Animals Rights: The Running of the Bulls

The Running of the Bulls in Pamplona, Spain has been a tradition for over 400 years. Every year from July 6th to July 14th, the Festival of San Fermin takes place in Pamplona. This tradition, as well as the practice of bull fighting, has come under protest from animal rights activists and individuals who believe that they are too dangerous for human participation.

Matador vs. the Bull

Matador vs. the Bull

The tradition began as a facet of the Festival of San Fermin. Bullfighting was a common attraction held during auspicious events. In order to provide the bulls for the entertainment, the ranchers needed a method of transporting bulls from their corrals, into the city, and up to the arena. While it is not known how the actual process of the ancestral ranchers guiding the steers through the city streets has transformed into the modern spectacle we now know it as, the fact is that it has occurred over and over again without protest, until recently.

Man who is regretting his decision.

Man who is regretting his decision.

Many find the practice of the tradition to be morally reprehensible because of the treatment of the bulls. The herd of bulls is coaxed through the streets using various techniques to frighten them. They are forced to follow a blocked-off path through the city. The fate of these beasts is not a pleasant one. Bulls, by nature, are not violent or extraordinarily aggressive. In order to prepare the bull, they are abused by stabbing, partially blinding, and dosed with drugs to make him weaker. Many anti-bullfighting advocates point out that the bullfighter is never truly in danger, and forcing the bull to participate is a sign of moral decay in Spain. Catalonia, the first major province to adopt a ban on bullfighting is being praised in the hopes that more will follow – although the sport is considerably more popular in the southern provinces.

Animal rights poster from Spain.

Animal rights poster from Spain.

Organized demonstrations against bullfighting have been occurring for years, without major success in imposing a wide-spread ban. PETA and a Spanish animal rights group, AnimaNaturalis, assembled several protests alone. However, despite uproars caused by the protests, the event has continued on, relatively unimpeded. The fundamental question is this: Is it right for a tradition to continue occurring when commonly held moral stances define it as a cruel and malicious act, despite its popularity? At what point does society say that a tradition is archaic and should be forgotten? Or should the notion of the animal’s rights not be considered?

PEGIDA and NO PEGIDA STUTTGART

Patriotische Europäer Gegen Islamisierung Des Abendlandes (PEGIDA) or Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamification of the West is a right-wing anti-Islamic political organization. From their founding in October of 2014 on a Facebook ‘group’ page, they have transformed into en masse demonstration activists. Their goal is to affect German immigration policy so that they establish more stringent requirements. They have also adopted anti-EU and pro-Russian stances. PEGIDA’s rise from a small social media group, to an active, popular, and structured protest group shows how powerful the internet has become as a tool for the organization of political associations.

PEGIDA Protestors

PEGIDA Protestors

Lutz Bachmann, the founder of PEGIDA’s Facebook group, began the movement as a protest against opening 14 immigration centers in Dresden. Only a small number of people came to the first PEGIDA rally. Approximately two months later, they had nearly 10,000 people walking through the streets of Dresden. The exponential growth in membership, especially given the brief amount of time it took is staggering. Such an expansion is entirely the result of the group’s entirely online nature, organizing through mass notifications through social media.

My colleague C.T. Souder has previously written about PEGIDA and the implications of their movement. He asked, back in February: “Did the PEGIDA movement enjoy a prolonged fifteen minutes of fame and will soon fizzle out?” It is now May – is there an answer to this question? It is, perhaps, still too early to tell if PEGIDA will fade away. However, that will most likely not occur in the near future. PEGIDA leaders have announced that there will be a rally on May 17th in Stuttgart. This is one of the major PEGIDA events organized outside of Dresden. The group is planning more demonstrations around Europe to include ones that have already transpired in Newcastle and other cities.

In addition, an anti-PEGIDA group from Stuttgart, NO PEGIDA STUTTGART, is organizing a similar rally against the conservative group, scheduled for the same day. The two movements are fundamentally opposed to each other philosophy, but came about in the same way. The anti-PEGIDA movement, in fact, came about as a result of their creation. Their slogan is: “Stuttgart ist und bleibt bunt – Gegen Rassismus, Sexismus und Homophobie“. Although, depending on one’s position, both of these groups‘ views may seem reprehensible. But it is a far greater omen that the two organize and demonstrate without repercussions in Germany.

Cover photo from NO PEGIDA STUTTGART Groupe Facebook Page.

Cover photo from NO PEGIDA STUTTGART Group Facebook Page.

That is not always the case. PEGIDA cannot operate with immunity. Freedom of speech is a recognized, fundamental right of the people in governments like that of the United States and Germany. However, the Austrian government has not taken such a lazzes faire strategy when dealing with PEGIDA. The group has been banned from demonstrating a second time in the Austrian town of Bregenz. Authorities cited the risk of criminal activity on the part of the protestors. As has already been demonstrated, protests made by this group are not completely lawful, despite their vehement denunciations of activist violence – seeing it as akin to Islamic terrorism.

PEGIDA and NO PEGIDA STUTTGART, I believe, represent the future of political activism. The new wave is traditionally non-political people who, through the efficient use of mass communicative social media, have organized themselves to vie for influence. Public attention and membership numbers are the two critical areas when evaluating a group’s viability. If an organization can garner influence simply through the expression of common beliefs, and not through financial largesse, truly rooted movements can take place – a government by the people, indeed.

Alternate NO PEGIDA STUTTGART Logo

Alternate NO PEGIDA STUTTGART Logo

 

 

 

The Prison Labor Marketplace

The United States currently imprisons more of its own citizens than any other country in the world. Since the 1980’s and the beginning of the war on drugs, the prison population quadrupled to 2.3 million in 2008 – and 1.57 million in 2013. When we look for the cause of such a vast escalation, we examine our laws. However, despite the rising population, the goal of this post will not be to discuss ‘how they got there’, instead we will examine what they do once they are incarcerated.

When a man is sent to prison it is an attempt on the part of society to punish and reform. The mission statement of the Bureau of Prisons reads: “It is the mission of the Federal Bureau of Prisons to protect society by confining offenders in the controlled environments of prisons and community-based facilities that are safe, humane, cost-efficient, and appropriately secure, and that provide work and other self-improvement opportunities to assist offenders in becoming law-abiding citizens.” These words paint a picture of a hierarchical, organized effort towards the responsible and just operation of penal facilities which incorporates reasonable, medical care, and a means of self-improvement. However, as we will see, prisons have violated this ethos in various ways.

Prison labor, a concept born of the brutish practice of slavery, has morphed in modern society and entangled itself within multiple facets of American life including politics, local and national business. Prisons are companies and their products are the human convicts. They sell the labor of prisoners with a deep discount to wages, a labor force that cannot organize against management and continually adds to its numbers. By making the labor available for sale, this practice creates incentives for lawmakers and business owners to construct a system in which maximum penalties are enforced for minor offenses. This aim resulted in the proliferation of ‘mandatory minimums’ when it came to minor drug possession charges. The penalties for crack cocaine are far more punitive than those for cocaine powder.

There are additional benefits for sourcing labor solely from inmates; for instance, companies also save on extraneous labor costs by their inability to organize labor unions and demand better conditions and wages. They are seen both by the company and the public as condemned and it is difficult to overcome their apathy when attempting to address prisoner concerns. A prisoner is perceived to ‘deserve it’ for the crimes they committed. So in addition to the years for which they are incarcerated, a convict is now harnessed with the yolk of local and corporate economic growth.

There are also numerous side businesses that are born when prisons begin to privatize. Prisons require food, cleaning supplies, and electricity. In a particularly upsetting case, Philadelphia-based firm Aramark Correctional Services was accused multiple times of underfeeding inmates with maggot-infested food. This must be considered a massive failure to provide even the most basic human rights to incarcerated American citizens. While the egregiousness of each case varies, the fact that this company’s contract was renewed shows a clear lack of public outcry – and thus, little force for change. It is likely that other organizations such as this will continue to operate outside of the public view.

The scale of the production output is staggering in numbers and variety. “…the federal prison industry produces 100% of all military helmets, ammunition belts, bullet-proof vests, ID tags, shirts, pants, tents, bags, and canteens. Along with war supplies, prison workers supply 98% of the entire market for equipment assembly services; 93% of paints and paintbrushes; 92% of stove assembly; 46% of body armor; 36% of home appliances; 30% of headphones/microphones/speakers; and 21% of office furniture. Airplane parts, medical supplies, and much more: prisoners are even raising seeing-eye dogs for blind people.” Private prisons have also become a much larger part of the penal system. “Ten years ago there were only five private prisons in the country, with a population of 2,000 inmates; now, there are 100, with 62,000 inmates. It is expected that by the coming decade, the number will hit 360,000, according to reports.”

Now that we have a more complete image of the implications of prison labor, what are the questions we should be asking? Is it acceptable to punish people with longer sentences for crimes, burden them with producing and assembling a large portion of military and civilian goods, and allow companies to profit greatly from their largely discounted labor? In terms of public perception, we once again run into the apathy problem. However, if we were to discuss this only in the context of the ideal, then life in a prison would alter immensely. The long-held moral of Western civilization which states ‘that it is reprehensible to profit from the trade of human lives’ is at the core of the argument against slavery. Since the incarcerated are serving a sentence, their lives are in the hands of the state – or more accurately, the companies which the state hires. Thus, prisoners lose the element of choice in their actions, leaving them vulnerable to exploitation.

I think it’s easy for the public to simply write-off this section of society as inconsequential. Politicians are fixed in their punitive positions, as altering that stance would label them “soft on crime” and lose elections. The results speak for themselves in this case. But whether we are a nation of ideologues or calculating pragmatists, Americans must take it upon themselves to conduct the informed debate upon these issues.