by Maya Moritz
If you’ve been able to leave your home in the Mannheim area during or before the pandemic, you may have spotted them.
Whether in Heidelberg’s Old Town or by Mannheim Hauptbahnhof, they stand in a square formation wearing black clothes and Guy Fawkes masks. In their hands, televisions show the gory, discomforting footage of the process by which animals become food.
Few people jump at the chance to debate their eating habits with protesters who clearly disagree with their choices. Most will pass by, shielding their eyes or swerving to avoid the Cube of Truth.
The people who are willing to spar over veganism find themselves facing devoted and passionate animal activists. The conversations are often uploaded onto social media for online commenters to join the discussion.
We sat down with Ariane Sechs, an administrator of the Anonymous for the Voiceless (AV) Mannheim Facebook group and a founder of her own chapter, to talk about the mission, methodology, and experiences of one of the world’s most controversial, well-known vegan activism groups.
This article begins a series on veganism and environmentalism in Mannheim. Our first installment covers Anonymous for the Voiceless.
Forthcoming articles will cover green activism from groups affiliated with Universität Mannheim, changes coming to the Mensa, and Mannheim’s commitment to eco-consciousness as a city.
A Global Movement
Vegan and animal-focused activism and volunteering can range from adorable (such as helping in the Tierheim, which is currently restricted due to Covid-19) to controversial (most notable PETA).
AV falls into the latter category. The no-holds-barred, in-your-face demonstrations (called Cubes of Truth) draw debate, horror, or indignation from passing crowds.
During the Cube, some activists wear masks, usually the white mask featured in “V for Vendetta” and popular with the hacker group Anonymous, and hold screens showing cruelty at meatpacking plants and farms. Other activists speak to passerby’s, offering resources or engaging in discussion.
The group posts their exchanges and material on their various social media including Instagram (be warned, several of the posts include graphic images or descriptions of torture). The Mannheim chapter of the organization boasts hundreds of members on their Facebook group.
Ariane Sechs, an administrator of the group, spoke to me about the organization and its activism.
According to Ms. Sechs, “Anonymous for the Voiceless (AV) is a not-for-profit animal rights organization that specializes in using conversation and standard practice footage to edify the public about animal exploitation. Initially founded in Melbourne, Australia, we are now a global community of like-minded people using our voices for justice for our fellow earthlings. With an abolitionist stance against all forms of animal exploitation, we hold Cube of Truth demonstrations all around the world to empower the public to support animal rights, live vegan and speak up for animals. Simply put, we are a voice against history’s largest and longest-standing injustice.”
Ms. Sechs became a vegan in 2006. For the next ten years, she felt like a “lone wolf,” leading her to search out vegan content on YouTube. After finding videos of the Australian Earthlings Experience demonstrations in February 2016, she joined the group and has been experiencing the movement’s growth ever since.
Eventually, she was inspired to establish her own chapter in Erfurt, among the first local arms of Anonymous for the Voiceless in Germany
No Arguments, No Excuses
Though their most well-known protest is the Cube of Truth, the group has several methods to spread their message. “Our outreach approach is called ‘Holding Non- Vegans Accountable.’ This means holding each individual accountable for their own contribution to animal abuse.”
The group’s no-nonsense, no-excuses approach contrasts with more moderate animal rights groups like the Humane Society. Sechs says, “We do not accept excuses like: this has to be regulated by politics or shifting the responsibility to others. We make it clear to people in our conversations that as long as they are funding the exploitation and suffering by buying animal products, they are also guilty and responsible for animals suffering and being murdered.”
Sechs emphasizes a common contradiction she notices in the behaviors of non-vegans. “Most people say animal abuse is wrong, but when it comes to their own actions and consuming habits they lie to themselves and act like hypocrites. We make people realize that they can only start with themselves and align their values (when they say animal abuse is wrong) with their actions by stopping buying animal products.”
Rather than court the uninterested members of the public, the group focuses on people who want to engage with their protest. Participants only approach onlookers who stop and watch the slaughterhouse and abuse footage on their own. “In the course of the conversation, we always make sure of their honesty and intention and have respectful and honest conversations with them.”
But less genial conversations also occur at some Cubes. Sechs describes how some passerby engage in ‘bullshit bingo,’ whereby they argue with AV members without listening or with the intention of catching them out instead of considering the purpose of the Cube.
Cube participants are advised to end conversations with ill-intentioned members of the public. “We don’t argue with people!” Sechs says.
In fact, members are trained to deal with all sorts of public reactions to the cube. According to Sechs, AV’s protocols include not wasting time with “unfruitful conversations.” The Cube itself acts like a filter, says Sechs, and those who stop tend to be people who are willing to have serious conversations about veganism and meat consumption.
“Often we receive objections or excuses, which we then discuss and give the people arguments to work on them or to get them out of the way. In my own experience, more people are open-minded than argumentative,” Sechs reflects.
In non-pandemic times, the Cube tends to be successful. Sechs describes the protests as well-structured and professional, as well as “an eye-catcher and crowd puller.”
According to Ms. Sechs, the Cubes lead to tête-à-têtes with those who may not have ever encountered the group’s message under other circumstances. “Many people have already become vegan through our demos. Our approach is very effective.”
The pandemic has limited, but not stalled, the group’s efforts. “Well, we can’t go out on the streets to do demonstrations in many places right now because of the lockdowns. Where it is possible to do street activism, the local groups are keeping strict precautions, distance rules and mouth-nose covering duties.”
The online and in-person support for Anonymous for the Voiceless as well as the less visible animal rights groups points to a wider support for veganism than many would imagine in a country as traditionally meat-heavy as Germany.
Ms. Sechs also offers friendly advice for those considering veganism: “Just do it! If you are against animal abuse and cruelty and still consume animal products, please stop to be a hypocrite! Address the animal suffering you fund through your consumer choices. Imagine yourself in this victim position. Don’t see the ‘schnitzel,’ the ‘sausage’ or the ‘cheese’ as a finished product but deal with the process of creation. Look deep into it where all those products come from! Deal with the ‘why vegan’ then the incentive for the ‘how’ comes all by itself.”
It seems the “how” will be less important as more vegan options become available on campus, a topic that will be covered in the upcoming installments of this series.
Becoming vegan may be easier these days, but joining Anonymous for the Voiceless requires a high level of commitment. “Most people are already vegan when they decide to join AV,” Sechs explains. “Especially since AV does not allow non-vegans to participate in their events until they have finally made the step to veganism. Those people who want to join us and are not yet vegan, will be at the latest when they are with us volunteering on the streets.”
If you’re not quite ready to forego your fondue, you can still become involved in animal right activism. Ms. Sechs says, “I would advise looking at and to try out different forms of activism, researching different organizations, and choosing the type of activism that best suits to them and what they are comfortable with. No matter what you choose, the most important thing is to do something.”