Freedom March & Rally - 23rd July 2005
The Freedom March and Rally proved to be a day that marked a milestone in the fight to stop the new Oxford animal lab. Despite ongoing difficulties in negotiations with Oxford City Council over the use of Oxpens park and the attacks on our movement from certain sections of the media, well over 1,000 people from all over the UK and Europe travelled to Oxford to SPEAK OUT against animal abuse and scientific fraud.
The demonstration was part of the continuing campaign against Oxford University's avowed intention to finish building the partially-built animal torture centre on South Parks Rd. The early dark clouds over Oxford gave way to bright sunshine as groups of people began to arrive in the park for the start of the Freedom March & Rally. The police who had been monitoring the situation from early morning made themselves very visible in the park, unfortunately reneging on their previous promises that no officers would be present in the park during the rally. It was also noted that a camera had been positioned on a cherrypicker at the entrance to Oxpens. Clearly the fact that all previous SPEAK events had gone off peacefully was lost on those who are charged with policing public protests. However, at SPEAK we are used to such behaviour from Thames Valley Police and we were determined that a peaceful demonstration should take place, despite the best attempts of Thames Valley Police to provoke a confrontation.
It was encouraging to see so many new faces and hear from people that had never attended a demonstration before but felt that they now wanted to be involved in the animal rights movement. As coaches arrived, the park began to fill up and it was clear that despite all the pressure from the authorities in Oxford, we were at the start of a very positive day for the campaign and another wake-up call for the arrogant and high-handed leadership of Oxford University.
At 1.15pm everyone gathered to hear the first of the day's speeches. Matt Rossell, who has worked undercover in a number of animal abuse establishments, started off by recounting his experiences of witnessing the real face of vivisection and not the lies those abusing animals would like you to believe. Everyone sat in silence as Matt described exactly what it was like for bright sentient creatures to suffer the daily horrors of life inside the closed world of an animal research facility. The resonance of his words added extra poignancy to the concrete structure still standing unfinished on South Parks Rd. Matt went on to say how his undercover work had led directly to a group of primates being released from the horrors of a vivisection laboratory, adding, however, that it would be even more significant if the torture centres were never built in the first place.
The next speaker was Mat Fraser. Mat's expertise is in acting, writing and documentary film making. He is also someone who can speak from first hand experience about the drugs industry and the fraudulent nature of animal research as a victim of the thalidomide scandal. Mat combined a cutting attack on the pharmaceutical industry and its blind adherence to animal experiments with humour and managed to deliver a very insightful and intelligent argument for the immediate abolition of vivisection for the sake of us all; human and non-human animals alike.
Dr Jarrod Bailey
The last speaker before the demonstration left the park was Dr Jarrod Bailey, scientific director for Europeans for Medical Progress. Dr Bailey told the crowd that the purpose of the day's demonstration was to speak out for freedom: the freedom for real science to break away from the chains of animal research; to progress into a world of real scientific endeavours and a science that benefits those most in need of help. He also urged everyone to educate themselves about the real nature of animal research and to use this knowledge to inform others, as it's only by knowing the scientific arguments against vivisection that will give us the knowledge to counter the habitual lies peddled by the vivisection industry.
At approx. 2pm the large crowd gathered behind the SPEAK banner for the start of the march. It was a very impressive sight to see so many people come together at a time when our society has been repeatedly told that anyone who dares to speak out or demonstrate is an extremist. The march made its way through Oxford en-route to South Parks Rd. Members of the public lined the streets to see the impressive spectacle of over a thousand people marching. A noisy but well-disciplined crowd consisting of all ages, backgrounds, nationalities and carrying placards and banners must have sent a shiver through Oxford University, who have been busily telling the world that those opposing them are only a handful of cranks with no real public or scientific support.
At the site of the half-built lab, the demonstration came to a halt and the reason for us being there loomed like a concrete skeleton against the bright sunshine. Everyone gathered to hear the next set of speeches. First was Bev, a long time animal rights activist and someone who has been at the forefront of many successful animal rights campaigns. Bev made a passionate speech in which she made it clear to us all that to win this battle we must want to win it and if we believed enough in ourselves then we could not be defeated. She asked us to remember what had already been achieved: the closure of Hillgrove, Shamrock farm, Consort, Regal Rabbits, and the abandonment of the Cambridge primate lab.
Next on was Steve Best from the USA. Steve is a philosopher, academic and, most importantly, an animal rights campaigner. Steve gave a rousing speech in which he asked: who are the real terrorists? Those engaged in a non-violent campaigning to end suffering, or those daily engaged in torturing and killing sentient creatures in the name of profit and blind prejudice? Steve pointed out the historical roots of the modern animal rights movement and the unfinished job in redrawing the boundaries of rights to include the non-human victims of oppression and brutality.
Nancy Phipps laying a wreath
A two minutes silence was observed and all those present were asked to think about what we all had to do to make sure that this centre of animal suffering never becomes a reality. Nancy Phipps laid a wreath at the wooden fence surrounding the site as a dedication to all the animals killed at Oxford and to mark our determination to make certain that we will never allow Oxford University to finish its plans for another monument to animal suffering and scientific fraud.
The demonstration then moved away back through Oxford and back towards Oxpens Park. As the procession entered Broad Street, the whole demonstration walked in silence with only the beat of a drum. This created a very powerful and moving image and once again showed how we as a movement work together to achieve our goals. At the top of Broad St, the whole procession burst back into life with a crescendo of noise. The whole effect was very moving and drew attention from everyone in Oxford City centre. The march reached Oxpens park and people took advantage of the fantastic vegan food that had been provided by the very hard working volunteers.
This was a day that Oxford University wished would never happen but despite all the hurdles put in the way of the SPEAK campaign, we remained resolute, if the "old boys network" working at the behest of Oxford University really believe that lies and broken promises would prevent us from exercising our democratic rights and freedom of speech, then, they have no understanding of the animal rights movement. Yesterday the animal rights movement came to Oxford and delivered a very powerful message to both the university and any contractor considering finishing the animal torture centre, you will be opposed, brick by brick if necessary, the animal rights movement has no intention of losing this particular battle. SPEAK would like to thank everyone concerned for making it such a successful and powerful day. But most of all we would like to dedicate yesterday's event to the victims of greed and scientific fraud, both human and non-human that have died because of vivisection. Everyone needs to make a pledge that as a movement a line has been drawn in the sand and that we will never allow the Oxford animal research laboratory to ever be finished.
STOP THE OXFORD ANIMAL LAB.