The alarm rings only three hours after midnight, indicating that it is time for us to make our way to the slaughterhouse. We get ready in silence, our silent vigil already settling over us as we prepare ourselves to look death in the eyes. All of us have done this before. We have woken up to the cruel darkness of the morning and the world. But it never gets any easier.
When we arrive, we can hear their screams before we are even on the property. We don't know how long the truck has been sitting there in the cold. The driver is asleep in the cab of the truck but the animals are exposed to the elements. Someone tells me that in a few months, they will see pigs frozen to the side of the truck. Dead on arrival.
We are here to bear witness and ask for a life to be spared. We always ask for a life, though in the two years that Chicago activists have held these vigils, the request has always been met with silence. We are also here to provide water and any comfort that we can. There are two levels in the truck. The bottom level is filled with pigs who we are able to interact with. Goats and sheep are on the top level, too high up for us to touch.
I grab water and start searching for thirsty babies — because babies are exactly what they are. Pigs are typically slaughtered at less than a year old. The pigs push each other to get at the cool, fresh water. It is possible that they have never had access to water that wasn't contaminated by dirt or feces. They have likely traveled from hours away with no opportunity to quench their thirst. Some of them will not get close to us despite the discomfort they must be feeling in their parched mouths. A human has never been kind to them, so why should they expect anything different from us?
Everyone I see has scratches, tumors, caked mud, and/or on their bodies. One individual isn't moving, and I wonder if she is the lucky one. Is it better to die among others in a filthy truck than it is to die alone hung upside down with your throat slit? What a tragedy for those to be the only two options, after surviving the hell that is a factory farm.
The fear in their eyes tells us that they know nothing but horrors await them after we must leave their side. Guilt overwhelms me because I know that water and loving caresses in not really what they need. Our presence there makes a statement and we are documenting their suffering, but what really matters to them is freedom. And we cannot give that to them today.
After we are told to leave the property we stand on the sidewalk waiting for the innocents to be forced off of the truck. They are electro-shocked into the building where they will never come out again. Only their bodies will leave, chopped up and packaged in little pieces. We stand there, watching, until the last individual is inside the slaughterhouse. I am crying as we sing...