Mike XvX is a long time animal liberation activist, and singer songwriter who tours in the punk, folk punk and hardcore circuits bringing the message of resistance through music and action wherever he goes. Mike has toured extensively, and has taken part in animal liberation campaigns on four continents. Mike is currently organizing a multimedia tour incorporating different genres of music, poetry, film, and demos bringing the message of militant animal liberation and community activism across the west coast.
PE: Tell us a bit about some of the stuff you have been involved in over the years?
Mike XvX: Well other than this tour, I’ve been pretty busy the past few years. As a musician I’ve traveled to about 20 countries in the last three years which has been an amazing experience all on it’s own. Touring as a solo musician gives me the flexibility to tour as frequent as I’d like, wherever I’d like. I feel very fortunate to travel as much as I do to talk about animal rights in front of so many different people the world over, and in that period of time I’ve been lucky enough to build lasting relationships with a lot of folks I normally would have never had the opportunity to meet.
Other than music, I’ve been involved in the animal rights and other movements for almost a decade now. I’ve worked alongside several different groups in that time, and I try to make myself available to anyone that needs help in their campaigns. I work regularly with Portland and Seattle Animal Defense Leagues, volunteer as often as I can with Portland Anarchist Black Cross, as well as have done work for groups like Sea Shepherd in the past. In March of 2011 I traveled to Japan with Sea Shepherd to document the world largest cetacean slaughter, which is the Dall’s Porpoise slaughter in Otsuchi, Iwate. Incidentally, this was also the location of the epicenter of the tsunami that destroyed all of Japan’s northeastern coast, and myself and five other activists narrowly escaped with our lives.
PE: This is a unique format for a tour. Can you tell us what the tour looks like? How did you come up with the idea for this?
I was originally inspired to do the Open the Cages tour when I first read about the Primate Freedom Tours which took place in the 90’s. Basically there was an acquisition of two large school busses, packed to the brim with people, and set out on a several month long tour across the United States doing demonstrations and media events at different universities and animal research facilities. This tour, as well as others, have been good reference points to help highlight what worked, and what we could do to improve on their original idea for our events. Former ELF press officer Craig Rosebraugh, one of the organizers of the Primate Freedom Tour, writes about it briefly in his book Burning Rage of a Dying Planet, which I highly recommend.
There’s been talk about doing a tour like this amongst a few of my friends and I for some time now, and I’m glad things have finally manifested out of those casual conversations that we’d had. It all became a reality when I befriended some of the folks who are making the film Maximum Tolerated Dose, which I didn’t know they were a part of when I first began my relationship with them. I talked briefly once about doing a tour that combined all sorts of events such as the ones as we have planned, and mentioned that I’d heard of MTD and was interested in seeking out the filmmakers to ask if I’d be able to tour with their film. After they informed me they were the ones making it we decided to do a tour together once the film was completed. I contacted Michael Budkie, director of SAEN (Stop Animal Exploitation Now) to see if they would be interested in sponsoring us for the tour as well. Michael, Karen and I have worked together for other events in the past, and SAEN was the first and only group I could think of that would be suitable to work with for this project. They’ve done amazing investigative work over the years and are always an amazing resource for information on laboratories across the US.
Basically the idea was to do a tour focusing on Animal Liberation, and organize a variety of events to attract people from all walks of life. We’ll be traveling up the West Coast of the United States and Canada, visiting every major city along the way and organizing events over a period of two to three days. For me personally, I was radicalized by the music I listened to growing up; but I know that a lot of people connect with struggles in many different ways. For that reason we’ve combined art, music, film, workshops and demonstrations to create a more unified and cohesive tour that is not only an effective series of events and demonstrations, but also something that gives us a platform to reach out to other social justice movements. The Animal Lib movement is young by contrast to other liberation struggles, and for that reason I find it incredibly important and valuable for us to use this opportunity to collaborate with other groups and reach out to the local communities we’ll be visiting. Fraudulent science like animal testing is something that hurts all of us, and it’s our goal for this tour to bring people together to build resistance and continue to combat these companies and universities long after the tour is over.
PE: How many cities do you plan on hitting?
We have 9 cities on our route, and we’ve done our best to hit every major city that we could on the West Coast. The cities were primarily chosen because they host universities and/or companies that conduct animal research. Everywhere between San Diego, CA and Vancouver, BC that we could fit into our route will be visited. For our exact route and event locations you can check out the tour website:
PE: Tell us about the documentary, this is a new film not yet available?
These events will be the first U.S. screenings of the film, so everyone who’s interested in seeing it should jump on this opportunity. This is the first feature-length documentary strictly about vivisection and compiles a lot of never before seen undercover footage from the live primate trade in Southeast Asia and footage from inside vivisection laboratories.
When the filmmakers were making this documentary they refused any financial contributions or donations from any university or company that profits off of animal testing. In addition, MTD didn’t accept any money that would influence how the film would be distributed or effect it’s intended message. This movie was made with the utmost integrity, and for this reason it’s received strong global support.
I’ve been fortunate enough to see some small completed segments of the film and the movie trailers are up on our tour website; I can assure people that they don’t want to miss this.
PE: What type of music will be part of this tour? Any bands you are really excited about?
Garbageface, which is Karol’s solo hip hop project, and myself will be along for the duration of the tour. Each stop we’ll also have local AR related bands headlining the event to help attract more attention from the community as well. I’m SO excited about getting the opportunity to see and play with a few of the bands that will be performing at some of the events!
Just to name a few bands: so thrilled to be playing with Resist and Exist again, which is an anarcho-band that has been around for quite some time who I’ve always looked up to. Their songs range from animal rights, to combating racism and sexism. There’s an amazing band from Calgary, Alberta called Rape Revenge, which is a female fronted, vegan straight edge, powerviolence band that will be playing our Vancouver, BC event. I’ve never seen them play before but the music and their message is totally spot on in my opinion. Also there are some up and coming AR bands that haven’t been around for awhile that people should look out for on the tour. Like Vancouver’s Violent Restitution which is a female fronted, vegan grindcore band. To be honest I could rattle on for the entire interview about all the bands I’m excited to see and spend time with on this trip, because like I mentioned before that’s how I got involved in animal rights and music for me has always been my most expressive art form. I’ll spare you and move on to the next question, but again be sure to check our schedule and see all the awesome bands who will be playing the shows!
PE: How about the politics? Can you talk about the importance of animal liberation, veganism, and anti-capitalism, how they connect to each other and to other broader struggles?
I’m glad you asked this question, because one of the goals of this tour is to talk about intersectionality with other movements. To highlight the links between animal, earth and human liberation. Though there are key differences and strategies between different liberation movements, there are far more commonalities than most people realize, and I think our success in our campaigns largely depend on our ability to see those connections and collaborate with other groups. It’s important to reach out and show solidarity with the folks who are fighting very similar battles with us, because at the very core of these struggles there’s always a common enemy that we share.
Veganism is a great start, and the foundation towards fighting for the rights of animals, but to effect real change you have to step beyond that. It’s necessary to build a more cohesive movement, and to learn from other movements, past and present, to sharpen our skills and study what tactics are historically successful and what aren’t.
PE: So you will be in each community for two or three days? Why do you feel it is important to spend so much time in each community?
I think for what we want to accomplish with this tour we’d need at least two or three days in each city we visit, just so we can assure that people can get more out of the events and have a considerable amount of time getting to know other local activists face to face. One of the main motivations behind this tour is bringing people together; so the more time we spend in a city with events like these, the more opportunities people have to be involved
We want to revive an era in AR history when people from all over the country would descend on a specific city for an animal rights campaign. Social media sites and blogs have really inhibited our ability to actually connect with one another, and as most people already know the internet can be an incredibly alienating place. Though computers can be useful tools, the connections between different activists groups and individuals have suffered because of it. We need to be out on the street corners with our comrades, traveling to other cities to show solidarity with them, highlighting our common beliefs with them, and working together to fight back against animal exploitation. A friend of mine said to me recently that ideological purity and fiery internet rhetoric is not what’s going to win this fight; it’s going to take hard work, compassion, and our ability to stand beside one another and look out for each other in this struggle. We’re hoping this tour will be a huge push towards people getting involved again and an opportunity for new activists to see how they can contribute.
PE: How do you see the role of music in radical politics and anarchist struggle?
Music was the way that I connected to radical politics, and for me was a great introduction to anarchism, animal rights, feminism and other subjects that I would have not been exposed to growing up if it wasn’t for the bands I listened to. I create music because that’s how I connect with myself and with others, and that’s also what drew me towards animal liberation. Connection was what strengthened my resolve to speak out against injustices that I saw and continue to see, it was my realization that others shared that contempt and disgust at seeing racism, sexism, homophobia, speciesism and any other xenophobic behavior that’s largely tolerated in our society. Hearing people I respected having the courage to speak out against those things helped me to find my own voice, and I can only hope that my music and my ability to speak out for animals can give the same courage to others. If you feel alienated by this culture, or are disturbed by the way it alienates others, you are not alone! Speak out if you see injustice; chances are someone else wants to as well but may need the solidarity of others to fight back!
PE: What can you tell us about the demos? And why are demos an important part of this tour?
Typical sign-holding and chanting protests are an incredibly effective tactic when utilized correctly. We want to have demonstrations so we can get out in the street and bring some shame to the companies and universities who are poisoning us, polluting our land and torturing animals for nothing more than financial gain. It’s also important for us to tie these demonstrations into our other events to remind folks that even though they play music with an animal rights message, use their art to benefit non-humans, or donate their time or money to animal causes, they can still take some time off a couple days a month to get out in the street and protest. Actions like this can make a huge impact and are a really important part of keeping the pressure on animal abusers, and reminding them that we’re still here and we’re never going away.
We want there to be demos because we want this tour to be a reminder to people who profit off of animal suffering and exploitation that despite police intimidation and government repression, the animal rights movement is not going away. We still have teeth, and we’re willing to use them when necessary.
PE: You were in Japan when the Tsunami hit, can you tell us a bit about that experience and how it has affected you?
Well as I briefly mentioned before, six of us were in Otsuchi when the tsunami hit. The epicenter of the earthquake was about 60 miles off our section of the coast, making us the closest to it and the most devastated city.
We were in the harbor waiting for the porpoise hunting boats to come back in to the dock when the earthquake first hit. We fled to the only hill we knew of in the area, and outran the first surge of water by about 30 seconds. We spent the night in our rental cars, and the next day trekked across several ruined cities and stacks of dead bodies to get back to our hotel. Upon returning to our hotel, and after power was restored to the town of Tono where we were staying, we discovered that the Fukushima plant had melted down and we were well within the range of the fallout. We hired two taxis to drive us to the only working airport (which was over a hundred miles away), flew to South Korea, and then flew then back into the United states, landing in Seattle, Washington.
During the tsunami, all of us were just concerned with getting out of the city alive, but the real trouble for me started when I got home. There are little to no resources in how to deal with the level of trauma that comes from seeing the amount of death that we witnessed in Otsuchi. 15,000 people originally inhabited that town, and by the end of it 12,000 of them were dead. Through all my research into dealing with PTSD the only thing I really learned is that everyone deals with trauma in different ways, and I’ve explored nearly every avenue in how to lighten the emotional burden that’s been on me. Needless to say I took a bit of a breather from any serious campaigns for about a year while I was searching for anything that could make me feel better about what I experienced. I lost some friends in that time, almost lost my mind more than once, and it continues to be a difficult thing to deal with and talk about. I’m in the process of writing a book about the experience actually, mostly because it saves me time and energy having to tell our story over and over again.
PE: You recently did an interesting workshop in Victoria, BC about the differences between PC and anti-oppressive language and how speciesist oppression is built into how we use words. Can you talk a bit about that?
Language plays a huge role in the subjugation and oppression of others, and this includes non-humans. For generations literary devices like syntax, grammar, semantics or even just flat out inaccurate definitions of words have paved the way for animal abusers to use deceptive and dismissive language in defense of their industries and lifestyles. If you look at all of the worst insults in the english language, nearly all of them are rooted in speciesist ideology. For example: calling cops pigs (which is a big problem in radical circles), racist language such as referring to people of color as monkeys or apes, sexism as to referring to women as chicks, bitches, birds, likening immigrants to lice, parasites and vermin. As well as industry lingo in vivisection labs, dairy farms, egg laying facilities, circuses, zoos etc. Not only is this language used to deceive the general public, but also used to desensitize and distance people who work in industries that profit off of animal exploitation from the reality of what they’re doing. It makes it much easier to exploit others if you can make them appear less than human, and often times language aids in this dehumanization.
It’s important for us to to be mindful of the words we use, because being reckless can mean we alienate others with our language. I’m all for offending people, but only for the right reasons. People should be offended by the truth about animal exploitation, they should be offended by the callousness of these vivisectors and the grotesque nature of this industry; but they shouldn’t have to be offended by a racist or sexist remark from someone they work with who claims to be anti-oppression. There are plenty of arguments and tactics that can be used in furtherance of animal liberation without having to resort to using oppressive language.
PE: As a white male touring with a message of anti-oppression in a racist and sexist culture how does privilege play into things?
I recognize most of the things I do come a lot easier because of my gender and my race, and I know this plays a huge role in not just my activism but also in my day to day life. Though I try as I might to deconstruct whiteness and shed myself of those qualities, I do acknowledge that those things do play in my favor whether I want them to or not. As an animal rights activist I, hypothetically, could walk away from this struggle and return to a somewhat normal life, hopefully undisturbed by the government and police repression. For others, they don’t have this luxury because these things effect their daily lives, in a way which they can’t turn away from. People of color can’t just move on to a place free of racism, just the same as women can’t move away from oppression and sexual exploitation.
This is always a hard question to answer, but I think everyone should constantly take a look at their activism and their lifestyles and think about who was or is currently being oppressed for you to be in the position that you’re in and acknowledge that you play a role in that. If nothing more than a reminder that someone is suffering because of even the smallest choices we make throughout the day.
As I’ve said before, this is a tour that encourages a unique chorus of voices and emphasizes the need to listen to the experiences of others. I don’t want to speak for anyone else, but I am always interested in learning how to be a better ally to other people.
PE: Some folks say that veganism is just a lifestyle choice based in consumerism. Is there an intersection between lifestyle choices and revolutionary social organizing?
I see veganism as a show of solidarity, and as one essential component that makes up the social justice movement that we call Animal Liberation. I don’t agree that veganism is simply based in consumerism, because whether you pay for animal products or not consuming them and wearing their skin sends the message that it’s ok to exploit animals for our own personal gain. To me the logic is sound: if you care about the suffering of animals, you shouldn’t eat their flesh or wear their skin under any circumstances.
I’m critical of people who claim to care for animals yet still exploit them just the same as I’d be critical of someone who actively fought against sweatshops while wearing Nike or ADIDAS apparel. These are symbols of oppression that send the message that it’s ok to oppress others for fashion, food or entertainment.
PE: As someone who is both vegan and straightedge do you find any struggle with touring?
Every country I’ve toured in is always different, but I suppose I have a few consistent problems when touring. I’d say one of the biggest problems is finding sober places to play and sleep at when on tour, which is always really frustrating. I have really strong, emotional responses to people drinking and doing drugs around me, and these are triggers I’ve had since I was a kid. The lack of safe spaces for sober people when touring really bothers me, and I’ve seen this to be a more common theme in the United States and Canada. I also have some trouble when talking about animal liberation at shows that I’ve played throughout the years. Mostly it’s people spouting anthropocentric and speciesist opinions about what I have to say; attempting to downgrade and lessen the plight of non-humans by saying their lives aren’t as important as humans. It can be difficult to deal with sometimes, but throughout all that turmoil occasionally I’ll get a confirmation that what I’m doing is worthwhile. Whether that be someone writing to me or approaching me at a show to tell me they had gone vegan after they saw me play, or even just building connections with genuine and compassionate people.
PE: You work for a vegan health food company?
I currently work for a raw and vegan nutrition company in my spare time. It’s been a good experience being able to talk about diet with people and advocate for veganism as a cheaper, healthier alternative to animal products. I work on my own schedule, and as little as I want, so it doesn’t take away from my music, activism or travel. They’ve also helped me out on campaigns I’ve worked on in the past, and it’s nice working for a company that has the integrity that they do.
PE: Some folks in the animal rights community contend that Veganism is a philosophy based in non-violence and that anyone who does violence or property destruction can’t be vegan, what do you think of this?
As a movement, it’s important not to demonize the tactics that other people choose to utilize. I don’t agree with every action that’s been carried out in the AR movement over the years, but I’m not going to shame someone for doing what they thought was effective and necessary to help animals. Especially when I don’t know what resources those people had access to. I also don’t conflate property destruction with violence, but that’s a whole other argument.
PE: Can you talk at all about problems of racism, sexism, homophobia or ableism in the animal rights community?
Unfortunately, like all social movements, Animal Rights isn’t immune to racism, sexism, homophobia or ableism, though I don’t think it’s as common as some critics would say. It’s important to stand aside oppressed and marginalized people regardless of what struggle we’ve personally decided to identify with, and at times this can be difficult for folks in the AR movement for a lot of reasons. One of them being that the AR movement is relatively young when compared to other liberation struggles. Another is that animal rights has a tendency to attract folks who don’t previously come from a radical background, so they don’t necessarily have a very strong analysis or any reference to other political movements. I’m not arguing in defense of people who use racism or sexism to further the movement, I think it’s absolutely inexcusable, but I am trying to give an explanation as to why I think this happens.
Something that’s helped me a lot with my analysis of race, class and gender are the writings of Bell Hooks and David Gilbert. Bell Hooks is an amazing author who writes frequently on the subjects of gender and race in a very inclusive and nonjudgmental way. She advocates for men to step up and take initiative to combat sexism in a proactive manner, having faith in the fact that sexist men are capable of changing if someone offers them the tools to do so. David Gilbert is a current political prisoner, formerly of Students for a Democratic Society, and is best known for his activism in the Weathermen. When the Weather Underground split, David went further underground until he was finally convicted in an attempted armored truck robbery alongside members of the Black Liberation Army. David’s writing, in my opinion, is a shining example of how to show solidarity with others without falling into the “White Savior” stereotype that is so prevalent in our society.
PE: You have written against ‘junk food veganism’ can you talk about why it is such a problem?
Personally it doesn’t bother me much if people want to have terrible diets, but the problem with it is that farther down the line these folks run into health problems and blame veganism for this issue. Nutrition is incredibly important and we need to be aware of what we’re eating regardless of what diet we have. I’m just so tired of people telling me the same story of “Oh I used to be vegan, but I had to go to the doctor because I almost DIED!”. People are not almost dying because they have a plant based diet, in fact it’s debatable as to whether these people are dying at all, but they’re having health problems because they’re not getting proper nutrition. I do understand that not everyone has access to information as to how to maintain a healthy diet, because that’s certainly not what they teach us in the US school system, but that information is out there and those of us that are in the know need to spread it around. I’m vegan not just for the animals, but because it is the healthiest, cheapest diet with the smallest amount of impact on the environment.
PE: You have a sponsor for this tour? It seems rather unusual to have a sponsor for a anti-capitalist tour, can you tell us why you chose to get a sponsor and if it changes anything?
S.A.E.N. (Stop Animal Exploitation Now) is the sponsor for our tour, and they are an amazing grassroots animal rights group based out of Ohio. We asked them to sponsor us not only for financial help, but because S.A.E.N. is a group that’s serious about ending animal testing and they have the resources and information to help make this tour as effective as possible. They’ve done amazing investigative work inside of labs across the U.S. and have the information and documentation that’s invaluable for us and other activists to use in campaigns.
I’ve worked with S.A.E.N. in the past for other actions, and they were the first people to come to mind to ask for help with this project. Reason being, they are serious about the work they do; they don’t water down their message or try to placate others, they simply expose these labs for what they really are and allow other people to see for themselves what goes on in these places. Having them as our sponsor for this trip does not effect our overall message, as we share the same message: We must put an end to animal testing and exploitation, once and for all.
This tour would not be possible without the help of S.A.E.N., and to them and to others who take animal liberation seriously we are eternally grateful. This tour is designed to profit nobody but the primates, dogs, cats, mice and other animals trapped in cages across the U.S. Our allegiance lies with them, and with this tour we hope to make a positive impact in their lives.
The tour starts in San Diego, CA on July 12th and ends in Vancouver, BC on Aug 4th!
For more info about the tour people can visit our website: http://openthecagestour.com
From the filmmakers:
“Maximum Tolerated Dose is the first feature-length documentary by Decipher Films. The film charts the lives of both humans and non-humans who have experienced animal testing first-hand, with hauntingly honest testimony of scientists and lab technicians whose ethics demanded they choose a different path, as well as the simultaneously heartwarming and heartbreaking stories of animals who have seen both sides of the cage. MTD aims to re-ignite the debate about animal testing by bringing these rarely-heard perspectives to the fore.
Directed by — Karol Orzechowski
Produced by — Jonathan Hodgson, Jennifer Bundock, Karol Orzechowski
Additional Filming by — Jo-Anne McArthur, Guna Subramaniam
With Footage Contributions from — The BUAV
Music by — Wyrd Visions and Bryan W. Bray
maximumtolerateddose (at) gmail (dot) com
Open The Cages Tour Schedule:
**SAN DIEGO, CA**
5 pm: Workshop @ The Che Cafe, 9500 Gilman Drive, La Jolla, CA 92093
7 pm: MTD Screening @ The Che Cafe, 9500 Gilman Drive, La Jolla, CA 92093
7 pm: Anthrot, Mike XVX, Garbageface, more TBA
**LOS ANGELES, CA**
5 pm: Workshop @ TBA
7 pm: MTD screening @ TBA
7pm: Music: Resist and Exist, La Bella, Mike XVX, Garbageface @ TBA
**OAKLAND, CA **
5:30 PM: AR Workshop @ The Holdout, 2313 San Pablo Ave
7 PM: MTD screening, and Q&A @ The Holdout, 2313 San Pablo Ave
7 PM: Garbageface, Mike XVX more TBA @ The Holdout, 2313 San Pablo Ave
7 pm: MTD screening @ TBA
7 pm: Mike XVX, Garbageface + More TBA
7 pm: MTD screening @ TBA
7 pm: Mike XVX, Garbageface + more TBA
**PORTLAND, OR **
7 PM – MTD screening @ The Hollywood Theater, 4122 NE Sandy Blvd
7 PM – Music: Wretched of the Earth, Mike XVX, Garbageface @ The Red and Black Cafe, 400 SE 12th Avenue
5:30 PM – AR Workshop @ The Wildcat, 1105 23rd Ave
7 PM – Screening of MTD and Q&A @ The Wildcat, 1105 23rd Ave
7pm: Music performance TBA
7 pm: MTD screening @ Camas Books
7 pm: Mike XVX, Garbageface @ TBA
7 PM – Screening of MTD and Q & A @ Vancouver Public Library
7 PM – Music: Rape Revenge, Violent Restitution, Mike XVX, Garbageface @ TBA