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Bill and Lou, One Year Later

A year ago this week, the campaign to retire the oxen known as Bill and Lou to a sanctuary came to a crashing close as Green Mountain College announced that they had killed Lou. (Bill was given a temporary stay of execution but was required to remain at the campus where he had been worked and whipped rather than retire to any of the sanctuaries that offered him refuge, veterinary care, and the company of other cows his age. It has been some time since any of his allies in Poultney have caught a glimpse of him, so we cannot say—and will not speculate—whether or where he might be living.)

VINE came out of that wrenching experience determined to learn from it and even more convinced than ever of the importance of careful strategic thinking. And so, this week, we announce a forthcoming e-book and an online library that has just begun “construction,” both of which we hope will help the animal liberation and advocacy movements become even more effective.

“Bill and Lou Must Die”

Bill and Lou Must Die, a Real-Life Murder Mystery from the Green Mountains of Vermont soon will be published as an e-book by Lantern Books. Authored by VINE Sanctuary cofounder pattrice jones after a year of reflection, this book offers a thought-provoking and soul-searching examination of the worldwide campaign that tried and failed to bring Bill and Lou to sanctuary, coming to the conclusion that a multiplicity of factors (some of which may be surprising to you) converged to “overdetermine” Lou’s death. From this analysis, pattrice draws a number of conclusions that she thinks may be useful to activists.

You can see the Table of Contents and read the first chapter here. Sign up to be notified when the book is available here. (The author’s portion of book sales will go to VINE.)

“Lou Memorial Library”

Whether we have succeeded, failed, or (as usual) fallen somewhere in between, taking the time to assess and analyze activist campaigns can be useful—and is even more so if we then share what we did and what we think about what we did with other activists. We have long wished for a compendium of case studies of animal activism. Not just “we leafleted” or “we protested,” but very specific details about what was done under what circumstances and what happened as a result. We sometimes hear such stories at conferences but, sadly, more often hear one-size-fits-all prescriptions that presume the opposite of what we know to be true about how social change happens.

And so, we are inaugurating the Lou Memorial Library as an online repository for case studies in animal activism. We’ve done the easy part—setting up the website infrastructure. Now we need you to help us fill the library. You can help by telling your activist friends about the library; by encouraging activists to submit case studies; by submitting case studies of your own activism; by suggesting other resources (books, articles, or websites that include detailed information about and assessments of past campaigns); or by becoming a volunteer “librarian” to help us with the process of soliciting, compiling, and posting case studies and other resources.

13 comments to Bill and Lou, One Year Later

  • I write fiction, not fact—but my fiction (all murder mysteries) allow me to rant and rave about things in real life that consistently piss me off. So since I’ve been so emotionally involved with Lou and Bill, the book that I am currently writing features two characters whose names are just a HAIR away from the two worst bastards at Green Mountain College. One of them gets murdered; BOTH of them in the story are SHITS. The novel (if I livelong enough to finish it) will be published next fall. I’ll let you know when it appears.
  • pattrice
    Les, I look forward to that book. And I’ll be curious to see what you think of my spin on our real-life “murder mystery,” which takes all sorts of factors — race, place, human psychology — into account in assessing the all-important question of motive.
  • Orgyen Chodron
    To Bravebird:
    Your article was passed on to me by a friend who followed the story of Bill and Lou last year and still often talks about it to me. She has remained on your mailing list in spite of the fact that she struggled not only with the manner in which the college dealt with the oxen, but with her feelings about the behavior and speech of the advocates for Bill and Lou.

    I truly respect your desire to do good; I work with animals myself and am a lifelong caregiver. In replying to your post, I will search (hopefully with some success) for the right words to challenge the self righteous language you use to garner support for the animals you so love. Even when “preaching to the choir”, inflammatory language does little to persuade human beings to work together. Such language is of far less use when seeking support from people who have no interest in perpetrating polarization, dogma and personal agenda.

    We have seen, historically, that no good comes of hatred and condescension, yet we continue to keep such tools in our back pockets to whip out whenever we feel justified. I would argue that we use them most when we feel powerless.

    Having recently traveled to Tibet, I witnessed firsthand the atrocities of the Chinese government toward the Tibetan people, animals and land. In the US, these same atrocities are routine on reservations where our first people and their animals live. And of course, in ordinary everyday American life we see examples of human and animal rights being trounced over and over.

    It’s easy–simply not difficult–to naturally feel bitterness,hatred and righteous indignation in this world. It’s easy to act from what feels like a place of empowerment when we’re, as Les R. says in his post, pissed off. And while it’s easy to feel a surge of power and purpose when the heat of passion arises, and the action that results can look like accomplishment, we’re being fooled.

    It’s the very ease of negative reaction that should cause us to feel suspect. Any positive results garnered from self righteousness merely fuel our negative motivation and keep us running on anger.

    Again the key is, it’s easy to feel anger. Really easy. So we need to notice when we’ve got that buzz going and learn how to work with it, redirect that power and create a concentrated force for good. We need to shut the hot water faucet off and take a cold shower, so to speak. To simply sit still, cool down, and allow real power and true motivation to gather takes practice but it pays off. It’s just harder to see the results sometimes.

    If we are motivated by anger and hatred–ever–we perpetrate the very things we despise. We can only expect true change when we practice compassion. Not only for the victims but for the tyrants. When we operate from fear, i.e., anger, we may look like we’re accomplishing something, we may justify the “one life saved” etc., but in reality we’re trapped in a truly vicious cycle of cause and effect.

    Compassion is not complacency; the teachings on compassion don’t say that we can’t act, only that acting out of bitterness, resentment, powerlessness and all other forms of negative karma-accruing motivation will not save anyone. Allowing what comes out of our mouths, our pens, our computers to resemble the same vitriol we aspire to end will never work.

    The only assurance we have of easing and ultimately ending all suffering is to include all beings in our aspiration for liberation from the relentless wheel of what Buddhism calls samsara, the endless cycle of misery. To do that, we must be willing to add voices of sanity and decency to all arguments, even the ones we lose. Even the ones we know we will lose. When we feel our tempers flare, we must try to take a moment to pause before expressing ourselves–that small pause is what gives great teachers like Thich Nhat Hanh the ability to turn the most hardened heart toward compassion. And it’s only that type of change that stops people from abusing animals and each other.

    And when we aren’t strong enough to do so, we must be willing to own our reaction–not back down from our principles but express regret at our own cruelty and harshness and train our unruly minds to move toward a desire to include, not exclude, others. It is possible to remain active, awake, articulate, fiercely driven AND kind.

    It’s easy to love animals–all animals–partly because we do not hold them accountable for their actions. After all, they only behave badly because of disease or the wrong actions of human beings. It’s very, very hard to unconditionally love all human beings. Our species gets to decide how we behave.

    When taking direct action, we need to act with purpose, it’s true. But we can tear down fences, remove animals and people from situations where they are being harmed, block trucks–sugar their gas tanks if we want, shut down facilities, challenge speakers etc. while still offering open arms to our detractors. We can keep our hearts open AND stand our ground (with our very lives if necessary) while holding love in our hearts for even the most heinous among us.

    Anything less than this is pointless no matter how good it looks.

  • pattrice
    I personally tend to shy away from one-size-fits-all prescriptions. I think there are lots of different ways to work with anger, which is a vital and vitalizing emotion. Some people, especially those of us who have seen many atrocities first-hand, simply are not able to feel compassion for perpetrators nor interested in expending some of their scarce time and energy in trying to do so. This does not mean that they cannot be effective activists. Just as it is possible to behave kindly while feeling cranky, it is possible to both conceive and implement strategically smart activist strategies regardless of whether or not one personally feels compassion for for the perpetrators of violence. I have known many, many activists in many movements –not just animal liberation but also AIDS activism, anti-poverty work, and the struggles against rape and domestic violence– who have done effective work made all the more extraordinary because they did it while absolutely ravaged by the rage that arises naturally in our bodies when we witness or endure violence. So, while I appreciate much of what you’ve said here, I cannot go along with calling everything that doesn’t happen to be motivated by personal feelings of compassion “pointless.”
  • That was a sad situation. I signed the petition and as usual it did no good because they still killed Lou. I truly hope Bill is still alive and they will come to their senses and retire Bill to a sanctuary.
  • pattrice
    Right, I have always been fairly skeptical of online petitions except in very limited cases where the person or institution being petitioned really does want or need the support of the petitioners AND where there are not other, more compelling, factors pushing them in a different direction. I am even more skeptical after this episode. So, while it can be very useful to let a company know that its customers are unhappy or to let a legislator know what the people in the legislative district do or don’t want, in most instances online petitions are unlikely to achieve their stated aims. They can be useful in other ways, as when the very act of reading the petition educates and motivates the signer. But we need to be realistic. Just as the administrators at Green Mountain College didn’t care AT ALL what people outside of their insular circle thought about their actions, many of the people to whom online petitions are addressed don’t care AT ALL what random people on the internet think about their actions. So, the online petition can be the perfect tool in some circumstances but may do more harm than good (by making people feel that they have taken action and then be discouraged from taking further action when the petition doesn’t work) in others.
  • If I may ask, what kind of a college is Green Mountain?
  • Sorry I forgot, but will you be posting when your book will be available and where it will be sold?
  • pattrice
    Nancy, Green Mountain College is a small, private, liberal arts college with a small on-campus project that they call a farm. Here’s where you can sign up to be notified when the book is available: sign up
  • Roz
    Pattrice, totally agree that online petitions are not much of a tool for serious change, save for rare situations. But I thought the Bill and Lou campaign was one of those rare exceptions. From the outside at least it appeared that VINE was able to use the tremendous worlwide response to the petition to help generate press attention and mobilize on-the-ground support. I know all those efforts combined were not enough to persuade the College to release Bill and Lou, but the campaign raised a great deal of awareness and seems to have given rise to a number of other efforts in various locations. The folks at VINE and the other involved organizations did so many things well under enormous stress from the College. I hope that gets recognized too!
  • Well said Roz. I have signed alot of online petitions that have really helped.
  • Frieda Nelson
    pLEASE LET me know when the book and the library are ready, I want the book and perhaps I can do something to help with the library.
  • Does anyone know if Bill is still alive and if he’s still at that god awful college? I’m still angered that they killed Lou and would not send them to a sanctuary. I still think of them both.

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