Alicia Santurio’s favorite type of chicken is the leghorn. She’s raised them, cared for them, tended to them in animal sanctuaries, and gotten to know their wonderfully quirky personalities.
That’s one of the reasons why she jumped at the opportunity to travel from her home in California to Minneapolis, to engage in a protest during the NBA play-in game between the Minnesota Timberwolves and the Los Angeles Clippers at the Target Center on Tuesday.
About midway through the game, players suddenly stopped running around. It was clear that something was happening, but the cameras panned away from the center of attention.
Soon, the audience learned that a protester had superglued her hand to the court. It wasn’t until the next day that more information emerged: The protester was Santurio, an activist with the animal rights group Direct Action Everywhere (DxE). She was trying to draw attention to the mass killing of roughly 5.3 million chickens at Rembrandt Enterprises, an Iowa factory egg farm owned by billionaire Glen Taylor, who also owns the Timberwolves, according to a press release by DxE.
Santurio has a long history of activism and believes that the global food system should leave factory farms behind because of the abuses they enact on animals, the way they pollute local communities, the harsh conditions endured by laborers, and the prominent role they play in driving the climate crisis.
She spoke to Global Citizen about her motivations for the action, why everyone needs to talk about factory farming's impact on the environment, and what she hopes for in the future.
Global Citizen: How did you get involved in animal rights activism?
Alicia Santurio: I was vegetarian for a very long time and then vegan for a very long time, and at some point I just realized that, like a lot of animal activists, that being vegan isn’t enough. I felt like I wasn’t doing enough and then I stumbled onto DxE and it was right before their first release came out in 2015. I went to one of their meetings. We used to have them at the Oakland DxE house.
What are some of the past actions you’ve taken?
I’m currently the lead investigator of our investigations team. I participated in a lot of mass actions, and I’ve been arrested before when we’ve gone to chicken farms to expose the cruelty and to rescue dying animals.
I was arrested in 2017 when we went to a dairy farm and two of my friends and I found a calf that was discarded in a pile of dead animals and we thought it was dead, too, but we noticed it was still alive. We tried to get it to the vet, but we weren’t successful and they took the calf back and we were arrested.
I’ve done a lot of animal care, too. I used to work at a sanctuary, and so I know a lot about chickens. That’s why I’m honored to have been able to do this action. I’ve cared for so many chickens and have so many as part of my family.
They were actually leghorn chickens [at the Iowa facility], which are one of my favorites. They’re the white chickens. They’re used a lot in the egg industry. I just really like them. They’re kind of silly. They remind me of cartoon characters. They have great personalities.
A lot of people don’t get to spend time with chickens so don’t know them well. And I’m lucky to have spent time with them and to have bonded with them.
You were protesting how a company killed 5.3 million chickens by suffocating them. How is that even possible? What are the larger forces driving this abuse?
The forces driving this, I think, are big corporations and a lot of money and greed.
As far as how is this possible? They’re these massive sheds. They’re just very big sheds and a lot of times — I think this time, too, I’m fairly certain — they have multiple levels with all these cages. Maybe like three levels of all these cages with chickens and also like stairs, so you go up to a second floor and a third floor, and there’s cages upon cages. They have thousands of chickens in just one barn and then on the property they have multiple of these huge barns or sheds. It’s unbelievable. It’s horrible.
At a lot of these facilities, the chickens never go outside. Chickens normally roll around in the dirt and they dust bathe and they don’t normally have such a large flock size, so I imagine that’s very stressful. There’s no natural lights. There’s no animal care, so if someone gets sick, there’s no care for them. They’re forced to produce more eggs than is natural, so they’re calcium deficient and they break their bones easily, and they also develop cancers because of how they’ve been modified.
I’ve also investigated “cage free” and “free range” facilities, and it’s all the same: dead birds, chickens that are traumatized and missing a lot of features. It doesn’t matter what company. If you’re buying pasteurized eggs, your standard eggs from a facility, it’s standard practice for the industry to “depopulate” around the age of 1 or 2 years old because a chicken’s egg production begins to slow down, so they go in and kill all the chickens and then they get new ones, so they’re pumping out eggs. They’re using these chickens who are living beings as machines.
What was it like to glue your hand to the court? Did it hurt when you were removed?
It didn’t hurt that bad. It was a little sore. I was just so afraid that I wasn't going to get down there and do it and I didnt want to fail. I think my adrenaline was pumping so much that I didn’t hurt that bad.
Luckily, I didn’t have to go to jail. I was thinking about how I’m gluing myself to the floor during an NBA game so I might go to jail and I was prepared to go to jail. So that was nice to not have to spend a night in jail.
[Note: Santurio did receive a "trespass notice" and was told she would be arrested if she re-entered the Target Center.]
How do ag-gag laws [also known as "food operation trespass"] interfere with reporting the injustices at factory farms?
My friend Matt Johnson [an investigator and press coordinator for DxE] was just facing charges; he’s being charged under an ag-gag law in Iowa.
For me, the ag-gag laws have not hindered what I do that much. I’m in California and I do most of my work around here. So I imagine they scare some people away, but it also gives us a good story, because we still go — some of us aren’t afraid — and then if they try to charge us with something, we can talk about how they’re unjust and hopefully get them dropped.
What are some of the other ways that factory farms cause harm?
It’s not only the animals that are harmed, they’re so harmful to the whole planet. Factory farms use a lot of water, they pollute the water, they’re bad for the air and the workers.
I know former slaughterhouse workers who were traumatized by the experience. We know a woman who works at a slaughterhouse here in California and I met her when we were doing a protest there, and she said she reached out to OSHA [the Occupational Safety and Health Administration] because they were getting sick from a chemical that was being used. Now they’re fighting for water because the water fountains are so far away and everyone goes at the same time during breaks, so they sometimes go the day without water.
I’ve heard from workers having to wear diapers during their shifts because the restrooms are so far away, and they can't go unless it’s on breaks, and everyone goes at once. They can’t always make it to a stall, so they just go on themselves.
And killing animals, mentally, that's so rough. It’s unbelievably cruel.
A lot of the time, the workers come from the most marginalized communities — immigrants or the very poor. These companies are exploiting them just like the non-human animals.
What do you hope comes from this action?
I’m just really glad that people are talking about the issue. People are talking about animal rights. I want everyone to know how harmful this industry is, and there is another way we can be. Hopefully this raises awareness, and we can finally shut industrial agriculture down.
How do we move beyond factory farms?
I don’t know that I have the perfect answer. I don’t have it all figured out. I think we really need to rethink our food systems and what and who we consider food and start the process of transferring over to a plant-based food system.
How have NBA fans reacted?
I’ve gotten mixed results. Some were supportive and then there are the trolls who say, “Oh, I’m going to eat chicken tonight.” But that comes with the territory, so I don’t mind.
What are you working on now?
We were working on a moratorium to ban the expansion or the construction of new factory farms in the state of California. We had an assembly member to introduce that, then they got pressure from the ag industry. Now they’re changing it to a study. We don't need another study. We already have studies. So we’re going to have a mini strategy retreat. Because the moratorium is a study now, we have to put our heads together to figure out what we want to do.
Also, my friends Wayne and Paul are facing felonies in Utah, for investigating Circle Four pig facilities. There’s a trial set for Sept. 9 and we’ll be there.
This interview was lightly edited for clarity.