Armed with dead c…

Tess Langfus

Armed with dead carcasses, banners and flyers, activist Matt Bullard demands justice for animals. Bullard contends he will do almost anything to protect animals, whom he considers the most oppressed beings on earth.
Ostracized by some, highly respected by others, Bullard holds strongly to the ideals driving him toward a goal that has been considered both worthwhile and fruitless.
During the past four years, he has participated in some of the Twin Cities’ most bold and creative animal-rights protests. He has hung from buildings, handcuffed himself to department-store doors and enclosed himself in a wire cage. In doing so, Bullard has become a household name to police officers everywhere.
“He’s actually given his family up for his beliefs,” Bullard’s mother said. She has not heard from her son in nearly a year. “I disagree with a lot of things that he does, but … that’s his business.”
Last September, Bullard spent six days hanging from Moos Tower with a sign reading “Stop Animal Torture.” His stunt attracted hundreds of onlookers, including police officers and rescue units.
“It was scary at first, getting used to being up there,” Bullard said. “But I remained focused on why I was up there.”
The activist had a month of rations and planned to use them until high winds and cold rain forced him to come down.
The University Police arrested Bullard for burglary, disorderly conduct and trespassing. The burglary and disorderly conduct charges have since been dropped.
Two weeks later, Bullard, a member of the Student Organization for Animal Rights, again put himself on display when he and other SOAR members caged themselves in front of Moos Tower.
As they sat for 91 hours imitating the conditions of primates used for the University’s medical research, Bullard said some critical bypassers pelted him with a squirrel carcass, buckets of water and even urine.
In December, police again arrested Bullard when he ignored his 90-day order to stay away from Moos Tower after his trespassing charge. He returned to the building to attend a symposium held by University animal researchers to discuss the validity of their work. University Police apprehended Bullard as he left.
“There are certain things I am willing to risk my freedom for,” Bullard said.

A full-time endeavor
Arrest and jail time is nothing new to Bullard. He has been arrested more than 20 times, once spending six consecutive days in jail. But, he insists, educating the public on animal rights is worth it.
Bullard considers himself a full-time, nonviolent activist and environmentalist who is opposed to drugs, alcohol, racism, abortion and, in particular, animal abuse.
“I think it’s important for people to question anything and everything,” he said.
Articulate and soft-spoken, the 25-year-old Bullard is recognized on the University campus for his creative, and sometimes bizarre, demonstrations.
Bullard is 6-feet-2 and slender, with sandy-blond hair pulled into a ponytail and a small septum ring in his nose. He has holes in his earlobes large enough to see through and promotes his ideals with a tattoo on his right wrist that reads VEGAN.
The animal-rights advocate lives his life with the freedom he says is denied some animals.
Originally from Arkansas, Bullard exists outside the norm, preferring to live in his beat-up white van in the winter and sleep outside in the summer.
To Bullard, the “creature comforts” — a place to live, a daily shower and a steady source of income — are unnecessary luxuries.
For food, Bullard relies on free handouts from co-ops and bruised fruits and vegetables tossed out by grocery stores.
“I pretty much, in a way, live off the fat of our society,” he said. “I’m kind of on the edge of animal-rights activists as far as lifestyle goes.”
Pasted on the rear of his van are bumper stickers promoting veganism and condemning animal violence.
Inside, the van is cramped with boxes of clothes and books, a cushioned chair and a sleeping loft. A small television hangs from the ceiling so Bullard can watch news clips of his protest endeavors.
“I’m willing to sacrifice certain comforts and aspects of life in order to be fighting for a greater good,” he said. “For me, it’s living life to the fullest.”
Bullard said he would like to someday build a house at the foot of the mountains in the Pacific Northwest. There he would grow his own organic food and “be as small an impact to the ecosystem as possible.”
“He’s living the way of his beliefs,” said Ami Voeltz, fellow SOAR member and University alumna.

The making of an activist
Bullard grew up in Little Rock, which he said “is not the most progressive city.”
His introduction into animal rights came as a junior-high student when he bought a record album that included a pamphlet describing the demise of a cow born into a factory farm.
From that point, Bullard became a vegetarian and activist. He passed out handmade flyers to classmates demanding a stop to animal abuse, but they were not well received.
“He was pretty much ostracized,” his mother, Cynthia, said.
A year later, he became a vegan, a person who does not use any animal byproducts. Bullard does not consume meat or dairy products, wear wool, leather or fur, or own pets.
Bullard’s relationship with his family became stressed because of his veganism. While his family does not hunt or wear fur, they do not share his convictions.
“They’re still not supportive at all,” Bullard said. “They are pretty apathetic in their views on life and what they can do to make a change and a difference.”
Bullard contacted other activists via the Internet and eventually left Little Rock for Memphis, Tenn., where he got even more involved in animal rights.
Later, in 1996, Bullard arrived in Minnesota and found a community supportive of activists. He decided to stay and, although he is not a University student, joined SOAR as an active member.
While most of Bullard’s days are spent demonstrating, writing letters or passing out flyers door-to-door, he leaves some free time for reading — “anything to do with social justice” — playing the drums and traveling.
He travels across the country as cheaply as possible, hopping trains or hitchhiking. While he has never stowed away on an airplane, Bullard half-jokingly said he would like to find a way to do it.
As a prominent figure in animal rights, Bullard is making plans to leave for Europe in two months to visit other animal-rights activists and educate them on the how-to’s of civil disobedience.

Pioneering protests
While Bullard is fairly well known both nationally and in Europe, he has thrived in the Twin Cities.
“When he got into Minnesota, he kind of came into the spotlight more so than ever before,” said J.P. Goodwin, executive director of the Coalition to Abolish Fur Trade, who has worked with Bullard since 1992.
Goodwin said Bullard was the first to try more unconventional types of demonstrations.
Along with a small group of other activists, Bullard and Goodwin started sit-ins and blockades at a Memphis department store that sold furs. Bullard even handcuffed himself to the store’s doors.
“He was always daring and willing to take a chance for what he believed in,” Goodwin said. “When something gets him upset, he takes it like a pit bull and doesn’t let go.”
In Minneapolis, Bullard and other SOAR members displayed dead animal carcasses on the sidewalk outside Neiman Marcus to protest the department-store’s sale of fur coats.
Bullard’s conviction and creative tactics are the essential components to being a successful activist, said University political science professor Kathryn Sikkink. She won an award in December for her book “Activists Beyond Borders.”
“Activists have to be strategic when they plan their actions,” she said. “They have to plan them so that they will capture people’s imaginations and gather support.”
Yet, Sikkink said, while these activities can be unusual, they should not be overtly outrageous.
“If it’s too bizarre, it may alienate the very people whose support you seek,” she said.
With the current attempt by University administration to remove SOAR from its list of student-sponsored organizations, Bullard’s latest endeavor of hanging from the side of Moos Tower might have alienated University officials.
Bullard’s demands for the release of research animals was ignored by the University.
Dick Bianco, assistant vice president of the Academic Health Center, is one of Bullard’s most vocal critics.
“I think his tactics are immature and illegal,” Bianco said.
As long as Bullard and other activists protest within the realm of legality, Bianco said they have a right to do that.
“But when they cross the line into illegal activities, that’s where I get a little upset,” he said.
Progressive activists like Bullard who protest new and controversial issues are often confronted with hostility, Sikkink said.
They are also more tenacious, she said, which “sometimes makes them very difficult to deal with. It’s the single-mindedness that serves them very, very well for certain things that they have to do.”
“I don’t see myself as narrow-minded,” Bullard said. “I see it as being focused and caring about life.”