PETA employee and all around activist Matt Bruce goes for Kennedy's jugular when she rocks a fur a la Cruella Deville. Photo: Katie Panzer
On Saturday, April 2 at The Metro, I will be hosting a benefit and fur donation for PETA called “Fur is a Drag.” The nationwide event is to raise awareness of animal cruelty through drag queen lip syncs and a fashion show.
“‘Fur is a Drag’ is a fun way to bring attention to the violent and bloody fur trade. We want people to realize that there’s nothing cool or glamorous about animals being anally electrocuted, having their necks snapped or having the fur ripped off their backs while still conscious,” straight edge activist and PETA employee Matt Bruce told me regarding the event. I personally have been inspired by our interview and have decided to take a floor length fox fur I never wear and donate it to the Ching Farm Animal Rescue & Sanctuary. Follow its progress on my Twitter feed, @princesskennedy.
Bruce, an activist and magician who lives in one of America’s most successful squats (the Bike House), is about to leave us and head out to Los Angeles to work for PETA. I thought this would be a perfect opportunity to tell his “Cinderfella” story.
SLUG: Tell me about where you are from and how you ended up in Utah.
Matt Bruce: I grew up in Southern California. For most of my childhood we lived in and out of hotels because we couldn’t afford a decent place to live. When my sister and her husband moved to Layton, my parents and I followed and moved to Clearfield, which I wouldn’t wish on anybody.
SLUG: How do you think your upbringing helped make you who you are today?
Bruce: I’m actually very removed from everything my parents taught me, but I’d like to think that the core principles they instilled in me of compassion, empathy and standing up for what’s right are still strong.
SLUG: What was it that got you interested in activism?
Bruce: Up in Ogden, my good friend Shawn Wood and I did a free bike clinic. He had this warehouse space by the train tracks where he would make freak bikes. We had this bike clinic where we’d line up all our freak bikes and offer free bike repairs and we would talk to people about veganism, anarchism and give them literature. We did this every weekend for two summers, and only one person ever visited us! As far as animal rights is involved, it was around 2002 and I was walking downtown wearing some vegan shirt and someone in a flat, black Jetta covered in vegan stickers yelled at me to go to the Salt Palace. I took their advice. I headed down there and it turned out to be a protest against Huntingdon Life Sciences, one of the world’s largest animal experimentation companies. There were feds on nearby rooftops taking our pictures, activists wearing masks, people getting arrested and others taken in for interrogation. It was intense! And that’s when I realized: this is a real fight, with real consequences and real impact.
SLUG: Who was an early influence and why?
Bruce: Salt Lake City itself made a huge impact on me. As far as animal rights goes, I don’t think there is another city that should be more proud of their animal rights history. Harold Rose and Jeremy Beckham are great influences for their tireless efforts, Cherem was a great influence for keeping the message alive in our hardcore scene, Foekus was important for doing something different, the guys at Good Times and Colby Smith’s A New Dawn Breaking zine.
SLUG: Fill me in on your living situation in a squat. How does the whole Bike House work?
Bruce: When the house was discovered back in the early 2000s, it was a rundown building with boarded up windows, holes in the floor, water damage and mold. A group of friends realized how obscene it was to have such a large homeless population, while houses remained vacant. Everyone deserves a place to live, regardless of income. They took a risk and pried the boards off the windows, opened the doors, and 11 people shared one room towards the back of the house. Everybody contributed to remodeling the house, and over the next few months the whole ground floor was livable and rooms were opened. A few months later, Shawn Wood and I moved into the basement, which was a wreck! We pulled the floors, built walls, killed mold and cleaned it up.
In 2007, the landlord unexpectedly showed up and we faced the real threat of the house being shut down. We mobilized and put a call out to activists around the country (I even emailed Oprah!), and decided to take a stand. If the house was being taken from us, it wouldn’t happen without a fight. We had people from all over come and stay with us in case the police came knocking. After telling off the landlord, he never came back, and the threat was gone. If it weren’t for the initial efforts (and continued work) of Gary Hurst, Scott Smuin and Carrie Smith, this house may never have existed.
SLUG: The FBI raided your house twice, which is pretty serious. How do you draw the line in activism without crossing it (i.e. freeing a mink farm)?
Bruce: It’s really up to the individual to decide. Some people feel there is no line and are willing to make the sacrifices and accept the consequences. After the house being raided by the FBI twice last year and being under their watchful eye, I feel I can benefit the animals the most by bringing my activism global with PETA.
SLUG: How did you find out the position with PETA was open and what was your initial motivation to go for the job?
Bruce: Jeremy Beckham started working for PETA about a year ago and filled me in on what positions were available. He encouraged me to apply, even though a college education was necessary (which I don’t have), and I did. Apparently, my experience with activism spoke for itself, and I got hired.
SLUG: What are some of the qualities that you thought made you a good candidate?
Bruce: I’ve been going to demos and yelling at people for several years about going vegan, I thought it was time to try it professionally.
SLUG: What was the hardest part of the application process?
Bruce: The interview! If you get a job at PETA, you definitely earned it.
SLUG: What kinds of things do you hope to bring to the PETA table?
Bruce: A lot of magic.