Why Joaquin Phoenix Wants You to Read ‘Free the Animals’

Big news! The special 30th anniversary edition of PETA President Ingrid Newkirk’s landmark book Free the Animals is now available! Read the inspiring new foreword written by compassionate actor Joaquin Phoenix below and click here to order your copy of the book.

One evening, I joined people from L.A. Save who were bearing witness, holding a vigil outside a slaughterhouse. We offered a sip of water, comforting words, and a gentle touch to the pigs on the transport trucks that stopped before passing through the gates. It’s heartbreaking to look into these individuals’ eyes and imagine what they must be feeling, to realize that we were likely offering them the only kindness they’ve ever known, and that in a few moments, their lives would come to a violent end.

What happened after that night was pretty incredible. I met with a slaughterhouse owner, and he agreed to allow my animal rights friends and me to take a mother cow and her week-old calf. We asked him to spare their lives and he did. So, Baby Indigo and her mother, Liberty, escaped what had seemed inevitable to live out the rest of their lives in peace and security.

Sometimes I’m asked why I go to slaughterhouse vigils or why I don’t buy wool or leather, and the answer is simple. I’ve seen the torture and killing that occurs when someone takes—steals—what rightly belongs to another living being. Strips what’s theirs right off their back or kills them so that parts of their bodies can be eaten or worn. I’ve seen what horror and fear animals in laboratories live in simply because they aren’t protected from human curiosity and there’s money in caging them to test things, like how they will react when frightened by a rubber snake or when their babies are torn away from them. Knowing all that, I have a moral obligation to act. And I know that’s how the heroes of this book, Free the Animals, felt, too.

The video footage, photographs, files, and other damning records that the ALF activists gathered during break-ins have shown us pigs with human genes lying in their own filth in cramped stalls, unable to reach their offspring; cats with electrodes in their heads; monkeys whose heads were being slammed in crash tests, and more.

Sometimes people ask how I can support a group of lawbreakers. My answer is to quote President John F. Kennedy, who said, “Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable.” Well, the ALF has never hurt any living being, but they act because not enough people are doing things legally to bring about an end to the injustice imposed on animals. So, what can each of us do in our own way to bring about animal liberation?

Each of us can and must help right these wrongs. I might not be able to sneak a camera into a laboratory at Johns Hopkins University, where owls are being mutilated, or the Oregon National Primate Research Center, where monkeys are being electro-ejaculated, but I can use my voice to narrate investigators’ footage. I might not be able to cut holes in deep-sea fishing nets, but I can “drown” in a tank of water in a PETA video to encourage people to empathize with fish. And I can’t save every cow from being milked to death, but I can save Indigo and Liberty.

Yes, Free the Animals is about the balaclava-wearing heroes who break windows and laws to save animals, but it’s also about everyone. It’s a call to us all to take action, to adopt rescued animals, to protest against animal experiments, to shun foods derived from animals, to lobby for laws that protect animals, and to urge retailers to stop selling animals’ skin, fur, feathers, and wool. Whether it’s wielding crowbars and bolt-cutters or picking up a pen or a protest sign, every one of us can and must fight injustice and push for animal liberation every chance we get.

Please join me. Ask yourself what I ask myself: “What can I do today to stop human supremacism, to stop speciesism, to help animals be respected for who they are?”

For animal liberation,

Joaquin Phoenix