On Calling Police “Pigs”

By Rachel Berardinelli

A pig as policeman on the cover of the underground alternative magazine, Oz.  [Photo source: http://www.wussu.com/zines/oz33_36.htm]

A pig as policeman on the cover of the underground alternative magazine, Oz.
Photo source: http://www.wussu.com/zines/oz33_36.htm

“Pigs” as Police

For centuries, “pig” had been used as an insult to describe someone as being lazy, messy, or sleazy. Even today, pig remains a common epithet, and especially so in regards to authority. A particular series of events in Chicago during 1968 is often credited as popularizing pig as derogatory slang for cops. These events involved the use of actual pigs in anti-establishment activism.

In the book “1968: The Year That Rocked the World,” author Mark Kurlansky writes that “pig was a common pejorative for police at the time,” and that was especially true for the leftist group of protesters and demonstrators called the Yippies (Youth International Party), founded by Abbie Hoffman and Jerry Rubin in January of 1968. A small part of the counter culture movement, the Yippies fit somewhere between the two larger, main groups, the Hippies and the New Left. They embraced street theatre, pranks, and the absurd. In her book, “A Woman’s Place,” Shirley Mahoran writes:

“[T]he Yippies […] provoked Chicago police by calling them pigs and sending squealing animals out to meet the police who approached them. In their press releases, the Yippies stipulated that pig meant police and that all connotations of stench, laziness, meanness and ugliness were intended. They had borrowed this insult from other people who perceived police forces as repressive. The Yippies stipulated that from 1968 on pig meant police.”


David Fenton, Yippies Marching Through the Streets with “Pigasus” their Chosen Candidate for President, New York City, September, 1968.

The Yippies organized a six day festival outside the Democratic National Convention of 1968. This “Festival of Life” was violently broken up by the police (12,000 of them), soldiers (5,000) and the National Guard (6,000). These events would become the basis for the charges of conspiracy to riot, among other charges, in which some Yippies were named defendants.

Back outside the Convention, the Yippies managed to proudly introduce their presidential candidate, a pig named “Pigasus.”

Pigasus had been bought at a farm – along with another pig, Mrs. Pigasus — by the folk singer Phil Ochs and a couple other Yippies. “One reason why the Yippies preferred Pigasus was that ‘if we can’t have him in the White House, we can have him for breakfast.'”

Later that day (although some accounts claim it happened the following day), the Yippies brought out a second pig named Mrs. Pigasus and released her. Her release resulted in another chaotic clash between protestors and the police, who were desperately trying to catch the pig. The Yippies changed their cries of “Police! Police!” to empowered chants of “Pigs! Pigs!”

Captured, Mrs. Pigasus was carried to a cop car. The taunts of “Pig! Pig!” could be heard. Numerous Yippies were also arrested, with some voluntarily going with Mrs. Pigasus. Immediately following the arrests, some Yippies were asked by a radio interviewer what pigs symbolized to them. Their responses included: food, ham, and “pigs belong to people.”


Rejecting Speciesism

As demonstrated by the Yippies use of the word pig, when we insult humans by calling them animals, we attribute to humans the negative connotations of the animal: lazy, dirty, sleazy, etc. These negative connotations upholds the dominant culture that promotes animal exploitation. Each year in the United States, over 100 million pigs are enslaved and suffer in our food system.

Using words like “pig” reinforces a negative perception of animals, allowing systems of exploitation to continue. Pigs are actually highly intelligent social animals. But even if pigs were the dumbest creatures to walk the earth, they should still be worth our moral concern. Leftists who use “pigs” to describe cops are using human-centered language that renders the animal invisible. Likening people to animals is a way to separate out the “other,” creating moral exclusions; it is dehumanization, a tool for oppressors.

The Montreal Gazette, August 23, 1968.

The Montreal Gazette, August 23, 1968.

Ultimately, Pigasus was not eaten. At least, not by the Yippies, whose manifesto states: “Well, we didn’t kill our pig. If there is one issue that could split the yippies, it is the issue of vegetarianism. A lot of yippies don’t believe in killing and eating animals, so I had to be less militant on that point.” Unfortunately for Pigasus and Mrs. Pigasus, following their arrests they were taken to a farm and most likely were slaughtered for someone’s dinner.

The Yippies manifesto is interesting because it highlights the idea that even people who reject the killing and eating of animals can still engage in speciesist behavior by forcing animals to participate in protests or demonstrations and by using them as insults. These activities reinforce the status quo, which is the belief that humans are entitled to exploit other animals.

Because speciesist language promotes (however subtle) the oppression of animals, activists should strive to avoid using it. Using animals to critique authority is only reinforcing the invisible system that legitimizes violence. In order to shift public consciousness, we need to evaluate and restructure our language, and that requires excluding speciesist language.


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