26-year-old James Warden is fast appearing across social media and Australian news platforms. In 20 months of vegan activism, he has completed 18 months self-study towards a law degree, obtained a 12 months suspended prison sentence and celebrated a reformation in Western Australia’s agricultural laws. Today, he has agreed to a video call from his residence in Perth.
“Hi, can you hear me ok?” Warden greets me from his desk, adjusting his headphones and audio equipment. At 9:30am, he is fresh out of a meeting already and sets down a takeaway coffee as we introduce ourselves. It is apparent his schedule has been hectic – especially since his trial has only just drawn to a close.
Warden’s suspended prison sentence comes after he and fellow activist Swiebodzinski stood trial for a collection of crimes linked to their campaigning, including the theft of a calf ‘Theo’ from White Rocks Dairy Farm in Brunswick. The activist escaped lightly, with his maximum sentence originally standing at 44 years. “This broke down to 2 accounts of trespass, 4 accounts of burglary and 2 accounts of aggravated burglary” Warden explained. Despite the risk of heavy sentencing, he reveals that Swiebodzinski and himself refused to express regret for their actions – telling the judge “a guillotine would not stop us”.
Warden’s involvement with the law, however, is far from one sided. As mentioned, he has been studying independently for a law degree – arguably facilitating his contributions towards the call for amendments to the 2002 Animal Welfare Act (WA). Following the rise in trespasses on ‘animal farms, abattoirs and knackeries’, the WA Government committed to introducing legislation to deter such incidents and address the inadequacies of the ‘monitoring of animal welfare’. The ‘Animal Welfare and Trespass Legislation Amendment Bill 2020’ is due to be put forward shortly. Warden’s covertly obtained footage of conditions and practises throughout WA proved influential evidence in the panel’s review. When questioned on his feelings towards such a milestone in his campaigning, Warden replied “It’s absolutely fantastic, but we can’t let our egos thrive”. The 26-year old’s relentless pursuit of justice for animal welfare has undoubtedly tread on many toes in the farming industry – something Warden himself has strong feelings towards.
“The industry is the cancer of society” Warden says. Critics of the Perth campaigns argue that activists like James Warden ignore the rights of farmers and their families. Warden barely hesitates when asked if he acknowledges this moral dilemma, “Morals are gradients not binaries” he replies quickly. “Those gradients are not in favour of having your throat slashed”. Although, Warden does acknowledge the need for more government support “to help implement transitions” for farmers to replace animal production with crop growth. “Hemp, soy and wheat,” he suggests,” they all can be grown easily in Australia.”
Despite only talking over video, it is easy to see how his passion has quickly taken Perth by storm. “People will recognise and approach me in the supermarkets.” Warden says, describing public appreciation for information his campaigns reveal.
Originally, however, public responses to his campaigns were far from positive. At a point in October 2018, Warden revealed he had received approximately 4,500 death threats. He further accounts incidents of targeted harassment, which include experiences of physical assault. Many would assume this would have taken a great toll on Warden’s mental health but when asked he simply laughed, saying “I was obviously doing something correct to get those reactions.”
The WA Police force are another aspect of Warden’s harassment. He discloses that he and fellow campaigners have dealt with raids and constant monitoring – including the bugging of all phone calls. Again though, Warden had a positive response to the excessive attention. “It is good as it shows they are taking us seriously,” he smiles wryly,” and we are serious.” Warden is evidently steadfast in his values and his willingness to become a martyr for the cause is blatant.
Warden became a vegan back in November 2016, realising traditional slaughter methods were no more humane than Halal and Kosher meats that he had been previously avoiding. Having now entered an abattoir, he describes being looked at “like a villain from a horror movie” by the animals inside. He assures me though that during his switch to veganism “there was never a shift in values, there was a shift in actions.” He adds that his parents, both vegans themselves, are fully supportive of his lifestyle and the sacrifices he makes. “Mum would say ‘Keep doing what you are doing!’” Warden smiles. It is clear that he is blessed with a solid support network.
Warden has clearly heeded his mum’s advice, pioneering the activist group Direct Action Everywhere and planning a nationwide attack on speciesism. Warden plans to push the vegan movement across the East Coast over the next 9 months, hitting: Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne. Stretching campaigns to Europe would be a future goal for the activist. “There is no quantifiable metric to measure our success.” Warden says, before continuing that “Footholds in political and legal spheres are a positive step forward.”
The fierce drive and desire to voice the suffering of animals, has been the most prominent aspect of a conversation with James Warden. “What kind of change do we need? Radical. Then we’ll be radical” he justifies, disregarding the notion that his measures are too extreme. Warden urges anyone considering a vegan lifestyle to do their own research as well as watching documentaries such as those of Dominion. “Understand there is no reason to consume animals in 2020.” he adds.