SIUC Dept. of Communication Studies RSOs
Photo by Nathan Edwards
This is the second blog post in a 3-part series. They can each be read independently, but they do connect together. You can find them here: [First post], [Third post].
Many of us have seen undercover footage inside slaughterhouses, animal farms, and transport trucks on the news or social media. For a moment we heard those animals cry out for help into a hidden camera, often worn by an activist trying to expose the truth behind these industries. I had seen countless hours of this type of footage before witnessing it with my own eyes. If it disturbs you when someone pulls up a video of pigs outside a slaughterhouse, then imagine what it’s like to stand next to them as they are marched to their death with no chance of escape. Imagine, if only for a moment, how you would feel. Then, imagine how they feel.
It was June 25th, 2018, when I first went to Park Packing, a slaughterhouse in the south side of Chicago. It was 3 AM and a couple dozen other activists were already there waiting for the truck full of terrified animals to arrive. We gathered outside and the organizers walked us through what we would see, and how we must stay calm no matter how angry we might feel at the injustice we were about to witness. As I was standing there, waiting for this truck, I noticed the air felt heavy. I am not a spiritual person, but I swear I could feel the death in the atmosphere around me. Before I saw the truck pull around the corner, I could smell it. The feces, urine, and fear being condensed in a hot metal cage. It came to a stop and we approached it with heavy hearts. There was a constant moaning and occasion scream of distress as I walked towards the holes in the metal walls of the truck. We were prepared with water bottles to quench their thirst and cameras to document their pain. They had spent the last 24-48 hours in this truck with no food or water, and their lives leading up to this point were no better.
There was over a hundred animals crammed in this truck; pigs and goats who were separated inside by metal barriers. I clearly remember one individual: Number 23. Our society views their entire existence as a product to commodify, and therefore we don’t bother giving them their own name. No thoughtful word to symbolize their unique personality and experience in their short, miserable life. Only a number.
We tried giving water to every individual on the truck, as they were all dehydrated and overheating. I did however spend most of my time with number 23. We connected on a deep and dark level. I looked into her eyes and felt a harrowing sense of dread. I whispered to her that I love her, that I care for her, but that I couldn’t save her. I told her that I would share her story and the story of every nameless being our species mercilessly slaughters. I told her that I wouldn’t give up.
After around an hour of documenting, comforting, and connecting with these animals, we had to step away from the truck. The workers had begun arriving to force these creatures inside the walls of this modern torture chamber. I cried as I gave the rest of my water to 23, and then turned away. We stayed as a worker went into the truck with a paddle, which he used to smack any “disobedient” animal into submission. We stayed until no animal was left in the truck, and the last scream was heard before the doors closed until their next shipment.
This day changed my life. I knew the statistics of how many animals endured this madness but putting faces to the numbers touched my heart on a fundamentally different level. This wasn’t about reducing abstract statistics anymore; this was now about saving my friends.
My experience at Park Packing drove my passion to end this system to new heights. A couple months later I came to SIUC to help further my capabilities to enact social change.
About the Author
Nathan Edwards is an SIUC student specializing in Persuasive Communications. He founded the animal rights RSO, Students for the Voiceless, in the spring semester of 2019. Published here is a 3-part series on his journey as an animal rights activist.