courage to do so because they had just seen other people do it right in front of them. They would film their tricks, and then the whole process would happen again and again, with each new video being more impressive than the one that preceded it. My buddy had just bought a top of the line video editing setup- A pentium II with a 9 gig drive, an SVS deck, and a copy of Premiere 3.2 with a $3,000 analog video capture card. Maybe we could do for activism what skate videos did for skateboarding.
The world of non-human liberation movements was fast paced and loaded with action back then. I knew that someone needed to document everything going on, but I couldn’t afford to travel and film it all. Most AR groups had a cheap camera though, so I put out the word that we wanted to get everyone’s footage for a video, and slowly the tapes started to trickle in. We learned how to edit through trial and error, and after several months of frustration in front of the computer, Breaking Free #1 was available.
The video is not perfect in any way, and there is a lot about it that embarrasses me. Still, there was nothing else quite like it at the time. Sales were high, it was translated into German and Spanish, bootleg copies were everywhere, and even mainstream publications like Animals Agenda were praising us. While I cringe at the mispronunciation of “Nietzsche,” the bad joke of an opening, and yes, the techno music, (Sorry, Mr. K!) I feel pride that we created such an accurate picture of the state of the movement, and insured that so many acts of anger, disobedience, and compassion were not forgotten. Please watch it with critical, but forgiving eyes.