Vegan Bat Girl Shines Her Symbol Across Denton's Wells Fargo Building
It's a warm September night and relatively quiet on the Square of Denton, TX. The flirtatious sounds of couples strolling up and down the storefronts fill the air. The lively chatter of seated groups outside of LSA Burger and Barley and Board don't compare in the sense of smell coming from their plates. In the distance, another sound can be heard. Footsteps, along with the squeaks of a wheel are coming up E. Hickory Street. It would soon be followed by silence as the sight of a simple light would make the chatter simmer down, much like the meat chosen from their menus.
On Sunday, August 2, around 9:30 PM, a projection illuminated on the Wells Fargo building with a message.
Connie Spence, or "Vegan Bat Girl," as she's nicknamed, is a California native who stopped through Denton on her mission's journey to bring awareness to veganism. With a hacked stage light and facts written out on a small clip inserted in front of it, she shines her message across large buildings or noticeable surfaces. Viewers passing by see the projected message that can go as high as 75 feet in diameter from 200 feet away.
Spence, who is an advertising graduate of San Diego State University, wanted to make sure her message could reach as many people as possible at one time.
"Your ability to reach people is designated by a little sign in activism," said Spence, "I wanted to change that."
Spence has been vegan for about eight years and started her activism a year and a half ago. She read an article about a "Fuck Trump" light being projected onto a hotel in Atlanta and was intrigued when she found there's nothing actually illegal about the action.
Legally, if a message isn't advertising a product it can be displayed. It's technically not vandalism since it's only a light similar to if a car were to pull up to a building. Banner laws also have a technicality; only physical material such as plastic or cloth count.
Spence showcases her freedom of speech with her activism. She's projected her messages in Los Angeles and has traveled with it to Las Vegas, Kansas City, Phoenix, Tulsa, and Dallas. In nearly every city, her activism has been legal. As long as she's on a public sidewalk where she doesn't block walkways, she's in good standing.
She stands outside flashing her light until the generators run out. She's shown her light over 150 times throughout the different cities and has had over 60 police interactions. Only once has she been shut down by them.
"They decide in their head that they don't like it and shut it down," said Spence.
Spence recently had a large dinner with other local vegan groups who have supported her efforts in raising awareness. They ate their vegan portions at Spiral Diner and Bakery before meeting up near the Square. Groups like Anonymous for the Voiceless decided to pass out their fliers with information about veganism to the public.
Spence had been doing her activism by herself but has garnered a following throughout the states. Support in numbers brings safety, as she has had to deal with unsafe situations from counter-protesters.
"I've had a guy try to run me over with his car. I've gotten the cops called on me because they thought my light was a big bazooka," Spence said.
"Can you imagine seeing a helicopter shine their light down on you while you're trying to just shine your own with a message?"
Not even ten minutes on the Square, the sound of the laughter and chatter stopped. They're transformed into low whispers as people point and stare. The message displayed on the side of the Wells Fargo building reads: Masculinity shouldn't be equated with destruction, but instead with protecting the innocent. Go Vegan.
A Denton resident comes marching up to Spence as her supporters rally close around. He's an older man with a curly ponytail covered by a brown Fedora. His plaid shirt looks dirty and tattered. He has a beer in his hand covered by a bag. He asks Spence if the owner of the building knows what she's doing.
He claims that the building is privately owned by his friend "Sparky," and refuses to give his name. When Spence tries to hand him a fact sheet that proves her activism isn't illegal, he pulls out his cell phone. Spence invites whoever he calls to come so that they can discuss veganism.
When she turns her back to the man to tend to her light once more, he takes off his hat and tries to block it. An argument ensues when Spence's supporters try to argue the man down. They question his public drinking since he had a drink in his hand. The man is persistent against the light.
Eventually, Spence stretches her light high enough to where the man can't stretch out his arm to block it. The man gives up his efforts and starts yelling at the support groups. He voices his concerns before storming off.
"You probably could have contacted him and he would have been fine," he says, "but you didn't and I know you didn't cause you're just showing up here going 'Stop eating meat!'"
Spence reassures her supporters not to worry as she's used to that kind of treatment. The night before she was in Dallas and Facebook lived her entire ordeal with the city's police.
Two bicycle cops called in their sergeant who sat in a squad car for two hours trying to find some kind of law she was breaking when she shined her light on the Sheridan downtown. They even called in their activist specialist.
"The Sheridan didn't even have a problem," said Spence, "They went into the hotel to get the manager to come out and arise some conflict."
Spence said that individuals in the hotel showed their support since they too were vegan. After which, the police just threatened to arrest her if she didn't stop. This was the one time she was shut down.
"They infringed on my free speech after hours of plotting," she said. "If police are understaffed anyway in a city, I just wonder why they're so worried about my little light."
Throughout the night, Spence spoke with passerby's who challenged her stance with veganism. Another slide she shines on the building reads: Fact of Fiction? Each person is responsible for 200-300 animals dying per year to eat them. Go Vegan.
She's strategic in her conversations and trying to share her message. She also asks people to read and answer the questions displayed on the light so they can discuss it. All throughout the night she's engaging different people and telling them her personal stories. She regurgitates facts about animal cruelty, health and business in the meat industry.
Spence went to a slaughterhouse in 2016, where she said the conditions changed her perspective on the foods she ate.
"Animals were dead on arrival next to the animals that would be the meat that we'd eat," said Spence.
"We love our dogs so much in this country. We see they have their own individual personalities, and there isn't a difference between our favorite dog and that pig in a pin. I've met them. I've seen a pig who was naturally curious and still came up to the fence to lick my hand. Even in the face of the other animals who are shaking with fear, because all they know is humans hurt them."
Other counter protesters yell across the street, "MEAT! EAT MEAT!"
In response, Spence giggles and yells back, "VEGGIES! EAT VEGGIES!"
Even in the face of counter-protest, she tries to ease tensions by simply making situations like that lighthearted.
When her generator runs out, Spence packs up her light and leaves. It's always on to the next city or town. It's also gaining more supporters and counter-protesters. Beyond the good and bad of simply shining a light, she hopes that the light can leave a lasting impression on those in the dark.
Video provided by Jade Jackson
Photo by Danielle Longueville
Header image design by Sara Button