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With Artivism, Poet Abioseh Joseph Cole Targets Cognitive Dissonance

Abioseh Joseph Cole

Before his recorded performance of “O’ Say Can You See,” poet Abioseh Joseph Cole tells us, “Any protest is designed to start a conversation. If you don’t like this piece, let me know, and let’s talk about it.” It’s the purpose of his art — poetry through which he shares the informed truth, with style, about the callously indifferent attitudes that make countless victims of members of our species and others. 

O’ Say Can You See,” which begins with a riff on The Star-Spangled Banner that doesn’t flinch at all in describing these United States as “the land of the free and the home of the slave,” lets every listener know that during performances of America’s national anthem, Cole “will sit.” 

“That poem was a response to and inspired by Colin Kaepernick kneeling during the national anthem,” Cole said, “and seeing a lot of the negative response to that.” While he’s trying to wake people up to the ugly realities of our society, Cole doesn’t set out to be confrontational in his work. If it comes across that way, it’s because he’s reacting to ongoing emergencies and atrocities. In “These Cops Is Killaz,” he describes an America in which “a small violation leads to a few cops aiming. I don’t even have to make a wrong move and there’s a few shots blazing.” 

“It can come across as protest because people are so misinformed,” he explained, “so they may feel some offense from some of the things that I say. For the most part, it really is just in response to the ignorance that I see on a regular basis.” And while he doesn’t necessarily or always think of his work as protest art, he has used it in that context, reciting such poems as “I Am Not Food” at organized protests outside businesses that trade in suffering. 

Until a few years ago, Cole’s poetry was written to be set to music. “I Am Not Food,” which, with lines like “It’s only pain and fear I see. I’m only bred to feed their greed” is framed as a plea for mercy from victims of industries that use and commodify animals, was one of several poems written during a time in which Cole was transitioning in approach and style from hip-hop to spoken word.

“‘I Am Not Food’ was the piece that really opened my eyes to the necessity of having emotions in my pieces,” he said. “It’s very difficult to do with the metered rhyme. It’s very difficult to stay in a rhythmic pattern and convey the same emotions.” When he first recorded “I Am Not Food” and performed it to music, Cole said, “It didn’t generate the response from the audience that I was looking for. It was kind of just falling on deaf ears — they were more into the rhythm of what I was saying as opposed to the words I was delivering. When I did it a cappella and broke up the meter and just started to free-flow it a little bit and give it a little bit of the emotion and tone inflections, with a lot of pauses and a lot of time to reflect on what was said, it definitely generated more of a response from the audience.”

Still, the music can’t be removed from his work. Cole’s poetry is, in the purest sense, word-music designed to instigate the kind of critical thinking that’s not generally encouraged by our culture. 

“When you look at more recent pieces like, say, ‘Guilty’ or ‘Dissonant Cognition,’” he said, “there’s still a rhyme structure because of my history in hip-hop, but it’s not metered, it’s very much more open. It’s more of a conversation as opposed to a song. And I think the biggest difference between spoken word and hip-hop is that you really are trying to have a conversation with the audience. You’re really trying to spark a dialogue as opposed to just entertaining them — or as KRS-One would say, ‘Edutain them.’ Spoken word for me is much less about entertainment and much more about the conversation.”

Whereas he used to set poems to music, Cole now begins each piece with an idea, and without a template. “It really is just the topic,” he explained. “What about this topic do I want to elaborate on?” There’s also the audience to consider. “I try to evoke a lot of emotions” in each piece, “and I try to make it as personal as possible, because the more personal it is to me, the more personal it can be for my audience members. I’m trying to sell them on a concept that I feel they need to understand better. … I really just try to connect with them in a way that if somebody has the complete opposite point of view, that after hearing my perspective, even if they don’t agree with it, they would understand it.”

That seems like an intellectual exercise. But it has more to do with art’s power to pass through preconception and defensiveness. And emotion is the vehicle that allows that passage. “When you combine feeling with thought,” Cole said, “you’ve got something that’s very powerful. And that’s what art is to me. Art is combining emotion with intellect, with the emotion driving the intellect.”

Cole isn’t working to connect himself to his audience. He’s ultimately interested in connecting his audience to themselves, to their attitudes, and to the victims of their behaviors — behaviors that are generally encouraged by our culture, while critical thinking is not. Our species’ callously indifferent treatment of others, the subject he’s dealing with in “I Am Not Food,” is “something that is completely foreign to 90 percent of the population, which doesn’t see animals as anything but things, they don’t see them as people, they don’t see them as individuals who have feelings and experience pain.

That portion of the population is the audience Cole’s after with poems like “I Am Not Food” and “Dissonant Cognition,” which he describes in the poem as “the psychological state of positional hypocrites,” explaining, “I don’t mean that as an insult but as a common reality, especially in a carnist world where death isn’t considered a casualty but rather accepted quite casually.”

“‘Dissonant Cognition’ isn’t for vegans,” Cole said. “Vegans will love the piece because it says everything that they like to say and like to hear, but it wasn’t really written for them. They already know all that stuff. This is for the people who are cognitively dissonant when it comes to animals. They’re inseparable, the audience and the work.”

He doesn’t need people to like his work. He wants them to connect to the ideas his word-music is designed to communicate. It’s his purpose as an artist, as the opening of “Guilty” explains: “They say I make them feel guilty, but no. I simply use my wordplay to slay misconceptions of innocence and pride, whereby you feel guilty when you are indicted by your own mind. I am a poet, at war with the times …”

Experience Abioseh Joseph Cole’s poetry

Connecticut Residents, Don’t Report Bobcat Sightings

Photo by Gary Kramer/U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Since September 2017, the Connecticut Department of Energy & Environmental Protection’s Wildlife Division has been “conducting a bobcat study to understand the ecological niche of bobcats living within Connecticut habitats.”

“To determine bobcat abundance and distribution,” language on the agency’s website reads, “we are relying on help from Connecticut residents to report observations of bobcats. Reports from the public are greatly appreciated and will be invaluable towards understanding the current bobcat population in Connecticut.” (Emphasis added by the DEEP.)

Studies like this put targets on the backs of their subjects.

A recently concluded four-year University of Connecticut study of the state’s black bear population was seized on by hunters and their apologists who want desperately to organize a massacre of that species.

“DEEP’s wildlife experts plan to use the data to better track and manage the state’s growing black bear population,” UConn Today reported in March 2017. 

“Manage,” of course, is a euphemism for “kill.”

In May 2017, activists drove the defeat of legislation (S.B. 522) that would’ve set a Connecticut bear hunt in motion. Still, the threat to the state’s bears and other species remains. 

Hunters and their apologists continue to stoke fears and drive a demonizing narrative. This is a matter of public safety, we are told, as they clean their guns in hopes of taking part in a senseless slaughter.  

Don’t help them. If you see a bobcat or a bear or any other species, say nothing. 

To be continued …

In New Prison Memoir, “Disabled Vegan” Rails Unabashedly Against Injustice

Jan Smitowicz

Before he was incarcerated, Jan Smitowicz believed he’d “end up in prison someday because of my radical earth and animal liberation politics,” he tells us in his memoir, Rebel Hell: Disabled Vegan Goes to Prison. “I just figured it’d be for a truly worthwhile crime. Like freeing caged mink at a fur farm … But here I am, stuck with this vile shitsack-stupid reality. I made my choices. Now I must deal with the fallout.” 

The choice that landed Smitowicz behind bars for two years involved trying to transport 53 pounds of marijuana from California to New York. It was a choice informed by “disability and financial desperation that made me feel I had little choice, and it was a great opportunity to escape being unhirable and broke,” he said during a recent conversation. Smitowicz didn’t reach his destination. Instead, he was routed into The System, where, at first, he feared being disconnected from his values. 

“They turn you into one conglomerate mass by stripping away your identity,” he said, they being the people who run The System.

He didn’t lose his identity, after all. Instead, Smitowicz drew inspiration from who he is.

“Prison is a … microcosm of the world at large, in a million different ways,” he said. 

In the minimum-security facility at which he did most of his time, Smitowicz said, most people, nonviolent drug offenders, primarily, “didn’t give a shit about social issues.” 

“I think long prison sentences lend themselves to, and sort of facilitate, the establishment of political awareness and a consciousness of social issues,” he said. “Short timers,” on the other hand, don’t have “years and years and years to sit around and think about things.” 

The reality is that each and every one of us, in what he calls the “free world” and behind bars, does. And Smitowicz has thought at great length about the suffering of our species and others.

Not surprisingly, he lost 20 pounds during his first month in prison — at county jail and at Stateville Correctional Center — surviving on “white bread, small amounts of fruits and vegetables, and sometimes a bit of beans or plain noodles.” When he arrived at Jacksonville Correctional Center, where he served the majority of his sentence, he had access to a commissary from which he purchased rice, beans, and noodles to cook in his cell. 

Surviving, wherever he was locked up, was the key. A longtime vegan and animal liberationist, and a champion of human and environmental rights, Smitowicz has a lot to say about our society. Inside, he “led by example,” whereas on the outside, he said, “I’m much more likely to go out of my way to bring it up and engage people in discussing animals, animal rights, and animals as property. 

“Being disabled,” he said, talking about his severely injured knees and the debilitating chronic pain he endures, along with depression and anxiety, which can be equally crippling, “I had to protect myself. I can’t advocate for animals or do anything for them if I’m dead. Anything that makes your time harder hardens you. And if I’d tried to openly advocate and confront people about carnism it would’ve just made my life a living hell. And I don’t know if I would’ve been able to survive it. So, at some point there is an element of survival where you have to say, OK, I’m vegan, everybody knows it, but that’s for the most part as far as it should go, here, now, in these circumstances, with being who I am, with my disability and everything, depression and all that.

“I talked to everyone who expressed any kind of remote interest in reasoning or asked me questions, or people who I knew would be receptive. I talked about it all the time with people like that,” he said. “I always talked to people if they asked me about it, I just didn’t bring it up and talk about it if they weren’t interested. I just led by example.”

Eventually, thanks to the “ace card” that is religion, Smitowicz received vegan meals from the prison’s kitchen. 

“I told the chaplain I’m Seventh-day Adventist, and so he let me get on the vegan tray list,” he explained. “Aside from that, my ethics were completely irrelevant to anybody in power,” just as they were to many of his fellow inmates. 

Smitowicz wrote about 25 percent of the first draft of Rebel Hell in prison — about 300 hand-written pages — before the experience became “too depressing to live and write about at the same time.” Still, during his time in prison, he was extraordinarily productive. “I wrote a 1,600-page hand-written animal-liberation epic,” he said. It’s a project that’s since been “reimagined as the first two volumes of a series of animal-liberation novels.” He’s calling the series The Liberators.

Producing that many pages “was amazing,” he said, “given the paltry amount of medication I was getting. I cannot imagine how much I could have written (with) even half the meds I’m on now.” By contrast, he was anything but productive toward the end of his sentence. “When they took me off all my meds, the last three or four months, I didn’t write a page,” aside from a one-page poem, he said.

Rebel Hell, in many ways, is the story of the power of The System, one that all-but ignored his disability.

“Are you alive? Are you about to die? If you’re not about to die, don’t fucking say a word. That was the general attitude” most staff members held, he said.

Still, “in there, it was an issue of survival. I had to write. I had to be productive. I had to find a way. The circumstances facilitated — birthed — a huge outpouring of writing, as did zero real responsibility and just all the time in the world to pass, and wanting so badly to escape, and that being one of the ways.”

While much of his time in prison was spent working on The Liberators, Smitowicz was (obviously) able to complete Rebel Hell upon his release. Much of the narrative is a well-reasoned condemnation of oppression of all forms. And that condemnation comes in various forms, including footnotes, statistics, graphics and other visual aids, and references to and quotes and data from numerous scholarly and scientific resources – all that delivered with equal measures of seriousness and snark.

To wit: “It’s almost as if … as unbelievable as it may [though it shouldn’t] seem, it’s almost as if the War on Drugs is used primarily as a weapon to target and incarcerate people of color!” — that from a chapter in Rebel Hell in which Smitowicz points out that “a black person in the state of Illinois is nearly TEN TIMES MORE LIKELY to be imprisoned than their white counterparts” and cites several sources in declaring that “America is a Prison Nation. Plain & simple.”

Inside, Smitowicz mostly stayed out of trouble — he certainly didn’t go looking for it — and concentrated on the things that would get him through: reading, writing, music, and the wildlife who call the “prison ecosystem” home. 

Smitowicz recently described the Prison Industrial Complex as “the bureaucrazy in its perfect form, at its apotheosis, at its most efficient and vicious, and somehow at the same time, utterly apathetic.”

His memoir is an intense read, full of dark truth and entertaining literary idiosyncrasies. It’s part witness account and part call to arms. It’s frightening and it’s hilarious, the work of someone who takes his values and his craft seriously. 

As I wrote in a review that I posted to Amazon and Goodreads, “Rebel Hell is maddening. It’s also full of snarky personality and unabashed spirit. It will piss you off anew and find you rooting for all those who challenge the injustices that are carried out against members of our species and others. And it will call you to join the fight.”

Learn more and purchase Rebel Hell: Disabled Vegan Goes to Prison.

LancasterOnline and the Normalization of Human Arrogance

Photo by Craig Lewis/U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

It would be easy to make fun of LNP’s asinine headline “No hunting-related shooting deaths were recorded in Pennsylvania in 2016” were it not such a depressing reflection of our largely indifferent society.

In the article to which that thoughtless headline is attached, Pennsylvania Game Commission Executive Director Bryan Burhans is quoted as saying “hunting is safer than it’s ever been.” Tell that to the animals who are mercilessly gunned down by bloodlust-full thugs in the name of sport. Burhans and his loathsome ilk insist, of course, that they’re conservationists. To wit: The shamelessly arrogant mission of the PGC is “to manage Pennsylvania’s wild birds, wild mammals, and their habitats for current and future generations.” 

As I’ve pointed out many times, “wildlife management” is an insulting and sickening euphemism for “sanctioned slaughter.” The PGC and wildlife agencies in other states cater to the most violent among us while claiming altruism as their constituents’ primary motivation. The truth is that killing, for these agencies, is a business. And there remain plenty of knuckle-dragging serial killers who continue to spend a few dollars each year to visit brutal deaths on other species.

According to language on its website, LancasterOnline — the LNP’s Web presence — “has a monthly readership of over one million” (poor grammar not at all excused). That readership would be better served by the truth. And the truth is that the only species that needs to be “managed” is ours.

Media Once Again Ignores Real Victims

Photo by Scott Bauer/USDA

Late last month, three humans were injured by a bull at a livestock auction in County Clare, Ireland. Not surprisingly, and once again, media reports ignored the real victims. What follows is an open letter to Pat Flynn, who wrote about the above-mentioned incident for The Irish Times. 

Hi Pat,

I’m writing with what you in the press call a “news tip.” It’s a horrifying and atrocious story with countless victims, each and every one of whom was and is born to suffer a short, tortured life and a brutal end. 

There’s a company called Clare Marts, at the intersection of Greed and Indifference, in County Clare. It’s where the doomed are further insulted on their way to the killing floor. Your headline — and the gist of your piece — could be something like “Countless victims traded in Co Clare atrocity.” 

I see the piece, if you’ll indulge me, Pat, as a story about the unimaginable fear and suffering that’s endured by an endless procession of individuals who desperately need your help. Tell your readers, Pat, about the flesh trade that’s flourishing there and everywhere that our species dominates. 

It wouldn’t be untrue to write something like “Clare Marts auctions babies and adults, all of whom will soon face the knife,” or “at Clare Marts, stolen lives are currency and death is the common denominator.” You get the idea, Pat. The point is, nothing’s going to stop this atrocity until the people with access to the truth make some powerful word-music that motivates the masses to stop the goddamned madness. Dig? 

With great urgency,
David Brensilver 

I sent the above to several editors at The Irish Times and to info@claremarts.ie.

Related commentaries:
Doomed Cows (Don’t) Escape Killing Floor
The Dairy Industry’s “Udder Truth” is Utter Nonsense

 

Doomed Cows (Don’t) Escape Killing Floor

Photo by Scott Bauer/USDA

Having seen a few Facebook posts today about cows escaping from a St. Louis-area slaughterhouse, I asked myself how many news stories I’d have to look at before coming across a stupid and thoughtless headline. 

One, as it turned out.

I typed “cows St. Louis” into a Google News search and clicked on the first story, whose headline, “Steak-out: Police try to corral cattle after escape from north St. Louis slaughterhouse,” loudly betrays the callous indifference that each year dooms billions of animals before they’re ever born.

Like countless animals before them, the cows who likely found nothing but fear and confusion on the streets of St Louis were born to have their throats cut so humans can “enjoy” a juicy burger or a nice steak. Shortly after escaping, they were captured and returned to the killing floor.  

I’m guessing that the newsperson who wrote the St. Louis Post-Dispatch headline hasn’t given much thought to the suffering that our species inflicts on others.

It’s not hard to not eat them. What’s hard is getting people to recognize them in the first place.  

This commentary was sent to St. Louis Post-Dispatch reporter Christine Byers and photojournalist David Carson in the hope that they’ll someday tell the stories of the victims who’re marched onto the killing floor and brutally slaughtered.

Related commentary: The Dairy Industry’s “Udder Truth” is Utter Nonsense 

Alligator Executed After Encounter with Florida Woman

Photo by Djngsf

Photo by Djngsf

Animals almost always lose. It’s the maddening reality that motivated me to launch this blog in the first place. The latest example of humankind’s arrogant expectation that other species play by our absurd rules involves a Florida woman who nearly lost one of her hands to an alligator when she reached into the water to retrieve a soda can. Not surprisingly, the alligator was executed.

From The Guardian: “Tammy Sapp, a spokeswoman for the (Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission), said that alligator bite incidents were rare in Florida but that the wildlife commission worked to keep visitors to the Everglades safe and to remove alligators believed to pose a threat to people, pets or property.”

You’ll remember that in June six alligators were executed after a toddler was pulled into Seven Seas Lagoon at the Grand Floridian Resort & Spa. The people who were reportedly in the habit of feeding alligators in the area are in part responsible for all seven of those deaths.

In addition to executing “nuisance” alligators—the commission’s Statewide Nuisance Alligator Program was responsible for the deaths of 7,513 animals in 2015—the commission organizes an annual alligator-hunting season as part of its “management” program.

“Wildlife management,” of course, is a sickening and insulting euphemism for sanctioned slaughter.

Make no mistake, Florida’s War on Alligators, which includes the state’s disgusting alligator-farming industry, is a year-round atrocity.

Unwittingly, the woman who reached into the water to retrieve a soda can created yet another opportunity for the state’s death squads to hunt down and kill an alligator.

The right response would have been to do nothing at all, to leave that animal and all the others alone to live their lives free from fear and harm. But killing is big business in Florida, as it is elsewhere. And it will continue as long as the majority remains indifferent.

Florida’s alligator-hunting season begins on Aug. 15. Send an email to Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission Chairman Brian Yablonski (brian.yablonski@myfwc.com) and give him a piece of your mind. 

Portrait of an Animal-Rights-Focused Play

I've been working on an animal-rights-focused play. Here's what that work looks like from my perspective.

I’ve been working on an animal-rights-focused play. Here’s what that work looks like from my perspective.

One Murderer Kills Another’s Would-Be Victim

Photo by Roger Green

Photo by Roger Green

A greedy murderer in northeastern England is whining that one of her would-be victims was mortally wounded by a sadistic interloper. According to The Press, “Joe Beckett, who farms near Marton, discovered one of her sheep with gunshots [sic] wounds early on Tuesday morning. … Its injuries were so severe it had to be euthanised.”

“As farmers we fully appreciate that most of our animals are bred to supply the food chain, however this was a totally unnecessary murder,” Beckett was quoted as saying, complaining that “shooting her in the neck and leaving her to die a slow painful death” has the farmer “absolutely furious at this barbaric act of animal cruelty.”

Beckett is suggesting, in other words, that as long as there’s money to be made, bringing animals into the world to cut their throats is both necessary and humane. That last word you might recognize from odious meat-industry propaganda, which, of course, targets the nonthinking and indifferent.

Among those, we can count the reporters and editors at The Press, who don’t see the sickening irony of covering an unexpected murder on an already bloodstained killing floor, and also the law-enforcement officers who’re hoping to bring to justice the individual who visited brutal violence on the sheep who was supposed to be brutally slaughtered by Beckett. Meanwhile, more victims are being born into stolen lives, to exist as pieces of property until it’s time to face the knife.

Rich Square, North Carolina, Where Heroes are Monsters

Photo by Ken Thomas

Photo by Ken Thomas

“Saving lives through slaughter,” the slogan I attached in 2013 to the Holley Fire Department, in Orleans County, New York, will also work for the fire department in Rich Square, North Carolina. On Saturday, April 9, Neanderthals from that company will host a fundraising event in which participating savages kill turkeys for the chance to win $500. Last year, according to The News & Observer, “about 150” savages entered the killing contest. The fire department raised $5,250, at $35 per murderer.

“A $35 entry includes a Friday night steak dinner that is cooked by the firefighters and features raffles and a rules presentation,” The News & Observer report tells us.

In other words, the violent thugs who pay to participate in the fundraising massacre will stuff their faces with the flesh of brutally slaughtered animals before brutally slaughtering other animals, all in the name of saving lives.

In 2013, representatives from Friends of Animals offered to raise money for the Holley Fire Department if officials there would call off their annual competitive slaughter, “Squirrel Slam,” which offers competitors a chance to win guns and cash. Not surprisingly, those officials declined the promise of blood-free cash, preferring to destroy as many lives as possible, all in the name of saving others.

The Holley Fire Department raised $6,000 in 2015, thanks to 600 murderers paying $10 apiece to unleash brutal violence on others. 

To raise the $5,250 it did last year, the Rich Square Volunteer Fire Department could ask each member of the community for about $6. Department members could organize a fundraising event in which no one gets killed. But it’s not about the money. It’s about the killing. And the loathsome degenerates who organize and participate in the annual massacre in Rich Square don’t want anyone from the surrounding civilization telling them how to live their lives while they’re enjoying taking others’–all in the name of saving a lucky few.

Like they are in Holley, the heroes in Rich Square are monsters.

Call Rich Square Volunteer Fire Department Chief Jonathan Morris at (252) 539-2933 and give him a piece of your mind. 

Ask your state legislators to support or introduce legislation that would outlaw wildlife-killing contests, and support the efforts of organizations like Friends of Animals and the Committee to Abolish Sport Hunting to bring an end to such savagery.

Related commentaries:
Holley “Squirrel Slam” is a Neanderthal Custom of Evangelical Barbarism
“Squirrel Slam”: The Holleycaust Continues