Bill and Lou Must Die, a Real-Life Murder Mystery from the Green Mountains of Vermont soon will be published as an e-book by Lantern Books. Authored by VINE Sanctuary cofounder pattrice jones after a year of reflection, this book offers a thought-provoking and soul-searching examination of the worldwide campaign that tried and failed to bring two elderly oxen to sanctuary.
Here’s the table of contents plus a sample chapter, below which you can sign up to be notified when the book is available. The author’s portion of the proceeds from the sale of this book will be donated to VINE.
Table of Contents
Read This First (a backward-looking introduction)
Part I: What Happened
Welcome to Vermont
A Queer Sort of Sanctuary
From “Workers” to Hamburgers
Hatching a Strategy
Uh-Oh, Here Come the Heroes
Virality Among the Memes
Green Mountain Breakdown
The Problem With Princess
Direct Action Gets Satisfaction
A Murder Mystery
Part II: What Happened?
The Power of Place
A Tale of Two Vermonts
Green Mountain Mythology
The Locavore Moment
Born in the USA
Founded on Forgetting
Specialness and Speciesism
Social Psychology from A(sch) to Z(imbardo)
Numb from the Neck Down
Where’s the Body?
Springtime in Brattleboro (a forward-looking conclusion)
Read This First
On the downside of 2012, as the multicolored leaves of a Vermont autumn dried to dusty brown, the usually sleepy town of Poultney seethed with unaccustomed controversy. The question of whether two community members should be put to death had somehow slipped the town boundaries and mutated into a worldwide cause célèbre. In the end, one was killed and the other spared, but nobody could answer that all-important question: Where’s the body?
It all began, as so many modern tragedies do, on Facebook. Whether due to cluelessness or hubris, the administrators of insular Green Mountain College did not anticipate that any students, alumni, or community members would object to the boastful post in which they gloated about their plan to kill two elderly oxen who had worked at the school’s eccentric “farm” for years—and then serve hamburgers made from their bodies in the school cafeteria.
Bill and Lou, as the oxen were known, had marched in town parades and been beloved by successive classes of students. In response to pleas from alumni and neighbors of the school, a nearby farmed animal sanctuary offered the oxen refuge. The college refused the offer, citing an ever-changing and often contradictory series of reasons why Bill and Lou had to die. And then—whoosh!—through the multiplicative magic of social media, the story went viral. Petitions proliferated and bloggers bloviated as calls for mercy clogged and then crashed the college’s communication system. Campus authorities remained unmoved.
Meanwhile, the mood on campus became progressively unhinged. A new team of oxen was brought in and literally whipped into compliance. Rumors of some sort of vegan bomb plot rocked the dorms. When the slaughterhouse to which Bill and Lou were to be sent refused to do the job, citing its own deluge of telephone calls, the college was stuck: still determined to kill but without a willing executioner. They split the difference. One Sunday morning, the college announced that Bill would be allowed to live but Lou had been “euthanized” overnight, his body buried in an undisclosed location. The next spring, college officials used their clout to gain a hearing in the state legislature, at which they asked for protection from animal rights activists.
What happened? How did the would-be killers of Bill and Lou come to feel themselves to be the victims of those calling for mercy? Why couldn’t tens of thousands of people succeed in saving the lives of two oxen who everybody agreed had never offended anyone? Why were a few college administrators so dead-set (pun intended) on killing Bill and Lou, and how did they manage to sway the campus community into sticking to a misbegotten plan from which no good could come? How did they kill Lou, and what in the world did they do with his body?
And where did we go wrong? As a cofounder of the sanctuary that offered refuge to Bill and Lou (and as the person portrayed as Hitler in a student parody video uploaded to YouTube at the height of the controversy), I bear some responsibility for what allies of Bill and Lou did or didn’t do in the course of a campaign that we tried to coordinate. Even before they killed Lou, I began to suspect we had erred badly in allowing so much of the discourse about the oxen to be so disembodied. Now that I’ve had more time to think about all of the many forces that converged to overdetermine Lou’s death, I’m even more convinced that it all comes down to habeas corpus.
Follow me now, into the vortex of a viral confabulation in which two oxen were drafted as symbols of everything from world peace to local autonomy, and you will see why I say that, the next time we set out “save” anybody, we’d better pay a lot more attention to bodies. Read the chapters in Part I (What Happened) in order, just to get the gist of the story, but then feel free to visit the chapters in Part II (What Happened?) in any order that moves you. One of my points is that all of the factors discussed in those chapters converged, so it doesn’t much matter in which order you consider them. See the diagram that begins that section for a sense of how they all fit together. See the diagram that follows that section to understand why I will never again fail to ask: Where’s the body?
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