Vegan Activism – The Cube of Truth

The Cube of Truth is a form of street activism, born right here in Australia in 2016 with thousands of events now taking place globally each year.

It consists of a group of activists holding TV screens or tablets, showing standard practices in the meat, seafood and dairy industries in Australia. The footage isn’t easy to watch, and to add to the theatre, the activists in the Cube wear masks to hide their faces. Other activists are waiting on standby around the area to approach the public as they watch.

The Cube of Truth Sydney

The concept behind the demo is not to simply shock and horrify people into going vegan, (although if that does happen we’ll count it as a win) but to start conversations to help people arrive at the same conclusion themselves. The aim of the day is outreach, to have as many meaningful conversations around the video footage as possible, and to get people to commit to a cruelty-free lifestyle by signing up to Challenge 22.

My first experience of the Cube of Truth happened last weekend, on a rainy Saturday afternoon in the middle of Sydney. I had attended a vegan outreach workshop that morning hosted by ARAS (Animal Rights Activism Sydney – a collaborative organisation of local animal rights groups). The keynote speaker was the inspirational Seb Alex, who has been advocating for animals for years, travelling the world and exposing the truth about animal agriculture. He shared some great advice on the best way to speak to people about veganism, I’ll be writing up the concepts and ideas in a separate post shortly, with the main tactic being to question people about their views to help them to start uncovering the contradictions and misconceptions in the way they think about food.

The Cube of Truth

I arrived at the Cube location in a light drizzle, wondering about the logistics of street activism involving electronic equipment in the rain. One of the activists told me they used to have a marquee in case of wet weather, but another busker along the mall had complained it wasn’t fair. How ironic that a group of activists standing up for what must be the biggest injustice in the world are accused of unfairness. I’m pretty sure the other busker must have been a dairy farmer in disguise.
We were on standby for a larger downpour and a quick pack up, but luckily Mother Nature was on our side and the sun broke through the clouds for the rest of the afternoon. The Cube on the day was made up of 4 people holding TV sets, with about another 20 activists handing out brochures and talking to passers-by. Cubes can be formed with as few as 2 people, and as big as the number of people wanting in. Last year in Europe there was a cube 1000 strong. One of the great things about this type of outreach is that if you’re not confident talking to people you can take a position in the Cube until you feel ready.

After spending the morning learning outreach skills, I felt 100% ready to start some conversations. There were lots of experienced activists around the Cube, all of who were happy for us newbies to shadow and listen in. I’d had a bit of experience at a Vegan Outreach event at Macquarie University earlier in the week, so decided to jump right in on my own. I spotted a couple who had stopped to watch, so approached them with a smile and asked them if they’d seen this kind of footage before.

‘Yep’ said the guy, ‘I’m a butcher so have seen a lot of this kind of thing’.

Brilliant – my first vegan outreach conversation and I score a butcher. Baptism by fire I think they call it! Although this possibly sounds like the worst possible start to a vegan activist career, I was actually really grateful to have talked to this couple. After watching some of the film together, we came to the agreement that treating animals like this wasn’t right. After being overtly proud and light-hearted about his profession at the start of the conversation, the more we chatted the more empathetic he became. Before they left he was telling me how he had nothing to do with the slaughter process in his job. It seemed important to him for me to know that he didn’t have a direct hand in the mistreatment of animals. Thinking about our chat later that evening I realised that the footage, and our conversation, had changed something in the way this man viewed his industry, even if it was only a slight change in attitude, a seed had been sown. Although I understand there is precisely zero chance of this man going home today and turning vegan, I know that changes in perception, however slight, will lead to changes in behaviour, and that will be what wins this battle at the end of the day.

After my first chat, and expecting my next passer-by to be a steak house owner, I thought it best of to take my place inside the Cube for a while to recharge my activist energy. The TV sets have been mounted onto holders, with padded straps to wear over the shoulders. My first thought as the TV was strapped onto me was that it felt exactly like wearing a baby carrier! My second thought was how on earth am I going to stay still holding this? One of the most confronting things for me about being in the Cube was standing still. I am constantly on the go, running around after the kids, the dog, busy heading from one place to the next. Unless I’m in a chair or in bed, movement is constant. Is this the same for you? Do you remember the last time you stood still, without distraction, a phone to look at or headphones in, or someone to talk to or something to watch? It was strange. First I felt a bit panicky, then a bit uncomfortable, but after taking a couple of deep breaths and remembering why I was there and what we were standing for it all became much easier. After a few minutes I started to find my groove and began to really take in what was happening around me. It’s an amazing vantage point to see the incredible effect this kind of activism has on people, both the general public seeing the footage for the first time and the activists themselves.

I watched in awe as activists approached people, and saw how their passion for our cause radiated from them in their interactions. You could literally see how much they cared, not just about the animals on the screens we were holding but also about the people they were talking to. Through their body language, expressions and eyes you could see that they wanted to share veganism with people out of absolute altruism. Better health, a healthier planet, a future for our children. And, of course, the animals. It was truly inspiring to watch as these conversations unfolded. Without being able to hear what was being said I could follow the emotions and knew at the end how each person had reacted. Some would leave with a hug, others couldn’t get away quick enough, but after each conversation the activist would smile, stay friendly, turn around and find the next person to talk to. There was also a touching camaraderie among activists. Between chats there was discreet contact, a touch on the shoulder, a meaningful glance or encouraging smile across the crowds. There was almost an invisible stream of energy connecting the activist team, each knew the others were there, that they were supported, protected, and united in something much bigger than the sum of its parts.

Every ten minutes someone came around the Cube to see how we were going and if we were ready to swap out. There is no minimum or maximum time limits, and no judgement. You can stand for 5 minutes or spend the whole of your time there. One of the activists had popped out from work on his lunch break to hold a TV for half an hour, such was his dedication to the cause and his desire to help.

Watching the faces of people watching the footage was also extremely powerful. At first unnerving, as you can’t help but feel that people are staring directly at you, once you get used to it you start to really appreciate the reactions from a unique standpoint. Due to the blindfolds we were wearing (ARAS who organised this Cube of Truth have ditched the Guy Fawkes masks in place of black blindfolds), it was easier to look people in the eye and watch their emotions unfold. Seeing the horror in people’s eyes reinforced the importance of the message that we were sharing, the truths that needed to be told. There is such a disconnect between the farming process and the end product on the plate that I saw in motion the dots being joined up in people’s minds as they watched.

For me this is what the Cube of Truth is all about. Reaching out on a human level to show the absolute inhumanity of animal agriculture.

I went on to have another conversation that day, and then returned again on Thursday night to do it all again, talking to 8 people during the afternoon about veganism. At the debrief at the end of the evening, we totalled over 80 conversations, a massive achievement with huge implications for people taking further action. One activist that I was chatting to had herself been converted from omnivore to vegan overnight by stopping to watch the footage of the Cube of Truth, living proof that this kind of activism works.

If you’re keen to get involved in activism then the Cube of Truth is a great place to start. It’s inclusive, welcoming and you get all the help and training you need to join in. You can find details of your local Anonymous for the Voiceless chapter on this link, with details of events happening near you. If you’re in Sydney you can join ARAS on Facebook and find their next events.

The Cube of Truth in Sydney
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If you’re in Sydney, check out our favourite vegan restaurants in Sydney on this link.

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