On July 4, 2 activists from Vancouver Animal Defense League locked themselves down to the inner railing of the chuckwaggon race track at the Calgary Stampede. Marley Daviduk and Samantha Baskerville used bike U-locks around their neck, in this inspiring act of civil disobedience. PE took the opportunity to ask them more about what they did, why they did it, and what they hope to achieve.
This interview with Marley and Sam was conducted by Comrade Black
PE: Why are you targeting the Calgary Stampede? It seems far away from home for a Vancouver based group?
Sam: I lived in Calgary for about 7 years and have always thought poorly of the Calgary Stampede. When this opportunity was presented to me, I couldn’t say no.
IMarley: I’ve been a horse person my whole life and my love of horses is what brought me to veganism and activism. Ever since I was young, the Calgary Stampede, specifically the Chuckwagon races, has been on my list of issues that needed to be dealt with. It came to a point where I felt that the Chuckwagon races were vulnerable and lacking public support. I hoped that an action like this would give us the opportunity to bring national media attention to the event and, for the first time, to their sponsor GMC. The Calgary Stampede may take place in Calgary but it’s an event that puts Canada in the public eye.
Sam: Being the largest rodeo in Canada, we knew that this action would raise international awareness and really enlighten people on the deaths and risk of injury during the Chuckwagon races.
PE: Was this action pre-planned, or improvised based on opportunity?
Marley: We started planning this event more than two years ago. This event was actually supposed to take place last year until Calgary was hit with a devastating flood, and much of the downtown core was under water including most of the Stampede grounds. The Stampede adopted the slogan ‘Come hell or high water’ and the show went on. We decided it would have been an inappropriate time to address this issue, the media was rightfully wrapped up in covering the devastation of the flood. There was a MASSIVE amount of planning and preparation involved with coordinating a crew of more than 18 people in 3 locations. In the last two years we have had dozens of strategy meetings, training sessions and fundraising events. Sam and I had locked down to just about every basketball hoop, cat scratching post and fence post in East Van to train for this. We had to be able to get on the track, lock down and dispose of the key in less than 30 seconds, in full view of a crowd of 20,000 people. It would have been reckless to attempt this without serious preparation efforts.
PE: How did you get onto the chuck wagon track without being noticed or stopped?
Marley: All it took was a plaid shirt. Just joking. We paid for tickets to get into the venue and both Sam and I had our bags searched. Our bike locks were in our bags and we had prepared for the search by filling our bags full of tampons and pads knowing most people wouldn’t dig through them. The security guard took one look inside our bags, and basically recoiled in horror and pushed us through. Once we were in the grandstands, all we had to do was hop over one small barrier and we were on the track.
Sam: It was pretty easy. We just ran from the beer garden down the inner track and locked down. It took several minutes before security reached us.
PE: You have a lot of firsthand experience with horses, yet I have read some people are trying to dismiss you by claiming you don’t know what you are talking about…
Marley: It seems like the most common response from Stampede officials in response to opposition is that ‘these dang city folk simply do not understand the ways of the horse’. I understand horses as much as any of them, but it doesn’t take an expert to acknowledge the risk of injury and death associated with the Chuckwagon races. This years death makes it the 10th year in a row horses have died during the event. Denny was a 12 year old thoroughbred, he died of an aortic aneurism near his kidneys, resulting in massive internal bleeding.
Sam: My experience is minimal in comparison to Marley’s but I did have a horse while growing up and took lessons as a child. Regardless, when one or more horses are dying every year from an event that only lasts ten days, you know that something is wrong and change is needed.
PE: Did you have any expectations of the outcome? Were you hoping this would shut down the race?
Marley: We were hoping that our actions would get national media attention and we knew that would happen even if we got tackled before we had a chance to lockdown. It would have been great to have prevented the races from happening that night, but due to unforeseen complications we had to lock down earlier than expected which gave them more time to locate a grinder to get us out.
PE: In the video, the officials with the stampede covered you with a black tarp. What’s the significance of the black tarp?
Marley: They covered us with the black tarp, which is the same black tarp they use when a horse goes down on the track. They use it so the crowd cannot see what’s happening.
Sam: I felt like we were that tragic mess that they were trying to hide from the public. Just like they do with the horses.
PE: Are you facing charges now? What are the repercussions?
Marley: We are facing mischief charges, our court date is on Aug 20th. We are banned for 99 years from the Stampede and we cannot approach within 3 blocks of the grounds.
PE: How can people help?
Sam: We need to keep this momentum going by sharing information, helping the Calgary activists, and by voicing their opinion to GMC to ask them to end their sponsorship of the Chuckwagon races.
Marley: People can help by contacting GMC the sponsor of this event, asking them to pull their sponsorship. @GMCcanada 1-800-263-3777 They can support our legal defense and the cost of this action by donating here. The cost of moving a crew of 10 people more than a 1000km’s to Calgary was pretty expensive and we were not able to find a lawyer in Calgary who was willing to do pro-bono work for us.
PE: What other campaigns are VADL engaged in? Have you had much success?
Marley: For the last 1.5 years we have been targeting Canada Goose retailers with protest campaigns (Canada Goose jackets with wild trapped coyote fur). Our efforts have resulted in 2 (out of 14 Vancouver retailers) dropping the brand and adopting a fur free policy. For a more detailed list of our campaign history please visit www.vancouveranimaldefenseleague.com
PE: Some people feel the tactics employed by VADL are controversial and too confrontational; why do you choose these tactics? Are they proving effective?
Sam: Protesting outside the venue was no longer bringing the attention that we need (although I still appreciate their efforts and encourage them to continue) so we had to amp it up a bit. And look, people are talking and the support has been overwhelming.
Marley: Sometimes I think we get more criticism for our tactics from vegans in the movement than from the opposition we target, especially when it comes to those who are involved with large multi-national organizations. We choose these tactics (pressure campaigns) because they work, and they provide achievable goals; which keeps people involved and motivated. Civil disobedience, like a lockdown, is not something we see very often within the Canadian animal rights movement, and yet actions like this have been such a massive part of AR history. We hoped to inspire activists across Canada and show them that there really is a diversity of tactics available that go well beyond vegan outreach and we hope to see more actions like this happening within our movement.
PE: Where can people get updates on your actions? Is there a way people can get involved with this campaign or VADL in general?
Marley: People can get in touch with us via facebook or firstname.lastname@example.org or www.vancouveranimaldefenseleague.com
PE: Is there anything else you want people to know about the stampede?
Marley: We want other activists to know that we chose the Chuckwagon races because we felt there was a tactical advantage to isolating this race, not because we are at all okay with any other rodeo events.
Sam: While Marley and I cannot participate in direct protests against the stampede, I strongly encourage Calgary activists to continue the fight. The rodeo consists of events that cause extreme stress to the animals involved and continuous action is needed to bring the abuse to light so that more people will raise their voice against the Calgary Stampede.
PE: Any last advice for other activists?
Marley: My advice to other activists would be to pick a tactic/tactics that you are comfortable with and work at them without condemning the actions of others. I see so much public criticism of campaigns and tactics, specifically coming from people with little or no knowledge of historical campaigns and what has worked in the past. All I can ask of people is to embrace a diversity of tactics, please challenge yourselves, and finally lets learn about the history of our own movement.
Sam: don’t be afraid to push the limits a little bit, as long as it’s done safely and you are prepared to face the consequences responsibly.