In 2016, Wayne Hsiung moved to Berkeley with the explicit intent of using the city as a lever for the liberation of animals.
From a home shared with others on The Plaza Drive in Berkeley’s tony Claremont district, Hsiung and organizers in Direct Action Everywhere (DxE), the group he co-founded in 2013, worked to build a social movement that would expose the cruel living conditions for animals in industrial farms around the nation. Through protests, shaming meat-eaters in restaurants, clandestine entry into animal farms, high-profile arrests and a sophisticated use of social media, members of DxE have fought to “normalize veganism and animal rights,” according to the group’s “Forty-Year Roadmap to Animal Liberation.”
DxE’s ultimate goal: To pass a constitutional amendment that ends the “institutionalized exploitation of non-human animals.” The amendment would grant animals “legal personhood.”
Hsiung and DxE members selected Berkeley as the place to root the organization and build the movement, ultimately creating one of the operation’s largest and most active chapters. Building power at the local level is one of DxE’s tenets, as it believes the most successful social movements start in one location, secure success there, and then go viral, according to the roadmap. For DxE, Berkeley has been that place.
“Imagine … if every animal rights activist in the world suddenly moved to Berkeley,” Hsiung wrote … as part of a ‘Move to Berkeley’ campaign to attract activists from around the county to the city.
“Imagine, for example, if every animal rights activist in the world suddenly moved to Berkeley,” Hsiung wrote in a 2017 article as part of a “Move to Berkeley” campaign to attract activists from around the county to the city. Under a section subtitled, “Banning Meat in Berkeley,” he wrote: “What has, until now, been a fairly marginal issue – even in a progressive hub of the United States – would suddenly have real political power, the power to change both formal and informal institutions. Legislatively, we could achieve incredible results such as a wholesale ban on the killing of animals.”
DxE’s roadmap sets a target of 2025 to ban meat in Berkeley, although Hsiung says he has backed off from that goal.
Now Hsiung, 39, is running for mayor of Berkeley, facing off against the incumbent, Jesse Arreguín, Naomi Pete, a perennial candidate, and Aidan Hill, vice-chair of the city’s Homeless Commission — and a disaffected former member of DxE.
Has Hsiung discovered a new passion for municipal politics? He has never served on a city commission, but he has worked as a lawyer and a community activist for decades, skills he has called on in running his campaign. He hasn’t been a regular at City Council meetings but he has mobilized an army of 200 volunteers to knock on 26,000 doors and place green and white lawn signs seemingly everywhere — on telephone poles, stop signs, windows and lawns. Or is the controversial leader of DxE running to fulfill a years-long goal of bringing his animal rights group mainstream? Another objective in DxE’s roadmap is “placing as many supporters as possible in the city council of a seed city.” One other current high-ranking member, Paul Darwin Picklesimer, part of DxE SF Bay Area’s elected core organizing team, is a candidate for District 5 on the City Council.
“When you are trying to change the system as a whole, the best way to change it isn’t serving on a commission,” Hsiung told Berkeleyside in a Zoom interview on Monday. “It’s by mobilizing community members, ordinary citizens. This is what I have done.”
With Hsiung as DxE’s head — he said he stepped down from leadership in 2019 but continues to be a member — the nonprofit grew dramatically, both in Berkeley and around the world. There are now 54 active chapters in 20 countries, according to Matt Johnson, DxE’s Bay Area press coordinator. In the Bay Area, there are 195 DxE members, he said, with another 100 people joining in for specific events. One community house in Berkeley has spawned a handful of others. DxE runs the Animal Rights Center, the first of its kind in the nation, in the city-owned Telegraph Channing Mall in the Southside neighborhood. It serves as an organizing and educational hub. (On a “Move to Berkeley” website, DxE recommends people find housing near there.) It is not uncommon to see green-vested DxE activists marching through downtown or on the UC Berkeley campus, carrying signs and, periodically, animal carcasses. Donors are pouring in hundreds of thousands of dollars to support DxE’s activities.
In the past four years, DxE members in Berkeley have:
- Stormed the downstairs dining room of Chez Panisse and yelled at patrons about meat consumption
- Held bloody “die-ins” outside the Local Butcher Shop in North Berkeley: The owners finally agreed to put up a “mea-culpa” sign acknowledging that killing animals is “violent and unjust” to get the demonstrators to go away
- Protested so often inside and outside Whole Foods Markets that the company — as well as Costco — won a restraining order to ban them
- Chained themselves to Sather Gate and held up dead piglets to call attention to practices used by UC Berkeley’s meat supplier
- Run onto the Cal football field in the middle of a game holding a toy stuffed pig
- Buried a piglet in Civic Center Park to highlight the mistreatment of animals
- Started a weeklong animal rights conference that now draws thousands to Berkeley
DxE, working with other animal rights groups, also had an impact on Berkeley’s laws. The Berkeley City Council passed the nation’s first resolution supporting the fight to end the dog meat trade in China and banned the sale of most new fur products within city limits. But the most controversial legislation, adopted Dec. 10, 2019, asked the Sonoma County district attorney to exercise leniency in prosecuting 21 defendants — one of whom was Hsiung —who took chickens from egg farms in Petaluma.
Hsiung said he faces up to 85 years in prison if convicted, but that many of the charges are politically motivated. He said it won’t interfere with his ability to serve as mayor.
The pressure to pass that measure was intense, according to one City Council member who said their office received hundreds of calls and emails. “Their lobbying tactics are very well organized, and they always have a few people who are ‘in your district’ and make the claim that you should really listen to them because they are your constituents,” said the official, who did not want their name used.
Hsiung has been arrested numerous times while protesting what he considers atrocious conditions at farms. He currently is facing 17 felonies and eight misdemeanor charges in connection with actions at pig and turkey farms farm in Utah, a goat rescue in North Carolina, and two poultry farms in Petaluma. Hsiung has said he faces as long as 85 years in prison if convicted, but told Berkeleyside he doesn’t think that will interfere with his ability to serve as mayor. Many of these charges are politically motivated to scare away animal rights activists from exposing the truth about industrial animal farms, he said. Saber-rattling does not equate prison time, he said.
2017 was a pivotal year for Direct Action Everywhere
DxE has become known for its dramatic “rescues” of piglets, hens, goats, turkeys and other animals from large industrial operations. The practice began in Australia and Hsiung takes credit for importing it to the United States and turning it into a powerful tactic. Part of that is because DxE has built a sophisticated media operation to record and distribute videos and virtual reality films that put viewers inside the farms. Its videos on infiltrating conglomerates like Smithfield Farms, the Petaluma egg farms that supply Whole Foods, or rushing into restaurants like Chez Panisse and Chipotle, have been viewed tens of thousands of times, sometimes more, on YouTube. Its Facebook livestreams sometimes get hundreds of thousands of views. In 2018, the group spent $54,000 on producing “high-quality videos” and another $196,472 on “production and dissemination of educational material,” according to the group’s 990s, forms that nonprofits must file with the federal government.
A 2017 action codenamed “Operation Deathstar” catapulted DxE into the national consciousness. In January and March, Hsuing and other DxE activists broke into Circle Four Farms, a pig operation in the high desert of western Utah owned by Smithfield Foods, the largest pig and pork producer in the world. A Chinese conglomerate, Shuanghui International, now known as WH Foods bought Smithfield for $4.7 billion in 2013. Hsiung said on the video that Circle Four Farms, where 1 million pigs are raised and slaughtered each year, was “the heart of evil.”
Hsiung was filmed as he entered into a barn where hundreds of mother pigs were kept in small metal crates barely long enough to contain their bodies. He narrated the horrors he saw, pointing out piglet carcasses covered with blood and feces in cages as newborn piglets fought to reach their mothers’ often-bloody teats. Hsiung speculated they died of starvation or were crushed.
“This violence, this suffering is going into every bite of bacon that is served at a restaurant near you,” Hsiung said.
Hsiung stopped his tour when the group heard radio communication between security workers for Circle Four Farms, and the video went dark for a bit. When it resumed, Hsiung stated that he had to accelerate the rescue of some piglets. He picked up a piglet and said, “She is going to die unless we get her out.” The group ultimately took two piglets with them, later naming them Lily and Lizzie.
DxE’s distribution of a VR video of the interior of some barns at Circle Four Farms proved compelling to many national media outlets. The New York Times’s July 6, 2017, article embedded DxE’s VR video into the story. Other news outlets, including The Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, Vox, Wired magazine and numerous local newspapers and TV stations, wrote about DxE operations. Many focused on the use of VR technology as an innovative way to push for social change.
DxE members are taking a risk breaking into industrial farms. The 2006 Animal Terrorism Act criminalizes anyone interfering with “animal enterprise.” Officials “treat direct action in the name of animal rights a federal offense of domestic terrorism,” according to a 2012 article by Wesley D. Shirley, a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Oregon. Moreover, a number of states have passed “ag-gag” laws that make it illegal to take and disseminate photos or videos from inside private animal farms. While a number of states, including Kansas, Utah, Idaho, Iowa and North Carolina have recently ruled these laws are unconstitutional because they violate the First Amendment, they are in effect in other states and have had a chilling effect on animal activists.
Around 100 DxE members are facing felony and misdemeanor charges around the U.S., according to Hsiung. In 2018 and 2019, DxE spent $286,740 on “legal advocacy” expenses, according to the group’s 990 federal tax forms.
After “Operation Deathstar,” the FBI sent “a six-car armada of agents in bulletproof vests to at least two animal rescue farms to look for the two piglets DxE had taken, Glenn Greenwald, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, wrote in a laudatory 2017 article in The Intercept. This was evidence, Greenwald wrote, of how far the U.S. government was willing to go to shelter the agricultural industry from “political embarrassment and accurate reporting that damages the industry’s reputation.”
“The animal rights movement, despite receiving relatively scant media attention and operating under the threat of federal prosecutions for terrorism, boasts some of the nation’s more effective, shrewd, and tenacious political activists,” wrote Greenwald. He has since become one of Hsiung’s biggest fans, has held fundraisers for him and the group, and just appeared on Hsiung’s new podcast.
The Intercept article went viral, further raising DxE’s profile. Greenwald told DxE that it had been shared on Facebook about 100,000 times, according to Johnson, the group’s Bay Area media coordinator.
After DxE releases video of a pig farm, donations increase 10x
That elevated profile had a direct impact on DxE’s finances, as well as those of a separate nonprofit called Friends of DxE, run by Hsiung’s sister Amy and headquartered in the Animal Rights Center in Berkeley.
In 2017, donors contributed $47,000 to DxE, but donations increased tenfold in 2018 to $470,000, according to tax filings. In 2019, DxE raised $421,837 in contributions and grants, and earned another $81,672 from program revenues.
Friends of DxE has raised even more money. Since 2015, donors have contributed more than $4.2 million to the nonprofit. In 2014, donors gave Friends of DxE $48,432. It went up to $1.7 million in 2018 to $1.2 million in 2019. While the organization does not name its donors, one person contributed $567,725 in 2019 another gave $140,000.
Where does all that money go? DxE has no paid staff. Instead, Friends of DxE funds a number of $35,000 annual fellowships to DxE’s most ardent activists, spending $783,373 in recent years, according to its 990 forms. The recipients, — many of whom have lived at one time in a group house on The Plaza Drive — are also DxE’s leaders, including Johnson, Priya Sawhney, now the CEO of the organization, Almira Tanner, Cassie King, who leads many protests, and Picklesimer, the D5 City Council candidate. Zach Freitas-Groff, who has since left the organization over policy differences, was once the Ling-Ann Hsiung Memorial Fellow named after Hsiung and Amy Hsiung’s mother. Over the years, 10 to 20 DxE members have gotten fellowships, said Johnson. Tanner has gotten a fellowship every year since 2016, he said.
Hsiung said he was granted a fellowship but immediately returned the funds so they could be used elsewhere. He said he has made enough money to live on as a corporate lawyer.
The Friends of DxE also pays the rent and insurance for the Animal Rights Center and, in 2019, also donated $147,250 directly to DxE.
While rescuing animals is a central part of many of DxE’s most dramatic videos, DxE appears to spend only a small fraction of the money it raises directly on taking care of them, according to its 990s. In 2019, the organization spent 2.46% of its budget ($17,935 out of $726,692 raised) on “animal care.”
In 2018, the Friends of DxE spent 1.2% of its budget on direct contributions to two animal sanctuaries, Happy Hen Sanctuary in San Luis Obispo, and Northshire Animal Sanctuary in Clyde, North Carolina. In 2019, that percentage climbed to 3.5% when the group donated $45,000 to Happy Hen Sanctuary, according to the group’s 990 forms.
Some critics have criticized DxE for spending so little on taking care of animals but Hsiung said that was normal in the movement. Most organizations that rescue animals just pay for the animals’ immediate veterinarian bills. Hsiung said he thought DxE actually spent a larger percentage of its funds on direct animal care than most organizations, not for long-term care.
Cracks appear in DxE’s organization in 2017 after 43 core members depart
While 2017 brought DxE national attention, it was also the year when 43 members departed, blasting the organization and Hsiung’s leadership.
DxE’s success comes in part because its members are passionate about saving animals and are willing to donate hours of their lives to the cause. They feel they are participating in something that is larger than themselves. Intimacy develops among active members who regularly share meals, sing and protest together, and sometimes even live together. As Hsiung told Berkeleyside, “DxE is not an organization. It’s a movement, a network.”
Many members venerate Hsiung and believe his smarts, charisma and strategic thinking are keys to the future of animal liberation. In a contentious meeting in 2017, one that led to the exit of the 43 disaffected members, supporters said, “He’s an angel,” and “he’s our only hope,” according to two different sources. They also compared Hsiung to Martin Luther King, Jr.
“The group has a tremendous amount of reverence for Wayne.” They see that “this guy has cojones. He is willing to get arrested for what he believes in.” — Former DxE member
“The group has a tremendous amount of reverence for Wayne,” said one former DxE member, who, like many Berkeleyside interviewed, asked not to be named because they feared retaliation from the group. They see that “this guy has cojones. He is willing to get arrested for what he believes in.”
That reverence has allowed Hsiung to make many of the decisions for the organization including where funds go, who becomes a fellow and what future direction DxE should take, according to his critics. It has also meant that when someone crossed him, it could have implications for their position inside DxE.
“If you agreed with him that was a way to move up,” said the former member. “If you disagreed with him or criticized (him) his lackeys would start to criticize you behind your back.”
Johnson, the media coordinator, said it is the SF Bay Core team, not Hsiung alone, who votes on who should get a fellowship. The team then forwards the recommendations to Friends of DxE’s board, and it decides whether to approve the names or not.
A major breaking point for DxE came 10 days after the New York Times ran its article on “Operation Deathstar.” It was at a Sunday afternoon meeting at the Animal Rights Center in Berkeley. Hsiung had called the meeting to question the actions of a prominent member, one who had been acting as a liaison to lawyers working on a case involving a DxE “rescue” at Diestel Turkey Farms. The member in question was not in attendance. During the meeting, Hsiung allegedly discredited the member, accusing her of some terrible transgressions that violated the group’s trust. The meeting turned into a two-hour rant, according to people who attended.
“I was horrified,” said Sherry Lifton, who was in attendance. [I thought] “none of us should feel safe. If he can shame one person he can shame any of us. I knew at the moment this was cult-like behavior.”
Hsiung said he had lost faith in the member and was also concerned about some of her past associations. Since he was involved in the case, he had the right to seek her dismissal since his legal interests were at stake, he said.
“I still to this day feel bad about it,” said Hsiung. “I did not want to disclose aspects of her past.”
(Business Insider also investigated this situation for an article that was never published. You can read Hsiung’s lengthy response here.)
News of the meeting spread throughout the organization and reinforced doubts about DxE that some had been harboring for a long time. Lifton and 42 others quit and then authored a paper, “Steps to Healing Our Community.” The dissenters condemned what they considered character assassination by Hsiung and other leaders. They argued that when people expressed reservations about DxE, the leaders often started a whispering campaign to cast aspersions. On occasion, the DxE leaders characterized the dissenters as sexual predators — an irony since a number of members felt the organization did a terrible job addressing sexual harassment issues and may have even covered up sexual assaults.
“Many individuals have found themselves under attack after expressing dissent,” the 43 dissidents wrote. “These attacks are often coordinated by several core members of leadership, including Wayne.”
Hsiung said most of the signers were not that actively involved with DxE and that one of them has since apologized for his involvement. However, to ensure DxE does a good job of investigating allegations of harassment or abuse, the organization will “no longer perform accountability or restorative justice processes in house,” according to an October statement. If a sexual misconduct charge is levied against a DxE member, the organization will “refer the matter to an external professional and remove the accused organizer from the network pending guidance from the survivor and the external professional.”
Those who have left said they believe that Hsiung made DxE about him rather than about the organization as a whole. He was like a king with everyone else his subjects, they said.
Hsiung strongly disagrees with that characterization. He said DxE is the only animal rights organization with a democratically elected local board where meetings are open to all, providing transparency to the organization. (DxE does post hundreds of videos, statements, position papers online and provided Berkeleyside with the financial documents and tax forms it requested).
Jon Frohnmayer, who first met Hsiung in 2012 when they were both working at the law firm DLA Piper, and moved to Berkeley five years later to live in The Plaza Drive group home and become a full-time activist, said that DxE’s intentional communities are focused on making the world a better place for animals and not on an individual.
“Wayne is smart. He has been able to be influential in DxE but never without scrutiny,” he said.
Critics of DxE are concerned about the ‘cult-like’ aspects of the group
Outsiders may dismiss the complaints about DxE and Hsiung as typical machinations of an activist group cannibalizing itself. Hsiung suggests they reflect the “narcissism of small differences.” But others in the animal rights movement believe they reflect something more ominous.
In 2018, Carol Adams, a leading figure in the animal rights movement and the author of the seminal The Sexual Politics of Meat, wrote a post for her website in which she declared she would not speak at any event where Hsiung or DxE members appeared. She said she did not want to be responsible for attracting young women to an event where they might be convinced to join DxE. In 2016, the SF Veg Society banned DxE from tabling, speaking, or recruiting new members at World Veg Fest. Since then, other veg festivals have done the same.
Adams told Berkeleyside she thinks DxE and Hsiung’s leadership is cult-like. It exhibits many of the classic signs: members are expected to spend most of their time working to promote DxE’s goals and are made to feel guilty if they can’t, she said. Those who live in DxE group homes end up spending most of their time with other DxE members and isolate themselves from friends. Members are encouraged to take the “Liberation Pledge” to promise not to eat with people eating flesh.
“A closed community — in which there is veneration for a male leader, where there is actually no freedom to disagree, or to succeed at challenging leadership — is a community that is cultic.” — Carol Adams
“As we know … a closed community—in which there is veneration for a male leader, where there is actually no freedom to disagree, or to succeed at challenging leadership—is a community that is cultic,” Adams wrote in the 2018 blog post. “It is immaterial whether the leadership recognizes that they are a cult and has worked to establish DxE in this manner or has inadvertently created this cultic organization. The results are the same.”
Hsiung said Adams, whom he described as a Christian in Texas, doesn’t understand how DxE operates. In addition, her post is “racist.” He said she doesn’t understand Buddhist and Sikh people. (Hsiung told Berkeleyside he is Buddhist).
Adams said, in response to Hsiung’s characterization, that she has been a feminist and progressive activist involved in animal rights and anti-racist work for more than 50 years.
Despite the defections, DxE does not appear to lack supporters willing to turn out for protests and even risk arrest to draw more attention to the cause.
An incident with Berkeleyside showed Hsiung’s ongoing concern with DxE’s image. This reporter’s interview with Hsiung on Monday was conducted by Zoom and Hsiung asked if he could record it, “just for my sake.” Having said yes, Berkeleyside later learned that Hsiung had shared the recording with the nine members of DxE’s core team, according to Frohnmayer, a member of the core group. After that, two members of the core reached out and asked to discuss parts of the interview to offer their perspective on one of Berkeleyside’s sources.
“An authentic and different style of politics”
Hsiung said he has distanced himself from DxE to focus on running for mayor of Berkeley. (Although he remains an organizer, he stepped down from a leadership role in September 2019, he said. But DxE, the corporation, listed Hsiung as its CEO until it filed an update on Sept. 26 with the state of California. Hsiung also draws on DxE’s legal fund and consults regularly with the SF Bay chapter core leadership.) Drawing on hundreds of young activists, many of whom are also involved with the animal rights movement, he and his 200 volunteers have spread out around Berkeley in hopes of talking to as many voters as possible. Hsiung sometimes spends four hours a day canvassing and streams himself on YouTube and other social media sites. He has lost 15 pounds in the past few months, he said.
Just as Hsiung sees DxE as … a movement, he sees his campaign as a way to empower the broader community. Government change is incremental, but a movement of people can be transformative, he said.
Hsiung presents himself as a ‘green candidate’ with bold ideas on how to end homelessness, build more affordable housing, and make Berkeley carbon neutral by 2025. Just as Hsiung sees DxE as not merely an organization but a movement, he sees his campaign as a way to empower the broader community. Government change is incremental, but a movement of people can be transformative, he said.
“We’re going to bring an authentic and different style of politics that will harness the energy of Berkeley,” Hsiung said in one recent mayoral debate.
Many of Hsiung’s videos and statements about his mayoral campaign focus on crises facing humanity, such as climate change and wealth disparity, rather than problems specific to Berkeley. (His April 3 announcement of his mayoral run doesn’t even mention Berkeley specifically other than to say he wants to be Berkeley’s mayor). He presents many bold ideas, some of which look like they would be challenging for Berkeley to implement. For example, Hsiung said to reduce economic disparities he wants to enact an “ultra millionaire” wealth tax on any Berkeley resident with assets of more than $10 million. The money would go toward building supportive housing, said Hsiung. But there is a constitutional question on what kind of government entity has the right to levy such a tax. Hsiung admits there are challenges but said as a lawyer he would be willing to litigate the matter himself.
Hsiung said he wants to move faster on building affordable housing and said he would sit down with the mayor of Albany to discuss taking over the 130 acres of parking lots at Golden Gate Fields, which straddles the two cities. He has vowed to reduce homelessness by 90% by 2025 — even though Berkeley has had about 800-1,000 homeless people for the last 25 years. He would to do a “Green New Deal” in the city by making “a large investment into public infrastructure, employing hundreds of people to repair roads, build solar panels, and improve our parks and public spaces.” His website does not specify how Berkeley will raise the funds to accomplish that.
Former Mayor Gus Newport has endorsed Hsiung, as have the actors Danny Glover and James Cromwell, the musician Moby and Greenwald. Berkeley residents who are supporting him include Rent Stabilization Board commissioners Mari Mendoca and Alejandro Soto-Vigil, Alice Meta M. Cherry, co-founder and staff attorney for the Climate Defense Project, Willie Phillips, former president of the West Berkeley Neighborhood Development Corporation and a member of Friends of Adeline, Raymond Barglow, the peace committee chair of the Wellstone Democratic Renewal Club and Bob Meola, a commissioner on the Berkeley Peace and Justice Commission. However, his website does not list a single current city council member, political group, political party or tenants group that has endorsed him.
Door-to-door campaigning attracts converts but alienates some
Matthew Hirsch was at home one evening when Hsiung knocked on his door and they fell into a discussion about climate change, housing and homelessness. Hirsch was impressed enough that he decided to volunteer for Hsiung’s campaign and has since knocked on about 330 doors, he said. Hirsch, a former journalist and a clean energy consultant, said he thinks Hsiung will offer “bold leadership.”
“[Hsiung is] level-headed, not pie in the sky. He is a very detailed oriented person. He can communicate effectively.” — Berkeley resident Matthew Hirsch
“He’s level-headed, not pie in the sky,” said Hirsch. “He is a very detailed oriented person. He can communicate effectively.”
There has been a lively discussion of Hsiung on Nextdoor, particularly about his door-to-door canvassing. Some people have appreciated his outreach while others think he is increasing the risk of spreading the coronavirus.
“My family’s experience was very pleasant, mask-wearing, out on the street and socially distanced,” wrote one Berkeley resident. “This house is three votes for Wayne. My husband even asked me the other day why we didn’t have our Wayne sign yet.”
“Wayne Hsiung continues to threaten public health by canvassing door-to-door,” wrote Tor Berg on Nextdoor. “I told him he was being incredibly irresponsible by serving as a disease vector connecting every household he visits. He told me he believes he is off-setting the increased risk brought by his visits by handing out masks. Regretfully, I do not have the time nor the patience to explain to him that this is, in no way, how risk analysis works.”
Hsiung talks about his activism but downplays his role in DxE
One thing Hsiung and his supporters aren’t emphasizing is his involvement with DxE. A number of people have said that DxE was not mentioned when Hsiung or his canvassers came to their doors.
One North Berkeley resident said Hsiung talked about his involvement with animal rights but cast it as just one of his many initiatives. She brought up DxE and Hsiung said he was involved but didn’t agree with all of its tactics. He “definitely seemed to be trying to distance himself from it,” said the woman, who didn’t want her name used.
On his mayoral website, Hsiung does mention DxE but gives much bigger prominence to his other accomplishments, which include spending a year as a visiting professor at Northwestern Pritzker School of Law and a year as a National Science Foundation Graduate Fellow at MIT, studying behavioral economics. (He left after a year and did not get his degree). He calls himself a community activist who learned how to organize in the Chicago public housing projects in 1999 under Michelle Obama. When questioned by Berkeleyside, Hsiung acknowledged he didn’t spend much time with Obama (although he has met both Michelle and Barack Obama), but was one of the hundreds of students who worked at the University Service Community Center at the University of Chicago. Michelle Obama founded the center in 1996 and Hsiung said he benefited from exposing himself to the culture she had created.
Hsiung said he tells people about his involvement with DxE when asked. “The reason I don’t lead with animal rights is it’s not the central reason I am running,” he said. “Climate change is.”
The two are linked, of course. Meat production and consumption are among the highest contributors to greenhouse gases. The meat industry has also been linked to the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, which could take 10 million lives, said Hsiung. His platform includes establishing a bill of animal rights that “will give our non-human companions and other animals legal standing, in cases of abuse or exploitation,” according to his website.
As Hsiung knocks on doors trying to convince Berkeley residents to vote for him Nov. 3, he also has to keep in mind the felony charges he faces. There is a preliminary hearing scheduled in Sonoma County Superior Court in November and a hearing in Utah in December.
Hsiung said he is not worried about the felony charges he faces. He said his lawyer told him there is no way he and the others will be convicted. California has a law that allows people to intervene when they witness animals suffering, he said. In addition, the pandemic has slowed down the progress of cases in courts, and Hsiung said he didn’t think a resolution would happen any time soon. If he elected, however, Hsiung said he will consider cutting a deal with prosecutors — if his constituents think he shouldn’t fight the charges.
Hsiung described his arrests as being part of a long history of civil disobedience done in the name of a higher good, like those arrested while fighting for suffrage or for civil rights. While he said he had been arrested 20 times, he noted that recently deceased Congressman John Lewis had been arrested 40 times.
“We are not going to change the political system nationally unless we change it in Berkeley,” he said.
Update, Oct. 8: Glenn Greenwald contacted us to say that the statement that Hsiung is “the most important journalistic influence in my career in journalism” was actually directed at the journalist, Amy Goodman, who was also sitting next to him at the 2019 Animal Liberation Conference. That line has been removed.
This article was updated to add Carol Adam’s comments about how Hsiung characterized her.