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"What the F_ Just Happened?" (Podcast)
We won the right to rescue Lily and Lizzie. Here’s how it went down on the last day in court.
Over the last few months, I’ve re-organized my entire life in preparation for incarceration. In an off-the-record hearing a few months ago, Judge Jeffrey Wilcox implied to our attorneys that Paul and I were obviously guilty, and that if we did not accept a plea bargain, we should be prepared to be imprisoned. He issued ruling after ruling that undercut our constitutional right to mount a complete defense, or even tell the story of our prosecution to the public. And, on the first day of trial, he contradicted his own prior order in effectively barring us from scrutinizing the jurors for bias.
Winning an open rescue case is already extraordinarily difficult. I’m not aware of a single case in animal rights history where an activist has been outright acquitted. Adam Durand’s prosecution in the mid 2000s, which led to a 6-month sentence that stunned the movement, effectively chilled the movement for open rescue. And my case was not only facing a difficult judge, but the full power of the American government. Dozens of FBI agents, state investigators, and even the state attorney general were involved in this prosecution; with that much investment, they would expect, not just a conviction, but significant consequences for the defendants.
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They would expect the movement for open rescue to be shut down.
My main goal, over the last few months, has been to prevent that from happening. I wanted to make sure that, this time, the movement would “lose forward” – i.e., use a technical “loss” in court to build for future victories. I gave talks about the “power of unearned suffering” in social movement history; from Susan B. Anthony to Mahatma Gandhi, activists have used unjust incarceration as a tool to supercharge movements. I wrote about how I planned to survive life in a cage. We even completely rebranded the podcast with the expectation that I would land in prison. My hope in all of these efforts was that my incarceration would fuel the movement, rather than chill it.
And now, unexpectedly, against all my expectations, I am not in prison. I’m free.
The first sense I got, of this borderline-miraculous outcome, was the face of the bailiff as we walked into court for the verdict. Everyone in our group was incredibly tense, and you could see it in our faces. We had been waiting for hours – painful hours – for the jury to reach a decision. And when I got the call, that it was time to go into court and face our fate, a number of people looked like they were near tears.
“Keep fighting,” I said as I walked away from the group. “Keep fighting, and whatever happens today, we will win.”
So it was a great surprise to me that, when we arrived in the courtroom, the bailiff had a smile on his face. It was as if he knew something we didn’t know, like a winning lottery ticket he had sold us. And it was a stark contrast with the stone-faced seriousness with which he had looked out into the gallery for the entire trial.
The jury themselves, however, still had their poker faces. I thought I caught a hint of a smile from one juror, a photogenic woman in her 50s with straight blonde hair. But the others seemed serious, perhaps even a little angry. Dean and I both later said that we assumed that their grim demeanors surely meant that they intended to convict.
But when the jurors handed over their verdict forms, the judge said something odd.
“Now I want everyone to stay calm and be silent.”
Why, I thought, would people need to be warned to be silent? Was it because they would cry out in outrage? Or gasp in joy from a historic win? Well, the video says it all.
The moment outside of court, where our supporters were gathered, was just as excited.
When the verdict was read, my mind was slow to process. I had been preparing so long for the opposite word – GUILTY – that I don’t think I quite understood what was happening. (I still don’t, really.) The rational part of my brain kept telling me, “You won! This is historic!” But the emotional centers of my mind were slow to respond.
“Why aren’t you happier?” I whispered to myself. “Is this really happening, or is this a dream?”
Even after we left court, I didn’t smile. My first goal was to attempt dialogue with the prosecutors, who rushed out of court with defeated body language. I felt bad for them. They had spent 4+ years of their life trying to imprison me – and disprove the right to rescue – and it had just come crumbling down. It must suck so much to be on the wrong side of history. I literally had to run to catch up.
“Ms. Macanas, Mr. Christianson, can I have a word?”
One of the state’s investigators, a burly man with a bald head, who had previously glared at me during the trial, stepped in my way. He looked like he was ready to punch me, if I stepped a foot closer. But then Macanas moved in front of him.
“I’ll shake your hand,” she said. And she briefly placed her hand into mine, with a half twist rather than a real shake. Then she walked off.
I didn’t get the chance to dialogue – to try to make friends of people who had been my enemies – but at least I got a handshake.
I went back into court, and started hugging our supporters. Only 10 of them were allowed in court. And they were smiling, crying, and almost jumping up and down. But I still wasn’t really getting it.
I kept thinking to myself, “What’s the next step in the trial?” And I kept reminding myself. “There is no next step. Dummy, you’ve won.”
It was not until I walked out of the courtroom, to a cheering crowd, that I began to realize what was happening. Here’s the scene.
When you see me walking towards Rocky, I’m still sort of confused. I wander towards him, with a robotic attempt at an embrace, as if I’m at a dinner party and have to give a friend an obligatory hug. It wasn’t until I felt his embrace, and heard him scream out “Oh my god!” that I finally broke out into a real smile.
“We did it,” I thought to myself. “We really did it. We won.”
I thought about Lily and Lizzie. I thought about the moment of desperation when I saw each of them struggling at the bottom of a farrowing crate. I thought of the relief I felt, when we brought them back from the vet, and after many long days and hours, they finally started to eat. And I thought about how beautiful and vibrant they were, when I last visited them a few months ago at a beautiful sanctuary. Happy and free, the way we’re all meant to be.
I called my dad, and then my dear friend Lauren, who was incarcerated many years ago for merely publishing an animal rights website. And when I picked up the phone, Lauren and I both just started screaming.
“What the f___ just happened! What the f__ just happened!”
I started hopping up and down. I couldn’t see her, but it felt like Lauren was hopping, too.
And then I finally started to realize what had just happened. I started laughing in joy – a very special kind of laughter and joy. One that you can only feel when you’ve been on the other side – in the darkness and despair – just a few moments ago. It’s a joy I felt in court when the jury gave me my freedom. But it’s the same joy I felt, even more powerfully, when we brought Lily and Lizzie back from the brink.
“Let’s get on to the next rescue,” I said in my mind, and then later in a statement to the St. George News. “There’s more joy in this world to be made.”
While the trial was won, the struggle to win animal rights in court is just beginning. And I’ve barely had a chance to take a break.
Today, I head back to Circle Four Farms to fulfill a promise I made to Lizzie. Here’s a video that explains why. Wish me luck. With all the anger and hate, I’ll need it.
Tomorrow, I’ll be in federal court on the other side of a legal case: supporting a lawsuit against Beaver County for violating animal advocates’ First Amendment rights. Many of you probably have heard what happened, and its importance to our case. I wrote about it here. DxE and UARC’s attorneys will be requesting an injunction that prohibits the government from interfering with our First Amendment rights. It will be the first salvo in our effort to fight back against the most powerful corporations and business executives in the world – including the CEOs of both Costco and Smithfield – and their attempts to gag our speech. I’ll provide an update on Facebook Live when the hearing is over.
I’ll be heading to the University of Denver School of Law this Thu and Fri, for an animal law forum, at the invitation of one of our star witnesses at trial: Justin Marceau. The event will unfold from Oct 13 - 14 and is open to the public. RSVP for Day 1 here.
The Supreme Court begins oral arguments on California’s gestation crate ban today. I’ll have much more to say about this case, and its intersection with the trial that just ended. (There’s a lot, to say the least.) But in the meantime, I suggest you all just follow Marina Bolotnikova, who is rapidly becoming the most important journalist in the animal rights space. She’ll be live tweeting her responses to the arguments today.
Finally, let me conclude by thanking all of you. This blog and podcast has been a labor of love. I’ve spent almost no time on marketing, on strategy, and I often forget to even press publish and send out what I’ve written or recorded. I’ve been feeling much less confident in my ability to have an impact on the world – even as I remain tremendously confident in the prospects for the world to become a better place – and this lack of confidence was taking its toll at trial.
But you all - the readers, the commenters, and even (especially?) the critics - you all have given me the fuel to keep going. There are going to be changes to the blog and podcast, now that I’m unexpectedly free. But what won’t change is that you are key to everything I write, everything we produce, everything we accomplish.
Thank you for being there for me, and for Lily and Lizzie. It’ll be the first of many victories to come.
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