GUEST BLOGGER: Pattrice Jones
She contacted me tonight. Here’s what she had to say…
I remember when you posted an article I wrote under the heading “a
white woman who deserves to be read.” Often, those who want a more
multicultural reading list for college courses balk at reading so many
“dead white men.” I’m writing today about a dead white man who deserves
to be read: Virgil Butler.
Virgil Butler grew up in rural poverty and started working for the
poultry industry while still in his teens. Not long after, he was
working in the bloodiest and most dangerous location in that industry:
The kill room.
He was sickened by the violence and gore but couldn’t see a way out,
since he was uneducated and the only jobs in the region were in the
poultry industry. But then he fell in love with the woman who would
become his soul mate, Laura Alexander, and found himself ashamed to
tell her about his work. With her help he got out and began to speak
out, telling tales of what he had seen to organizations like PETA
(www.peta.org) and United Poultry Concerns (www.upc-online.org).
He quit eating meat and started a blog, the CyberActivist
(http://cyberactivist.blogspot.com), in which he wrote eloquently of
the human and non-human victims of the poultry industry. He became what Antonio Gramsci called an organic intellectual, thinking and writing
about social problems from within his life experience, in words that
regular people could understand. His meditations on the links between
domestic violence and animal abuse and on the perils of masculinity
were profound and meaningful.
I began corresponding with Virgil shortly after he went public and
later met him a couple of times at conferences at which we were both
speaking. He was courageous as well as compassionate, enduring threats
and insults from the people in his region who supported the poultry
industry. He was also generous, taking in stray chickens and other
animals even when he was having a hard time buying groceries for
himself. in 1995, he stayed up all night to participate in a
blog-a-thon to raise money for my organization, the Eastern Shore
Sanctuary (www.bravebirds.org). I’ll never forget our
conversations that night or the posts he wrote in the early morning
hours about the ways that child abuse and pressures to be “macho” had
harmed his heart and soul.
Virgil worked hard to expiate the guilt he felt about the abuses that
he had helped to perpetrate on animals, even though he himself had been
only a pawn in the poultry industry. He also worked hard to recognize
and rid himself of the unjust power that he held as a white man, even
though he himself had so little power due to poverty.
Virgil Butler died on 15 December, 2006. He was only 42. Because he was
so big on blogging, I’m going to start one of my own and dedicate it to
his memory. Meanwhile, I’d like to direct readers of your blog to a
couple of his most important posts:
My First Night on Back Dock
Inside the Mind of a Killer
For his blog-a-thon meditations on masculinity, go to the archive for
August 2005 and scroll down to the series of posts entitled “My Story”
I’m sure that his grieving partner, Laura, will be having a hard time
supporting everybody at their informal sanctuary. I hope that readers
of this blog will join me in helping out. Instructions for donations
can be found on his blog (http://cyberactivist.blogspot.com).