Will Potter Ted Fellow; Green Is The New Red
Will Potter is an award-winning journalist, author, and TED Fellow based in Washington, D.C. who focuses on the animal rights and environmental movements, and civil liberties post-9/11. His reporting and commentary have been featured in the world’s top media outlets, including the Washington Post, NPR, Rolling Stone, El Pais, and Le Monde. He has testified before the U.S. Congress about his reporting, as the only witness opposing the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act. Will has lectured at more than 150 universities and public forums about his work, including Harvard Law School, Georgetown University, and the House of Democracy and Human Rights in Berlin. International speaking tours have included Germany, Austria, Switzerland, New Zealand, and Spain, and he was the international guest lecturer for Australia’s 2014 Voiceless animal law lecture series, which were extremely interesting to watch and brought a huge amount of press on the subject of Ag-gag laws.
His reporting has overturned criminal prosecutions, and it has both been praised in Congressional reports and monitored by the Counter-Terrorism Unit. His book, Green Is The New Red: An Insider’s Account of a Social Movement Under Siege, was awarded a a Kirkus Star for “remarkable merit.”
Will has been especially successful in bringing a spotlight onto major issues with the US Ag-gag laws, which are currently under consideration in Australia. Have a look at his TED talk below and I encourage you to read his book Green is The New Red, or check out his website to stay current on the status of these laws.
What are ag-ag laws?
Ag-gag laws refer to new state-level legislation that’s been introduced in Iowa, Utah and Missouri, some of it still pending, that specifically criminalizes people who take photographs or video of animal welfare abuses, for instance on slaughterhouses and factory farms. These laws are a direct response to a series of investigations by groups like the Humane Society that have led to criminal charges, meat recalls, and also just completely changed the national dialogue about animal welfare, environmental issues and food safety. Rather than try to address these abuses, the industry is just trying to outlaw all of it.
As a journalist, this is especially troubling to me, because if they had existed, they would have made someone like Upton Sinclair a terrorist. I mean, by simply exposing what’s going on in these industries, by investigating and blowing the whistle, people can be prosecuted.
Has anyone been effected by Ag-gag laws so far?
The first and only prosecution under ag-gag laws was a young woman named Amy Meyer. She saw a sick cow being moved by a bulldozer outside of a slaughterhouse in Utah, and she filmed it from the public street. News of her prosecution created such an uproar that all her charges were dismissed. However, Amy isn't the only person who has been affected by these laws. In states that have passed ag-gag laws, national groups like the Humane Society, Mercy for Animals, and Compassion Over Killing have said they are no longer able to conduct investigations out of fear of prosecution. That means factory farms can continue operating in cruel, unsafe ways in these states without accountability.
Why is it no one heard of these laws before?
There was an initially a lack of attention on these issues, because I think people outside of the animal protection movement did not grasp their full scope. Now that is changing. The two lawsuits challenging ag-gag laws, for instance, have support from the American Civil Liberties Union, whistleblower advocates, labor unions, food safety groups, and professional journalism associations. The general public overwhelmingly opposes ag-gag laws, and the more exposure this dangerous legislation receives the better.
What is the current stance in Australia and the rest of the world?
In Australia, the agriculture industry and its supporters are calling for legislation directly modeled after ag-gag laws in the United States. The political climate that is emerging in Australia directly parallels what I have been documenting here for years, including people like Katrina Hodgkinson, NSW Minister for Primary Industries, saying that open rescues are "akin to terrorism." No ag-gag laws have been approved yet, though, which means Australians have a unique opportunity to stop this legislation before it spreads.
Can you tell us a little about your wonderful book, Green Is The New Red?
My book charts how we got to this point—how we have arrived at the point where non-violent activists and people filming animal abuse are being labeled as "terrorists." In my research I found that this type of rhetoric began in the 1980s, but the agriculture industry used the terrorist attacks of September 11th, and the political hysteria, to criminalize protest. The book chronicles how this happened, and it also tells the stories of some of the individuals most affected by all of this. For instance, I visit an activist named Daniel McGowan in a secretive prison called a Communications Management Unit, which was created for so-called domestic terrorists.
You have been called an eco warrior, what do you believe are three effective ways to affect change?
As a journalist I really have an unwavering faith in the power of education. I think the most effective way to combat political and corporate corruption is to expose it. We are certainly seeing the power of education with this ag-gag trend, as well. The reason these industries are trying to outlaw photography and video recordings of farms is that they are absolutely terrified of public scrutiny. They know that, if the public knew what was happening, they would be outraged.