'Cube of truth': Anonymous hit streets with violent footage of animal farming

A splinter group of the loose online activist group reports real-world success with a vegan campaign featuring flatscreens and Guy Fawkes masks

The buskers and bystanders that fill Sydney’s Pitt Street Mall are standing with wide eyes, in disbelief and sometimes loud outrage. A four-minute montage of animal agriculture practices called Thousand Eyes is screaming mutely at them: sows beaten in their pens, their piglets gasping or dismembered on steel floors. Turkeys panicking in the dark, sheep that seem to know their throats are to be slit while they’re still alive. A cow bludgeoned to half-life, and the chickens. The chickens are what get to people the most.

Thousand Eyes repeats, ad nauseam and in all directions, on the laptops and flatscreens being held up by some of the Guy Fawkes-masked volunteers that stand in an outwards-facing square, forming the “Cube of Truth”. They are members of Anonymous for the Voiceless, or simply AV: a synapse of Anonymous’ decentralised network that focuses exclusively on animal rights.

Unlike the hacktivism or slacktivism inherent in some of Anonymous’ ventures in anti-status quo, AV take to the streets, Occupy-style. AV began life in Melbourne last year, but its headquarters are now in Chiang Mai, Thailand and there are chapters all over the world. After a series of similar Melbourne events, the Sydney chapter was founded in November by 22-year-old Lauren Godbier – and the recent Cube of Truth event at Pitt Street Mall was their second.

The Cube of Truth at Pitt Street Mall
The masks ‘encourage bystanders to view the screens for longer without the feeling that someone is staring at them’, say organisers. Photograph: Toby McCasker

The Cube of Truth’s dimensions may vary (today it’s built from 4x5 people) but its purpose – go vegan – does not. AV’s “outreachers” circle the screens unmasked, charged with slowing the quickened steps of the public or animating those paralysed in the deadlights of Thousand Eyes.

In a statement to Guardian Australia, the chief executive of the National Farmers Federation, Tony Mahar, said his organisation “condemns the inhumane treatment of animals”.

“We were sickened by the contents of the video and we encourage authorities to take appropriate action,” he said. “Farmers care for their animals and are themselves the strong advocates of good animal health and welfare outcomes ... best practice farming is vital to the livelihood of Australian farmers. Not complying with animal welfare requirements is unacceptable.”

The outreachers agree. One describes today as not a rally or a demonstration or a protest but a “reverse intervention”.

“They’re coming to us, aren’t they?” she half-wonders of the crowd.

She is not wrong: instead of hightailing, many hover on the periphery of the masks and mandatory black of the human cube, their footage and their signs (which read “truth”).

“The masks help make the cube inanimate, which encourages bystanders to view the screens for longer without the feeling that someone is staring at them,” Matt Stellino, the Sydney chapter’s co-organiser, says. “They signify how, through clever marketing, people are being lied to, controlled; are asleep to the fact it’s happening. They also help signal that change is coming.”

“The masks draw a lot of attention as well,” Godbier adds.

Stellino prides himself on having an answer for everything – but even he acknowledges that sometimes that’s not enough.

“One guy, he walked past and made a passing comment like, ‘These fucking idiots. There’s kids starving overseas and you want to worry about fucking animals,’” Stellino recalls. “I was like, ‘Would you like to know how stopping animal consumption makes a direct impact on that [starvation]? We have 1.5 billion hungry, starving people on this planet. Yet we find the grain to feed the 60 billion livestock who eat more than each one of those people will. The math on it is simple, it’s there. If we stop contributing it [the grain] towards animals it can go towards the people.’ The guy goes, ‘Well, that’s going to destroy the Australian economy.’ I said, ‘How?’ He goes, ‘Well, because if people in Australia stopped eating meat it would destroy the economy.’

“Sometimes people use the volume to speak over you or repeat their points to make it seem like you haven’t answered it.”

The Cube of Truth at Pitt Street Mall
Lauren Godbier and Matt Stellino from the Sydney branch of Anonymous for the Voiceless. Photograph: Toby McCasker

Earlier that day a man, ranting about lamb as a kind of fundamental Australian right, became so enraged he started to loom over the five-foot-nothing outreach woman he was talking to.. Seemingly emboldened by this, another man, wiry and hatted, barged through onlookers to point at the cube and proclaim: “What the fuck do you think you’re doing? My fucking kids could be fucking seeing this, I’m not fucking letting my fucking kids see this, you fucks.”

Stellino explains that the group organises permits in advance, and are protected by the law. “We had the police come up to us at the start of our last demonstration, viewed what we were showing, ruled it wasn’t illegal. Simply asked us if any young kids approached to tilt the screen a little bit so it wasn’t in their face, and that’s it.

“Realistically there’s not much they could do, because any child in a public place is there under the direct supervision of their parents. It’s up to the parents. Some parents even let their children watch it.”

“We shouldn’t assume that children are idiots,” Godbier says. “I honestly think that we should educate children from the time they’re in kindergarten or when they go to school – actually show them where their meat comes from, really, because you’re lying to them when you’re not showing them.”

She says if they see a child under 12 years of age or thereabouts, they instruct them to go and find their parent first. “If we do see children that are by themselves looking at the screen we do lead them away, that’s one of the policies.”

A grown woman’s face is sodden and red as Thousand Eyes plays out in her pupils: endless baby chicks squashed into a grinder.

“Those are what we call ‘carers’,” bemoans a yellow-haired girl nearby. “They’ll throw money at various charities to ease their conscience, but won’t make any dramatic personal changes.”

Those who do indicate they might make a change – “either by signing up to the challenge or thanking you very sincerely for your time and making statements that make you reasonably assume they will act towards it”, explains Stellino – are counted as “conversions” or “successes”. AV are wary of coming across as a cult, though there is still the matter of what “signing up” actually means.

“We offer a 22-day vegan challenge, all your meals planned,” Stellino says. “If the planned meals don’t work for you because you have a specific condition or you have a specific allergy, we actually have a nutritional scientist that’s willing to sit down and plan a specific one-on-one diet for the person along with a vegan mentor to help them through it.”

Assumed victories amount to 113 as the sun dips low and paints the city a moody blue. Not a disappointing day for Godbier and Stellino, but some people audibly walked away wondering, as many often do: what difference can one person make? What impact are they even having just by sitting down with a sirloin for lunch?

“You hired the hitman but you’re not guilty of the murder?” Stellino snorts. “I’ve got a sticker down the side of my ute that says, ‘If you stop buying, they stop dying.’ It’s simple commerce, supply and demand. You learn this stuff in year 10. I don’t know why people forget it.”

Godbier adds that when they see the footage, they know it’s wrong. “We’ve got these big screens with what’s actually going on: Baby chickens going through grinders, cows being hung up and having their throats split, little baby pigs being limp on the ground. That’s what we have. When people see that they question themselves. We are in a better position to talk to them then. They might not have ever seen this stuff before.”

“The kebab shop doesn’t have to close,” Stellino offers. “We just want falafels for everyone.”

Contributor

Toby McCasker

The GuardianTramp

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