Well-known vegan and social justice activist lauren Ornelas was arrested for leafleting during a peaceful protest against the sale of rabbit meat on Sunday, November 16, in Sebastopol, California. Then, a week later (i. e. yesterday), there was another protest, with three protesters briefly entering Whole Foods, but this time no arrests were made.
That’s right: Ornelas was arrested for leafleting. The official charge is “trespassing,” but in California (and in over half of the other U. S. states) the area where she was standing (outside the store, on the sidewalk) is considered a public area where demonstrators may gather as long as they are not blocking traffic. When the police were called, they refused to arrest Ornelas, but then the store manager made a “citizen’s arrest” of Ornelas, and she was issued a citation for the criminal charge of misdemeanor trespassing. She is scheduled to be in court on January 21, and is now looking into legal representation. There is a short video about the arrest here.
The arrest is surprising because Ornelas is a well known vegan social justice advocate and founder of the Food Empowerment Project. A post on the FEP’s Facebook page says about the arrest: “It’s important to note that this is how far Whole Foods Market will go to silence the truth.”
Is this arrest part of a new strategy on the part of Whole Foods? On Saturday, Marcy Schaaf, executive director of SaveABunny said, “I was under the distinct impression that the Manager and store staff were acting in accordance with a [Whole Foods] escalation towards bunny meat protesters.” Margo DeMello, president of the House Rabbit Society, commented that there were no discussions between either the House Rabbit Society or SaveABunny and Whole Foods. “We—House Rabbit Society and SaveABunny—were once in communication with Whole Foods Market but they stopped talking to us altogether. They have refused all recent attempts to engage in a dialogue.”
DeMello added that “if that was an intentional act on the part of the Sebastopol manager, I can’t think of a worse person to arrest than lauren, based on her history of work in the food justice movement, as well as her personal relationship with John Mackey.” Ornelas first encountered John Mackey, the CEO of Whole Foods, in 2003, when lauren showed up at a Whole Foods stockholders’ meeting to speak against Whole Foods’ standards concerning raising of ducks. She is credited not only with getting Whole Foods to adopt much stricter animal welfare standards, but with helping to get Mackey to go vegan.
Yesterday (November 23), at the same Sebastopol Whole Foods store, there was another protest to give information to customers. Protesters stood on the outside of the store. Five protesters went INSIDE the store, and while they stood in front of the rabbits in the meat case, one of them, Tara Baxter, loudly read a statement which many store customers heard. As she was finishing, Dan (the manager of the store) walked up and told them, “the cops are on their way.” After the five had joined the others outside, the police did arrive and warned the protesters that if they went inside the store, they would be arrested. Protesters assured the police that they did not intend to do this, and no arrests were made.
During her brief speech inside the store, Tara had this to say:
Last week the manager of this store put a food justice activist under citizen’s arrest for handing out educational information about the bunny meat they are selling. She now faces criminal charges . . . Whole Foods buys these bunnies from Iowa, a state with “ag-gag” laws. We can’t verify the standard under which Whole Foods is raising and butchering these bunnies without risking prison time. Similarly, we cannot speak up for these bunnies without risking arrest by Whole Foods Market. . . . Bunnies are friends, not food.
Don’t try this in Colorado, unless you are willing to be arrested; the law is different. In Colorado even gathering outside the store in the shopping center is considered trespassing. You have to be on the sidewalk outside of the shopping center. That’s where we were in Boulder on the August 17 “Day of Action” to protest Whole Foods’ sale of rabbit meat. The Sebastopol Whole Foods is in California, about 55 miles north of San Francisco and 7 miles west of Santa Rosa.
Please respond with any corrections or additions and I will update this post as appropriate.
UPDATED 8:45 a. m.: added Tara Baxter’s comments.
UPDATED 9:15 a. m.: corrected number of protestors inside the store.
UPDATED December 13: A group will support lauren at her court appearance, now scheduled for January 21, 2015, 8:30 a. m., at the Superior Court of California, County of Sonoma, 600 Administration Drive, Santa Rosa, CA 95403, Criminal Room 105.
U)PDATED January 23, 2015: charges against lauren were not filed. Yay!